Place-Based Essay Writing and Content Area Literacy Instruction for Preservice Secondary Teachers

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<ul><li><p>523</p><p>Mellinee Lesley | Marian MatthewsPlace-based inquiry can </p><p>help preservice secondary </p><p>teachers to understand </p><p>discipline-specific </p><p>applications for content area </p><p>literacy.</p><p>Place-Based Essay Writing and Content Area Literacy Instruction for Preservice Secondary Teachers</p><p>For many practicing and preservice teachers, the term content area literacy raises questions about the relevance and applicability of literacy in subject area learning. Often perceived as teacher-directed study skills and textbook-based reading strategies, content area literacy conjures up images of graphic orga-nizers and heuristics that constitute little more than busy work and drain the amount of time available for content area instruction. Part of the resistance secondary-level preservice teachers express toward content area literacy comes from their notions of the kinds of texts and curricular material they will be teaching. Preservice teachers often tell us, Im just going to be teaching math (or musical performance, physical education, cooking) or There arent any textbooks or reading in my content area. With such implicit definitions of curriculum, reading, and text, it is no wonder that so many secondary-level preservice teachers express resistance to learning about content area literacy and view it as merely adding material in their curriculum that will detract from subject matter information (Bean, 1997; deBeck &amp; Feret, 2004; Lesley, Watson, &amp; Elliot, 2007).</p><p>As teacher educators involved with teaching content area literacy methods, we try to encourage broad applications of literacy within content area instruc-tion. Our classes are filled with students seeking secondary-level certification in a range of content areas including mathematics, English, history, science, music, physical education, art, agriculture, dance, family and consumer sci-ences, and foreign languages. To address concerns like the ones raised previ-ously with such a cross section of majors, we strive to teach through authentic learning, sans prefabricated formulas created in isolation from the contexts of intended use. </p><p>As part of our instruction in content area literacy, we seek to (1) mak[e] the discourse expectations explicit within the content area, (2) us[e] literacy as a tool for learning content matter, and (3) improv[e] students acuity with literacy skills through content area learning (Lesley, 2004/2005, p. 323; see also Vacca &amp; Vacca, 2005). To invoke authentic learning that can ad-dress these three goals we have incorporated place-based writing and inquiry </p><p>Journal of Adolescent &amp; Adult Literacy 52(6) March 2009doi:10.1598/JA AL.52.6.6 2009 International Reading Association (pp. 523533)</p></li><li><p>524</p><p>Jour</p><p>nal </p><p>of A</p><p>dole</p><p>scen</p><p>t &amp;</p><p> Adu</p><p>lt L</p><p>iter</p><p>acy </p><p>52(6</p><p>) </p><p> M</p><p>arch</p><p> 200</p><p>9</p><p>with our curriculum. We believe place-based writ-ing fits well with the apprenticeship model (Braunger, Donahue, Evans, &amp; Galguera, 2005) and other ap-proaches concerned with discipline-focused content area literacy instruction for preservice teachers. We also believe place-based writing supports models of teaching content area literacy through multiple texts (e.g., Walker &amp; Bean, 2005). In what follows, we de-fine place-based content area literacy and discuss the ways we use place-based writing and inquiry to help preservice teachers understand authentic content area literacy pedagogy.</p><p>Content Area LiteracyMethods of content area literacy are predicated on the notion that students need explicit instruction in reading and writing about content area materials to successfully comprehend those materials. As such, content area literacy is contingent upon the norms, traditions, Discourses, questions, and modes of in-quiry in a specific field of study (Brozo &amp; Simpson, 2007; Moje et al., 2004). Theories of content area lit-eracy also discard the belief that students who read and write successfully in one content area can read and write successfully in all content areas. Because literacy is shaped by the linguistic and sociocultural nuances found within each academic discipline, con-tent area literacy is ultimately a situated experience. In effect, content area literacy cannot be divorced from the unique Discourses of individual content areas (Braunger et al., 2005).</p><p>Vacca and Vacca (2005) defined content area lit-eracy as the ability to use reading, writing, talking, listening, and viewing to learn subject matter in a given discipline (p. 7). Although concise in its de-scription, this definition involves much more than comprehension of print-based text. In fact, current views of content area literacy present a multifaceted perspective of literacy in which the types of literacies found in any one content area are constituted by mul-tiple sign systems, texts, technologies, nomenclature, and ways of reasoning (see, for example, Alvermann &amp; Heron, 2001). </p><p>As the field has moved away from content area literacy definitions that relegate notions of literacy instruction to textbook learning and moved toward </p><p>definitions that incorporate theories of adolescent lit-</p><p>eracy, critical literacy, multiple literacies, disciplinary </p><p>discourse, and principled practice, the possibilities for </p><p>explorations of place-based writing and inquiry readily </p><p>emerge (Brozo &amp; Simpson, 2007; Lesley, 2004/2005; </p><p>Stevens &amp; Bean, 2007; Sturtevant et al., 2006). To </p><p>see the connection between place-based writing and </p><p>content area literacy instruction, it is important to be-</p><p>gin with the expansive views of content area literacy </p><p>described in this body of literature.</p><p>Place-Based Content Area Literacy and LearningPlace-based pedagogy is essentially the practice of ex-</p><p>amining physical settings through various forms of </p><p>inquiry. Place-based pedagogy lends itself to learning </p><p>in all content areas because the world is constructed </p><p>through content area knowledge. The places we live in </p><p>and know are filled with opportunities for content area </p><p>learning. Restaurants, stores, museums, graveyards, </p><p>courthouses, ponds, sidewalks, walls, rivers, fields, </p><p>forests, grandparents homes, public parks, and schools </p><p>all contain artifacts of every content area taught in </p><p>educational settings. Place-based learning is grounded </p><p>in teaching for relevance, understanding the here and </p><p>now, and seeing how the present is connected to what </p><p>has come before. There are no radical ideas motivat-</p><p>ing community-oriented pedagogy such as this, just </p><p>deep thinking about what education is for and how </p><p>teachers can best facilitate the construction of signifi-</p><p>cant student understanding (Theobald, 1997, p. 146). </p><p>Place-based teaching can help students grasp the </p><p>unity of things that a focus on teaching discrete skills </p><p>has all but eliminated from the classroom. Even be-</p><p>fore the recent emphasis on high-stakes testing, Orr </p><p>(1994) noted how fragmented education had become:</p><p>We have fragmented the world into bits and pieces called disciplines and subdisciplines, hermetically sealed from other such disciplines. As a result, after 12 or 16 or 20 years of education, most students graduate without any broad, integrated sense of the unity of things. The consequences for their personhood and for the planet are large.... True intelligence is long range and aims toward wholeness. (p. 11)</p></li><li><p>525</p><p>Plac</p><p>e-B</p><p>ased</p><p> Ess</p><p>ay W</p><p>riti</p><p>ng a</p><p>nd C</p><p>onte</p><p>nt A</p><p>rea </p><p>Lite</p><p>racy</p><p> Ins</p><p>truc</p><p>tion</p><p> for</p><p> Pre</p><p>serv</p><p>ice </p><p>Sec</p><p>onda</p><p>ry T</p><p>each</p><p>ers</p><p>Orr was prescient in his predictions that we were becoming more and more ignorant of the things we need to know to live sustainably on the earth, as the current understanding of the issues of global warm-ing has increasingly demonstrated. He stated strongly that students need to know how to think in whole systems, how to find connections, how to ask big questions, and how to separate the trivial from the important (p. 23).</p><p>However, this kind of teaching is not just impor-tant for understanding and wholeness alone. It is im-portant for the attitudes that are developed and the sense of inspiration that occurs outside of classroom settings. Inspiration is one of the keys to engage-ment in learning. This sense of inspiration is often absent from the secondary classroom where emphasis is typically placed on context-less, textbook-focused instruction that deals in excess abstractions, blandness based on a fear of controversy, and removal from lived experience or local issues and concerns.</p><p>In place-based learning, students can become actors in making and remaking their communities. Literacy is vital to this kind of culture-making (Robbins, 2005). Robbins described literacy not as a skill but as a purposeful activity that begins through writing. We introduce content area literacy through place-based writing, and we encourage preservice teachers to become actively engaged in culture-making in their own communities. By beginning our classes with place-based writing, we hope to inspire preservice teachers to focus on broader issues and understandings of literacy in their disciplines as they investigate the possibilities of content area literacy methods.</p><p>In order for educators to begin to think about constructing content area literacy pedagogy grounded in place, there are two key requirements that must oc-cur: (1) primary source research and (2) inquiry over time. Preservice teachers are often amazed by what they discover through the process of repeated obser-vations in a particular setting. One preservice teacher planning to teach social studies wrote the following in a place-based essay about her multiple observations of the Castro County Courthouse (see Figure 1 for a complete description of the essay assignment):</p><p>I sit in the courtroom each Wednesday morning and listen to [the judge] read people their rights and notice </p><p>the blank look on their faces. Some have never been in a courtroom. When the judge reads them the right that, You should also understand that with written waiver, the court will assess punishment, either upon or without evidence, at the courts discretion, the de-fendant is usually even more confused.</p><p>As someone engaged in systematic observations, this student is gathering data. She captures verbatim the language used in the courthouse, gives readers a sense of legal discourse, and draws conclusions about the relationships between most defendants and the judge as well as the ways literacy is used in this set-ting and can ultimately be applied to her content area. She is also discovering authentic purposes for teaching literacy in her discipline. The defendants in this set-ting need an understanding of the particular texts and Discourses used in a court of law. Without appropriate literacy strategies, the defendants are at a loss. In addi-tion to discovering authentic purposes for literacy in her content area, through such observations recorded </p><p>Figure 1 Assignment for Place-Based Writing to Support Content Area Learning</p><p>Place-Based Pedagogy and Writing From Primary SourcesRecent curriculum studies have focused on pedagogy that is grounded in an understanding of place. For this assignment, I want you to tap as many primary sources as you can to think about connections between place and pedagogy and to construct a piece of writing about a particular place that addresses the ways your content area can be taught from information you gather in this place.</p><p>At the beginning of the semester, you should select a place to experience, study, and research through the perspective of your content area. You should visit your place on at least three different occasions to gather information about the place and consider the implications for creating content area literacy pedagogy that is grounded in a sense of place. Once you have conducted your observations and researched your selected place you will write a paper that will be shared with the class in an archive. Your paper should be three to five, typed, double-spaced pages in length and adhere to the policy on written work.</p><p>In thinking about this writing assignment, consider the following techniques for gathering information from the place you select:</p><p>n Observation of the placen Conducting informal interviews with key people affiliated </p><p>with the placen Collecting artifacts for analysis from the placen Personal reflections on your experiences with the placen Creating a knowledge map of the place</p><p>Make sure to list the primary sources you used to gather information in a reference page.</p></li><li><p>526</p><p>Jour</p><p>nal </p><p>of A</p><p>dole</p><p>scen</p><p>t &amp;</p><p> Adu</p><p>lt L</p><p>iter</p><p>acy </p><p>52(6</p><p>) </p><p> M</p><p>arch</p><p> 200</p><p>9</p><p>over time this preservice teacher is also engaging in primary source research.</p><p>Primary Source ResearchPrimary source research is a key component of place-based writing. Because data gathered through primary </p><p>sources comprises infor-mation from content area learning, primary sources also offer educa-tors a way to think more expansively about con-tent area texts. Because direct observation often requires students to en-gage in research outside of the classroom, many students do not experi-ence assignments de-signed to develop such </p><p>research skills until graduate school. Rather, many students experience curriculum and texts that position them as passive consumers of information through the secondary sources of their textbooks and teachers in-stead of actively constructing knowledge.</p><p>Primary source research places students in an in-vestigative role that fosters critical thinking, analyti-cal reasoning, and inquiry. In this manner, primary source research empowers students. Through method-ical observation and documentation, students learn to support their beliefs with concrete details. From such details students are then able to draw conclusions about their observations. To help students make note of the concrete details in their settings, we suggest us-ing the following types of primary sources for gather-ing information about a place: observation, artifacts, informal interviews, and photography or artwork.</p><p>As an ongoing process, observation is key to place-based inquiry and writing. In fact, observation over a period of time at different times of the day and on different days of the week is a foundational re-quirement for this type of investigation. One teacher we know used this technique of multiple observations in the same place as part of a science lesson to great success. Adopting the stance of scientists, her students investigated a vacant lot adjacent to their school to </p><p>search out artifacts and make discoveries. They first explored the lot with a naturalist who taught them how to look with new eyes. The teacher, one of Marians (second authors) former students, noted the following in her journal:</p><p>We walked in the naturalists footprints over rocky, then hardpan, then sandy trails; I watched my students eyes light up with the expectation of treasure hunters. At our guides request, they reigned in their boisterous enthusiasm and walked so noiselessly that we heard a hawk whistle from the top of a salt cedar before he f lew. We were walking through the scars left in the deser...</p></li></ul>