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Arkansas State University

Reading and Writing in the STEM Subjects

Literacy instruction is moving beyond the English language arts (ELA) classroom. School- and district-wide initiatives have started implementing education in reading and writing across the curriculum, owing to the benefits to student literacy skills and learning that this approach offers. Competency in reading, writing, critical thinking and communicating correlates with overall student performance and success — so much so that modern achievement standards for college and career readiness focus on literacy development across all content areas, making it the shared responsibility of all educators.

Yet, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers have not traditionally needed to implement literacy instruction into their content requirements. Doing so can seem difficult, but when teachers approach the task intelligently, they can help students understand why reading, writing and critical thinking are important beyond an ELA classroom.

Moreover, writing across the curriculum can offer students deeper analytical knowledge of subject areas such as math and science as well as an improved ability to process and write about nonfiction and scientific texts. By studying how to implement literacy education into STEM subjects, candidates for a Master of Science in Education in Reading degree can learn to help teachers in all content areas support this important facet of education.

The Importance of Literacy

Students who demonstrate competency with literacy are more likely to stay in school and succeed in all content areas. Whether in ELA or STEM courses, students need to be proficient in English in order to read about and process course information. Furthermore, analytical writing about subject content can promote a broader mastery of that content than memorization alone.

Motivation and Engagement

If students see how reading a text about a mathematical subject, decoding its difficult terms, analyzing its content, and writing about what they learned can help them succeed in math, they will be more motivated to improve their literacy abilities in other subjects as well. This motivation leads to better engagement, which, combined with explicit instruction in reading strategies, can lead to improved overall proficiency.

Incorporating Literacy Instruction Into STEM Subjects

Implementing interdisciplinary literacy education and writing across the curriculum requires an investment of time. Teachers need training in literacy teaching strategies across different subject areas. An important part of this training is integrating literacy activities into existing curricula without detracting from established content. This can mean offering teachers a digital technology course that will teach them to use computer programs that incorporate the language arts as well as encourage student creation. Teachers can also learn to teach evidence-based argumentation in writing, a key component of college and career readiness.

Writing across the curriculum is an important part of improving literacy and content mastery across subjects from STEM to ELA and even the arts. Integrating literacy education into teachers’ workloads can seem daunting, but with innovative thought and training, it need not be an overwhelming process. Earning a master’s degree in reading education can give teachers and literacy instruction coaches alike the tools to oversee this integration creatively and effectively.

Learn more about the A-State online MSE in Reading program.


ASCD: Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy

National Math + Science Initiative: ELA STEM Developing Literacy with Math and Science

The Washington Post: In This High School, Reading and Writing Happens in Every Class, Even Math and Chemistry

The Washington Post: How to Integrate Literacy with STEM

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