Portrait of a Learner 9-12

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Portrait of a Learner 9-12 > Factors > Core Academic Literacies

Core Academic Literacies

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How Core Academic Literacies connects to...

When learners enter adolescence, 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 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. In addition, developmental changes in the brain are thought to support adolescent's abilities to infer, reflect, and make connections and engage higher order thinking including personal, cultural, and emotional meaning-making, core to deeper engagement and learning across the disciplines.

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. This then becomes a part of their Background Knowledge, which learners can draw from and build upon to create new schemas, fluency, and skills.

Core Academic Literacies can include the following:

  • Mathematical Thinking entails basic number sense, spatial reasoning, an understanding of probability and numerical data, abstraction and patterns, logical arguments and proofs, and mathematical language and Mathematical Communication.
  • Scientific Reasoning, often driven by Curiosity, includes scientific observation, using Critical Thinking to develop and ask questions, generate hypotheses, engage in experimentation, collect and document data, and engage in peer review and scientific Communication.
  • Reading and Writing Literacies, a key aspect of Communication, include both traditional and multimodal literacies, vocabulary, reading fluency and comprehension, making inferences and analyzing arguments, genre knowledge, foundational writing skills and conventions, and narrative and storytelling skills. When introducing reading and writing in digital contexts, educators should emphasize and monitor foundational reading skills, highlighting the differences between deeper traditional reading, and skimming strategies used in digital formats.
  • Arts Literacy invokes Creativity and imagination and can include interpreting, analyzing, and communicating with visual elements such as color and shapes, musical elements like rhythm, melody, and harmony, and theater, and movement. Arts literacy often engages 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, economics, 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. Similarly, media literacy skills, or the skills needed to critically evaluate media for credibility, bias, and accuracy, are essential for older learners as they navigate multiple sources of media, including social media for personal and information purposes. As older learners typically 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. In addition, connecting content across multiple disciplines can better engage learners who may not associate themselves as good or interested in a particular content area, for instance by incorporating arts into STEM. 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, reflect and make meaning of the content, and have engaging discussions. When students are held to high expectations and given room to explore their interests and curiosities, and to engage in inquiry across multiple literacies, 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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