There is much in the literature about the importance of reading in science, not just pronouncing or decoding words but comprehending informational text. Unlike what students might see in a reading or English class, science resources are not usually written in a story-telling style. Science text often uses headings, subheadings, abstracts, summaries, sidebars, footnotes, specialized vocabulary, and graphics. Students may not realize reading science text can be a slower process than reading a novel or story, and rereading a section is appropriate and even encouraged. Likewise, writing in science is usually purposeful and informative.
This issue of The Science Teacher examines topics related to literacy: reading, writing, information literacy, visual literacy, and data literacy. [SciLinks: Reading and writing in science] You may want to supplement this issue by reading the January Science Scope: Science and the Common Core Language Arts Standards
If a secondary student cannot decode words, there is certainly a need for intervention by reading specialists. But helping students develop strategies to comprehend text material is an important job of all content teachers, science included. I wonder if many secondary students’ reading “problems” are, in reality, a lack of guidance and experience in interacting with informational text. Reading to Learn describes some strategies for helping students make sense of informational text, including annotation and double (or triple) entry journals. The authors suggest making copies of text so that students can mark them up, since in most schools writing in the textbook is not permitted. (I wonder about the expense of duplicating). I’ve seen online textbooks with the capability for highlighting and creating sidebar notes or questions. The students were truly interacting with the text. The teacher I observed did a great job of modeling how to render the text by doing a think-aloud as he read the text and annotated it.
Writing and Science Literacy has suggestions for writing in categories such as technical writing (notebooks and lab reports) and has a protocol for lab notebooks. But it’s interesting to see that the authors also include creative writing as an option in science classes (including cartoons and poems). I visited a biology class where the teacher asked the students to post a haiku about the lesson on the class blog site. Even though a haiku is a very structured form of poetry, the students’ creative responses were enjoyable to read and showed their ability to recast their learning in a different format. I’m also a fan of cinquain poems, acrostics, and three-words (similar to a morning TV show’s feature). Environmental Science Lab Reports outlines the components of a report that could be generalized to other sciences. Rather than a traditional “book report,” the author of Reading, Writing, and Physics outlines a project in which students use journaling to respond to a book.
The authors of The Way They Want to Learn suggest that technology has a role in building student literacies and communication skills. They describe several Web 2.0 tools that students can use to create visual concept maps (CMAP), graphic organizers (Webspiration) presentations (Prezi), and graphic displays (Tagxedo, VoiceThread, Museum Box). But don’t worry if you’re not familiar with these—students can be very good at figuring things out if you give them the opportunity.
“But I read it on the Internet!” Students may naively think that all Internets sources are created equal. Climbing the Pyramid describes an activity in which students create a hierarchy as they evaluate science news sources to become informed critical readers (and viewers). This would be a good article/activity to share with your school librarian. (Isn’t it ironic that as information literacy becomes an even more important issue, schools are laying off the library staff—the people who are trained to assist students and teachers? Hmmm.) In addition to reading the news, students can apply their literacy skills by writing news articles, using the ideas in Science Journalism.
Using Online Data has many resources at the end for the analysis and interpretation of data, including NOAA and USGS. [And in SciLinks, you can search for sites on a given topic that include data sets to manipulate].