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An Introduction to Disciplinary Literacy

By Sam Whitaker Lead Practitioner The Telford Park School

As a Lead Practitioner at The Telford Park School, I am leading a working group to focus on embedding disciplinary literacy. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) defines disciplinary literacy as ‘recognising that literacy skills are both general and subject specific, underlining the value of supporting teachers in every subject to teach students how to read, write and communicate effectively in their subjects.’ Focusing on vocabulary and I would like to share a successful methodology that I have been using in the classroom to pre-teach subject specific vocabulary.

Before leading on vocabulary, it is essential to know that tiered vocabulary is split into three tiers (refer to diagram). When introducing new vocabulary to students, I found Alex Quigley’s SEEC model a good place to start. The SEEC model means to select/explore/explain/consolidate new vocabulary.

When teaching English, I use this model to teach students essential tier three vocabulary. To start, I look through the scheme of work and identify the key words that students are going to revisit as they navigate their way through our curriculum. For example, whilst teaching ‘Oliver Twist’ to year 8 I have selected six tier 3 words for the SEEC model this half term (see table) because students will need to know these words to support them on their learning journey.

I then researched the morphology (constitution of the word) and the etymology (the history) of the word (Google is an excellent resource for this) and teach students the origin of the word. In class, I initially ask students to write the word in a mind-map and we would discuss the origin of the word.

For example, by teaching the Latin roots of ‘benevolent’ and allowing students to understand ‘bene’ means ‘well’, students have the skills to unlock the code to other words like, ‘beneficial’ or ‘benefactor’ which is facilitating their progress to becoming an independent learner. Once the etymology (history) of the word is embedded, I then explain what the word means to the group: the best explanations show the word in a variety of different contexts that will help the students to understand the word in real life and not in isolation to my discipline.

When the students are more confident with the word, I ask them to write the word in a sentence on a whiteboard and show their whiteboards to the class so the check for understanding can take place. I then immediately identify any misconceptions. I then interleave this word in my teacher-talk to encourage students to use the word as well as quizzing the students on their new vocabulary using low stakes testing. I include new vocabulary in the students’ PLCs (Personal Learning Checklists) when they are doing a writing task to guide students to mastery and provide them with opportunities to apply their new knowledge to their writing. Students then highlight the new vocabulary they used in their extended writing so that they can see the progress they have made over time.

I hope that you find this strategy useful.

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