Big Ideas in Literacy
Disciplinary Literacy in History
What is meant by disciplinary literacy in history? How can the discipline of history inform literacy instruction? To answer these questions, this unit looks at what history is and what historians do to make sense of history.
Disciplinary literacy in history refers to a broad set of reading, writing, and thinking practices that are aligned both to the work of historians and the approaches they take to such work. When used in the social studies classroom, disciplinary literacy activities can support students as they learn valuable thinking and literacy practices. These include:
- Learning to ask questions
- Critiquing sources of information
- Considering multiple perspectives
- Judging the quality of evidence
- Forming reasoned opinions
So, then, what do historians do? In short, historians ask questions and review a variety of historical sources to make claims about the actors and events of the past. In other words, they investigate and interpret the past by researching documents and artifacts—receipts, diaries, paintings, stories—in order to answer the questions they have.
By teaching with practices that approximate the work of historians, teachers can achieve three goals. They can:
- Teach content through the investigation of primary and secondary sources
- Develop specific literacy practices in reading and writing that promote historical interpretation
- Support analytical ways of thinking about the past
Reflect: What disciplinary literacy practices, if any, have you used in your own classroom instruction?