Think back to your experiences in content area high school classes such as algebra, history, biology, and art. How did you learn the content from these classes? You might recall writing definitions of key terms, copying notes from the board, listening to teachers lecture, working in small groups engaged in problem-solving, and viewing completed models of class projects. You also may recall being assigned to read textbooks or other documents and then complete assignments or projects related to readings. As you think about the texts you read in each subject, how were they different from one another? Were ideas presented in sentences and paragraphs, or did texts include symbols, graphs, charts, videos, and/or applications? Did you use the same or different strategies to comprehend texts in different classes?

Whether or not you noticed, the texts used in your classes differed in important ways. Chances are, texts that were used in algebra likely contained many symbols, figures, and examples but few photographs. Texts that were used in history probably contained many photographs, along with sections featuring timelines and excerpts of historical documents. Texts that were used in biology were probably structured according to biological systems such as circulatory, endocrine, and respiratory. Texts that were used in art may have consisted mostly of photographs, paintings, drawings, or sculpture, depending on the art class you took. In effect, the texts used in your classes likely did not differ arbitrarily but differed in predictable ways directly related to the systems, traditions, and content of each academic discipline. Based on differences among texts, research has shown that different discipline specific literacy strategies can be used by teachers to help students improve their understanding of course content.