Disciplinary Literacy

Disciplinary literacy focuses on developing learners’ ability to engage in discipline-specific practices. This is an important aspect of literacy development because each content area requires knowledge about how to use discipline-specific language to communicate in that area as new knowledge is built. Students read, write, speak, listen, and use different vocabulary and language structures in different disciplines.

The foundation built by elementary teachers in disciplinary literacies is critical to students’ success in upper grades in each discipline. 

Disciplinary literacy apprentices students into the unique ways of communicating in each discipline. As teachers begin to think about how to do this, they might ask themselves, "How does each field (e.g., science, mathematics, health, art, social studies, career and technical education, English language arts, world languages) use reading, writing, discourse, and language? What are the norms for how knowledge should be created, shared and evaluated?" 

Hawaii State Literacy Plan- Disciplinary Literacy

At the secondary level, the educators best positioned to teach these skills are the content area teachers, as they are most knowledgeable about discipline-specific literacy practices.  

Five disciplinary literacy practices are applicable for elementary through adult learners. These practices include: 

The table uses science as an example to describe the differences between scientific literacy, disciplinary literacy and content area literacy, terms that are all important and may overlap but are sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably.   Disciplinary literacy is not just a new name for content area literacy.  While it may be helpful for teachers to learn and use general strategies across disciplines, disciplinary literacy centers the discipline and acknowledges first and foremost the expertise of teachers and practitioners in the particular field. Scientific literacy refers more broadly to how science is understood — as a process, as a body of knowledge, as a human endeavor — and how a person applies those understandings. 

Scientific Literacy Example

Disciplinary Literacy Resources (by Content Area)

Physical Education

Social Studies