Back to Blog

“Cultivating Puzzlement”

disc-litA lot of lip service is being paid to teaching literacy in all subject areas in school. But when we focus on this simply as a task to improve reading and writing scores, it can come across as yet another mandate designed to “help out the English teachers.” That perspective sells short the very purpose of doing and teaching literacy of the disciplines.

Consider this exploration of disciplinary literacy from Heather Lattimer’s book Real-World Literacies:

“Think about the varying roles of history as conceived in a high school classroom versus history as practiced by historians. Whereas high school history is often taught as “fixed and stable, dropped out of the sky readymade” (VanSledright, 2004, p. 232), those who work in the discipline of history are expected to revisit historical documents and interpretations with new questions to generate new learnings that have relevance to our understanding of both past and present. If we teach history from a disciplinary perspective, students are not expected to memorize information so much as they are expected to learn to question, read critically, suspend judgment, consider and effectively communicate new interpretations, and “cultivate puzzlement” (Wineburg, 2001)—a set of expectations that mirrors professional, academic, and civic demands of literacy in the twenty-first century.”

How might our approach to teaching literacy of the disciplines be different if the goal were to “cultivate puzzlement” rather than improve reading and writing scores? And might those scores improve anyway as a byproduct rather than a focus of such instruction?