Could We Just Get Students to Read and Write in All Content Areas?

So one of the problems on my campus is the fact that students don’t read. Oh, I know some do, but by and large, the majority of our students are not readers. As a school we are struggling with this new problem of practice, trying to define “complex language.” We’ve spent hours with this already, and have yet to come to a consensus. In frustration last week, after discussing this for two and a half hours, my colleague wrote on the bottom of our PD group’s thinking sheet:  “Could we just get students to read and write in all content areas?”

Really. It could be that simple.

A few years ago, our campus began whole-school reading. Built into our daily schedule is a 30 minute Advisory time, where a good number of minutes could be used for independent reading– if only teachers would enforce it. Most students like to read when they are given their choice of the right books. But if teachers are not reader themselves, it’s no wonder they don’t care if their students read.

Mine do, but that’s not surprising. The students in my English classes read for 10 minutes at the beginning of every class. So, if their advisory teachers are mandating reading, my students should be reading at least 25 minutes during every school day. That’s not a lot, but it is something.

Of course, independent reading will not solve all our problems. Students need to think deeply about texts, not just increase their fluency, and non-readers will abandon a book rather than struggle through it. That’s why if we really want to get our students to develop complex language skills, we must get them to practice complex reading. This is the kind of reading teachers must do with their students. You know, modeling close reading, modeling thinking about a text? And I think English teachers who know how to do this need to be given the opportunity to teach math and science and choir and business teachers how to read closely with all students.

We can talk about complex language all day as a staff. We can define it and put the definition on the walls of our classrooms, but that won’t do a thing until all teachers in all content areas start reading complex texts with their students. (And maybe it’s too much to ask, but imagine the growth if every student wrote in every class every day, too.) Hey, friends in other content areas, I’m glad to show you how.


Does your school have a wide reading program or other reading initiatives that include reading and writing in all content areas?



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5 thoughts on “Could We Just Get Students to Read and Write in All Content Areas?

  1. I agree- should not be a cop out. It’s important for teachers to have the time (the age old desire) to work with ELA colleagues to improve their literacy instruction approaches. Sometimes schools have literacy coaches or instructional coaches. I am wondering if more schools will bring in these roles as it becomes more crucial that students expand literacy skills across subjects.


  2. amyrasmussen October 13, 2013 at 10:16 pm Reply

    Jaclyn, I think I know what you mean. Not every teacher in every content knows how to teach reading. I get that, but I also think that it becomes a cop out. I’ve heard teachers say so in regard to writing: “I’m not a writing teacher, so we don’t write in my class.” Really? You went to college. You graduated. I’m pretty sure all teachers have the ability to help students with enough basic reading and writing skills to do more than they are already doing with reading and writing in their content areas. I agree, as you suggest, it might be a matter of training. I also think that teaching literacy is an all school responsibility. ELA teachers cannot, and should not be expected to, do it all alone.


  3. i wonder how much of it directly relates to training? For example, if you are an elementary teacher or a MS/HS teacher of Language Arts, you are trained (and usually immersed in yourself!) literacy activities…reading! Not that teachers of other disciplines do not read, please do not misunderstand… But it is a mindset and a skillset. Teaching the content is different than teaching to read FOR the content or teaching to read ABOUT content. I am hoping my point is coming across- only on 1 cup of coffee so far on this Sunday morning.


  4. Amy October 9, 2013 at 5:22 pm Reply

    Yes. I love Zinsser’s work. I know some other folk who need to read it. Ha!


  5. Laura Harrington (@LaurHarrington) October 9, 2013 at 8:36 am Reply

    Wonderful post. Thank you.
    Have you read William Zinsser’s “Writing to Learn?”
    A master teacher writing about these issues.


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