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Disciplinary Literacy and the 2020 Colorado Academic Standards

Disciplinary Literacy and the 2020 Colorado Academic Standards

In order to implement the 2020 Colorado Academic Standards (CAS) with fidelity and transform teaching and learning as the standards intend, we believe educators at all levels must gain a deep understanding of the intentional design principles used to develop the standards. Disciplinary literacy is the fundamental element found in all disciplines of the revised 2020 Colorado Academic Standards. As such, understanding disciplinary literacy is critical to being standards literate.

What is Disciplinary Literacy?

Disciplinary literacy is the intersection of content knowledge, experiences, and skills necessary to demonstrate understanding through the ability to read, write, communicate, and think critically using approaches unique to a specific discipline.

Tim Shanahan and Cynthia Shanahan, in their article “What Is Disciplinary Literacy and Why Does It Matter,” contend that disciplinary literacy emphasizes the knowledge and abilities possessed by those who create, communicate, and use knowledge within the disciplines. It honors the thinking within disciplines of study and invites students to engage in the academic discipline while developing a voice as a member of that community. 

Why Disciplinary Literacy?

What does it mean to read, write, think, and communicate like a scientist? What about as a historian, writer, musician, artist, engineer, or mathematician? In today’s diverse and global world, these are questions teachers and their students should be considering. Doing so supports students’ literacy, learning, and ability to more readily engage in the disciplines they study (Moje, 2008). These considerations also serve to develop teachers’ instruction so they can apprentice students to negotiate and create texts in discipline-specific ways (Brozo, Moorman, Meyer, & Stewart, 2013). For example, students will read and write narratives, poetry, and speeches within an English classroom, be expected to read and perform musical scores in their orchestra classroom, read and write about scientifically-based phenomena in their science classroom, and understand and generate art in their art class.  

Disciplinary literacy requires students to read and write in specialized ways for specialized purposes determined by the discipline (Moje, 2008; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008). Each discipline requires students to employ particular knowledge, tools, and abilities to communicate, create, and use information within that discipline (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2012). Teachers must apprentice students through scaffolded instruction and guided practice, helping students “develop the capacity to read disciplinary specific texts through an insider perspective” (Buehl, 2011, p. 10).

Disciplinary Literacy General Resources: