Embracing Difficulty across the Disciplines: The Difficulty Paper as a Tool for Building Disciplinary Literacy





disciplinary literacy, college reading and writing, higher education, content-area literacy


Students face challenging texts and concepts across the disciplines in higher education, and many students lack the reading skills and strategies to make sense of them. The aim of the small study described in this article was to explore the benefits, if any, of the difficulty paper, a written formative assessment that asks students to explore their difficulties with challenging texts. An inductive analysis of student difficulty papers in a multidisciplinary “Great Works” course suggests that the paper encouraged students to address their confusion without dismissing it and helped students to model the processes of good reading. Findings also suggest that the assignment may be a useful tool to develop disciplinary habits of mind. The article concludes with an example of how educators might use the difficulty paper in science and mathematics courses.


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Author Biography

Jonathan Cisco, University of Missouri

Jonathan Cisco is associate director of the Teaching for Learning Center at the University of Missouri (USA).


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How to Cite

Cisco, Jonathan. 2020. “Embracing Difficulty across the Disciplines: The Difficulty Paper As a Tool for Building Disciplinary Literacy”. Teaching and Learning Inquiry 8 (2):73-89. https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.8.2.6.