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Discursive Met Knowledge And Content Area Literacy
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Gee (1989) equated literacy with the ability to participate in social situations or discourses. Although much of Gee's later work in discourses emphasized issues in addition to participation (e.g., identity), we find his earlier formulation of literacy to be useful for this study. Gee noted two different types of literacies or discourses: "primary discourses," which develop in familial surroundings, and "secondary discourses," which are used in all other contexts (p. 22). From Gee's perspective, the purpose of schooling is to help students participate in and gain control over secondary discourses that are valued by society. Discourses so valued are considered "dominant discourses" (Gee, 1989, p. 20).
Gee argued that the alignment between mainstream culture and dominant discourses helps explain why mainstream students generally have less difficulty participating in such discourses than do other students. Because the dominant discourse is similar to their experiences, there is less difference to Links London overcome. We argue that a parallel exists here and that because content area teachers are highly proficient in their dominant discourse, they, like mainstream students, are challenged to notice it. This has the effect of rendering the discursive practices of subjects such as science and mathematics, like the proverbial water to the fish, invisible to the teacher.
Gee (1989) called the knowledge of discursive practices "powerful literacy". Powerful literacy goes beyond participation in-or control ofâ€”a discourse to include the met knowledge required to critique that discursive practice. For example, one kind of discursive met knowledge useful for teachers includes understanding how reasoning in everyday situations compares to reasoning in science and mathematics. If a teacher explicitly understands how the dominant discourses of school science and mathematics workâ€”as discursive practicesâ€”then this knowledge can be used to help students who do not control these discourses to bridge the gap. Indeed, researchers have shown that traditional science instruction often excludes students' personal experiences as resources for evaluating scientific claims (Warren, Ballenger, Ogonowski, Rosebery, & Hudicourt-Barnes, 2001). Teachers who have discursive met knowledge of how claims work, both in students' everyday reasoning and in school science, can help students understand how school science is both similar to and different from everyday life.
Gee's notions of met knowledge and powerful literacy provide a useful frame for considering our content area literacy work with science and mathematics preservice teachers. As teacher educators, we aim to prepare teachers who understand and can bridge the differences in the dominant discourses of school mathematics and science and the secondary discourses of their students. Because university content courses generally fail to develop met knowledge of Links Of London Charms science and mathematics as discursive practices, teacher education has an important role to play. In this article, we illustrate how one assignment was useful in generating met knowledge of important features of school science and mathematics discourse that are particularly important for understanding the central role of literacy in teaching and learning content.
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