District-Wide Literacy, K-12

Why the fuss? America has always been proud of its K-12 educational system. But in recent decades, schools have been criticized for diminishing quality and effectiveness. Statistics on readiness for careers and higher education show a huge majority of students are unprepared. In international testing, American students continue to fall in the mid-to-lower ranges in comparison with students from other nations. One common factor among the various deficits has been students’ inability to independently process non-fiction or informational text. Specifically, this is the result of several mis-steps:

  1. The majority of “reading” material in K-12 has been fiction. It was mistakenly presumed that if students learned to process fiction, they could transfer those skills to non-fiction. But there is an entirely different set of skills needed for informational text.
  2. It was presumed that students would learn all they needed about informational text in science and social studies. No one realized that content textbooks are NOT authentic non-fiction. Textbooks use controlled vocabulary, marginal notes and footnotes, italics and bold print, restatement, and guiding question. None of these are present in the authentic informational texts like treaties, transcripts, science field notes, essays, op-ed pieces, instruction manuals, consumer reports, political tracts, policies and procedures, editorials, speeches, legislative and legal documents, news bulletins, and research reports. These are the materials students will need to use independently in their post high-school lives.
  3. Most instruction with informational or non-fiction text is teacher-led. Teachers doubt students’ ability to pull the appropriate information from technical or informational text. So they pre-teach the vocabulary, highlight the major concepts and ideas, and create elaborate study guides that “tell” students what is important in the piece. Hence, students have not learned to read and analyze the material independently.

The Solution. In response to these and several other mis-steps, the Literacy standards were included in with the Common Core ELA standards. They are to be taught in Science, Social Studies, and technical subjects such as Math. The Literacy skills in Reading ask students to:

  • identify important text details (in contrast to more peripheral information)
  • make inferences (supported by text detail)
  • identify central and supporting ideas (and how they are developed through the text)
  • define unfamiliar words and phrases from context (including figurative and connotative meaning)

Literacy standards also require students to recognize an author's bias, the adequacy of support for an argument, and the distinction between reliable and unreliable information. Students must analyze a text for its organizational structure, compare two texts on the same topic by two or more authors, and integrate quantitative with qualitative information to show understanding of a concept.

The Literacy skills in Writing ask students to:

  • compose substantive analytical responses to text
  • locate and analyze real-world Science and Social Studies publications
  • create both argumentative and informational research projects as per APA or MLA guidelines

Although the Reading and Writing Literacy standards are assigned to grades 6-12, grades K-5 are not exempt. In each grade level, it is expected that the ELA curriculum include parallel Literacy skills. These are to serve as enablers or lead-ups to the Literacy standards in grades 6-12 Social Studies and Science.

Click here for more information on the EdFOCUS approach to Literacy.