The Journey Begins

By Dr. Laura Gabrion, Literacy Consultant

Shortly after Mary-Lu Strimbel and I got hired at Wayne RESA, our colleague Dr. Rosalyn Shahid asked us to reserve time for the Disciplinary Literacy Task Force work. Disciplinary...literacy? We trudged up to an ISD in the middle of the state to acclimate to the research, the document, and the work ahead. Our first Disciplinary Literacy Task Force meeting was a blur of information, objectives and urgency. At that point, even though the Essential Practices for Disciplinary Literacy Instruction in the Secondary Classroom document had not yet been released to the public, the Task Force was actively engaged in designing a professional learning model for pilot districts. 


As all good consultants do, we set up an intensive book study framed by inquiry and protocols. If we were to play an implemental role in state- and county-wide work, we needed to catch up...quickly. 
Among articles from leading scholars in the field, we read Disciplinary Literacy in Action and Investigating Disciplinary Literacy. Our study was framed by four questions:
  • What is disciplinary literacy?
  • What does it look like in a classroom?
  • How does research support its effectiveness?
  • How can we develop productive professional learning for area educators with teachers as co-learners?
Our own impetus increased when we considered that "adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at any other time in human history" (Moore et al., 1999).

Humble Beginnings

Bolstered by our new knowledge, we facilitated a three-day series for county-wide educators entitled Essential Literacy Practices in the Secondary ELA Classroom. Our participants were literacy educators at a variety of levels: administrators, coaches, teachers, and coordinators/directors. As we worked through the state's sense of urgency, how needs shift for adolescents, and the Essential Practices for Disciplinary Literacy Instruction in the Secondary Classroom document, we were confronted with a stark reality. May we remind you that these were literacy educators? In other words, we were preaching to the choir. 

Shifting the Focus

In response to that feedback, our next two meetings centered on how to gauge readiness, how to engage administrators, how to form interdisciplinary literacy teams, and how to make students disciplinary apprentices. As Rainey and Moje assert, "disciplinary literacy instruction begins to help students to read, write, and think in ways that are aligned with experts in the field" (2012). To do this effectively would mean having more than just literacy educators on board.

The Work Continues

After those initial three days, five districts have moved forward by taking some of the following steps:
  • Providing whole-staff professional development
  • Using the Readiness Questionnaire to determine entry points
  • Building interdisciplinary teams
  • Using current problems of practice/school-wide initiatives to frame instructional shifts
These districts have reached out frequently, especially in the initial stages, but in a county of 33 districts and over 100 PSAs, we know there is still much work to be done.

As if on cue, the Disciplinary Literacy Task Force has come to the same conclusion. Upcoming opportunities for professional learning around disciplinary literacy and essential instructional practices will pave the way for rich conversations and collaboration, and along with it, we will better prepare our secondary students for college and career. 


  1. Dr. Gabrion, Thank you for the Blog Post - especially the links. As a consultant in Monroe County during the Covid 19 pandemic, not only is learning about this more and the hurdles the pandemic is causing for consultants, this information provides a nice foundation for each of us to consider in working to assist schools in their journey to intentional implementation.


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