"Let's look at the Table of Contents for Where Do We Get Energy? What can you infer from the titles in the Table of Contents that we might be reading about today?" asked Fletcher Elementary School teacher Amanda Chitester to her fourth-graders. "Let's also quickly look at the illustrations and captions in the book to get a very general idea of the topics in the book. Finally, let's examine the glossary. Since we are studying electricity in science class, we can infer that we will learn more about where energy, like electricity, comes from by reading this book. Why don't you read the first paragraph and look for one key word to help you remember what the paragraph is about? Once you've decided on that word, write it on the sticky note and place it next to the paragraph."
Mrs. Chitester worked with her guided reading group during English Language Arts time to familiarize students with the format of non-fiction text compared to fiction. She purposefully infuses other subjects, like science, into her English Language Arts lesson to help reinforce what students are already studying. In this case, by introducing a non-fiction, informational text about electricity.
"We integrate content area material for science and social studies with the ELA curriculum in order to build background and teach new concepts while also teaching reading strategies in both the whole and small group settings," said Mrs. Chitester. "It allows us to teach more thoroughly across the entire school day and to cover more material. We use English Language Arts strategies but use text from another subject area we are learning, as opposed to only literature, to get that strategy across to students. Students love non-fiction. It gives them a different type of book to read and forces them to develop diverse reading strategies to read informational text as opposed to fiction."
Bush Elementary School fourth-graders Alexa Bloomquist and Emily Crasti work in their Partner Reading Workstations on the ELA strategy summarizing while reading a book on Christopher Columbus.
Mrs. Chitester is one of many teachers across the district who addresses literacy in the content areas. Teachers are not only developing students' literacy skills through the use of fiction during their ELA lessons, but also use informational text in other subjects to further develop students' reading abilities.
"The newly adopted NYS Common Core Literacy Standards emphasize that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language is a shared responsibility," said Annette Miller, JPS' English Language Arts coordinator. "In order for students to meet college and work expectations in the 21st Century, they need to be proficient in reading complex, informational text in a variety of content areas. Literacy and content knowledge demands for our students are greater than ever but the amount of time we have to work with them is not. This necessitates that we work together in all content areas to maximize our time."
Bush Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Tiffany MacCallum agrees.
"We are completing an explorer's unit in social studies. In ELA, we are focusing on the reading strategy of summarizing. During ELA workstations and guided reading time, students read a non-fiction text on explorers and use the summarizing skill. We have to maximize our time during the day and the best way to do that is to infuse ELA into every subject as much as we can. It's another dose of our social studies curriculum, explorers, but emphasizing a specific ELA skill."
The students also see the connection.
"I like reading books like the one I'm reading today on Christopher Columbus," said Bush Elementary School fourth-grader Emily Crasti during her Partner Literacy Workstation with Alexa Bloomquist. "It helps me remember what I learned in social studies for the test. I also get more information that I didn't learn during social studies time and it helps me write better."
At the middle school level, teachers also incorporate literacy into the content areas. For example, at an in-service in October teachers met in teams at each middle school to analyze data and determine where the challenges were in English Language Arts at each grade level. The teams formulated goals based on those needs with specific learning targets, strategies and action steps and how they would measure if the students improved throughout the year.
At Jefferson Middle School, teachers analyzed curriculum in every subject and grade level, including art, music and Family and Consumer Science to see where the most challenging ELA skills could be supported. For example, in Matt Turecek's seventh-/eighth-grade science classes, one of the learning targets for ELA was "exposure to more informational texts and having student identify valuable/relevant information versus non-relevant to assist in accomplishing tasks." Mr. Turecek's strategy in science was to assign science-related newspaper and magazine articles to students so that they could interpret and answer questions about the text.
"Working together to create goals for ELA creates good discourse in our buildings. Everyone is on the same page on which ELA strategies we need to continually reinforce and focus on in every classroom, no matter the subject matter," said Jefferson Principal Carm Proctor. "It gives us common building goals and allows every subject area to have ownership, and accountability, in improving ELA skills."
At Washington Middle School, sixth-grade teacher Deb Rein's social studies classes learned about explorers. In ELA, her students are developing the comprehension strategy inferring. Mrs. Rein combined her ELA strategy with the non-fiction book, Explorers - Searching for Adventure.
"Can you put yourself in the place of 17-year-old explorer Marco Polo? What can you infer that he would be feeling before his trip from the paragraph we just read in the book?''
"He might be very excited," said one student.
"Would he be scared going to a new place that he's never been to before?"
"Well, the book says he's going with his dad so he might not be as scared as he would be if we was alone."
"Good point, remember most of the explorers we talked about during social studies were older. Marco Polo was a very young man so yes, you could infer he was excited but maybe a little scared too."
Mrs. Rein has also partnered with fellow sixth-grade teacher Cathy Pitts to assemble a fifth-/sixth-grade science literacy library at Washington School. Through funds from the 21st Century Grant, the leveled books on life and physical science will help students reinforce science topics but also strengthen ELA skills during the school day and in the afterschool program.
"We are trying to maximize our time in the classroom. We need to get ELA into every subject matter. They get a taste of the topic in science class, for instance, but we can reinforce that topic with a non-fiction book on the same subject during ELA time while also working on specific ELA strategies," said Mrs. Rein.