Harvard Educational Review
  1. Winter 2015 Issue »

    Toward Disciplinary Literacy

    Dilemmas and Challenges in Designing History Curriculum to Support Middle School Students


    In this article, Leslie Duhaylongsod, Catherine E. Snow, Robert L. Selman, and M. Suzanne Donovan describe the principles behind the design of curricular units that offer disciplinary literacy support in the subject of history for middle school students who represent a wide range of reading levels, and for their teachers, whose own subject matter expertise in history varies. The authors elucidate the theory of change from which the design principles derive and reveal dilemmas they faced in enacting disciplinary literacy when adhering to these principles. They use transcripts from classrooms implementing the curriculum to show instances of students demonstrating key skills approximating those used by historians, despite some compromises with authentic historical scholarship in the curriculum itself. By offering high-interest materials, opportunities to connect history to student experiences, and active classroom discussions and debates over historical controversies, the Social Studies Generation (SoGen) history curriculum, a part of the multidisciplinary Word Generation program, is an attempt to reconcile the tension between maintaining high student engagement with history and inducting students into the complex work of real historians.

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    Leslie Duhaylongsod is a doctoral candidate in Human Development and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is interested in how students develop, and how teachers and schools promote, the intellectual skills needed for both effective democratic participation and competitive participation in future economies. Her current work focuses on how social studies teachers support argumentation in the middle school classroom, specifically text-based reasoning and reasoned exchange. Prior to beginning doctoral work, Duhaylongsod was a middle school teacher for nine years.

    Catherine E. Snow is the Patricia Albjerg Graham professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she studies language and literacy development in bilingual and monolingual learners from preschool through the middle grades. Snow chaired the National Academy of Sciences committees on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children and on Assessment of Young Children, as well as the Carnegie Corporation’s Advisory Council on Adolescent Literacy. Most recently she has been working with the Strategic Education Research Partnership to evaluate the effectiveness of discussion-based curricula in promoting middle grades students’ literacy outcomes. She is a visiting professor at the University of Oslo, University of Johannesburg, and East China Normal University, appointments that enable her to study early childhood education from a comparative perspective.

    Robert L. Selman is the Roy E. Larsen Professor of Human Development and Education and the founder of the Prevention Science and Practice Program in the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His courses draw from his research into the developmental and cultural antecedents of our capacity to form and maintain positive social relationships as well as ways to prevent negative psychological, social, and health outcomes for youth. Selman’s research into the development of social awareness is related to educational achievement, ethical development, and youth participation in old and new media. His book The Promotion of Social Awareness (Russell Sage Foundation, 2007) was recognized by the American Educational Research Association as a significant contribution to the integration of social development in literacy. Selman is also a professor of psychology in psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School.

    M. Suzanne Donovan is the founding executive director of the Strategic Education Re-search Partnership (SERP) Institute. In that capacity she is building a program of work in partnership with school districts and university researchers that is anchored in classroom and school practice. She was primary author and coeditor of the two SERP reports in 2003: “Strategic Education Research Partnership,” which proposed the design and governance structure of the institute, and “Learning and Instruction: A SERP Research Agenda,” which details an illustrative research and development agenda directly tied to classroom practice. Donovan has also directed the How People Learn project at the National Academies since 1999, also serving as study director and editor of the most recent report in the series, How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom (2005). She was also the study director and coeditor of the National Research Council (NRC)’s Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education (2002) and a coeditor of Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers (2001). Before joining the NRC, she was on the faculty of the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

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    Winter 2015 Issue


    The Risks We Are Willing to Take
    Youth Civic Development in “Postwar” Guatemala
    Cultural Capital and Transnational Parenting
    The Case of Ghanaian Migrants in the United States
    Toward Disciplinary Literacy
    Dilemmas and Challenges in Designing History Curriculum to Support Middle School Students
    The Shaping of Postcollege Colorblind Orientation Among Whites
    Residential Segregation and Campus Diversity Experiences
    Black Male College Achievers and Resistant Responses to Racist Stereotypes at Predominantly White Colleges and Universities

    Book Notes

    Learning to Improve
    Anthony S. Bryk, Louis M. Gomez, Alicia Grunow, and Paul G. LeMahieu

    How Did You Get Here?
    Thomas Hehir and Laura A. Schifter

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