Education Endowment Foundation:EEF blog: Growing the disciplinary literacy tree: a new resource to support subject-specific literacy skills in secondary school pupils

EEF blog: Growing the disciplinary literacy tree: a new resource to support subject-specific literacy skills in secondary school pupils

Chloe Butlin
Chloe Butlin
Content Specialist for Literacy

Chloe Butlin, our literacy content specialist, introduces the disciplinary literacy tree: a new EEF resource to support teachers and leaders to implement disciplinary literacy in their settings.

Blog •2 minutes •

The analogy of the disciplinary literacy tree illustrates the relationship between general and subject specific literacy skills.

As children move to secondary school, the more defined branches mark the fact that literacy and text become what we describe in the guidance report as increasingly specialised’ across the disciplines of curriculum domains. The foundations, or roots, for this are grounded firmly in the literacy learning that comes before.

For students to effectively access these domains, they need this expertise to be unlocked deliberately and explicitly. So disciplinary literacy is an important area of professional knowledge for every teacher.

Protecting time for curriculum discussion is an integral part of implementation planning for disciplinary literacy. Senior leaders and curriculum leads can use the disciplinary literacy tree resource on the website, in conjunction with a blank downloadable curriculum discussion template, to support staff to discuss the often unique and specialised ways that experts read in their subject area.

The Disciplinary Literacy Tree

The Disciplinary Literacy Tree can be used to define and exemplify disciplinary literacy for school leaders and curriculum leads.

What are the reading guidelines’ for your subject?

Having discussed the ways that an expert might read in your subject, aim to codify these principles into a series of reading guidelines. Create a list of what Shanahan and Shanahan call reading facilitators’ (explicit instructions or reading guidelines for how to read a text in your subject). Then think about:

  • How can they be embedded into reading instruction? Consider existing resources. What supports or scaffolds are there to support reading? 
  • Is there an opportunity to share more broadly with colleagues, for instance a discussion between science and maths teams? How could you include support staff?
  • How will they be shared with students? 

Next steps

Collaborate on mapping out the high-quality academic texts, and associated vocabulary, which deliver powerful knowledge across your curriculum. 

Our Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools guidance report offers advice on how to align vocabulary instruction with curriculum development (page 13). It also includes further support to develop pupils’ ability to read and access academic texts (pages 14 – 17).