Nicole Balestriere: Disciplinary Literacy and Student-Led Discussion in Social Studies


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About me

My name is Nicole Balestriere. I live in Staten Island, New York. I received my B.A. in History and Education 7-12 from CUNY College of Staten Island. During that time, I completed my student teaching and a middle school apprenticeship through the NYC Department of Education at an NYC public school. Right after graduation, I began a teaching position there, as well! It is an expeditionary learning school and is also a part of the NYC Outward Bound network of schools. I teach 7th grade social studies and participate in my school's community as an advisor for the student council. This is my second semester in the CDIT program. I plan to continue along the Curriculum Development path when finished, and hope to enhance my teaching practice along the way.

My Topic/Purpose

The topic of this mini course is Disciplinary Literacy and Student-Led Discussion in Social Studies. With the focus on the Common Core Standards and new NYS Framework for social studies, students are expected to develop strong literacy skills that will prepare them for college and beyond.Teachers are now responsible for incorporating these literacy into multiple content areas. This course will aid teachers in understanding the importance of disciplinary literacy, and provide teachers with a starting toolbox for incorporating literacy into their social studies curriculum. This course is specifically based on the middle school social studies curriculum, however, the resources and methods used can be adapted and applied to any other grade level.

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Learning Outcomes

1. Learners will be able to explain the importance of disciplinary literacy in the SS classroom.

2. Learners will be able to determine how incorporating literacy into social studies impacts a student's overall comprehension and writing ability.

3. Learners will be able to determine how text based discussion enhances comprehension and develops higher order thinking skills.

4. Learners will be able to apply disciplinary literacy and student led discussion concepts to their own classroom planning and materials.

Needs Assessment

1. Instructional Problem

Students developing skills of a historian has always been existent in the subject of social studies. It has also always been taught through the historical content of the New York State History Standards and curriculum. Now, with a new NYS Social Studies Framework for K-12, the Common Core Standards are beginning to play a much larger role. Not only will students develop skills to think like a historian, but they are expected to develop strong literacy skills through the examination of various primary and secondary sources, including historical documents, first-hand accounts, artifacts, maps, and even images. These literacy skills include citing evidence, evaluating evidence for relevance and validity, drawing conclusions, making inferences, and forming a perspective on a historical or social matter. “In essence, students are being asked to use 21st century thinking skills, which require students to make educated arguments based on factual information, and communicate those arguments in an authentic way” (Cowgill, 2015, p. 66).

If this is true, it is ultimately the educator’s responsibility to begin including literacy in their social studies curriculum. Teachers can be reluctant to begin incorporating literacy into a content subject, due to lack of training in the literacy field (Bristow Evans & Clarke, 2014) and a lack of understanding of literacy strategies. For example, methods such as close reading and inquiry learning are both instructional strategies to incorporating CCSS into social studies and outcomes, as well (Pennell, 2014-2015, p. 252). Although this may be one of the most popular strategies that teachers may understand thoroughly, there are numerous methods that will be able to work for a diverse set of learners, including methods of student-led discussion that deepen understanding of texts. It is going to be essential for teachers to discover, create, and use these numerous literacy strategies and methods to improve the learning and thinking of each and every student they teach throughout the field of social studies. This course will provide both background literature in disciplinary literacy and methods for the meaningful application of disciplinary literacy in the social studies classroom.

2. What Is to Be Learned

Educators will begin to examine research on disciplinary literacy and its purpose They will also be able to learn and grapple with a number methods of incorporating literacy into social studies such as close reading and student led discussion. These methods will help teachers deepen student learning while enhancing literacy skills to adapt to grade level standards.

3. The Learners

Learners will be social studies teachers throughout grades K-12 and any pre-service teachers. Although the course uses materials appropriate for middle school, the learners will be able to adapt these methods and ideas due to their experience in education. The learners will also be familiar with the field of social studies.

4. Context of Instruction The participants will complete this course completely online. They will participate in a location of their choice. Participants will need computer and internet access to participate. They will also need Microsoft Word to open attachments.

5. Exploring the Instructional Problem and Solution

Participants will explore and analyze research in the field of disciplinary literacy. They will discuss methods and solutions to the instructional problem. Participants will also be able to explore and analyze methods to enhance literacy skills in the social studies classroom, as well as deepen student understanding of high level primary and secondary sources. Then, participants will have the opportunity to create their own activities based on the research and methods presented in this course.

6. Goals of this Mini-Course

Throughout this course, participants will be able to explore and evaluate literature on disciplinary literacy in the social studies classroom. One goal of this course is for participants to form a perspective on disciplinary literacy and develop and open mindset when it comes to incorporating literacy into their social studies classrooms. A second goal is for participants to being to grapple with methods of literacy instruction and student led discussion to enhance student skills and deepen understanding of sources. A third goal is for participants to create activities of their own they can use in their class, as well as evaluate each other’s and receive feedback from other participants.

Performance Objectives

Course-level objectives

I can explain the purpose of disciplinary literacy.

I can determine the importance of disciplinary literacy in the SS classroom.

I can explain how to use disciplinary literacy to meet the CCSS and deepen student thinking.

I can determine what it means to teach students to "think like historians."

I can describe the process of a close read.

I can analyze sample close read lessons.

I can determine how close reading and using text based questions can help content teachers foster literacy skills and meet the CCSS.

I can create lessons that include close reads, text based questions, and address the CCSS for social studies.

I can analyze the methods of student-led discussion.

I can explain the benefits of student-led discussion

I can create lessons that include student led discussion to foster critical thinking.

Task Analysis


1. Participants are pre-service or in-service social studies teachers.

2. Participants have experience teaching social studies curriculum (whether in their own classroom or during college fieldwork)

Unit One Activities: Participants will read and examine research around disciplinary literacy. They will also examine the Common Core Instructional Shifts and Standards for History/Social Studies. Last, they will explore the SHEG website by Stanford University to begin discussing the idea of thinking like a historian. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss their findings and understandings.

Unit Two Activities: Participants will explore information about close reading in history. They will also examine close read lessons for a 7th grade history class, along with text based questioning. After a discussion of their findings and understandings, students will have the opportunity to create their own close read lessons based upon the models and resources in this unit.

Unit Three Activities: Participants will look closely at a video of a student led discussion. They will also analyze readings around student led discussion and lessons. After they have a chance to discuss their findings, they will create their own lesson around student led discussion that is applicable to their classes and content.

Unit Four Activities: Students will create a lesson segment that includes close reading and student led discussion. They will have the option to collaborate or work independently. After completion, participants will be able to give each other feedback on their work and complete one final reflection of their achievement on the learning targets and their overall understandings.

Curriculum Map

Click the link below to view the curriculum map for this course


Course Units

Unit 1: What is the purpose of disciplinary literacy?

Unit 2: How can content teachers incorporate disciplinary literacy methods to meet the CCSS?

Unit 3: How can rich talk about text deepen literacy skills and encourage higher level thinking in our students?

Unit 4: How does the CCSS, disciplinary literacy, and the methods of student-led discussion impact my practice as a social studies teacher?

Closing Reflection

Resources and References

Cummins, S. 2013. Close Reading of Informational Texts. New York: The Guilford Press.

Darling-Hammond, L. Powerful Learning: What We Know About Teaching for Understanding. 2008. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fisher, D., Frey, N. and Lapp, D. 2012. Text Complexitiy: Raising Rigor in Reading. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Gills, V. (2014). Disciplinary literacy. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 57(8). 614-623.

Great Books Foundation. (2015). What is Shared Inquiry? Retrieved on November 22, 2015

Harvey, D. and Steineke, N. Texts and Lessons for Content Area Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman.

MacPhee, D. A., & Whitecotton, E. J. (2011). Bringing the “social” back to social studies:Literacy strategies as tools for understanding history. Social Studies, 102 (6). 263-267.

Merten, S. (2015). Reading and writing across content areas. Science Scope, 38(6). 12-18.

Milkkesen, M. (2012). Close Reading Procedure. Retrieved December 1, 2015

NCTE. (2015). Close Reading of Literary Texts. Retrieved on December 1, 2015

NCTE. (2015). Socratic Seminars. Retrieved on November 28, 2015.

Standford History Education Group.

Waring, S. M. & Robinson K. S. (2010) Developing critical and historical thinking skills in the middle grades social studies. Middle School Journal, 42(1). 22-28.