Language is not just an instrument of instruction. It’s the medium through which all disciplinary meaning is realised, expanded and manipulated. However, despite its centrality, we often take a reactive rather than proactive approach to developing students’ language and literacy – remediating issues when they arise, rather than attending to language throughout all points of teaching. So, what would this proactive approach look like?

Embedding in theory 

At the Learning Skills Unit, (LSU) we believe that the answer lies in embedding. By embedding, we refer to the explicit teaching of academic literacies (eg critical reading, referencing and paraphrasing, structuring writing) through subject content. These discipline-embedded approaches are overwhelmingly supported by the research and linked to improvements in student learning outcomes and satisfaction, for example Munn & Small [2].

Every time a student reads a journal article, discusses a key topic in tutorials or drafts an assessment task, there’s an opportunity to explore how to read, write, and think like a subject expert. Embedding doesn’t require a PhD in grammar or the cognitive science of reading comprehension. Teaching partnerships and cross-functional collaborations bring together the expertise that makes embedding language and literacies both realistic and achievable. Below, we give a recent example of this type of collaboration in action. 

Embedding in practice 

Across Session 1, 2021, LSU, Library and Numeracy have been working closely with the Discipline of Geography and Planning to develop a suite of lesson plans for two 1000-level units. Working with Unit Convenors, we considered the tutorial topics and assessments assigned for each course, identifying opportunities for literacy development. We then developed activities and resources for each tutorial, based on course concepts and set readings, that scaffolded students’ reading, writing, academic integrity, and study strategies. 

 “Working with the Learning Skills and Library Teams has been a fantastic experience this semester. They have designed discipline-specific activities that have allowed us to deliver academic skills in engaging and creative ways. This type of support is invaluable for students in their first semester at University. Overall, the expertise and enthusiasm of the team is exceptional, and we feel much more confident that students are set up for success in their studies” 

Sara Fuller and Richard Carter-White, Geography and Planning

The project was truly a collaborative one, with Library contributing lessons on using MultiSearch and assessing source validity, and the Numeracy Centre lending their expertise to develop students’ ability to interpret and discuss graphical data. In their first session of studying Geography and Planning, students have had the opportunity to develop their academic literacy, information literacy, and numeracy – all through discipline-specific subject content. Imagine the potential to develop students’ reading, writing, thinking, numeracy and research skills across an academic year…and a complete course of study! 

With Session 2 quickly approaching, LSU is ready to support you in supporting your students. Email us at learningskills@mq.edu.au or contact your research librarian here to start a conversation!  

References 

[1] Cazden, C., Cope, B., Fairclough, N., Gee, J., Kalantzis, M., Kress, G., Luke, A., Luke, C., Michaels, S., & Nakata, M. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92. 

[2] Munn, J., & Small, J. (2017). What is the best way to develop information literacy and academic skills of first year health science students? A systematic review. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice12(3), 56-94. https://doi.org/10.18438/B8QS9M 

Posted by Writing Centre

The Writing Centre empowers students to reach their study and professional goals by developing academic, communication, English Language and study skills. Email writingcentre@mq.edu.au with any questions or to find out more.

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