Weaving science and literacy instruction together successfully is not just a theoretical ideal. Across various levels of K-12 education, curricula that address literacy for science have been developed, implemented, and evaluated. Developers of four different curricula—Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading, Science IDEAS, Investigating and Questioning our World through Science and Technology (IQWST), and Project READi—made presentations at the workshop that described the development process, key elements and defining features, and evaluation results. Two of these presentations were paired with a presentation from a teacher who had implemented or was implementing the curriculum in her classroom. These complementary presentations provided the audience with detailed and specific examples of teacher strategies, student work process and products, as well as teachers’ reflections on their experiences.
The following themes emerged from the presentations:
- Curricula that successfully integrate science and literacy exist and are being implemented at various levels across K-12.
- Teachers can effectively implement these practices.
- Student outcomes in both science and literacy can improve as a result of using these curricula including diverse student populations.
- In cases with longitudinal follow-up, benefits of the curriculum can persist for years beyond use of the curricula.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL EXEMPLAR 1: SEEDS OF SCIENCE/ROOTS OF READING
Jacqueline Barber, Lawrence Hall of Science at University of California, Berkeley, shared her insights into developing Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading1 in collaboration with David Pearson. From a science perspective, Barber was motivated by a desire to ensure that science had more time and retained a meaningful place in the elementary curriculum. She shared that Pearson considered “literacy a domain in search of content.” She commented that their common interests and their divergent backgrounds and perspectives led to a collaboration with some tension and debate, but one that was ultimately productive. According to Barber, this partnership led to solutions that could meet the needs of both those focused on science education and those focused on literacy, while remaining mindful of the need to address multiple content areas efficiently in the limited time of the school day. Amid the pressures of high-stakes testing, she said literacy remains the primary focus of the school day, particularly in the early grades, so a need exists for a solution integrating science and literacy, which was reflected in focus group testing with early elementary teachers. During the focus group testing, statements such as “if this science unit can’t do work for us in reading, writing, listening, and speaking, we really just can’t do it” were common among participants. Overall, Barber and Pearson’s collaboration resulted in a curriculum that is, according to Barber, “100 percent science and 50 percent literacy.”
While science educators often value more hands-on investigation over reading and writing, Barber affirmed the importance of investigations that include text, not only for its literacy benefits, but also because the use of text sources is an important element of science. Practicing scientists write and talk to each other to share knowledge, to learn from each other, to access reference materials, and to engage in disagreements.
The purpose of Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading, according to Barber, is to promote students’ sense-making of the natural world, with students ultimately developing more accurate explanations over time using four basic elements: Do, Talk, Read, Write. The curriculum combines these four practices through tightly paired first- and second-hand investigations focused on answering key questions. First-hand investigations consist of hands-on investigations of scientific phenomena, whereas second-hand investigations include using texts to help answer the same fundamental question as the first-hand investigations are designed to
answer. She stated that neither first-hand nor second-hand experiences in and of themselves constitute science, unless they have a purpose. However, when paired together in service of answering a common scientific question, these experiences can allow for greater depth of knowledge and understanding for students. Thus, written and oral discourse are embedded in the center of all first- and secondhand experiences with the ultimate goal that students will be able to construct explanations, gather evidence, and make arguments they can support about key ideas in science. These pairings of first- and second-hand experiences are carefully sequenced to form a curricular unit.
As teachers begin to implement the curriculum in their classrooms, they provide students with explicit instruction, and then support the students through scaffolding faded over time. For example, after students are provided with specific instruction in how to write explanations and construct arguments, they are then given prompts for their writing, such as, “I think this because …,” “My evidence is …,” or “Why is that the best explanation?” Students learn the language of science, including claims, evidence, and reasoning through the curriculum, Barber said.
Sherrie Roland, a teacher at Grafton Village Elementary School in Stafford County, Virginia, shared her experiences in implementing Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading. She encouraged other practitioners to combine science and literacy instruction. Describing how her classroom looks to outside visitors, she stated, “They don’t know if I’m doing reading in my classroom or science in my classroom, and that’s how I like it because the kids are just learning and they are learning well.” As evidence of the effectiveness of this approach, she also added that her students have higher literacy, mathematics, and science scores than their counterparts not using this approach.
Further illustrating what each of the four basic practices looks like in a Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading classroom, Roland provided descriptions of each. Reading can occur individually, paired with a teacher, or as a collaborative activity between two or more students. She added that she must tailor her support for reading based on students’ reading levels and individual needs. However, all students in her class, including English language learners and students with special needs, work with the same content. As students learn skills in scientific discourse, they learn to talk to each other using the language of argumentation, skills that she has found to be applicable across other subjects. In writing, her students make frequent use of “sticky notes” as they talk and read to make predictions and express and refine their ideas. They keep notebooks, making their entries accu-
rate, big, colorful, and detailed. At the beginning of a unit, students write a “Line of Learning” to express what they think a concept means and then return to this writing at the end of a unit, revising their ideas with their new knowledge. Roland also maintains a classroom blog as another form of writing that parents can see. Overall, she emphasized that all of her students value investigating and making sense of their world.
Barber shared that evaluation of Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading across classrooms indicates that combining science and literacy instruction in this manner was not only efficient use of time in the school day but also effective in improving student outcomes. In experimental studies of units taught in grades 2-5, comparing performance of students in Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading classrooms with performance of students in classrooms with comparable content being taught using the “business as usual curriculum,” she reported researchers found that students in Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading classrooms always had higher scores on measures of science conceptual knowledge and vocabulary than did control students. In addition, they always performed equivalently or higher than control students on measures of science reading comprehension and science writing. Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading classrooms also had more student-to-student talk. Overall, the evaluation revealed gains in science measures with effect sizes as great at .61 compared to control classrooms after a single 8- to 10-week unit of instruction, with no losses in literacy scores despite less explicit focus directly on literacy skills.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL EXEMPLAR 2: SCIENCE IDEAS
Nancy Romance of Florida Atlantic University described Science IDEAS,2 a curriculum for older elementary school students to teach literacy within science. In the classrooms implementing this curriculum, the language arts block was replaced with Science IDEAS and literature filled the half-hour block of time previously devoted to science. She noted that development and initial implementation of this approach occurred in the late 1980s prior to No Child Left Behind, after which replacing the language arts block would have been more challenging. The curriculum was initially implemented in several South Florida 4th-grade classrooms, and later also implemented in classrooms targeting drop-out prevention and at-risk students over multiple years. She and her colleague Michael Vitale conducted longitudinal research to measure the effects of the curriculum.
2For additional information about Science IDEAS, see http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/BOSE/DBASSE_085962 [March 2014].
Several bodies of research influenced the development of Science IDEAS, according to Romance. Bransford’s work on expertise and how experts operate (National Research Council, 1999) showed the importance of well-organized knowledge and being able to access and apply this knowledge with automaticity. Romance and Vitale also drew upon work on problem solving and application, including how knowledge is transformed from declarative to procedural (Anderson, 1987). Work in the area of knowledge-based instruction and intelligent tutoring systems (Brown, 1989) underscored the importance of structure and coherence of knowledge and instruction. Romance indicated that theory and research on reading comprehension also informed the curriculum.
Romance described the approach and key features of Science IDEAS. Science concepts are the focal point of the curriculum with activities, such as reading comprehension, writing, and application, stemming from the focus on the science idea. A key component of this approach is the use of propositional concept maps that show how ideas in science are connected to one another. Figure 4-1 presents an example of a Science IDEAS concept map. Teachers help students develop these concept maps over the course of a unit, as the students gain more information based on their observations, reading, and other supporting activities. Supporting activities begin with activating prior knowledge, and then move to identifying real-world examples of the phenomenon. Teachers then introduce multiple hands-on investigations, paired with reading experiences with several sources to build on the prior knowledge. Students are continuously journaling to “write about, reflect on, and explain how evidence gathered during authentic science activities links to the concepts being learned,” Romance said. Activities culminate with problem-solving and reflection activities. Teachers spend more time on concepts that have broad applicability. Overall, she noted, the curriculum supports cohesion across the science curriculum as students build upon their prior knowledge, consistently add knowledge and depth as they focus on a concept, and use their knowledge about one concept to inform their learning about the next.
Romance shared her experiences with students participating in Science IDEAS. In one situation, she found that she had to increase the depth and complexity of experiences for students who had been participating in Science IDEAS classrooms in previous years. She also described an experience where students in an at-risk drop-out prevention classroom used a model of the Earth to communicate about why Florida does not experience earthquakes. As she said in her presentation, a member of the press observing this class asked if it was composed of gifted students, to which she replied, “Yes, they are.”
FIGURE 4-1 Example of a propositional concept map for grades 3-5 from Science IDEAS.
SOURCE: Vitale and Romance (2013).
Two separate longitudinal studies of Science IDEAS (2002-2007 and 2003-2008) indicate that students who participate in this curriculum when compared with students in the control group outperform their counterparts in science and reading as measured by the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (Romance and Vitale, 2011). Moreover, these differences are long-lasting and increase over time when measured through the 7th or 8th grades. More limited adaptations of the curriculum targeting 1st- and 2nd-graders also show promising results when compared with control students. As Romance remarked, the results indicate that to improve science outcomes in middle school, efforts must start in elementary school.
MIDDLE SCHOOL EXEMPLAR: INVESTIGATING AND QUESTIONING OUR WORLD THROUGH SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (IQWST)
LeeAnn Sutherland, University of Michigan, described Investigating and Questioning our World through Science and Technology (IQWST),3 a middle school curriculum that integrates science and literacy. IQWST is a research-based curriculum composed of 12 units across the middle school years. Units in physical science, chemistry, earth science, and life science across three levels focus on answering “driving questions,” as shown in Figure 4-2. Each 8- to 10-week unit focused on these questions provides coherence to the development of knowledge along a “storyline” and greater facility with scientific practices. In addition, focus around answering these driving questions encourages student engagement and builds upon students’ prior knowledge and experience. Students are actively engaged in making sense of scientific phenomena.
With IQWST, students meet the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (CCSS for ELA) literacy in science standards through reading, writing, listening, and attending to language in every lesson, according to Sutherland. They also use key scientific practices as specified in the NGSS, including analyzing and interpreting data, developing and using models, constructing explanations, and engaging in argument from evidence. IQWST helps students develop proficiency in using the language of science over the course of the middle school years. For example, initially 6th-graders may focus on the nature of evidence and the need for evidence to support their ideas. Over time, students build upon their increasing abilities to develop broader skills in making claims, gathering evidence, and using reasoning skills to evaluate the evidence. These practices are interwoven throughout the curriculum, rather than practiced in isolation, and focus on increasing the depth of student knowledge and skills in scientific practices.
As Sutherland explained, engaging directly with scientific investigation, reading, writing, and talking are components of each IQWST lesson. Students also encounter texts through a student IQWST book with embedded questions, procedures, and worksheets. A companion teacher edition assists teachers in introducing and following up with students on their reading. Students then obtain information from their experiences with investigation and text, evaluate the evidence, develop explanations to answer the driving questions, and communicate their
3For additional information about IQWST, see http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/BOSE/DBASSE_085962 [March 2014].
FIGURE 4-2 Scope and sequence of the IQWST curriculum.
NOTE: IQWST, Investigating and Questioning our World through Science and Technology.
SOURCE: Krajcik et al. (2011).
understandings through talk and writing. Students have opportunities to work individually and collaboratively with other students.
Deborah Peek-Brown, University of Michigan, provided illustrations of how IQWST engages students in obtaining evidence, constructing explanations, and engaging in argumentation. At the beginning of a unit, for example, students often engage in a hands-on investigation, build additional conceptual understanding through reading, and then communicate their initial understanding of a phenomenon through writing and talk. IQWST reading and writing practices are designed to directly meet CCSS for ELA in these areas.
A significant focus of IQWST, according to Peek-Brown, is helping students learn to think and communicate with others using scientific explanations and argumentation. Using claims, evidence, and reasoning to construct explanations and communicate them to others is important not just in science, but also in everyday life. In her words, “What we really want for scientific literacy is for the students to understand that there is a purpose behind this … this is the way we think about things.”
Peek-Brown explained that teachers model and support scientific discourse to help students learn this language of argumentation. During class discussions, teachers frequently prompt students to provide evidence for their ideas. Over time, students often begin to question each other in a similar manner. Students learn that claims must be supported by appropriate and sufficient data based upon what is already known in science.
Students revisit their earlier explanations and engage in an iterative process of evaluating their own writing and the writing of others using the knowledge that they are gaining through reading and investigation, Peek-Brown stated. Working individually or in pairs, students evaluate whether the written explanation contains adequate evidence and good reasoning. Classroom talk is supported so that students learn to question each other about what supports their line of thinking. Such tasks are designed to emphasize the importance of being able to communicate understanding to others in ways that they can follow. Such tasks address CCSS for ELA in speaking and listening as well as language. IQWST involves the same modalities used in learning concepts in its assessments. For example, students may be asked to collect data from a model, draw models, and/or explain in writing their understanding of what is happening.
MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL EXEMPLAR: PROJECT READI
Cynthia Greenleaf of WestEd presented the theory, key features, and examples of Project READi, Reading, Evidence, and Argumentation in Disciplinary Instruction.4 This curriculum for grades 6-12 focuses on building students’ ability to read for understanding in science, which she defined as the “capacity to use evidence from multiple sources to construct, justify, and critique models or explanations of science phenomena.” It consists of text-based modules that supplement an existing science curriculum, as well as learning progressions, assessment tools, and ongoing professional development.
Greenleaf explained that reading and writing for investigation consists of focusing on evidence and counter-evidence, maintaining a skeptical stance, and attending to details around mechanisms, interactions, and the like. Students are actively engaged with multiple sources and forms of text for the purpose of coming up with explanations that answer questions like, How do we know?, Why do we think differently from one another?, and How can we adjudicate our ideas?
4For additional information about Project READi, see http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/BOSE/DBASSE_085962 [January 2014].
Of particular importance in Project READi is an explicit focus on helping students develop a particular epistemological stance, a way of consciously thinking about how they will approach science reading. According to Greenleaf, this means that students ideally approach a science journal thinking, “I’m going to be confronted with something that might be new or that might put me in the position of having to question existing knowledge, but I’m going to be skeptical about what’s there unless and until it is compelling based on evidence.”
The development of Project READi was motivated by a desire to improve the state of science teaching and specifically to help science teachers use text for more authentic purposes. Greenleaf stated that currently little true science takes place in many secondary science classrooms, where the focus becomes delivering content and teaching about science. Texts used often only consist of the textbook, according to her; further, students rarely use scientific argumentation and teachers are not utilizing strategies that enable text-based investigations. Thus, the purpose of Project READi was to meet the simultaneous challenge of developing students’ science knowledge, engagement, participation in science practices, and ability to read for understanding in science, along with developing science teachers’ understanding of science practices, literacy practices, various texts, and repertoire of pedagogical strategies. Developers of this approach want students to learn that “science changes [but] knowledge builds,” Greenleaf said.
Science and literacy are intertwined creating a strand of inquiry, as described by Greenleaf. The student learning goals are shown in Box 4-1. Meant to support an existing curriculum with first-hand science experiences, Project READi provides students with numerous experiences to read scientific texts, to grapple with the language, and to build a repertoire of sense-making skills. Students engage with scientific texts that have been carefully selected and sequenced, but have not been reduced or simplified in any way.
By way of example, Greenleaf described in some detail a unit in which students investigated the causes of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). She showed examples of how students are presented with an initial set of questions and readings. Students use the texts to gain knowledge and to create and revisit explanations for the initial questions, as well as generate their own new questions. As students read, teachers help them learn and use active reading strategies, and devote class time to discussing confusing concepts and challenging words. Over the course of the unit, students have multiple opportunities to engage in argumentation about the best explanations. In the case of the MRSA unit, texts are intentionally sequenced so that students encounter elements of the
PROJECT READI STUDENT LEARNING GOALS
1—Engage in close reading of a range of science representations; identify, analyze and interpret scientific evidence in texts/sources including graphs, diagrams, models, exposition.
2—Synthesize evidence and information across multiple sources including graphs, diagrams, models, exposition.
3, 4, and 5—Construct, justify, and critique explanations and explanatory models of science phenomena from scientific evidence drawn from multiple courses and using science principles, frameworks, and enduring understandings.
6—Demonstrate understanding of the epistemology of science through inquiry dispositions and conceptual change awareness/orientation, seeking “best understandings giving the evidence.”
SOURCE: Adapted from Greenleaf et al. (2013).
causal model for how MRSA is transmitted across the unit. Ultimately, students use their knowledge to construct models and negotiate the best explanations with their classmates. This resolution often results in more questions. Assessment tasks parallel the types of activities students engage in throughout the unit.
As Project READi is implemented, Greenleaf said, its developers have identified a number of challenges, as well as benefits. Teachers grapple with balancing to cover the content, while also giving students the time they need to engage with the texts. At the same time, both teachers and students learn from the approach how to conduct true scientific investigations with text, and teachers learn how to turn over sense-making to students. She suggested that adopting these new teaching strategies is challenging for both teachers and students because in many cases it represents a significant departure from their current way of interacting in the classroom and using texts. Project READi offers materials to support the curriculum, but Greenleaf shared that teachers need “professional communities and support” to master this approach. A further challenge involves shifting the ways in which models and other scientific representations are created and used, ideally moving away from a focus on aesthetics and toward accurate representation of constructs and usefulness. Helping teachers to learn to use texts by engaging them in opportunities to learn in the same way their students learn has promoted deeper
understandings of texts and the practices of science. Greenleaf closed her remarks reinforcing that it is indeed possible to intertwine literacy and scientific practices in authentic ways that address both the CCSS for ELA and NGSS.
The workshop brought together these science curricula ranging from early elementary school through high school because they have successfully interwoven science and literacy in meaningful and authentic ways. In the discussions that followed the presentations, presenters responded to a question about how these ideas and approaches could extend to younger children who are still learning to read. Barber and Romance indicated that they are currently working to extend their curricula to this age group, as well as to develop parallel support for teachers at this level. Sutherland and others added that learning to read does not end at the third grade after which students are said to be “reading to learn.” Susan Pimentel suggested that read-alouds could be an important way to address limitations in reading among the youngest children, while also building their skills in listening and speaking. Finally, David Pearson cautioned that simplifying the language of science for young children can oversimplify the concepts leading to misinformation. He affirmed that through whatever modality children encounter science texts, it should increase knowledge.
Another discussion focused on how curriculum addressing these scientific practices also addresses the disciplinary core ideas named in the NGSS. Referring to Project READi, Susan Goldman indicated that identifying the “big ideas” and core concepts was an integral part of curriculum development. Greenleaf also stated that some of the core constructs included change over time, systems and interactions, and causal mechanisms present in nature. Brian Reiser and Greenleaf also added that certain content lends itself to inclusion in text-based investigations. For example, problems that are particularly engaging to the students, that cannot readily be encountered in a hands-on investigation (e.g., MRSA), and that have abundant readily available data are good candidates for scientific investigations using text.
A final challenge the group discussed in implementing these types of science curricula was the need for change in classroom culture. Students bring their own dispositional factors, Greenleaf noted, such as a sense of self-efficacy or a desire to grapple with difficult problems. Teachers also have a role to play in creating a safe environment, where it is acceptable to make mistakes and to not know the answer, according to Goldman. Further, moving away from recitation to engaging in sci-
ence involves helping teachers “let go,” allowing students to “meander” toward developing the theories. Goldman noted that this takes modeling and scaffolding for teachers. Greenleaf added that engaging teachers in the same process that students go through with text appears to help teachers see the value in allowing students to construct meaning for themselves.
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