Active Literacy Across the Curriculum: Strategies for Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
Publication Type:Web Article
Year of Publication:2006
Math and social studies teacher Cossondra George, of Michigan, describes Jacobs' book as a collection of strategies for achieving schoolwide language instruction. She outlines the chapters, from active vocabulary use to ways of incorporating blogging and instant messaging, and calls the book "common-sensical and practical" overall.
Jacobs. H.H. (2006). Active literacy across the curriculum: Strategies for reading, writing, speaking and listening.Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
By Heidi Hayes Jacobs
2006 (150 pp/paperback)
Eye on Education
Reviewed by Cossondra George
Mathematics & Social Studies Teacher
Newberry (MI) Middle School
“Meaning-making is not a spectator sport – people don’t get ideas; they construct ideas.” So writes Heidi Hayes Jacobs in a book that offers a clear, concise message of how and why every teacher, regardless of content area, should be teaching language — and teaching students how to construct ideas from that language in the context of other material they are learning.
The chapters in the book are actually strategies for achieving school wide language instruction. Strategy One: Revising Roles – Every Teacher Becomes an Active Language Teacher advocates using curriculum mapping to guide this process. Weak literacy skills are cited as the reason students perform poorly on standardized tests. Specific skills such as text interaction and editing and revising are discussed. The common thread running throughout the discussions in this chapter is that content area teachers too often fail to focus on reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in the context of their subject.
Strategy Two: Teaching English as a Foreign Language – Employing Three Distinctive Types of Active Vocabulary contrasts the way a foreign language class is run versus a typical English class. Foreign language instruction relies heavily on spoken words, both by teacher and student, in order to master the new vocabulary. Jacobs proposes a three arena method for carrying over this vocabulary-building approach into other content areas. Every content area has (1) high-frequency words, (2) specialized terminology, (3) embellishments. High-frequency words are commonly the vocabulary words students are expected to learn and use. Specialized terminology is often explained to students, but most often they are not expected to use these new words in speaking and writing, and therefore have difficulty committing them to long term memory. Embellishments are described as those “vivid, precise, engaging words that embellish and give power to thinking in print and in speech.” Content area teachers must not only introduce these types of vocabulary words to students, but expect them to use them consistently and correctly. “We should be pumping our students full of words,” Jacobs says.
Strategy Three: Creative Notetaking – Activating Extraction and Reaction from Texts points out that note-taking by students should be an active process in which the student makes his own meaning from the material covered in class — not simply filling in blank worksheets or copying teacher notes. Student notes should demonstrate the ability to extract and explain ideas and concepts, and by doing so develop ownership of that content. Four forms of note taking are presented: gathering and categorizing, commenting and questioning, organizing graphically, and outlining and sequencing sets. This chapter does a great job of showing how note-taking becomes a creative process rather than a regurgitative one when teachers make it a priority.
Rubrics to be used for writing across content areas within every classroom are suggested in Strategy Four: Editing and Revising Independently – Using a Consistent Developmental Policy in Every K-12 Classroom. Jacobs suggests that teachers across the school work together to create a pool of assessment criteria for teachers to draw upon. The criteria, which could be tailored to particular assignments, would thus remain consistent across content areas. Students would begin to edit and revise their writing using the same standards and techniques in every class.
In Strategy Five: Speaking and Listening in Groups – Working with the Discussion Types of Models, common misconceptions about how to best generate rich discussions in the classroom are addressed, as well as specific models for enhancing these events. One especially interesting part of Jacob’s discussion is her reflection on the reason many teachers avoid true classroom discussions — they are messy with interruptions and side conversations. By cultivating caring communities within classrooms, teachers can generate and sustain a learning environment where discussion is commonplace and less likely to be viewed by students as a novelty to be exploited.
A variety of options for encouraging student growth in speaking and listening are suggested in Strategy Six: Tuning the Speaking/Listening Instrument – Giving Voice Lessons in Each Classroom. Digital tools like instant messaging and blogging are touted as new avenues for encouraging students to grow in this area. A list of possible speech types is given, as are criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of speaking and listening in students.
All the ideas given in the first chapters are brought together in Strategy Seven: Mapping Active Literacy – Revising and Integrating Curriculum Maps K-12. Jacobs says that best practice in the classroom, as well as in professional development, are critical to success as schools work to increase literacy among students. By using technology to map curriculums within a district, all teachers can view and use all content area maps to understand where students are, what they are learning in other classes, and how their own curriculum can enhance and integrate with other subjects. She suggests an ambitious seven-phase plan for best utilizing curriculum maps to achieve literacy goals.
Overall, I found this book to be common-sensical and practical, giving me ideas as a math and social studies teacher for using my content to increase literacy among my students, as well as helping them construct deeper meaning of the curriculum content I am teaching. Some of the ideas are a bit overwhelming and intimidating. Perhaps by looking at what is already in place, thinking about our final goal for student literacy as a district, and implementing in small steps the suggestions in the book would be less monumental.
I left the book inspired to rethink how I teach vocabulary in my own classroom and armed with thoughts of how our district can revitalize our curriculum maps, which quite frankly are collecting dust.