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Superintendent's Post | Disciplinary Literacy Blog 11-8-21
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Hopkinton High School is beginning to explore infusing more disciplinary literacy instruction for our grade 9 students. What this means is that our content area instruction will emphasize the specialized knowledge and abilities possessed by those who create, communicate, and use knowledge within each of the disciplines--science, social studies, and English language arts. Essentially, kids are taught to think like a scientist, read like a historian, write essays that analyze works of fiction, and lots more. Why is this important? The language we find when we’re reading literature or reading about literature itself is vastly different from the language one would encounter if reading a Scientific American article, a plea for funding for an environmental project, or a laboratory report. Kids must be explicitly taught the language and communication styles of each discipline.

 

I’m bringing this up now not because I think that high school parents are going to be overly excited about disciplinary literacy (although I am pretty jazzed about it myself…), but because I was very excited when a Hopkinton High School science teacher showed the document that she uses to teach accountable talk phrases. Accountable talk phrases are the way we teach kids to communicate with each other respectfully in any classroom. We teach them the language to use when they want to disagree, when they want to build on someone else’s point, when they need clarification, and more. It’s kind of polite discourse and instruction, and it lends to the incorporation of more voices in a classroom. Our young adults gain confidence as they learn how to communicate with each other in a learning environment, to be actively involved in understanding the perspectives of others, and to exhibit patience and kindness as they become independent learners.

 

It’s kind of a funny thing. I think in education we used to believe that speaking and listening, because they are the primary discourses, didn't have to be explicitly taught. When kids come to school they are typically good speakers and listeners. What we used to think was that we had to teach explicitly reading and writing, those being the secondary discourses. That thinking has changed. Teaching students speaking and listening teaches them to become active and interdependent thinkers who are part of a community of learners who are not afraid to take risks or to push their own boundaries.

 

So if you’re still with me--and I acknowledge there has been a lot of reading so far!--I can share with you a cool thing about our science teacher’s accountable talk phrase document. It intersects beautifully with what our Social Emotional Learning Director has been hired to do, which is to integrate SEL into academics and the learning environment. What our Social Emotional Learning Director, Carla Burley, will say is that kids need to feel part of a classroom community; these accountable talk phrases are not only good for literacy (or speaking) instruction, but they are also exceptional in the way of social emotional learning.

 

The Social Emotional Learning Director also extols something called “optimistic closure.” In an effort to ensure “optimistic closure,” all educators district wide have participated in professional development centered on Three SEL Signature Practices that support the learning environment. At the end of the class, students get to think about what they’ve learned and what kinds of things they’re going to do to sort of “seal the deal” on their own learning. This “optimism” helps them to believe they can tackle challenging learning standards.When kids have the tools of accountable talk phrases alongside an opportunity for “optimistic closure,” every student’s voice can be heard with authority, creating a greater community in the classroom--all while promoting increased learning in the disciplines.

 

These are really exciting times. We’re not only building on our high school students’ literacy skills within the disciplines alongside their content knowledge, but also their social emotional learning. Perhaps never in the history of public education have these goals been more lofty. Our kids have received irregular schooling for a long time. Our kids have lost a lot of social learning. And so I am celebrating the work that is happening at Hopkinton High School that underscores the importance of this trinity: content, literacy skills, and social emotional skills. Many thanks to the incredible faculty and staff at HHS. 

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