Reference: Moje, E.B. (2008). ‘Foregrounding the disciplines in secondary literacy teaching and learning: A call for change.’ Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 52(2), 96-107. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database (EBSCOhost).

{EDIT: another SecEd student has responded to two Moje articles @Synergistic Bonding in the Classroom}


10 page article in which Moje pursues the question of disciplinary literacies versus generic literacies. Moje talks about possible reasons why school reforms based on improving generic literacies within disciplines seemed to have failed. She argues that teachers may need to focus more on discipline specific literacy, and that a deep understanding of this is required for building cross disciplinary knowledge and relevance, which is also important. She notes that this is a challenge, considering the way school is structured into isolated 50 minute classes, which lends itself to the “pedagogy of telling”.

Excerpt from Abstract (p. 96):

“In this commentary, I suggest that it may be most productive to build disciplinary literacy instructional programs, rather than to merely encourage content teachers to employ literacy teaching practices and strategies. Some may question the focus on disciplinary literacy, especially at a time when new forms of text and new literacy practices seem to abound.”

Key Quotes:

 This paragraph sums up the idea of why Moje thinks specific discplinary literacy, as well as interdisciplinary literacy, is important:

“Part of learning in the subject area, then, is coming to understand the norms of practice for producing and communicating knowledge in the disciplines (Bain, 2000, 2006; Gee, 2001; Hicks, 1995; Lemke, 1990; Moje et al., 2004; Wilson & Wineburg, 1988; Wineburg, 2005; Wineburg & Martin, 2004). Part of that learning also involves examining how disciplinary norms for practice are similar to or different from the everyday norms for practice. Such learning requires understanding deeply held assumptions or themes of the discipline (Lemke, 1990). Equally important is the ability to navigate across the practices and discourses valued in the disciplines and those valued in young people’s everyday lives.” p. 100

Moje argues that disciplinary knowledge is needed for teachers to enact identities (e.g. be a historian) and that students also need disciplinary knowledge to learn how to read effectively within the discipline:

“To fully integrate literacy instruction and the subject areas, however, teachers, researchers, and teacher educators must acknowledge the conundrum that one cannot enact discourses and practices of a domain (i.e., enact identities) without relatively sophisticated knowledge of that domain. Moreover, young people will struggle to read complex disciplinary texts without some developed domain knowledge because, as Alexander and Judy (1988) argued, the ability to employ reading strategies is, to a large extent, dependent on knowing something about the subject” p. 101

Moje emphasises the importance of providing opportunities for students to construct knowledge and/or challenge the accepted norms of a discipline:

“Key to preventing the construction of knowledge-in-practice from devolving into the transfer of rote information is providing opportunities for young people to examine how the norms of knowing, doing, and communicating are constructed.” p. 102

Moje argues young people already engage in making relevant connections (metadiscursive thinking) in their daily lives:

“Although it is incumbent upon teachers of the disciplines to teach young people how to cross disciplinary and other discourse communities and to be aware of how discourse communities work, we should not ignore the powerful ways that young people already use to negotiate multiple discourse communities and literacies in their lives.” p. 103.

However, proficiency outside of school doesn’t correlate with academic performance:

“many studies of youth literacy outside of school demonstrate proficiency among those who do not appear to be proficient readers and writers in school (Alvermann, 2001; Gustavson, 2007; Moje, 2008). These studies demonstrate that the youths’ knowledge of and identifications with the do- main both support their skill in reading and writing and motivate them to persevere even when confront- ed with a challenging text or writing task.” p. 103

Moje talks about “repair work” i.e. what things need to be fixed for students to be able to engage in the subject:

“For some students, requisite disciplinary background knowledge is lacking and so reading upper-level texts and textbooks is challenging. For others, literate skill is undeveloped, creating a similar challenge but one with a different etiology. Finally, motivation to take on or engage with the identity as historian, scientist, mathematician, or literary critic/writer may be waning as students enter secondary schools with little evidence that disciplinary knowledge or practice is meaningful for their lives.” p. 104

The way schools are structured make it difficult to engage students in metadiscursive thinking:

“…a metadiscursive pedagogy calls for teachers to work across disciplines and contexts outside of school, to develop courses of study that examine ideas from many different disciplinary and domain perspectives as a way of questioning the norms of their primary discipline of study.” p. 105