Keys to Literacy Newsletter Spring 2011
Volume 7
KTL Logo  

Our quarterly newsletter provides helpful information about literacy and comprehension instruction in grades 1-12.  We hope the tips and resources will enhance your teaching.  Please forward this newsletter to your friends and colleagues!


In This Issue:  Content Literacy and the Common Core Standards (CCSS)

Save the Date!

April 7-9, 2011

New England League of Middle Schools Annual Conference

Rhode Island Convention Center (Providence, RI)

We recommend that you attend the NELMS Annual Conference, where the Middle School Literacy strand will feature keynote presentations by Joan Sedita and workshop sessions by other Keys to Literacy trainers.  Workshops also cover many literacy topics of interest with accomplished speakers. For more information and to register, go to the NELMS website.

Teaching Tips: Content Literacy and the Common Core Standards

Joan's Photo
Content Literacy, also called disciplinary literacy, figures prominently in the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for grades 5-12. The CCSS recognizes that each discipline has a unique approach to literacy and that content teachers are in the best position to teach literacy related to content. For example, a history teacher can explain the differences between reading a textbook and a primary source. A science teacher knows how best to read a lab report, a science textbook, an analytical essay, or a journal article. 

Why is it so important for content teachers to play a stronger role in teaching literacy skills? The CCSS is based on the premise that students need good reading skills to learn new content information, to develop background knowledge in core subjects, and to do well in postsecondary education and the workforce. A Lexile study compared the difficulty of texts students read in high school with those they will encounter when taking SATs, in the military or workforce, and in college. The study concluded that students are expected to read and understand much more complex texts in the "real world" than those they encounter in high school. Click here for the full report, Student Readiness for Postsecondary Options.

It is important to note that the Standards do not expect content teachers to be reading and writing specialists. Rather, the teachers are encouraged to model and teach literacy skills along with their content. Improved literacy skills will make students better content learners.These literacy skills should include vocabulary acquisition, building background knowledge, the application of comprehension strategies such as summarizing, question generation and note taking, and setting goals for writing about content.

According to the CCSS introduction, "Literacy standards for grade 6 and above are predicated on teachers of ELA, history/social studies, science, and technical subjects using their content area expertise to help students meet the particular challenges for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language in their respective fields."  Many content teachers will be uncomfortable with this new emphasis - partly because they believe it will take time away from covering content, but also because they have not received adequate training for teaching disciplinary literacy. Before we can expect content teachers to fulfill the requirements of the CCSS, we must provide them with professional development and support.  
Recommended Resources
Four Books

We recommend the following resources related to content and disciplinary literacy:
Click here to watch a video of a disciplinary literacy workshop delivered by Tim Shanahan. Click here to read the related paper.   


To learn more about the Common Core State Standards:

We recommend the following publications related to content and disciplinary literacy:
  • Content Matters: A Disciplinary Literacy Approach to Improving Students Learning (McConachie, Petrosky, & Resnick, Eds.) ISBN: 0470434112
  • Subjects Matter: Every Teacher's Guide to Content-Area Reading (Daniels & Zemelman) ISBN: 0325005958
  • Literacy Instruction in the Content Areas: Getting to the Core of Middle and High School Improvement (Heller & Greenleaf)
What's New in Adolescent Literacy?
Four Books

Federal funding for Striving Readers, the main source of federal literacy funding, is in jeopardy. On February 19, the House of Representatives voted to eliminate funding for the program entirely.To learn more about the program's status and what you can do to help, read Straight A's: Public Education Policy and Progress


The Center of Instruction has released a guidance document, Academic Literacy Instruction for Adolescents.


The National Council of Teachers of English has assembled a collection of helpful resources related to adolescent literacy.

Keys to Literacy News

In January, we published our first training book for The ANSWER Key to Open Response. It includes many examples across grades and disciplines. This one-day training is popular with districts who want to improve their scores on standardized tests.The ANSWER Key books are available for $18 through our website.


We are significantly expanding our work beyond New England. Keys to Literacy is engaged in several new state-wide professional development projects in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and West Virginia, and we are also near completion of a pilot year with three Philadelphia public elementary schools. Our trainers have spoken at conferences across the country, including Michigan, New York, and Florida. For a complete list of upcoming conference presentations and training sessions open to the public, visit our website's Training and Events page.


Our training staff is also expanding!  We now have a total of 13 trainers on staff; we've recently welcomed Cerelle Morrow, Lori Lentini, Sandra Gold, Bev Luskin, and Marjorie Margolis. Click here to read about their background!


Finally, we are pleased to announce that our online course for The Key Vocabulary Routine is now available.  As with the Key Comprehension Routine online course, the course will be paired with one day of live initial training but can also be taken independently. For information click here.   

Keys to Literacy

Keys to Literacy specializes in professional development for teaching comprehension and vocabulary that is embedded in the content classroom.

319 Newburyport Turnpike, Suite 205
Rowley, MA 01969 
T (978) 948-8511

F (978) 948-8611

A Message From Joan Sedita
Joan's picture

In Teaching Tips, I refer to a study comparing the complexity of text that high school students read with what they will be expected to read after graduation, including if they join the military. Over the past eight months, I have had first-hand experience with this.


When he graduated from high school last spring, my youngest son joined the army.  Before joining, he was required to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam. This timed test evaluates four areas: Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, Arithmetic Reasoning, and Mathematics Knowledge. Not only do test results determine whether someone is qualified to enlist, but they also determine eligibility for occupational specialties and enlistment bonuses - in short, my son's military career choices were determined by his scores on this test!   


I am happy to report that he passed the test, joined the army, and graduated from basic training in January.  We were very proud parents that day!  At the start of the ceremony, the commander thanked the families for raising such exceptional young men. He shared a statistic that I cannot forget: only 23% of young men in the eligible age range qualified to serve.  Why are so many young men ineligible?  The primary culprits are obesity and poor literacy skills.


My son has told me often during his training how difficult the reading material can be, especially as they are learning to use sophisticated equipment.  Many statistics illustrate our country's tremendous problems with literacy achievement, but my son's experience has made me much more attuned to the real, practical implications of literacy shortcomings  students face after high school.


As a mother, I am thankful for the teachers who taught my son to read and write so he could choose his own career. As a citizen, I know it is imperative that we improve literacy skills. As an educator, I am more committed than ever to making that happen!

Joan Sedita 
Quick Links
Join Our Mailing List