Content-Area Literacy Instruction

In elementary grades, students are expected to learn how to read and do math. Standardized tests emphasize these two areas although in the state of Virginia, there are state exams on social studies and science as well. Both subjects entail accumulation of knowledge, thus, social studies and the sciences differ quite a bit from reading and math. Reading and math are, of course, part of social studies and science since we read to learn and we need math to comprehend events and concepts in quantitative terms. Thus, it is not far-fetch to suggest that social studies and science may help in reading and math. For mathematics, both science and social studies may actually bring life and perhaps, also excitement and relevance, to numbers. For reading, the path may not be as straightforward. From my own experience in college, I never did enjoy reading medieval history. I procrastinated at every reading assignment and if I did read, I hardly comprehended what I read.

There is a previous post on this blog, "How to make a child hate reading" in which an article by Alfie Kohn published in the English Journal, "How to Create Nonreaders", is highlighted. To recap, Kohn provides ways teachers can kill the love of reading in children. Here is the list:
  • Quantify their reading assignments.
  • Make them write reports.
  • Isolate them.
  • Focus on skills.
  • Offer them incentives.
  • Prepare them for tests.
  • Restrict their choices.
Literacy instruction using topics in social studies and science can indeed backfire if such exercises do any one of the above. But learning to read to learn is important. And it appears doable, at least from a study scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Fourth Grade: Conceptualization, Design, Implementation, and Efficacy Testing of Content-Area Literacy Instruction (CALI)

Carol McDonald Connor, Jennifer Dombek, Elizabeth C. Crowe, Mercedes Spencer, Elizabeth L. Tighe, Sean Coffinger, Elham Zargar, Taffeta Wood, and Yaacov Petscher

With national focus on reading and math achievement, science and social studies have received less instructional time. Yet, accumulating evidence suggests that content knowledge is an important predictor of proficient reading. Starting with a design study, we developed content-area literacy instruction (CALI) as an individualized (or personalized) instructional program for kindergarteners through 4th graders to build science and social studies knowledge. We developed CALI to be implemented in general education classrooms, over multiple iterations (n  230 students), using principles of design-based implementation research. The aims were to develop CALI as a usable and feasible instructional program that would, potentially, improve science and social studies knowledge, and could be implemented during the literacy block without negatively affecting students’ reading gains (i.e., no opportunity cost). We then evaluated the efficacy of CALI in a randomized controlled field trial with 418 students in kindergarten through 4th grade. Results reveal that CALI demonstrates promise as a usable and feasible instructional individualized general education program, and is efficacious in improving social studies (d  2.2) and science (d 2.1) knowledge, with some evidence of improving oral and reading comprehension skills (d  .125).
The effects are very significant especially in improving both social studies and science knowledge, and there is a smaller but still significant improvement in reading comprehension skills. Obviously, the key to success lies in the implementation. This is summarized in a figure provided in the paper:

a. In the connect lessons, students will connect a concept in social studies (e.g., state government) with something that is current, in their life, or in the news (e.g.,the current governor). The idea is to begin to build the concept while building enthusiasm and motivation. b. Clarify lessons will focus on reading and how to read and learn from secondary sources in social studies.These lessons tie back to the connect lesson to maintain enthusiasm and motivation, and help students continue to feel connected to the topic. c. The research lessons will teach children about primary sources (photographs, journals, letters) and how to read and use them to elaborate on secondary sources (textbooks). For science, this would be experiments. d. The apply lessons will focus on making connections and drawing conclusions through projects (e.g., posters) and writing. The goal is that children will learn the concepts covered in each unit as well as how to read and learn from expository text.e. In the appraise lessons, teachers and students will reflect on what they had learned (notes from October 11,2010).i. Note. This phase was ultimately dropped and incorporated into the apply lessons. 
Copied from 
Acquiring Science and Social Studies Knowledge in Kindergarten Through Fourth Grade: Conceptualization, Design, Implementation, and Efficacy Testing of Content-Area Literacy Instruction (CALI).
Connor, Carol McDonald; Dombek, Jennifer; Crowe, Elizabeth C.; Spencer, Mercedes; Tighe, Elizabeth L.; Coffinger, Sean; Zargar, Elham; Wood, Taffeta; Petscher, Yaacov
Journal of Educational Psychology, Sep 12 , 2016, No Pagination Specified.

Each of the above steps requires a thoughtful attention to how young children are motivated to read. Reading Rockets has a list of practices that help motivate children to read:

Classroom Practices that Affirm Motivation
Interest/Intrinsic motivation
I enjoy it.
It's fun.

I chose it.
It belongs to me.

I can do it well.
I like to be successful.

Social interaction with peers
I can do it with others.
I enjoy relating to my peers.

Thematic units
I want to understand.
I like to learn new things.

Looking through this list, one can then guess what elements in Content-Area Literacy Instruction are very important. For one, attention is indeed given to relevance. It is the essence of the first step, Connect.