When I first encountered professional development on the concept of disciplinary literacy, I thought,
It’s made for CTE!
Built on “the idea that literacy and text are specialized, and even unique, across the disciplines” (Shanahan, 2017), disciplinary literacy emphasizes how thinking is influenced by the vocabulary we use. The greater a vocabulary, the greater thinking opportunities someone has. We can more readily explore distinctions and specific situations, when we are able to describe our observations and experiences more accurately.
Likewise, career and technical education (CTE) students deepen their own experiences and recount peer experiences and thinking more accurately.
As technical vocabulary expands, students develop a better sense of what specific career field thinking looks like. For instance, “How would an automotive technician see this problem?” “How would a health care professional react to this situation?” “When an IT professional faces this situation, what is their lens they see through?”
This is the heart of disciplinary literacy. Technical vocabulary usage is vital.
Forced Lab Conversations
Gist: Students describe aloud exactly what their classmate is doing, and why, using technical terms.
When to use: During lab or classroom work when students are given an opportunity to use and explain vocabulary terms in context. The Forced Lab Conversations exercise is great for use in any CTE class.
How it Works
- Group students in threes (or more) during lab work.
- Say, “Today we will incorporate conversation into our lab work. Take turns doing the [lab activity]. The group members who are not doing the activity will then have a conversation describing what their partner is doing and why.”
- Give students a word bank, or simply specify a number of vocabulary words from their list that they should use during the conversation. You might assign one person to keep track of vocabulary words used by each group member.
- Direct the conversation so students incorporate questions, explanations and descriptions. They may feel awkward at first but being given a list of words to use will make it a fun challenge.
- After a portion of the activity, have students switch so someone else can perform the lab activity. Rotate participants periodically as time allows.
Make it work for e-learning.
The following presents an example of how an early childhood education (ECE) teacher incorporated forced lab conversations in a virtual learning environment.
The unit focused on lesson plan development.
Technical vocabulary included:
- Social–emotional growth
- Learning stations
- Prop box creation
- Sensory learning
- Dramatic play
During his virtual session, he introduced each term and asked the students to take brief notes on unfamiliar terms. Then the CTE teacher engaged students in a discussion about how these terms are used when teachers prepare lesson plans.
Then he shared his screen and read through a lesson he had typed.
“ECE teachers have to be creative when creating prop boxes for engaging learning stations. Your challenge is this: Take 20 minutes to create a themed station and prop box from items in your home. Be creative. When we meet back here in 20 minutes, each of you will take a turn to describe your prop box using each of the technical terms for today. Go. See you in 20.”
See the strategy in action.
Sandra Adams is a teacher and instructional coach with the Career Academy, Fort Wayne Community Schools. She co-wrote the ACTE-supported book But I’m NOT a Reading Teacher!: Literacy Strategies for Career and Technical Educators with Gwendolyn Leininger, where further detailed explanations of the strategies in this series can be found. Email her.