Defining Disciplinary Literacy and Identifying the Supports Needed for Implementation: a Modified Delphi Study
Powell, Kelli Lesly
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Since the early 1900s, researchers have studied secondary literacy practices. Content area reading strategies have been well documented and shown to be effective in improving students’ comprehension of content materials. Despite this research, content teachers are still resistant to using these strategies as they are viewed as taking time away from teaching the content. Disciplinary literacy is a relatively new term in the field of literacy instruction and as a result, literacy experts vary in their beliefs about disciplinary literacy and its relation to content literacy. In a review of the literature of both content literacy and disciplinary literacy, the expertise of the teacher is critically important. The purpose of this study was to understand how literacy experts define disciplinary literacy and its relationship to content literacy. Additionally, literacy experts were asked to identify significant works in the field of disciplinary literacy and what makes these works significant. Using a Delphi technique, participants were asked to respond to a series of open- ended questions, rate summarized responses, and provide a rationale for their ratings. This Delphi had three iterations and participants had the opportunity to respond to ratings and summary statements as well as to revise their responses. This Delphi study utilized a format to encourage a dialogue about the topic of disciplinary literacy and was not intended to continue iterations until there was an agreement on a disciplinary literacy definition. The intention was to identify elements that should be incorporated in a definition for disciplinary literacy and the instructional approaches that may align with a definition. The Delphi technique is not guided by a theoretical framework; however, this study relied on a theoretical perspective. Moje’s (2007) Disciplinary Literacy Theory and Fang’s (2012a) Approaches to Developing Content Literacies were not only used to guide this study but also used as a priori codes in this first level of analysis. To increase reliability of the findings, an interrater categorized the data using the same a priori codes. The researcher calculated the Cohen’s kappa to measure the level of agreement. For each of the definition statements, the median rating was reported, and rationale statements were used to explain the ratings. For the final analysis, rationale statements were coded using process coding and themes were developed. After the second iteration, it became evident that participants were not interested in identifying significant works as they preferred not to respond, provided incomplete responses, or did not follow instructions. The researcher abandoned this portion of the study. The median ratings and an analysis of the rationale statements highlighted that any definition for disciplinary literacy needs to be teacher-friendly, honor the epistemological processes of a discipline, and not abandon the use of cognitive strategies that support comprehension. The findings of the study emphasized the importance of the role of the teacher in the secondary content area setting. Content teachers need to have an understanding about the literacies of their discipline, which includes its beliefs, language, and discourses. In order to develop this level of teacher expertise, pre-service preparation programs and ongoing professional learning for in-service teachers need to be designed to foster those skills and abilities. Literacy experts, teachers, and those who work in the discipline need to collaborate to explicitly define a discipline’s discourses and how students can show their understanding of content information.