Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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About this Course

The Challenges | The Approach | Course Components | How to Use This Course | Key Literacy Topics Across Classroom Videos | Course Advisors | Course Writers



This overview of Reading and Writing in the Disciplines features teachers and experts discussing the key ideas about literacy development at the core of the more than 80 videos and extensive online materials that make up this professional development course.

Middle and high school teachers are specialists in their disciplines and know what is needed to effectively communicate with others in their field. Now, with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), teachers are being asked to share their expertise with students to guide them toward using specialized practices to make sense of discipline-based texts. In other words, the CCSS is asking teachers who are discipline specialists to teach middle and high school students the skills they need to comprehend and communicate like scientists, historians, mathematicians, literary analysts, and technical specialists. The goal is to ensure that students have the knowledge and skills to function well in each of these areas in the real world.

This can prove to be a challenge … and it is not the only one. Consider the student experience. In a typical day, middle and high school students move from class to class, learning content across multiple disciplines. As they do so, they might need the competencies to write a lab report, read primary sources, solve mathematical equations, and write an essay that compares the traits of two fictional characters. To be successful, they must learn to communicate within and across the disciplines.

Reading and Writing in the Disciplines can help teachers meet these challenges. With a focus on disciplinary literacy, the course delves into what it means to be an effective communicator in each of four disciplines—mathematics, history/social studies, science, and English—and looks at strategies that support building students' communication skills within each one. Although each discipline has its own particular literacy demands, understanding the differences and commonalities can help teachers build upon the relevant skills and strategies that students bring with them to class. This will provide teachers with knowledge of how to integrate literacy practices within their lessons and, more specifically, which strategies will provide students with the necessary tools for thinking critically about disciplinary concepts. 

Reading and Writing in the Disciplines is an eight-unit course for teachers in mathematics, history/social studies, science, and English. The course is divided into two parts. The first (Units 1–4)—intended for teachers in all disciplines—provides an overview of disciplinary literacy, essential concepts related to proficient reading, writing, communication, and general instructional and assessment practices that promote literacy development. In part two (Units 5–8), teachers select a discipline and focus both on the particular literacy demands of that discipline and strategies for preparing students to be literate participants in that discipline. It should be noted that all of the units are designed to provide students with effective literacy practices that will enable them to think critically about disciplinary content in the classroom as well as prepare them for participation in future studies and workplace situations.


Part I: Get Started with Disciplinary Literacy

  • Unit 1: What Is Disciplinary Literacy?
    This unit explores the factors related to literacy development, the concept of disciplinary literacy and how it differs from content-area literacy, and the multiple literacies that students use—both in and out of school—to be literate in today’s world.
  • Unit 2: Disciplinary Literacy: Big Ideas
    This unit examines the important ideas related to purposeful teaching and learning in the disciplines offered in middle and high school. The ideas are organized around general understandings of literacy practices, instruction and assessment practices, curriculum, and student engagement/motivation in learning.
  • Unit 3: Reading: Big Ideas
    This unit explores the significant components of reading comprehension that relate to effective reading comprehension and learning across disciplines.
  • Unit 4: Writing: Big Ideas
    This unit reviews the process of writing and the cognitive and affective dimensions of this process; common types and purposes of writing in all disciplines; examples of disciplinary writing; and writing assessment practices.


Part II: Select a Discipline


  • Unit 5: Big Ideas in Literacy
    This unit identifies and discusses the literacy practices of mathematicians, including reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
  • Unit 6: Reading in Mathematics
    This unit explores the literacy demands associated with the discipline of mathematics, with a specific focus on reading in the mathematics classroom.
  • Unit 7: Writing in Mathematics
    This unit focuses on the writing demands in a mathematics classroom.
  • Unit 8: Bringing It All Together
    This unit addresses what it means to plan, teach, and reflect on mathematics lessons that support the development of disciplinary literacy in mathematics.


  • Unit 5: Big Ideas in Literacy
    This unit explores the most significant aspects of disciplinary literacy in science, informed by how practicing scientists read, write, and use inquiry constantly in their work.
  • Unit 6: Reading in Science
    This unit focuses on reading scientific content for the purpose of learning and inquiry. It provides strategies for developing reading skills in science.
  • Unit 7: Writing in Science
    This unit focuses on writing in science, which includes text and graphical means of conveying scientific findings and ideas.
  • Unit 8: Bringing It All Together
    This unit emphasizes how reading and writing are mutually supportive for developing literacy skills in science. It delves into the iterative interplay between reading and writing.


  • Unit 5: Big Ideas in Literacy
    This unit explores current ideas in English teaching and the education profession, such as policy, research, teacher education, and teaching.
  • Unit 6: Reading in English
    This unit focuses on reading practices and instructional strategies in English.
  • Unit 7: Writing in English
    This unit focuses on writing practices and instructional strategies in English.
  • Unit 8: Bringing It All Together
    This unit brings together these ideas about reading and writing in English and discusses broader instructional design.

History/Social Studies

  • Unit 5: Big Ideas in Literacy
    This unit focuses on creating class investigations as a way of teaching history and social studies based on disciplinary literacy.
  • Unit 6: Reading and Analyzing Texts
    This unit looks at the practices for reading and analyzing texts within class investigations.
  • Unit 7: Argument Writing
    This unit looks at a process for argument writing, which is important for communicating interpretations and developing the ability to support claims.
  • Unit 8: Bringing It All Together
    This unit presents various methods to support the integration of reading and writing practices into classroom instruction.

The following media components are integrated into the above course units:

  • Classroom videos highlight exemplary literacy practices within each of the disciplines.
  • Research videos feature discipline-area literacy experts exploring what reading, writing, and communicating look like in each of the disciplines.
  • Real World videos introduce individuals from each of the disciplines who rely on strong reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in their work.
  • Interactive activities provide an opportunity for teachers to explore different literacy strategies and think about ways to use the strategies with their students.

A note about using the videos: The videos contain a security feature that prevents users from distributing the video through third-party sites. After ten minutes of inactivity on any individual page, this security feature will inactivate the video, and you must refresh your browser screen to restart video playback. Going to another page and coming back to the page with the video will also allow the video to restart.

Information regarding how to use these materials to facilitate a professional development workshop is available in the PDF downloadable Course Guide. Graduate credit is available to those who choose.

Users are also encouraged to "chat" with other participants by utilizing the Teacher Talk section of the site. 

Each featured classroom lesson touches on a range of literacy topics. These charts identify the key literacy topics addressed by each video.


Dale Allender, Ph.D., Core Advisor
Assistant Professor, California State University, Sacramento

Diane Lapp, Ed.D., Core Advisor
Distinguished Professor of Education, San Diego State University

Mary Matthews, Ed.D., Core Advisor
Literacy Consultant

Linda Ruiz Davenport, Ph.D.
Director, K-12 Mathematics, Boston Public Schools

Dennis Liu, Ph.D.
Director Educational Resources, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Chauncey B. Monte-Sano, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, University of Michigan

Robert Rueda, Ph.D.
Stephen H. Crocker Professor of Education, University of Southern California

Allison Skerrett, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, The University of Texas at Austin

Hiller Spires, Ph.D.
Professor, North Carolina State University

Susan Watts Taffe, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, University of Cincinnati


Dale Allender, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, California State University, Sacramento

Jared Aumen
University of Michigan

Linda Ruiz Davenport, Ph.D.
Director of K-12 Mathematics, Boston Public Schools

Dennis Liu, Ph.D.
Director Educational Resources, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Mary Mathews, Ph.D.
Literacy Consultant

Chauncey B. Monte-Sano, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, University of Michigan

Jana Sunkle
Director of Math Instruction and Adult Development, BPE

Additional Writing
Molaundo Jones
The Clever Agency

To begin the course, go to Unit 1 – What Is Disciplinary Literacy?