David Moore


My name is David Moore. I’m at Arizona State University, West.

OK. Um, first of all there’s been some movement as to what that term means right now. So I think there is a certain state of flux about what uh different people mean when they refer to content area literacy. Uh, in the past it primarily was helping students learn from text. And so we all knew that people as they moved into the upper grades had lots of content area information that they could get from textbooks as well as uh other materials. And the goal then was to help them learn those materials. Uh, any more—I think it’s becoming broadened a little bit, just as the notion of text has become broadened um to include uh on-line sources, magazines, etc. Uh, the notion of just flat um mastering the information from a single text is being broadened uh to the ability to manipulate that information and make judgments about it, uh write about, uh etc. And—and not just schools’ subject matter information, but just learning from the environment, uh from things that you read on your own.

Well, once again literacy development is a huge uh endeavor. Uh, many people seem to think of it as a sort of this stair step notion that you start off not so good and then you just keep getting better and better at it. Um, any more I think people are looking uh at literacy development in the upper grades as not just a stair step but more of likes—we refer to it as a cherry stem or—or as a river that’s broken up into many tributaries. And the—the notion there is that there are many diverse practices that one needs to uh handle uh in the upper grades. Uh, reading your lab notes differ from reading a poem. Uh, writing a five-paragraph essay is different then uh producing a script—a skit, you know, on a commercial. So the point there is that this notion of literacy development um becomes more complex, more differentiated, more specialized uh as you move through the grades.

I think the key word there would be independent. Uh, they—they expect uh students to independently be able to locate appropriate information, understand the information, and use it. So uh self-reliant learners, uh self-sufficient learners, uh this whole notion of life long learning is—is uh what is expected at the college level. That uh I think most faculty believe that they’re uh responsibility for helping students with literacy uh does not exist. That was done in the lower grades and we just assume that these students are independently literate.

Um, I’ve—I’ve been involved in several projects uh synthesizing uh what is known about content area literacy and um probably the uh one key finding is that we are moving from a cognitive strategies, um focus, into more of a social focus. And so by that we mean that it’s been uh pretty clearly uh established that the more active, the more purposeful uh your reading is the better you will understand and retain that information. So you go into all these different strategies like summarizing, predicting, visualizing, uh graphically organizing, uh there’s—there’s just a wealth of research out there that supports doing those sorts of things. Uh, it—it comes to no surprise to many people that if you summarize a passage after you read it you’ll remember longer then if you don’t summarize it. But uh we have all the data in the world right now that indicates that that is the case. Uh, and we have some guidelines for instruction also that um are—are helpful. Uh, it’s a little more fine-grained right now in terms of the recommendations that we can make to classroom teachers as well as to students as to how these strategies will help with the reading. The research and researchers now seem to be moving into a more sociocultural view and by that we’re saying, “Well, giving these strategies how do they play out with different groups of kids?” Um, “How do they play out in different classrooms?” If you go to different areas of a state or—or, you know, 12th grade to 9th grade uh how does summarizing play out. Um, so we’re looking more at the interactions between students as they summarize. We’re looking once again at the different groups of kids if you uh want to look at uh perhaps uh students that come from a highly advantaged, you know, very wealthy school district versus one that uh is not so advantaged, uh does summarizing play out differently uh in those locations? Uh, so that’s where the—the current research is right now of the uh looking at the social interactions of learners as they apply these strategies.

Well, one of the big ideas uh in terms of this sociocultural uh emphasis um is uh you—you—there are certain sensitivities that one needs to have. Um, for example, we have many Native American groups here uh in the state that I live in, here in the state of Arizona. Um, I have gone in with one of my favorite note taking strategies and the way this thing called key-term selection works is we look for three key terms. Uh, in the past I’ve said, “Well, three is a magic number,” you know, because all—a lot of the fairy tales and myths have three in it. Uh, I’ve been informed that in many Native American cultures three is not such a power number, that—that four—for the four directions uh is uh a more established number that—that the children will buy into. So being sensitive to how your instruction fits of a heritage of kids uh is an important consideration. Um, if you’re having a discussion with children about text, uh and by children I mean 12th graders uh through 1st graders. Uh, in some groups uh it may be perfectly permissible and in fact the way to have a discussion is to interrupt each other. And so you mutually build a story. In other cultures you’re not suppose to interrupt. You wait for one person to finish talking and then the next person uh takes it from there. So once again we uh as educators need to be aware of what these different traditions are uh so that our instruction fits into those frameworks.

Well, uh the notion of reading and writing as tools for learning um, uh strikes me as irrefutable. Uh, when I work with subject matter specialists in the secondary schools, uh there can often be a certain resistance uh from people who want to emphasize their academic area and—and they are not um, uh willing. Uh, they’re often not predisposed. Uh, they’re often not well uh trained, if you will, in their teacher preparation program to deal with literacy as their teaching science, mathematics, uh, uh, etc. So when we look at it from the perspective of if you want students to learn science, mathematics, social studies, etc., the more efficiently students can read about those topics, the more uh efficiently they can write about those topics, the better they will learn about those topics. Uh, so it is a tool for learning subject matter. Um, and I like to make the point uh very clear that not only does it help students during the semester or the year that—that you have students in your class, but also part of the job is to be helping students become life-long learners. So by helping them learn certain literacy strategies, to learn social studies when students leave school and become citizens uh they’ll be able to apply those strategies as they’re reading the newspaper, etc., and forming decisions as citizens.

So um as students move through the grades the expectations uh proliferate. Not only do the words get harder uh in terms of longer and a little more sophisticated concepts being signaled by those words, but also the subjects differentiate so that uh when you’re uh analyzing a political argument is a different mind set then analyzing a poem. Uh, you know, print is still in play but—but the mindset uh that you use to make sense of that print and to evaluate it uh is different. Um, people who want to go into law versus medicine versus any of the applied domains uh have to learn how people in those domains use print. Uh, a lawyer approaches print differently then a beautician. So once again the—the notion of print sitting there the same for everybody is not true because the practice that we are involved with dictates how we use print. So uh each profession, um each occupational area uh approaches print uh from a somewhat specialized viewpoint. So part of our job then in the upper grades is to help students adopt and become sensitive to those different perspectives.

Um, when I think of oral language and literacy development at the secondary level um frankly sometimes I think of a lava lamp. Now this—this is a dated uh phenomena that I do believe that these lamps have come back into popularity at times, but the—the metaphor, “The Lava Lamp” is that there is this constant motion and things are constantly shifting and then sort of there’s this shape shifting very fluid uh system going on. And I like to look at print literacy as well as oral language understanding uh in the same way. That they—they merge with each other. Often times it’s hard to distinguish one from the other because as you talk about what you read, that influences your understanding of what you have just read. And then as you read about what you have just talked about, that influences um it. Uh, when you encounter new words in print, then you can use them when you talk and then when you are talking, and reading. Then you see, “Oh, yes. That—now that’s another manifestation of that word, that’s another subtle change in—in what that word means. So they—they are totally embedded, they interact with each other, they build on each other. It’s a constant layering uh effect um to—to develop each other. Uh you—you can’t do them in isolation uh because language doesn’t work that way.

Uh, there’s debate in the field about the stages of the reading process. Um, uh I—my best understanding is that when we work with early readers uh from those who are just uh approaching print through the emergent literacy level into early reading, you can see some fairly uh dramatic changes from uh three months to the next three months. And the analogy that I use there is that it’s almost like a stair step. That all of a sudden kids discover the alphabetic principle, uh lots of things make sense and there’s—there’s this great leap forward. Um, by the time students are at about the forth grade level of literacy, uh to my experience at least and then from the literature that I read, uh the—the stair step uh metaphor doesn’t seem to hold quite so well. It’s more like a ramp. It’s sort of a gradual process of constantly learning new words, uh becoming sensitive to new organizational patterns and texts. But the—the notion that I’m uh—have some difficulty with in—with stages is that once you get past those early reading stages they’re not as apparent uh I think uh with the older students. So the um message that I have for people that are working with the upper grade students is to talk of fluency, to talk of vocabulary development, to talk of text comprehension not necessarily thinking that kids are going to move from one stage to another but that with any comprehension they will increasingly become more sophisticated. Um, you can look at a 3rd grade passage, uh even—even a 1st grade passage and say, “Well, should—should Jack have really climbed up that beanstalk?” Well that’s a good question and there’s lots of critical thinking that—that one can—can apply to that task and in that fairly simple concrete story. Uh, and in the upper grades you can talk about “Well, who should be president of the United States?” Um, it’s the same type of thinking. This was done with perhaps more sophisticated subjects. And so I—I don’t see a real clear shift in stages uh in the comprehension domain.

Uh, when teachers in the upper grades uh encounter students who struggle with reading, uh there’s—there’s many different uh dimensions to this issue. Um, first of all, I—I think it’s incredibly important to realize that there will always be struggling readers in the upper grades. Uh, just by definition as everybody’s reading abilities become more proficient, which they have when you look uh historically, um they will become—the expectations will increase as society and economics and occupational demands increase. So we will always have struggling readers. And I think it’s important for teachers to understand that. Uh, it’s just that the level of the task uh will be uh constantly increasing. So that—that’s my first uh recommendation. Uh, the second one is that students reading strategies, reading skills, reading proficiencies, are incredibly important but by the time students reach the upper grades the emotional um considerations, their identity that the students assume uh for themselves as non-readers uh in my experience takes precedent—precedence over uh any lack of strategies. Um, I think the teachers need to realize, especially with second language learners that it—it’s not a learning problem, it’s not a brain-based problem, it’s a language-based problem and—and these kids uh are incredibly sophisticated. It’s just that the language is holding them back. So we need to maintain the high expectations for these kids, uh give them the support that they need, uh and constantly encourage them and say, “You can do this,” and then—and then “Let’s go.” And in my experience uh with a climate like that, you know, you can anticipate, you know, great gains.

Um, when uh secondary teachers in the subject areas uh begin uh encountering students and it’s typically a gradual effect in the school districts that I work with. That as the demographics change, as—as the neighborhoods, if you will, change and students start coming into their classes uh with um, um second languages um there—there’s many different reactions that one can have to that. Um, the first uh recommendation that I would make uh to these uh people who are experiencing this, once again, is to realize that the students with a second language difficulty have all of the intellectual capabilities in the world to make sense of—of the tasks that’s being presented to them, they simply don’t have the sophistication of the language um to uh enable them to succeed with some of the school tasks that are being expected of them. So uh one of the tools is uh looking at the vocabulary. Uh, many English words, you know, have the cognates in the other languages and so that—that’s a fairly uh handy bridge to begin building uh with students so that they can see, oh gee, you know, family, you know, appears, you know, multiple different languages with only slight variation. So—so let’s build on that. Let’s think of some other words along those lines. Um, and building on the strategies that the students already have with their first language so that if we’re going to talk about summarizing or visualizing, well, you know, “Is that how you a—approach, you know, what you read in—in your home language?” “Well, let’s try that with what we’re doing here, you know, with the second language.” So—so making sure that those strategies are—are found to uh—to play across both uh codes. Um, when the syntax uh is different, you know, when the adjectives come after the noun rather then before the noun um now that’s difficult. Uh, students do struggle with that and so lots of practice with fairly simple materials in the second language uh enables uh those uh students to finely uh come to grips with this change and to begin to expect it. Uh, in my experience it does throw many kids for a loop uh when they first encounter that. So the—once again, the—the recommendation there is uh we need to give children materials that they can handle so that they do become fluent with those materials and then start moving them up, if you will, uh into more challenging materials.

Um, a good strategy in a—in a subject matter classroom is one that students can apply at all different levels of uh sophistication. Uh, and—and most of the study strategies like summarizing and organizing information, um the vocabulary strategies of looking for meaningful word parts, um they play out with extremely advanced materials, you know, at the college level as well as primary grade materials. So um I—I found great success in presenting one strategy, for example, um you can take uh clarifying unclear words. I can model that and demonstrate how I do that with a certain passage that—that I have shared with all the students. So I have a pretty good idea that they all understood my demonstration. Uh, and then when it’s time to—to follow the—the direct instruction model of now let’s practice, uh practicing with materials that the kids can handle, that they can fluently decode um is—is what is needed then to apply the strategy at the level, you know, the—that they can.

Um, it—it’s a good question to ask which strategies should a subject matter teacher select. They uh—the best advice um that—that I um—or the best recommendation that I can make is for a teacher to find one or two strategies that they can truly believe in, that they know works for them, that they have applied in their past in their personal academic careers, uh that—that they—that they believe in, that they have a passion in, that they really want to share with their students because they know it works and they understand it in and out because they’ve used it so much. Um, a—a teacher that—that buys into something like, uh like looking for the meaningful word parts, looking for the morphemes in—in—in the vocabulary can and should be um performed throughout the semester. Uh, simply telling kids about this in the first week of class doesn’t work. Uh, you should tell them about it the first week of class but then it takes a full semester to a full year to—for the kids to become proficient with it, for them to adopt it into their repartra. So—so that’s my first recommendation. Uh, if I went into a school district that was just beginning uh to think about implementing some reading strategies uh in the content areas uh I would ask the teachers, “Well what do you believe in? What are you passionate about and let’s go with that.” Now I will say that some districts um prefer to have a mandated uh set of strategies um rather then relying on people to go with their personal preferences. Um, and—and I can live with that as long as we choose a few that fit the subject area well that the teachers will buy into that they see some application um makes sense. Um, those strategies need to be very few, two or three at the most that are understandable, that are flexible, that people can use week after week, unit after unit, because once again it takes weeks, and units, and months for students to become proficient with these strategies.

Um, I—I think it’s important to understand that the term strategies means different things to different people and—and one of the key distinctions that uh I make is that you have learning strategies which is what the learner uses um all by themselves, when they leave school, uh when they’re individually sitting down or with a group um and trying to make sense of a—of a piece of text, if they have to stop and clarify, if they stop and visualize, if they maybe jot down some key terms. Uh, those are learning strategies uh and—and once again they’re very complex. Um, people that are in higher education often take them for granted. They don’t realize that there’s many layers of experience and many uh in’s and out’s that one needs to know about in order to truly apply uh, outlining, graphic organizing, webbing to text. So they’re—they’re very complex. So those are the learning strategies. The teaching strategies are how we as instructors structure the learning environment so that students can acquire the learning strategies. So if I decide that summarizing, or visualizing, or evaluating the message is a strategy that I want students to acquire, as an instructor then I have to ask myself, you know what teaching strategies. Should I use cooperative learning? Should I lecture? Um, should I have uh, you know, a choice of uh activities that the kids can be involved with in order to acquire these learning strategies. So the distinction once again between learning strategy and teaching strategy uh is subtle but important.

When teachers are thinking about different teaching strategies, um for example KWL as—as a popular strategy in the content areas, uh reciprocal teaching, questioning the author, uh literature discussion circles, uh there’s a multitude of strategies. I—my main concern um when we get real focused on those teaching strategies is what is it that we are trying to teach? What is it that we want the students to take away from these activities? Um, I’ve been involved in literature discussion circles, um for example, where the kids get real good at being the um, you know, the vocabulary person, the summarizer, and the content clarifier. But I sometimes ask myself, “Well how are they doing independently when they’re reading a—a novel?” You know, “Can they learn to clarify and—and understand the key words and—and then visualize, you know, all by themselves?” So I think we have to be aware that these teaching strategies are the means to an end. The end is the learning strategy and—and we have to sort of keep our eyes on the prize.

Um, the—the notion of strategies uh once again is a large area and—and the emphasis uh I believe is best focused on the learning strategies that the students are acquiring and taking away from the instructional situation. Um, if independent lifelong learners is our goal, which I believe it should be, then we have to constantly ask ourselves “Is what we’re doing in class helping students become independent? Are—are students uh taking in these strategies and making them their own?” So as an instructor then, as a teacher, when I’m involving my class in various activities, I have to make very clear to them, as well as to myself, that these activities are just the means to an end. The reason that we’re involved in this literature discussion is not so that we can get through 30 minutes here of fairly quiet, orderly uh time but so that when you read a novel all by yourself 20 years from now you will have the tools and strategies for making sense of that novel. So we’re going to practice doing that in this highly structured situation but—but doing a literature discussion circle is not the end of—of itself. It’s a means to an end of helping students become uh valid and interpreters of what they read.

Um, in many secondary schools we are having students come from all over the world, I mean we’re talking uh Eastern Europe, uh Africa, Asia, Mexico, uh etc., coming in from very different heritages, very different backgrounds, uh different cultural traditions uh into one very specific situation with very specific guidelines and expectations about how one acts in school. Uh, many of these kids have had uh tremendous uh traumas in their lives. Uh, they—they’ve lost family members, uh they have been uprooted from their countries, uh transported across the ocean and they land in—in this particular town uh and—and—and all of a sudden they’re in—in your classroom. So I think the—the first consideration there is—is helping students become acclimatized, if you will, to the situation of a secondary school here in the United States. Uh, and—and it doesn’t just come natural. You can’t just explain it to them the first time or—or—or pair them up with a buddy and—and expect everything to—to go smoothly. So I think one of the—the real major recommendations there is that we have to help students become comfortable in their situation so that they—and—and um aware of the situation and how one acts in the situation so that they are then enabled to uh start attending to the learning uh of what that situation’s offering them.

Uh, probably the major issue that—that I believe needs to be addressed uh relative to literacy and the upper grades is that the teachers in the upper grades have a passion for helping students develop their literacy. Um, many times what happens is those teachers um become very focused on their subject matter and—and I understand that. I taught history and history was what I wanted to teach and uh nothing else. And if somebody had told me, “Well we want you to teach literacy,” I would have had some serious questions about what that person was asking me to do. Uh, upon reflection uh I decided and came to the realization that that was really what I was doing with my students because I wanted them to become literate in my subject area. The more I’ve thought about it and the more I’ve worked in this area, the more passionate I have become uh about literacy. So I would ask people not only to become passionate about this but also to have a vision about what literacy is like uh in my classroom uh and share that vision with students, um especially students who struggle. They need to realize that literacy does give you power, you know, it gives you a voice, uh it gives you a passport. And I think sometimes people lose sight of that in the upper grades. So I think the teachers need to maintain that passion as well as that vision and—and—and share that with their students.