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In This High School, Reading and Writing Happens in Every Class, Even Math and Chemistry

The chemistry students at Northwestern High School were not fiddling with Bunsen burners or studying the periodic table one recent weekday morning. They were sitting at their desks, reading an article about food coloring, underlining key ideas and preparing to analyze it in an essay.

This is the beginning of what Prince George’s County officials hope will be a significant shift in teaching and learning, one that mirrors a change taking hold in high schools nationwide as districts adjust to the Common Core State Standards. Literacy, long the responsibility of English teachers, is filtering into every other classroom — including math, science and even health class.

The idea is that in order to be ready for college, students need more explicit instruction about how to read, think and write analytically. And they need to be able to glean meaning not just from literature in English class but also from historical primary sources, scientific articles and other (sometimes dense) works of nonfiction.