Disciplinary literacy | Reading Comprehension

Disciplinary Reading: Bedrock is here to help

By Emily Newton

05 Sept 2023


Literacy requires more than the ‘general literacy skills that can be applied in all subjects,’ but also includes the ability to ‘apply both these general and specialised skills in sophisticated ways’ within various disciplinary contexts (Shanahan, 2009).

What is disciplinary reading?

Gone are the days when literacy was confined to reciting poems and copying out prose. Thankfully, we have moved beyond this approach towards understanding the nuanced demands of different subjects, sparking the emergence of disciplinary literacy. Unlike reading within the context of general literacy, which focuses on fundamental language skills, disciplinary reading delves into subject-specific approaches to reading and comprehension, it is based upon the idea that literacy is specialised, and even unique, across each discipline, for example, geographers interpret texts differently from mathematicians.


AQA Question paper Science (Foundation): Paper 4 - November 2021

Let’s look at the word ‘source’ used in this Science exam paper question. In this context, the word source is used in reference to where energy can be obtained in order to provide power. However, ‘source’ in Geography is the term used to pinpoint where a river begins, and in History, a ‘source’ is used to discuss the legitimacy and type of texts used to research a topic.

Why is disciplinary reading important?

The issue we’re facing now is that the definition of literacy is too narrow. At Bedrock we are reshaping the notion of reading across disciplines, aiming to bridge both academic and social disparities within education.

1. Depth of Knowledge

A deeper understanding of vocabulary across contexts empowers learners to grasp more complicated concepts across different subjects more effectively. Bedrock’s tier 3 vocabulary curriculum allows teachers to map their bespoke vocabulary curriculum for their subject. Teachers from every discipline across the school can create their own vocabulary curriculum, sequenced to align to their learning within class. This allows learners to understand the subject-specific definitions and contexts of certain words.

2. Rigorous Thinking

Each academic discipline has its own methods of inquiry, critical thinking skills, and analytical approaches. Disciplinary reading fosters rigorous thinking, helping individuals develop the capacity to analyse, synthesise, and evaluate information within the context of their chosen discipline.

Through Bedrock, learners will regularly encounter activities, immersed within prose of many different types and styles, which ask them to combine multiple aspects of reading at once. These include planning and editing skills, text generation skills, grammar techniques, and ambitious vocabulary. Learners will experience applying these skills to a range of text types, developing their thinking skills in the context of many different disciplines.

3. Foundational Understanding

Disciplinary reading provides the foundational knowledge necessary for building upon existing theories, concepts, and methodologies within a field. Without a solid understanding of the discipline, it becomes difficult to innovate and make meaningful advancements. For example, being able to read and understand a map is vital to being able to advance your knowledge of geography.

The January 2022 Reading Framework for Teaching the foundations of Literacy states that “children’s writing generally develops at a slower pace than their reading”. Bedrock’s algorithm works in a way that makes sure learners have the foundations needed in all core areas of literacy, including reading and writing, to fully equip them with a better chance of success.

4. Communication within the Field

Different disciplines often feature their own jargon, terminology, and modes of communication. Disciplinary reading enables effective communication and collaboration among experts within the same field, promoting a shared understanding and exchange of ideas.

Bedrock creates confident communicators by exposing learners to language within different contexts and mediums. When learners feel more confident in their reading skills, they often feel more comfortable expressing themselves verbally, contributing to more effective oracy skills.

5. Cultural Capital

In an era marked by economic disparities, the Education system is facing even more funding cuts, pushing the focus on cultural capital even lower on the totem pole.

With an expansive virtual library, teeming with original fiction and non-fiction texts across a wide range of topics, Bedrock enhances cultural capital whilst systematically bolstering literacy skills. From the history of pioneering explorers to real-life rescue stories, these texts empower learners to explore a world beyond their immediate surroundings.

It’s time we don’t leave it to chance

The shift towards disciplinary reading is a definite move away from leaving vocabulary acquisition to chance. Bedrock's holistic approach paves the way for a more comprehensive understanding of subjects and concepts, bridging gaps in academic achievement and cultural capital. By embracing disciplinary reading, we embrace the opportunity to shape learners into informed and confident communicators poised for success in a complex, interconnected world.

Implement your whole school disciplinary literacy strategy

Bedrock's tier 3 vocabulary curriculum enables schools to deliver quality teaching and learning of subject-specific vocabulary, ensuring that learners can communicate like experts in every subject across the school.