Portrait of a Learner 4-8

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Portrait of a Learner 4-8 > Factors > Core Academic Literacies

Core Academic Literacies

Factor Connections

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How Core Academic Literacies connects to...

When learners enter middle childhood, they further develop fluency with skills central to Core Academic Literacies such as mathematical reasoning, scientific reasoning, language and literacy, the arts, social studies, and technology. Students integrate this knowledge into their understanding of how the world works and how to engage meaningfully. Importantly, learners in their early adolescent years are working to define their place in the world, and therefore are more likely to engage in the classroom and learn when they can connect content and learning tasks with life beyond the classroom walls. Mastering skills and fluency in the core subject areas and understanding how they are interconnected, is essential for developing academic literacy, and for supporting young people in becoming active participants in school and society.

Main Ideas

To develop fluency in different academic content areas, students must learn and understand key vocabulary, principles, and relationships within a content area. Over time and with repeated opportunities to make meaning, learners can then organize this information into a conceptual framework, or schema, in Long-term Memory, which becomes a part of their Background Knowledge upon which they can readily draw from and continue to build new schema, fluency, and skills. Core Academic Literacies can include the following:

  • Mathematical Thinking entails basic number sense, spatial reasoning, estimation and measurement, probability and data, abstraction and patterns, and mathematical language and Communication.
  • Scientific Reasoning, often driven by Curiosity, includes fluency with observation, making connections like cause and effect, using Critical Thinking to develop and ask questions, generate hypotheses, engage in experimentation, collect data, and document observations.
  • Reading and Writing Literacies, a key aspect of Communication, include vocabulary, reading fluency and comprehension, making inferences, genre knowledge, foundational writing skills, writing conventions such as grammar and structure, and narrative and storytelling skills.
  • Arts Literacy invokes Creativity and imagination and can include: interpreting and communicating with visual elements such as color and shapes; musical elements like rhythm, melody, and harmony; theater, and movement. Arts literacy can support motor skill development, and allow for exploration of different perspectives and cultures, and can be a gateway to other literacies.
  • Social Studies includes learning about and asking questions about society, culture, community relationships and learners' roles in these contexts. It includes basic concepts of community, cultural diversity, geography, history, and is central to a learners' Civic Mindedness.
  • Digital Literacies include basic technical skills with hardware digital devices and software tools, and awareness of emerging technologies and their ability to support learning. As digital spaces provide increased access to information, digital research skills, including heightened critical understanding of source evaluation and digital problem solving skills, become incredibly important. As learners begin to use digital media and technologies more autonomously, these skills also incorporate understanding of online safety, digital etiquette and citizenship, and digital ethics.

One of the most powerful ways to use this knowledge is to be able to draw on multiple disciplines and understand how they are connected, to find solutions to real world problems. When students are supported in integrating and applying content knowledge across disciplines and settings, it enables learners to use higher-order learning skills such as Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Communication to continue to build and apply their knowledge and build deeper networks of knowledge. Having a deeper understanding of content knowledge includes the Metacognitive ability and insight into when and how to use this knowledge in new situations, including inside and outside of the classroom.

While students who have difficulties achieving in these areas may simply have variations in reaching developmental milestones, when students have difficulty with clusters of skills, it can be an early sign of a learning disability or ADHD. For example, students with ADHD may show deficits in Long-term memory due to disruption in the process of encoding and students with dyslexia often have trouble with reading and writing literacies and Communication skills. And students who are eventually diagnosed with developmental dyscalculia often have challenges with key aspects of mathematical thinking but also with reading and writing literacies.

Educators can support their students by first acknowledging that learners are capable of mastering and thinking deeply about Core Academic Literacies. Educators can also give learners opportunities to ask real questions, bring their experience and perspectives to the table and have engaging discussions. In addition, by teaching learners information about how systems work (like how the parts of a cell work together) before asking them to memorize facts or details (like the names of different parts of the cell), educators can provide learners with a framework to help them organize new knowledge, and can increase students' Motivation for learning—because an understanding of cause and effect is often more interesting for learners than just memorizing facts. When students are held to high expectations and given room to explore their interests and curiosities, and answer real-world across disciplines and contexts, they can see the value in their learning, and become empowered to apply their skills and knowledge in new ways.

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