If you are a struggling reader, all you have to do is look tough and say nothing, and then you will become invisible.
Unfortunately, the idea of harder textbooks has captured the attention of educators and policymakers interested in raising academic achievement. But harder books won't foster the growth of content learning. Think about your own attempts to acquire new content knowledge. Imagine you want to learn about building a website. Do you reject the books you might use because they are too easy? Do you say to yourself, "Gosh, only 11 words on this page that I can't pronounce — not hard enough for me!"
Many middle and high school teachers think of themselves as content experts. When I started teaching, I thought of myself as a historian. I wanted to teach history, and I really didn't think much about how students learn. I always focused on content. A lot of secondary teachers enter the field because of their passion for what they are teaching. It's an unusual teacher who comes into secondary education wanting to teach students how to learn. Yet, if we're going to be good teachers, that's really essential.
Teachers are territorial people. We like to be in control of our classrooms and sometimes view other teachers with distrust. We hate interruptions because they plague us constantly, and we don't feel that we have any time to waste when it comes to delivering our curriculum.
Although they have important roles to play in adolescents' literacy development, language arts and reading teachers need content-area teachers to show students how to read and write like a scientist, historian, or mathematician. All teachers in all subject areas share the responsibility for literacy development in middle grades and high school. Today, more and more content-area teachers recognize this responsibility and are incorporating content literacy into their teaching through a variety of instructional strategies.
Every content-area teacher believes — knows — that his or her subject is different from any other and requires particular kinds of literacy skills. The uses of reading and writing in math, for example, bear little resemblance to their uses in history. Don't lump content areas together. Don't impale yourself on the appeal that "all teachers are teachers of reading and writing." They are not. Content-area teachers use reading and writing as tools and in ways peculiar to their subject matter. Their goals are content achievement and student success. We attack their identity and value when we tell them who we think they should be. They know who they are. Don't minimize their worth or alter their identities.
Every day in our schools and colleges young people face reading and writing tasks that seem hard or unusual, that confuse them, that they fail. But if you can get close enough to their failure, you'll find knowledge that the assignment didn't tap, ineffective rules and strategies that have a logic of their own.