What is Disciplinary Literacy and Why Does it Matter? By Shanahan & Shanahan

There are several articles about disciplinary literacy that I have learned from, but one of my favorites is a recent one, “What is Disciplinary Literacy and Why Does it Matter?” by Timothy Shanahan and Cynthia Shanahan. It was printed in an entire issue on disciplinary literacy in Topics in Language Disorders.

I like it because it gives a clear distinction between disciplinary literacy and content area literacy.

content area literacy (novices) disciplinary literacy (experts)
Generalizable study skills Knowledge/skills used by disciplinary experts
Reading and writing to learn a subject/content Strategies and tools unique to the discipline
Techniques used to help students remember texts Techniques help students do the work of an expert
Differences among disciplines are largely ignored What's special or unique to reading a discipline-specific text?
Learners may be struggling readers or less motivated What's special or unique when writing a discipline-specific text?
  Learners may be proficient readers ready to explore the discipline


It also shares some of the research Shanahan & Shanahan have done to find out what expert readers do.

Quotes for later use:

“Disciplinary literacy… is an emphasis on the knowledge and abilities possessed by those who create, communicate, and use knowledge within the disciplines” (p.8).

"The focus of content area instruction is less on providing students with an insider's perspective of a discipline and ways of coping with the unique properties of particular disciplines than on providing students with tools to better remember the information regardless of the nature of the discipline" (p.12).







Shanahan T., Shanahan C. (2012). What is disciplinary literacy and why does it matter? Topics in Language Disorders, 32(1), 7–18.