Academic journal article Science and Children

Reading as Scientists: Students Evaluate the Quality of a Scientific Study

Academic journal article Science and Children

Reading as Scientists: Students Evaluate the Quality of a Scientific Study

Article excerpt


Teachers get conflicting messages about reading in science. We often hear that students should be engaged in doing science rather than reading about science in textbooks. Alternatively, we also know the value of integrating literacy and science instruction (e.g., Cervetti and Barber 2009). When reading is discussed, however, it is often in the context of bringing trade books into the classroom to support inquiry and helping students learn to read informational texts. The piece that is often missing is how reading is integral to a scientist's work, just like making observations, creating hypotheses, and drawing conclusions.

As part of my research on reading in science, my goal was to provide a group of sixth graders reading materials that represent the type of reading that scientists do. Using an adapted version of a recently published scientific article, these students worked together identifying conclusions, deciding on appropriate evidence, suggesting improvements for the study, and recommending further investigations for the scientists. This experience provided opportunities for students to use reading to decide on the quality of a scientific study--just like scientists do when they read.

Adapted Primary Literature

High-school teachers and university professors have begun to use adapted primary literature in classrooms. This type of writing maintains the structure and style of original scientific writing while adjusting for the conceptual understanding, reading level, vocabulary, and mathematical skill of the students. Adapted primary literature has been effectively used in high school science classrooms to help students develop both better understanding of scientific concepts and of inquiry processes (Phillips and Norris 2009).

This adapted primary literature can, however, still be hard for young students to read. Although the adaptation process simplifies the words and the scientific content, complex reasoning and argumentation patterns often remain. Scientific writing with these features is still an unfamiliar and difficult genre for many young students (Fang 2006). To alter adapted literature even further for elementary students, I explored a hybrid of adapted primary literature.

The example presented here integrates narrative nonfiction writing (like in science trade books) with adapted primary literature. My sixth-grade partner class and their teacher were just finishing a unit on space and were about to begin a unit called "Evidence and Investigation," which focuses on the nature of science. It seemed like the perfect place to delve into how reading is integral to a scientist's work. The teacher and I chose to use the scientific article "Recent bright gully deposits on Mars: Wet or dry flow?" from the journal Geology (Pelletier et al. 2008). It describes scientists comparing photographs of streaks on the surface of Mars to computer-generated pictures of wet and dry flow (e.g., water vs. sand flow). The comparison was used to determine the most likely explanation of the streaks.

My goal was to use a narrative-style introduction to first help students gain an understanding of the scientists and their work, including the scientists' motivation and their thought process as they came up with the idea for their study. The narrative nonfiction described the context of the research, including research that had come before it, and discussed the reasoning processes and motivations of the scientists. Then students could approach the more complex adapted primary literature with an understanding of the scientific research they would be reading about.

The second section (adapted primary literature) looked just like the original journal article but was shorter and written in simplified language. The overall structure of the original (e.g., the order in which the information was presented) and the sentence style were maintained. …

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