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Articles on Literacy

Listed below are articles on this topic from the Campus Writing Program library. Short summaries and citations are provided when available.


Applebee, Arthur B. "Writing and Reasoning." Review of Educational Research 54.4 (1984): 577-596.

Examines 3 areas of research related to relationship between writing and reasoning. First, cultural consequences of literacy and whether writing leads to changes in reasoning ability (concludes that it's not as simple as that). Second, effects of writing on individual's level of understanding of material (concludes that writing does increase understanding, but that this depends on factors such as breadth of material student is attempting to learn about, and whether scope of writing task matches scope of new material). Third, writing and pedagogy, and their relation to knowing and reasoning in the classroom (concludes that other constraints on curriculum limit amount of writing that is normally done, and we don't know why or how to increase amount or value of writing in the classroom.

Bauer, Henry H. "Preface" and "Scientific Literacy." Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1992. vii-ix, 1-18.

Argues against a standard notion of the importance of scientific literacy: that everyone should know about science and what scientists do. This is partly because the "scientific method" is a myth and partly because this knowledge isn't universally recognized as important or universally agreed to, as people make it out to be. Instead, advocates a better knowledge among informed people of what he calls STS, or science, technology, and society.

Cannon, John R., and Jerry Jinks. "A Cultural Literacy Approach to Assessing General Scientific Literacy." School Science and Mathematics 92.4 (1992): 196-200.

Starts with Hirsch's idea of cultural literacy to define a body of knowledge that scientifically literate people should know. Authors took 52 science-related terms from Hirsch's Dictionary and tested college students' knowledge of their meaninings in a multiple- choice test. Most students correctly identified about half of the items on the test. No differences in performance based on gender, major, age.

Dasenbrock, Reed Way. "Why Read Multicultural Literature? An Arnoldian Perspective." College English 61 (1999): 691-701.

Argues that reading multicultural literature is "good" because it engages the reader in the type of cultural critique advocated by Matthew Arnold. Arnold's position is often unfairly represented as being based upon a timeless sense of aesthetic superiority when it really calls for a constant reassessment of what should be included in the canon. In this sense, reading multicultural literature is good for Anglos because it provides an encounter with a disvalued viewpoint and forces the reader to confront their notion of their own identity and culture. Similarly, reading multicultural literature is good for students from minority backgrounds because it forces them to engage with their own values in somewhat the same critical fashion.

Farmer, D. W. "Achieving Excellence Through Change" and "Curriculum as an Integrated Plan of Learning-I." Enhancing Student Learning: Emphasizing Essential Competencies in Academic Programs. Wilkes Barre, PA: King's College, 1988. 35-109.

Describes the outcomes-oriented core curriculum implemented at King's College. Implementation of core curriculum modeled on WAC program, with workshops, cross-dsciplinary faculty committees, etc. Core curriculum includes transferable skills of liberal learning (critical thinking, creative thinking and problem solving, effective writing and oral communication, quantitative analysis, etc.) and core courses in civilization, foreign cultures, social science, humanities, and natural science.

Hicks, Deborah. "Working Through Discourse Genres in School." Research in the Teaching of English 31.4 (1997): 459-485.

Argues that genre instruction is an effective tool in developing discipline-specific literacy, especially at the grade level. Although whole language advocates suggest that literacy, like language acquisition, is best learned through meaningful social contexts, this view assumes that students can easily transfer from informal to formal (i.e. text) discourse--an assumption true for middle-class students, but not necessarily so for non-middle-class students. Genre instruction, however, makes overt many of the processes which underly the acquisition of formal literacy. Contrary to critics, genre instruction can still be incorporated into the classroom in a meaningful way. Part of the article outlines the process by which one first grade student acquires literacy.

Hirsch, E.D. "Cultural Literacy." The American Scholar (no date): 159-169.

Describes study of effect of varying quality of prose on reading speed and comprehension: the better the quality, the faster a piece is read with good comprehension. But this only holds for familiar material; when the material is unfamiliar, the quality of prose makes no difference. Suggests that reading and writing skills are content-bound. Argues that "a certain extent of shared, canonical knowledge is inherently necessary to a literate democracy" and calls this shared knowledge cultural literacy. Discusses implications for education.

Hirsch, E. D., Jr. "Culture and Literacy." Journal of Basic Writing 3.1 (1980): 27-47.

Describes research on the effects of good vs. poor writing on readers' comprehension. A more complete description of the research summarized in "Cultural Literacy."

Hirsch, E. D., Jr., and David P. Harrington. "Measuring the Communicative Effectiveness of Prose." Writing. Eds. J. Dominic, C. Frederickson, and M. Whiteman. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1981. 189-207.

Describes the effects of good vs. poor writing on reading rate, timerequired to answer questions about the reading, and number of questions answered correctly.

Johns, Ann M. "The Discourse Communities Dilemma: Identifying Transferable Skills for the Academic Milieu." English for Specific Purposes 7 (1988): 55-60.

Author discusses, in the context of courses on English for Academic Purposes, whether there are any general academic skills that could be used and transferred from discipline to discipline. Suggests several candidates, such as listening, reading, test-taking strategies. Also suggests comparing experts and novices as a way of discovering successful academic strategies that might be transferrable.

Keller, Phyllis. "Appendix. A Partial Listing of Core Courses, Including Only Those Offered in 1981-82." Getting at the Core: Curricular Reform at Harvard. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1982. 167-188.

A listing of courses included in the core curriculum at Harvard in 1981/1982, with course descriptions.

Nelson, Caleb. "Harvard's Hollow 'Core'." The Atlantic Monthly 266.3 (1990): 70-80.

Summarizes the history of Harvard's "core curriculum" or general education program. Documents the change from a series of required courses designed to expose students to great texts and ideas of Western Civilization, to a set of distribution requirements that include a number of watered down courses that claim, but fail, to teach students how to think like people in the discipline without teaching them the discipline.

Richardson, Richard C., Jr., Elizabeth C. Fisk, and Morris A. Okun. "Changing Concepts of Literacy," "Teaching and Learning in the Classroom," "Reading and Writing Requirements,""Effects of Instructor Objectives on Literacy," and "Student Motives for Pursuing Education." Literacy in the Open-Access College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1983. 1-13, 42-101.

Several chapters from a case study of a community college and its failure to promote critical literacy among its students. Examines classroom contexts and goals of reading and writing, and instructors' and students' goals in giving/getting literacy. Describes classroom activities and students' and teachers' views on literacy.

Shahn, Ezra. "Language and Writing as Aspects of Science Learning." No citation.

Argues that science illiteracy is partly a linguistic problem. science uses a lot of terms to indicate abstract relations, and people often misunderstand these words (e.g., "because," "then"). Suggests that the lack of understanding of sequence and causality may result from lack of experiences in childhood that lead to the development of these concepts. Briefly describes an introductory science course that incorporates writing to address these problems.

Sheils, Merrill. "Why Johnny Can't Write." Newsweek, December 8, 1975. 58-65.

Students ' writing skills are declining at an alarming rate. Reading skills have also deteriorated, which means that students are less familiar with the conventions of "book English." To a certain extent, the decline in reading has been blamed on the increase in television viewing. Also, the time devoted to writing instruction has decreased in response to efforts to make the classroom more creative. In addition, contemporary linguistic theory holds speech to be primary over writing. Finally, teachers themselves often lack the qualifications to teach writing since their accrediting institutions do not require courses in writing. Some attempts to reverse the decline are mentioned, all of which recognize the link between writing and thinking.

Sherwood, Rhoda I. "A Survey of Undergraduate Reading and Writing Needs." College Composition and Communication 28 (May 1977): 145-149.

Sherwood summarizes the results of a survey she conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in which she asked both faculty and business/professional groups to determine what reading and writing skills should be attained, and the degree to which these skills are achieved. She also asked about the kinds of assignments that professors give students and how writing affects students' grades. Her general conclusion is rather broad: no wholesale dissatisfaction with student literacy exists, but the professional communities expect English departments to offer comprehensive reading and writing courses.

Smith, Al, and Clyde Clements. "General Education for America's Changing Colleges." Meeting the Changing Needs: Undergraduate Curriculum and Instruction. Port Washington, NY: Associated Faculty Press, 1984. 23-42.

Defines general education and argues that colleges/universities that have general education requirements should have a general education program with a vision, goals, and ways of getting students to reach those goals. Identifies issues in general education: basic skills, vocationalism, articulation with high school curricula, and declining enrollments. Discusses how changes in general ed programs should be implemented.

Thomas, Frederick J., and Allan K. Kondo. "The Social Context of Scientific Literacy" and "An Introduction to Science." Towards Scientific Literacy. Amersham, Bucks (UK): Hulton Educational Publications, 1978. 1-12.

Introductory chapter to a monograph on how to teach adults to be scientifically literate: familiar with and able to use basic science vocabulary, concepts, and values. Discusses types of scientific communications (expert to novice, between peers, to children), ways of motivating adult learners to read science, and important characteristics of scientific communication. Chapter 2 discusses the idea that anyone can be a scientist if s/he wants to learn more about the world around him/her, and describes how to do an experiment.

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