To the Editor:
In his Commentary “The Confusion at the Core of the Core Standards” (Aug. 25, 2010), Rafael Heller states that teachers in all content areas must teach students reading, writing, listening, and language in their own fields. He contends, however, that for students to become “good readers and writers in general,” schools need a new category of educators who will “teach students to read critically, write effectively, make strong arguments, and speak with eloquence.”
Our six professional education associations—the National Science Teachers Association, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council for the Social Studies, the Consortium of School Networking, and the Association for Career and Technical Education—affirm in our newly published Principles for Learning that “being literate is at the heart of learning in every subject area.” Teachers must teach the structure of their field, which includes how to write about the subject and how to read it. Because we agree about this responsibility, we may not have as far to go to reach this goal as some reformers imagine.
In addition, the category of educators that Mr. Heller calls for already exists. Literacy coaches use their expert knowledge about literacy processes to work with teachers in every content area. Research shows that when literacy coaches are adequately funded, are not diverted to other tasks, and are integrated into the school community, they can help all teachers implement instructional activities to support both discipline-specific literacy practices and “general communication needs.”
Students learn best when skills are applied to real purposes. The “general, cross-disciplinary literacy expectations” named in the standards need to be integrated into multiple subject areas for application and refinement.
With adequate preparation programs, on-going professional development, and active collaboration with literacy coaches, teachers can provide literacy instruction that supports students in meeting the goals of the common-core state standards, and, more importantly, in communicating successfully in their personal, work, and civic lives.
Director, Washington Office
National Council of Teachers of English
A version of this article appeared in the September 15, 2010 edition of Education Week as On Teaching Literacy Across All Subjects