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Disciplinary Literacy
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Disciplinary Literacy

Disciplinary Literacy

Disciplinary Literacy

In secondary settings, literacy practices become more specialized to different content areas. These distinct practices, known as disciplinary literacies, need to be taught explicitly. Secondary ELA curriculum focuses on the knowledge and strategies teachers -- experts in their discipline -- use to mentor learners in reading, writing, listening, speaking, and expressing ideas in alignment with ELA priorities. The 2020 MN ELA Standards detail these disciplinary priorities for all grades.


Disciplinary literacy is the ability to interpret (e.g. read, view, listen, experience) and create (e.g. write, speak, sing, act, and draw) in a way that other members of that discipline (e.g. mathematicians, historians, scientists, writers, and artists) would recognize (Shanahan and Shanahan, 2008, Shanahan and Shanahan, 2012; Ippolito, Dobbs, and Charner-Laird, 2019). It is a discipline-specific way to “read the world” and to enter into disciplinary discourses (Moje, 2008; Moje, 2015).


The MPS approach to disciplinary literacy includes criticality, or the critical practice of assessing how power, privilege, and oppression have influenced disciplinary knowledge and values. Critical applications of disciplinary literacy respond to learners’ cultural identities and the identities of others (Muhammad, 2020).


The following are 10 Essential Practices For Disciplinary Literacy Instruction (General Education Leadership Network, 2021) that guide disciplinary instruction in secondary schools:

  1. Problem-based units of instruction that frame authentic problems to help establish purposes for learners to read, write, and communicate beyond being assigned or expected to do so.

  2. Diverse texts and abundant reading opportunities in school

  3. Intentional and standards-aligned instruction in disciplinary reading

  4. Intentional and standards-aligned instruction in disciplinary writing

  5. Higher-order discussion of increasingly complex texts across varying participation structures

  6. Opportunities for and instruction in speaking and listening

  7. Intentional efforts to build vocabulary and conceptual knowledge

  8. Ongoing observation and assessment of learners’ language and literacy development that informs their education

  9. Community networking to tap into available funds of knowledge in support of developing learners’ content knowledge and identities

  10. Metadiscursive awareness within and across academic and cultural domains (attention to the language use at the “meta” level, e.g. talking about the talk)