preferred habitats is paired with a parallel trade book about a science class that collects and analyzes data about the same investigation. Similarly, the students’ investigation of “mystery” sand is paired with a biography of a sand scientist that describes how he investigates the size, shape, color, texture, and origin of sand.
Students write in their science journals almost daily and engage in spirited discussions and debates (they call them discourse circles) about unsettled issues that arise from hands-on investigations and/or readings (e.g., they might hold a debate about the origin of a mystery sand). In a typical week in this approach, students will spend about 50 percent of their time in science activities and about 50 percent in reading, writing about their investigations, and talking about their reading, and their personal writing. Several times a week, students are asked to reflect on the quality and focus of their personal learning and participation as well as the learning and participation of their work groups—and even the class as a whole.
The curriculum is designed to foster deeper learning in the cognitive domain, through all of the reading, writing, and inquiry activities. At the same time, deeper learning of intrapersonal competencies is supported by the individual and group reflection activities, which encourage metacognition, taking personal responsibility for one’s learning, stamina, and persistence. In the interpersonal domain, deeper learning is fostered by ongoing collaboration, including the discussions about the readings, the small group collaborative investigations, the discourse circles, and even in the division of labor students work out for extended investigations or projects. Reflection activities encourage students to reflect not only on their learning but also on how well their group cooperated and how they could improve their discussions.
The approach was tested in 94 fourth-grade classrooms in one Southern state. Half of the teachers taught the integrated science-literacy curriculum, while the other half of the teachers taught the two topics separately, covering the same science content with materials provided by their school districts along with their regular literacy instruction. Students in the integrated lessons made significantly greater gains on measures of science understanding, science vocabulary, and science writing, and both groups made comparable gains in science reading comprehension. Examples like these demonstrate that cognitive outcomes, which are clearly emphasized in most educational testing and accountability schemes in our country, need not suffer—indeed can prosper—when they are taught and learned in a context in which inter- and intrapersonal skills and practices are equally emphasized. Such examples also demonstrate that at least some disciplines—in this case, English language arts—can benefit from being taught in another disciplinary context, like science. Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of similar curricula integrating English language arts in the disciplines of literature (Guthrie et al., 2004) and social studies (De La Paz, 2005).
SOURCE: Adapted from Cervetti et al. (2012).