Organising the Literacies

The concept of KLA-specific literacies is not necessarily a new one: Elizabeth Moje has conducted research into this field for many years. In one such study from the early 1990s she observed the integration, role and importance of literacy over a two-year period in a particular chemistry teacher’s secondary school classroom. The findings were quite intriguing, and in my mind somewhat unexpected, as the culture of the classroom was found to influence the students’ ability to apply the strategies implemented by their chemistry teacher, Ms Landy. When other teachers utilised the same ‘SQ3R strategy’ the students did not readily apply it, in part due to their “allegiance” to Ms Landy and “her” strategy, and in part due to the fact that it formed part of the classroom culture specific to that class, that teacher and that subject. I had previously underestimated the degree to which the culture of a classroom can impact upon its functioning; the teacher creates an environment in which the class is able to flourish and participate to varying degrees, thereby encouraging them to contribute to the culture themselves to differing extents. Ms Landy’s desire to assist her students to succeed led her to include literacy techniques in her pedagogy and her practice, as her definition of success involved attending college (university) and thus necessitates well developed literacy skills. This created a literacy-based classroom culture, linked to the teaching and learning practices, dialogues, outcomes, objectives, motivations, ends and means.

Ms Landy’s primary concern with student welfare and success led to her focus on literacy, as she identified it as a determining factor in her students’ education journey; but what I found particularly striking was not only her motivation for incorporating literacy into her chemistry curriculum, but her method of doing so. The thread that tied chemistry and literacy together, in Ms Landy’s mind, was organisation, and that concept allowed the neat marriage of the two aspects of education. Chemistry is a highly organised field of education, she argued, and literacy provided a means of understanding and interacting with this. Her students agreed that organisation was central to the concepts of chemistry, as the periodic table is “perfect” and thus understanding it requires an approach that highlighted its organisation. These students also recognised the fact that their teacher cared deeply about them, and in some ways felt more obliged to be ‘well behaved’ in her class as a result. This was engrained in the culture of the classroom, and resulted in the students’ “allegiance” to Ms Landy’s literacy methods being utilised in her classroom exclusively. This creates disparate literary success: the students are more inclined to employ literacy techniques in their chemistry class, but are not encouraged to do so in other classes. In another article Moje queries: “…why teachers do or do not enact the strategies designed by content literacy researchers, and whether students transfer their use of strategies in one subject area to another.” (Moje 2008, p97). From the study of Ms Landy’s class it is evident that teaching literacy strategies in one discipline will not necessarily translate into adopting an inter-disciplinary approach to literacy. I do not find this to be intuitive, as previously I assumed that the introduction of literacy strategies by a teacher, no matter the subject area, would increase the students’ overall literacy proficiency. Albeit, the fact that this is incorrect strengthens the argument that disparate literacies exist, and as such students may not understand how to apply a ‘chemistry strategy’ to a ‘SOSE text’.

I think the concept and implications of KLA-specific literacies is articulated very nicely by Moje herself: “…literacy as an essential aspect of disciplinary learning, requires the acceptance of a key premise that “the disciplines are constituted by discourses” (Luke, p. xii, 2001; cf. O’Brien, Moje, & Stewart, 2001). This premise assumes that producing knowledge in a discipline requires fluency in making and interrogating knowledge claims, which in turn require fluency in a wide range of ways of constructing and communicating knowledge. Literacy thus becomes an essential aspect of disciplinary practice, rather than a set of strategies or tools brought in to the disciplines to improve reading and writing of subject-matter texts.” (Moje 2008, p99)

To become literate in a specific discipline, therefore, both the student and the teacher must firstly recognise its discoursive nature, secondly work in collaboration to understand and unpack this discourse, and thirdly develop methods to readily apply to deciphering this discourse. In Ms Landy’s classroom, this was achieved through the uniting thread of organisation – the process by which the discourse of chemistry was ‘normalised’ and made familiar was through the lens of this ‘known’ concept. The teacher, Ms Landy, had recognised the need for a connection to be made between literacy and chemistry before her students would be capable of grappling with it, and provided them with strategies revolving around this concept to practice and implement.

I find it to be somewhat of an abstract decision which aspect of the topics are chosen to connect them, as their multi-faceted nature means it can be difficult to identify a single unifying theme. However, it appeared to occur effortlessly to Ms Landy in her teaching of chemistry, and thus it may potentially be a matter of course that such things ‘come with the territory’.

– For Science!


Moje, E. B. 2008. Foregrounding the Disciplines in Secondary Literacy Teaching and Learning: A Call for Change. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Vol 52(2), pp 96-107

Moje, E.B. 1996. “I teach students not subjects”: Teacher-student relationships as contect for secondary literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, Vol 31(2), pp 172-195


3 thoughts on “Organising the Literacies

  1. Pingback: Review “Foregrounding the disciplines” Moje 2008 « Secondary Education Students @ UC

  2. Pingback: Review: “I teach students, not subjects,” Moje 1996 « Secondary Education Students @ UC

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