HOW DO CCSS FOR ELA AND NGSS WORK TOGETHER?
In her presentation, Susan Pimentel, a planning committee member, principal of Student Achievement Partners, and one of the developers of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), addressed the rationale behind the development of the literacy in science and technical subjects standards aspects of CCSS for English Language Arts (CCSS for ELA). First, she said, literacy in science was included in the CCSS for ELA to ensure that science retained a meaningful place in the elementary grades, where reading and mathematics are heavily emphasized, while also recognizing the limited time in the school day. A second motivation for creating literacy in science standards was to ensure that high school students are prepared to access and use science texts,1 which are often difficult for students to comprehend due to challenging words and grammar, atypical logic structures, and multiple representations. Similarly, Pimentel reported that preparation for postsecondary education was a motivating factor, with about 50 percent of students adequately prepared to handle science and other texts as freshmen in college according to recent data (ACT, 2006). Finally, the literacy in science standards point to the importance of reading and understanding science texts, such as science articles in magazines and newspapers or on the Web, to prepare students
1Science texts include a wide range of formal and informal texts, such as textbooks, journal articles, science-focused articles in popular magazines and newspapers, Web content, and notes on science experiments.
for citizenship. Now that states are adopting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Pimentel emphasized that CCSS for ELA literacy in science standards are “meant to support not supplant a state’s science standards. They are meant to buttress the teaching and learning of science content.”
Next, Pimentel clarified who was intended to be responsible for addressing the CCSS for ELA literacy in science standards. She indicated that teachers in kindergarten through 5th grade generally work across subjects and would address reading, listening, speaking, and writing in science. At this level, teachers should integrate the CCSS for ELA standards into the teaching of core disciplinary ideas, just as they would with social studies, literature, or other disciplines. In grades 6-12, responsibilities differ across the subjects. Middle and high school ELA teachers would not be responsible for meeting the literacy in science standards. She added that she has fielded concerns such as, “ELA teachers now think that they have to teach science.” Although ELA teachers do address the use of informational text in their classes, science teachers are responsible for the literacy in science standards at this level. She reaffirmed that the CCSS for ELA standards are merely tools to support the teaching of core disciplinary ideas.
The CCSS for ELA literacy in science standards work in tandem with the NGSS, which address science core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and practices. Pimentel argued that the literacy in science standards are consistent with and affirm the “norms and conventions” of science. For example, she said, the standards call for students to:
- attend to evidence with precision and detail;
- gather, synthesize, and corroborate complex information;
- make and assess arguments orally and in writing;
- make accounts of events and ideas; and
- integrate, translate, and evaluate prose, graphs, charts, and formulas.
Table 2-1 shows how the CCSS for ELA literacy in science standards map onto particular NGSS science and engineering practices.
Brian Reiser of Northwestern University addressed key aspects of the NGSS science and engineering practices and the role for literacy in doing science. In Reiser’s view, these practices are a central focus of the NGSS, and they emphasize developing and using science, rather than learning about science. In his view, this constitutes a major “evolutionary and revolutionary” shift in science education. The goal is to help students understand why a core idea in science makes sense and how it helps explain phenomena in the world. Reading textbooks about science ideas is insufficient, in Reiser’s view, for helping students understand why scientists know what they know
TABLE 2-1 Examples of CCSS for ELA Literacy in Science Practices That Support NGSS Practices
|Practice 3: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations|
|CCSS for ELA Literacy in Science||Grades 6-8||Grades 9-10||Grades 11-12|
|Following Complex Processes and Procedures||Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.||Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, attending to special cases or exceptions defined in the text.||Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks; analyze the specific results based on explanations in the text.|
|Conducting Research||Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.||Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a selfgenerated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.||Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.|
|Practice 6: Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions|
|CCSS||Grades 6-8||Grades 9-10||Grades 11-12|
|Using Textual Evidence and Attending to Detail||Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.||Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions.||Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to important distinctions the author makes and to any gaps or inconsistencies in the account.|
|Synthesizing Complex Information||Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.||Compare and contrast findings presented in a text to those from other sources (including their own experiments), noting when the findings support or contradict previous explanations or accounts.||Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept resolving conflicting information when possible.|
|Explaining Concepts, Processes, and Procedures||Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of
||Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of
||Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of
|Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence|
|CCSS||Grades 6-8||Grades 9-10||Grades 11-12|
|Making Arguments||Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.||Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form and in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level and concerns.||Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form that anticipates the audience's knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.|
|Assessing Arguments||Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.||Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author's claim or a recommendation for solving a scientific or technical problem.||Evaluate the hypotheses, data, analysis, and conclusions in a science or technical text, verifying the data when possible and corroborating or challenging conclusions with other sources of information.|
|Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information|
|CCSS||Grades 6-8||Grades 9-10||Grades 11-12|
|Gathering Relevant Evidence||Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.||Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.||Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the specific task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.|
|Translating Information from One Form to Another||Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).||Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.||Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.|
NOTES: CCSS, Common Core State Standards; CCSS for ELA, Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts; NGSS, Next Generation Science Standards.
SOURCE: Adapted from Pimentel (2013).
and how core ideas in science help to explain about the world. The typical practices of reading definitions and explanations, summarizing readings, communicating these readings, and occasionally using this knowledge in investigation do not generally support the sense-making process. Rather, he suggested, using the science practices engages students in using cognitive, social, and language skills in doing the work of science. The use of these practices to build understanding is also in service of building a depth of knowledge about core ideas in science. Ideally, coherence should exist within and across the scientific disciplines to help students build a storyline of explanation that builds on their prior knowledge.
FIGURE 2-1 Overlap between CCSS for ELA, CCSS for mathematics, and NGSS science and engineering practices.
NOTES: CCSS for ELA, Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts; CCSS, Common Core State Standards; NGSS, Next Generation Science Standards.
SOURCE: Adapted from Cheuk (2013) and Stage et al. (2013).
Reiser illustrated his views with two examples that show ways to engage in NGSS practices, using reading, writing, and oral discourse through science practices. In one example, students interacted with a computer model simulation of how an invasive species can alter an ecosystem to construct causal explanations. In a second example, students engaged with a text-based case that also provided them with access to primary data, which they then used to construct explanations of the phenomenon. He pointed out that in both cases, students posed questions, completed readings and investigations to gather information, engaged in argument to refine explanations, and developed causal accounts through language. Reiser emphasized that in both examples, literacy practices play a critical role in helping students “figure things out.” Scientific discourse and social interaction are critical to this process of making meaning and developing explanations, he said.
IDENTIFYING THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
The overlap between science and literacy creates an opportunity and a challenge, explained David Pearson, University of California, Berkeley, and planning committee chair. The opportunity is for synergy between work in various classrooms or subject areas, and the challenge is to maximize that opportunity and avoid conflicts in interpretation and implementation demands between teachers in the different areas.
He said one of the key challenges to achieving the visions of both CCSS for ELA and the NGSS is variation in interpretation. English/language arts educators and science educators are likely to interpret the stated objectives differently. Some of the science practices, such as argumentation, are also misconstrued. In some cases, scientific argumentation becomes a policy debate about a science topic, rather than a sense-making activity. Further, engagement with text is often merely a means to deliver content and not a catalyst for engaging in science practices.
In addition to misunderstanding the standards and their implications, Pearson articulated some of the skepticism that exists between the two disciplines of ELA and science. He shared some of the concerns of both science and language arts educators that he has heard through the course of his work. As he stated, “the first thing I learned when I started working with science educators was that respectable science educators had regarded reading and text as the problem, not the solution to inquiry-based science.” For example, he said, round-robin reading of textbooks often replaces the use of science practices and can promote the idea that science consists of a set of facts to be memorized, rather than science as an endeavor. Moreover, many texts are perceived as beyond students’ reading levels or include misinformation, according to Pearson. Teachers of language arts, by contrast, have argued that science takes time away from literacy, which is an essential skill, especially in the early grades, whereas science is not always regarded as necessary. Although Pearson has seen improvement in these views, he said he has come to view the essential question as “What benefits can accrue to both literacy and science when we focus on the bridges rather than the barriers between the two?”
Engaging students in reading and understanding texts, as well as helping them develop proficiency in communicating science both orally and in writing, is challenging. Pearson explained that science texts and other modes of communication are typically multimodal (text, diagrams, graphs and charts, equations) and aspire to a level of precision communication of certain details that is unlike that intended in literature. The type of evidence needed is different for science than it
is for discussions of interpretations of literature, and thus the strategies for obtaining and evaluating such evidence also differ. This, too, is unfamiliar territory to most teachers and needs further explication as to what it implies for teaching both in the language arts and in the science contexts. He suggested that in order to help students be successful in understanding text and communicating in science, both science and language arts teachers need to be aware of the unique challenges inherent in science communication as well as more general strategies for supporting students’ comprehension and expression.
At the middle and high school levels, science teachers likely know the science content they want students to extract from reading a science text, but are often unaware of what it is about that text that makes it difficult for students to comprehend, Pearson explained. As a result, they may focus on strategies such as memorizing vocabulary rather than more sophisticated strategies for text comprehension. Conversely, language arts teachers are generally more aware of the issues of text complexity, but they may be unfamiliar with the specifics of communicating science, unprepared to treat the multimodal aspects of the text, and lack confidence that they can adequately interpret the specifics of the science, particularly those aspects requiring graphs, tables, and equations. Pearson said that at the K-5 level, the same teacher generally teaches both areas and has significant training in teaching reading, but generally little of it focused on science reading. Here the issues are around understanding how effective authentic science learning experiences and discourse can support, rather than compete with, language and literacy development. The major concern that emerged with leading experts in reading instruction is that the explicit call to read about science in the CCSS for ELA might be implemented in a way that would prevent the engagement of students with science.
SUPPORTING LITERACY FOR SCIENCE
During her presentation, Sarah Michaels, a planning committee member from Clark University, presented a Venn diagram (see Figure 2-1) that depicts a set of four standards shared between the three disciplines of ELA, mathematics, and science, and a set of six standards that address both science and ELA. Central to all three disciplines is placing value on evidence, constructing viable explanations, communicating ideas, engaging in argument based on reasoning, and being able to critique the reasoning of others. However, Michaels and others at the workshop argued that the synergistic relationship between science and literacy indicates that the standards may be integrated even more than this Venn diagram suggests. A
number of participants described opportunities for teachers to address literacy and science in mutually beneficial ways. These themes are explained below.
Authentic Reasons to Read and Write
One of the most natural synergies that exists between literacy and science concerns having an authentic purpose to read and write in the classroom, according to David Pearson and other presenters. All reading, writing, and oral language require content. In Pearson’s words, “reading and writing are taught best when they reside in disciplinary contexts…. Literacy is a set of tools for the acquisition of knowledge and the enhancement of critical thinking rather than a set of goals and ends into themselves.” Thus, he suggested, embedding science and literacy together can provide students with meaningful content as they learn to develop the tools for literacy.
This relationship between science and literacy is bidirectional, Pearson explained. Language and literacy skills are critical for communicating in science, and practicing scientists read and write for a number of authentic reasons. For example, scientists read to situate their research in context and acquire new knowledge. They also read so that they are able to replicate procedures and to interpret the data and findings of other scientists. Scientists access reference materials as they plan first-hand investigations of their own. All of these purposes for reading are equally applicable to students of science, Pearson argued.
Having a purpose for reading, writing, and speaking in science commonly means engaging in scientific investigations, according to planning committee member Elizabeth Birr Moje, University of Michigan. She argued that teaching language and literacy for science means that students need to be engaging with the science practices. Otherwise, the language tools have no meaning or value. Using these tools in the service of authentic science, such that the purpose of the learning is evident, may also have an impact on student engagement, she said. However, as Pearson stated earlier, one key bridge between science and literacy is that there are limits to both experiential and text-based ways of learning science. Neither alone is as effective as thoughtfully combining the two.
Pearson and other presenters throughout the workshop emphasized that science involves doing investigations, reading, writing, and talking. According to Pearson, reading, writing, and language do not merely overlap with science; rather, they are interwoven throughout all of the disciplines of school—social studies, mathematics, literature, and science. They do not just have a subset of shared objectives and practices, but rather are inextricably tied to one another, he said.
Gaining in word knowledge means gaining in conceptual knowledge, particularly when paired with using these words in authentic applications. Pearson described many ways to learn new concepts, with new vocabulary as the natural by-product. Learning words in context using repeated experiences and multiple modalities simultaneously builds language skills and conceptual knowledge.
An Inquiry-Based Approach to Learning
Michaels argued that scientific and literacy goals and practices are well-served when they take place within classroom cultures that support public reasoning. In her view, literacy is disciplined reasoning through text and talk. In their presentations, Susan Goldman, University of Illinois, Chicago, and Cynthia Greenleaf, WestEd, noted that such a classroom culture requires a particular stance toward learning and knowledge: that is, a culture that supports engaging in a range of science and engineering practices and values productive struggle toward understanding. Learning is purposefully centered around answering questions. Increasing comfort with ambiguity is another cultural and practice shift that both teachers and students make as they adopt an inquiry-based stance to science learning, as noted by several participants.
According to Pearson, the science practices as laid out in NGSS are comprehension strategies. Comprehension in literacy and inquiry in science are both explicitly focused on making meaning. They share similar goals and strategies, and, he noted, although the nature of evidence differs between the two, the cognitive processes used to reason in science and literacy are fundamentally the same. To illustrate this point, he illustrated that the same strategies and guiding questions can be applied to activities in both science and literacy. In further support of this notion, Pearson pointed out that similar scoring rubrics can even be used across science and literacy using this approach.
The process of making sense of the world, whether through reading or other means, is enhanced when students build on their prior knowledge, according to Brian Reiser. He stressed the importance of helping students build a depth of knowledge. To accomplish this, the curriculum they experience needs to build a coherent storyline, Reiser suggested. This means avoiding the common approach of moving from topic to topic and learning sets of disjointed facts.
Learning How to Communicate about Ideas: Discourse Communities
With science framed around learning core concepts using key science practices, Pearson remarked that at their most basic level, words are merely the labels for concepts and ideas, and the ways the people name their knowledge and the processes they use to learn about the world. Learning the language of science entails learning an array of words that can be organized into conceptual networks. Science involves using particular language to describe, predict, synthesize, and argue, based on certain norms and conventions that differ from those used in everyday life, according to Pearson and Moje. Therefore, understanding scientific concepts is not only experiential but also of necessity about language, as Moje summarized. She said, “The natural sciences are discourse communities or cultures, dependent on oral and written language for producing, communicating, and evaluating knowledge. [Thus], learning science is as much about learning how to use the language of science—both oral and written—as it is about learning concepts.”
Moje indicated that to teach the language of science, teachers must examine what words, phrases, and symbols mean in a given subject area or discipline and understand the ways that people use language in the discipline. Then, they also must evaluate why, when, and how these “ways” are useful, as well as why, when, and how they are not useful in order to help students learn to understand and use the language of science. This means moving away from teaching vocabulary out of context. Instead, according to Moje, teachers must engage in scientific practices, then elicit and engineer necessary knowledge, skills, and practices in science that can be used to make meaning. All of these practices around literacy for science require knowledge of content, pedagogy, science practices, and texts, as well as sufficient time and skills, Moje said.
Many presenters noted that the public interchange of ideas is at the heart of science. This requires an ability to use academic and disciplinary language to communicate ideas and to understand the reasoning of others through listening, speaking, reading, and writing. As Michaels stated, for students to do the scientific practices described in NGSS, they “have to participate in these practices with others primarily through talk, joint attention, and shared activity.” One purpose of this discourse is to reveal student thinking. She added that “if we are serious about promoting the thinking practices at the heart of the CCSS for ELA and NGSS documents, we need to see a change in terms of the kind of classroom talk that teachers facilitate,” a vision that she sees as achievable by giving teachers “talk moves” that they can use in the moment during discussions, along with challenging content to discuss and video exemplars.
The language of scientific argumentation as a particular approach to communicating about ideas was a focus of many presenters. One presenter noted that educators explicitly teach students how to make sense of the way scientists read, write, and talk, and they help convey those conventions to students. Others noted that to argue in science is distinctly different from the negative connotation it carries in everyday use. In science, argument involves analysis of a line of thinking and evaluation of evidence to develop an explanatory account. Argument in science also involves hearing constructive feedback from others about the ideas presented, according to Reiser. As he noted, this involves weaving claims together in a causal account, and pointing to the evidence through language that connects directly to data that students have to interpret. Often students can engage in these practices through access to primary data and text sources, particularly for problems that do not lend themselves to first-hand investigation.
As students engage in developing explanatory causal models of scientific phenomena, discussion focuses on building consensus around an explanatory model and not on who has the right answer, Reiser and others pointed out. Thus, teachers shift their approach from Initiation-Response-Evaluation to Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning. A key challenge for teachers across all domains, as noted by Michaels and other participants, is helping and allowing students to grapple with ideas they encounter in this process. This means allowing the answer to reside in the evidence, and not with the teacher. As noted by more than one participant, the evidence that supports an explanatory model becomes the authority but also challenges teachers to resist the urge to tell students the answers and to avoid having students try to guess what answer the teacher wants.
Pearson summarized the literacy skills that students need to have to be able to engage in this type of discourse with “five C’s.” First, students must be able to comprehend the various types of science texts that they read. Second, students should be able to critique and evaluate claims. Third, they can construct explanations for phenomena using critical thinking and reasoning. Fourth, students need to be able to compose their ideas orally and in writing to share with others. Fifth, students need a range of communication skills to engage with others throughout the scientific process.
Michaels argued that individuals involved with science education should “join forces with our colleagues in other disciplines, who view literacy as reasoning.” Several presenters emphasized that learning how to engage in scientific explorations, understand the nature of evidence, and use reasoning to evaluate claims and arguments is not just about science but is a life skill.