Building systems that support literacy for science not only within classrooms and schools, but also across schools, communities, districts, and states requires unique strategies and approaches. Several presentations at the workshop addressed issues in working not only with science teachers to effect change, but also with teachers across disciplines, principals, and other administrators. They offered specific strategies used, challenges faced, and lessons learned to help inform future efforts to build knowledge, capacity, and implementation of excellent science practices on a widening scale. The presenters addressed how they are working to build a shared vision to meet the needs of all students.
Across the presentations, the following themes emerged:
- Teachers learning new approaches and strategies were engaged in communities of learning that emulated approaches to be used with students.
- Creating a shared vision for science education, and more specifically literacy for science, required time and engagement with individuals at all levels of the system.
- At the school district and state levels, changing practices was facilitated by supportive policies.
- Efforts to build capacity to support and sustain the changes include training trainers, working with principals, or supporting “trailblazing schools,” among other strategies.
- Phased approaches are bringing about change in awareness, vision, and implementation of new practices in science education.
- Efforts are under way to help states address the needs of English language learners (ELLs) as they adopt and implement the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (CCSS for ELA) and Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
THE NEW VISIONS FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS EXAMPLE
Kiran Purohit described New Visions for Public Schools’ work with New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science (AMS), and their lessons learned in enacting a literacy support model specifically for this school.1 New Visions for Public Schools supports 75 public middle and high schools and 6 charter schools across New York City. The public and charter schools with which they work tend to be demographically similar, with many students performing below grade level, nearly 20 percent with special needs, and approximately 10 percent as ELLs. A new charter school, AMS, began in 2011. In the first year of its existence, students focused on biology in ninth grade, physics in tenth grade, and now chemistry in eleventh grade.
As Purohit explained, the New Visions network has an initiative to support reading and writing across disciplines for the schools it supports, called the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC).2 This initiative predates the NGSS, but it is aligned with the CCSS for ELA. The LDC is based on cross-disciplinary research practices and includes a set of template tasks that involve reading, listening and speaking, and writing. One key element of this approach is the “writing cascade.” As part of the writing cascade, students complete one major piece of writing of a single type per three-week period in each of several subjects. Purohit showed an example of a writing cascade (see Figure 6-1), which she said helps to ensure that teachers of different subjects are talking about, thinking about, and structuring writing in similar ways, and also that students need only focus on one major piece of writing at a time. Purohit noted that this comparability and staggered approach is especially important for students who struggle in school.
As part of the LDC initiative, teachers work in cross-disciplinary investigation groups, Purohit explained. Following the design of the skill ladders, teachers implement the tasks in their classrooms. The teacher groups then meet to collabo-
1Additional information about New Visions’ work with AMS is available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/BOSE/DBASSE_085962 [March 2014].
FIGURE 6-1 Example of a writing cascade.
SOURCE: Miller and Purohit (2013).
rate around student work. They use this process to rearticulate the skills on which students are still working. This process functions in a continuous feedback loop.
By engaging in these groups in year 1 of AMS, Purohit noted several challenges that teachers encountered. First, teachers found examining student work across disciplines more challenging than originally anticipated. Second, they found that their approach was still not meeting the needs of the lowest third of their students. Therefore, in year 2, New Visions engaged with AMS in action research to address these concerns to determine how to make science literacy accessible, how to better support student engagement, and how to engage the community in science classrooms effectively.
The action research involved refining the teaching tasks to incorporate the NGSS practices. According to Purohit, the writing tasks were adapted so that students engaged in more frequent writing in “mini-tasks,” rather than less frequent writing of major pieces to foster more opportunities for practice. Last, the team focused on building teacher capacity through collaborative planning with experts from the community. Instead of inviting experts to the classroom as guest speakers to supplement instruction, experts assisted teachers with designing lessons and planning tasks at the outset to foster greater authenticity in the way that students engaged with scientific phenomena. This included holding a retreat where teachers
and experts examined both content and science practices in the initial design of student tasks, and then engaging with the experts in the revision of tasks.
To illustrate this approach, Danielle Miller of AMS described a unit on “Pests in the City” implemented at AMS. By engaging with experts in entomology, pest control, and housing, the team identified key content, such as life cycles and ecosystems, and practices, such as developing and using models that the unit would address. This approach was also informed by the work of Richard Elmore3 that emphasizes a three-pronged approach to improving instruction—increasing teacher knowledge and skills, increasing active student engagement, and raising the level of content.
Miller explained that, now that AMS is in its third year of existence and partnership with New Visions, the action research is focusing on student levels of motivation and the link with engagement. In addition, the team has opted to focus on a small subset of science practices at any given point in time during the implementation of the LDC. Finally, they are continuing to further integrate community experts into their classrooms. These innovations are requiring that AMS find new ways to structure and increase planning and meeting time. Aligning these new ways of engaging in science with current high-stakes testing continues to pose a challenge.
THE OAKLAND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT EXAMPLE
María Santos, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), presented her experiences in supporting literacy for science on a school-district level in Oakland, California.4 OUSD has approximately 37,000 students, 80 percent of whom are low-income and one-third of whom are ELLs. The district has established a model for education that emphasizes three key areas: (1) ensuring a high-quality instructional core, (2) creating equitable opportunities for learning, and (3) developing social-emotional and physical health. This system-wide plan involves meeting CCSS for ELA and mathematics, NGSS, and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiatives, she said.
4Additional information about the Oakland Unified School District approach to literacy for science is available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/BOSE/DBASSE_085962 [March 2014].
Santos said having a set of policies that support this model has been essential in moving classroom strategies forward, particularly in ensuring that daily and weekly time specifically devoted to science at the elementary level are standardized. Stable funding streams, opportunities for professional development, technology, and strategic partnerships have also supported efforts to improve science education across OUSD. Other policies that make explicit the support for STEM and that increase the number of science classes that are required for graduation also make clear the priorities of the district.
To enact this vision, Santos continued, district leaders developed a plan for moving from awareness to implementation in a careful and coherent manner, working with individuals at all levels of the system. Phasing in new policies and practices with significant time for discussions with various stakeholders to build common understanding of the vision was essential in Santos’ view. She added that the theory of action focused on all of the layers of individuals from principal supervisors, principals, teacher leaders, teachers, and other specialists to emphasize that change is the responsibility of everyone in the system. As OUSD has implemented opportunities for adult learning around implementation of the NGSS, Santos said they have worked to develop environments that are safe for exploring and building knowledge, and where teachers are encouraged to question, push one another, and construct meaning, much as they would like students to do in the classroom. Importantly, principals also engage in education that enables them to know what teaching and learning science as envisioned in the NGSS looks like.
Leaders in OUSD identified three practices that cut across both CCSS for ELA and NGSS and that aligned with their vision for thriving students: (1) close reading of complex text (informational and literary); (2) academic discussion; and (3) evidence-based writing. Santos stated that the selection of just a few practices enabled them to focus on depth of understanding. Moreover, choosing three practices felt manageable to most teachers and principals. Work helping teachers and others develop their skills in fostering academic discussions began in fall 2013.
Santos related that efforts to build classroom cultures supportive of academic discussions were consistent with OUSD’s emphasis on social and emotional health. This involved working with teachers and principals to unpack the elements of a safe academic environment where students listen to and respect one another, are able to manage their own time talking and collaborating, and feel free to take risks. Such a supportive culture also builds in time for thinking. Within this culture, teachers look to help students learn how to articulate their reasoning, argue from evidence, use general academic and disciplinary language, and learn to build
on, challenge, and revise their ideas and those of others. Always the focus of these system-wide shifts is how to promote children’s sense-making abilities, according to Santos.
Development opportunities across the district help teachers and others to access new tools to foster shifts in their classroom practice. One tool Santos described involves equipping teachers with new structures to support academic discussions, such as “think-pair-share” opportunities or discussion circles. Content of the discourse focuses on using evidence, argumentation, and constructing meaning. However, most students require scaffolded support to engage in this type of discourse. So, teachers provide scaffolds to help students elaborate and clarify ideas, strengthen arguments with examples and evidence, and build on and challenge ideas respectfully. Santos noted that without new sets of tools, teachers tend to revert to previous ways of discussing science with their students. She added that new tasks are needed that lend themselves to these richer discussions. An initial step in providing teachers with new tools and tasks that OUSD undertook involved bringing 167 teachers together over the summer to develop new units that afford more opportunities for rich discourse and productive struggle than previous science units.
Santos also shared OUSD’s experiences in implementing the use of science notebooks as a tool for sense-making across the district, starting with elementary students. Students use writing and drawing as part of the process of making sense of experiences. They also use the notebooks to record, analyze, and interpret data on their own and with others. Teachers provide students with sentence frames, word banks, and visual scaffolds to assist them in their use of the science notebooks. Teachers also use these notebooks to better understand children’s thinking.
Principals and their supervisors also need new tools and strategies to effectively support teachers as they shift their instructional strategies, Santos said. Principals need to fully understand the practices and the common problems that can arise across content areas. They need the data, tools, and resources with which to evaluate their teachers’ use of science practices. Further, they must collaborate with others within and across schools. For teachers to change and feel comfortable in taking risks, they need to know that their principals understand and support what they are doing, according to Santos. The use of video and observations during instructional rounds has been important to these efforts. Principals are encouraged to be reflective and plan for next steps for their school. Recently, similar efforts have begun with groups of teacher leaders.
Santos described one tool that principals use in OUSD that has proved useful. Principals use a 5- × 8-inch card focused on the NGSS practices during their observations. Rather than noting teacher behaviors during their observations, principals focus on student behaviors or “vital student actions.” When they analyze classrooms, they first look to see what students were doing and then to what classroom conditions and teacher actions supported those student behaviors. Principals also have a guidebook with clear expectations in assessment, curriculum, and instruction, with most attention on instruction. Overall, there is a shift away from focusing on assessments and benchmark data toward thinking about student and instructional strategies. This focus on practices “is major,” according to Santos, “because we get a lot of pushback from folks—‘Give me the assessment. How am I going to know?’”
Santos concluded her presentation by describing a set of strategies that OUSD uses to advance science practices. First, she described 13 “trailblazer” science and literacy cohort schools that are serving as lab sites for the district. These schools help to build capacity across the district by creating new resources and supports that other schools will be able to use. These schools receive a significant amount of support from the district to enable this work. Second, OUSD holds five-week Summer Institutes. Teachers at the elementary level who attend focus on curriculum, instruction, planning, and pedagogy. One element of the Summer Institute is specifically geared to principals. Third, she described a science writing task specifically designed for 4th- and 5th-grade students. Students engage in this task over a week-long period, ultimately producing a science opinion essay.
THE SOUTH DAKOTA STATEWIDE EXAMPLE
The workshop also featured an example from a state-wide effort to move science practices in K-12 education forward. Sam Shaw, South Dakota Department of Education, provided an overview of his state’s approach to data, lessons learned, and next steps toward meeting their goals.5 He described South Dakota as a state with a small population, including just over 120,000 public school students and about 9,500 public school teachers, spread over a relatively large geographic area. Middle and high school science teachers constitute 875 of the public school teachers in the state.
5Additional information about South Dakota’s approach to science education is available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/BOSE/DBASSE_085962 [March 2014].
Shaw then painted a broad vision of his state’s progress toward implementing a new vision for science education in South Dakota. Overall, he noted that while progress is moving with a clear vision from A Framework for K-12 Science Education (K-12 framework, National Research Council, 2012), the state’s population of science teachers as a whole are further behind in their vision and approaches. Teachers are more likely to continue to be informed by the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996). Because of this disparity of vision, Shaw has focused his efforts as a state leader on “bringing people up to speed” and creating a shared vision for science education across the state based on the K-12 framework.
Part 1 of this initiative was the development of science academies aided in part by the governor’s “Investing in Teachers Package.” This was driven largely by adoption of CCSS, but widened in scope to address needs in science at the governor’s request. Shaw worked with the governor to emphasize student performance, emphasizing a conceptual shift away from teaching science facts. At the science academies, 22 teachers were trained as facilitators in 2012 over a week-long period. During that training, these teachers learned about the K-12 framework; yet, follow-up with the trainers through video indicated that wide variation among the teachers regarding the vision for science education still existed. Although this was initially challenging, their timeline for implementing the vision had included a year to address areas of concern.
Shaw said the following year the facilitators trained approximately 400 middle and high school teachers. Initial development and training conducted over a two-day period focused on two central ideas—constructing explanations from evidence and student performance, based on the framework and NGSS. Facilitators at the Science Academies structured sessions to engage teachers as they would if they were students. Teachers followed the Gather, Reason, Communicate sequence, and engaged in writing, speaking, and producing other visual representations in order to make their thinking visible to others. Teachers participating in the training also had opportunities to work in small and large groups; engage in sustained, silent writing; develop models; and report out to their colleagues. Approaches to facilitating discourse detailed in Ready, Set, SCIENCE! (National Research Council, 2008) proved to be useful for the facilitators; however, Shaw indicated that they learned through their initial experiences with the Science Academies that substantial time must be devoted to preparing facilitators. In particular, the facilitators themselves have been prepared in their careers to favor content over practices, and therefore, attention must be devoted to fostering the
ability to listen and to model appropriate practices throughout the training. Future trainings will offer additional sessions for middle and high school science teachers, and also expand to elementary teachers. However, Shaw cautioned that the elementary training will directly tie to CCSS for ELA and the framework for K-12 science education, rather than also addressing NGSS, because the state is first building a vision around the research in science education and not new standards. A key goal for elementary teachers is to help to get them engaged with science, since so little time is currently devoted to the subject at that level.
The second part of the South Dakota efforts to improve science education is the development of supplemental trainings for the literacy in science components of CCSS for ELA. Shaw has found that many teachers in the state are confused about what the standards mean and who is responsible for addressing them. To develop these trainings, they first examined Practice 8 of the Science and Engineering Practices in conjunction with the CCSS for ELA literacy in science standards in terms of inputs and outputs. As these trainings began, a small subset of 10 high school science teachers was invited to meet, to bring a text that they would typically use in their classrooms, and to bring a lesson plan. With guidance, teachers reviewed and compared their lesson plans to identify instances where students were gathering information, reasoning, or communicating information. Through this process, they determined that across the lesson plans, students were gathering information 80 percent of the time. These data prompted trainers to focus on how to develop units where students had more opportunities to reason and lessons placed a greater emphasis on sense-making and constructing explanations. When they examined the texts that teachers had brought, they determined through discussion that textbooks were generally ill-suited to engaging in multiple scientific and engineering practices to construct explanations of scientific phenomena. They explored ways that teachers can build in more opportunities and offer strategies that help students engage with scientific texts that do support the practices.
The literacy in science supplemental trainings consisted of a one-day meeting that focused on the shifts in practice needed and strategies that are aligned with these shifts, Shaw explained. Teachers engaged in a professional learning community online that focuses on adjusting lesson plans, implementing these plans, and reflecting on practices. Future plans for expanding this effort potentially involve making use of the Literacy Design Collaborative modules for science.
Shaw described one example of a strategy in South Dakota to help teachers learn to focus on literacy in science. They begin with examining a picture that
depicts a science idea. Next, teachers are invited to write three observations, two claims that they can support with evidence and reasoning, and one aspect about which they would like to gather more evidence. After this exercise, teachers share their ideas and discuss how an activity like this can be paired with close reading of informational texts. Teachers learn how to use a text and also how to return to it repeatedly for more information and evidence. Shaw indicated that helping teachers transition from thinking about student thinking in terms of Bloom’s taxonomy (Bloom, 1956) to Webb’s depth of knowledge model (Webb, 2002) continues to be a challenge in their state.
Finally, Shaw shared his plans for continuing to advance science education in South Dakota. He indicated that he will continue to develop a workgroup to look for options for new standards and to make a recommendation to the South Dakota State Board of Education, while continuing to implement the framework in such a way to facilitate later transitioning to the new South Dakota science standards over the next two years. Teachers will continue to receive support related to the CCSS in reading and listening, as well as writing and speaking in science.
WORKING ACROSS STATES TO SUPPORT ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS IN LITERACY FOR SCIENCE
Okhee Lee, New York University, described work that she and her colleagues have conducted to understand what challenges and opportunities the NGSS will present to students who are ELLs. As an initial step, she, Helen Quinn, and Guadalupe Valdez engaged in an analysis of the nature of language demands in a science classroom. Lee approached the task as a science educator, Quinn as a scientist, and Valdez as an expert on language acquisition. Together, they developed a framework that described the analytical science tasks, the receptive language functions, and the productive language functions that comprised each of the NGSS practices. Next, they examined the features of the classroom language and what each of those features required teachers and students to do both orally and in writing, receptively and productively. They included the features of modality, whether communication was in small groups, to the whole class, or one on one, and registers, which described whether the task required colloquial, classroom, or disciplinary language. The framework included specific examples of registers and tasks.
Lee indicated that the analysis of the language demands of the science classroom generated interest in developing a broader framework that states could
use to learn how to meet the needs of ELL students as they implement the CCSS for ELA and the NGSS. Thus, the English Language Proficiency Development (ELPD) Framework (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2012) was designed to communicate to ELL stakeholders the practices that ELLs needed to acquire for academic learning, as well as provide guidance about how to create and evaluate ELPD standards using the expectations of CCSS for ELA and NGSS as tools.
Lee then described a third initiative that had emerged from the development of the ELPD framework. She and her colleagues are working with the Council of Chief State School Officers to develop a set of standards for English language proficiency. She stated that 21 states so far would like to use the framework to develop policies to meet the needs of ELLs and promote these students’ success in school. Such standards would emphasize and elaborate on the language, language knowledge, and skills using language of the CCSS for ELA, CCSS for mathematics, and the NGSS. The K-12 Practices Matrix is one element of this process that helps identify the practices in each subject and how they correspond to English language proficiency standards (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2012). A fourth initiative has recently begun to develop a teacher’s guide for mathematics and science resources and how to use the resources within the ELPD framework.
Lee summarized what these three initiatives represent in her view. First, conceptually, the analyses help to tease out the language practices and functions within each of the subject areas and their corresponding standards. Second, language within the disciplines is conceptualized in terms of receptive and productive functions. Finally, this way of thinking about language is helping states develop policies and practices that can benefit all students, and especially ELLs.
Changing visions and practices in K-12 science education on larger system-level scales presents unique challenges, as several presenters pointed out. One particular challenge, working in cross-disciplinary teams, was the subject of panel discussion. Purohit of the New Visions network described differences in how the different disciplines use evidence and how the disciplines expect students to support claims with evidence in writing. In English language arts (ELA) and social studies, she noted, showing evidence in writing often means increasing length and adding more details. However, in science, evidence is more closely tied with deep reasoning and connecting observations with reading. This yields differences in what the various disciplines see as constituting a significant piece of writing. These differences emerged through conversations in cross-disciplinary teacher groups, and indicated
that conversations needed to address these differences. Santos indicated that OUSD facilitates cross-disciplinary conversations at high levels of the administration, holding monthly meetings of supervisors of principals and specialists in ELA, mathematics, and science. They hold facilitated meetings focusing on the nature of academic discussion, evidence, and talk. Santos stated that they specifically take time to work in a continuous improvement process with their partners and reflect on their instructional strategies. Lastly, Purohit added that teachers across disciplines can often find common ground by focusing on the students themselves, particularly those who are struggling, more than on any particular practice.
Another point of discussion focused on finding fiscal support for these systemic initiatives. Santos indicated that, in part, science initiatives in OUSD are funded because they have become budget priorities; however, she also noted that grant writing, university partnerships, and foundation support have also been helpful. She added that these various elements must be coordinated and coherent in order to be effective. Santos also suggested that many mechanisms for sharing information and tools exist in Web-based formats, such as massive open online courses, for areas that have fewer partnership opportunities than Oakland.
One participant identified a need for greater dissemination of information and awareness of new practices in many areas of the country, perhaps occurring in regional meetings. Sam Shaw noted that he had benefited from his engagement with the Council of Chief State School Officers in this regard. However, he suggested that identifying gaps in knowledge and resources, so that support could be need-based, might prove more beneficial than targeting support by geographic area. Finally, Lee pointed out that these examples from the network, district, and state levels indicate that change can and is happening.