Academic journal article Science and Children

Seeing the Science: A Rubric Helps to Examine Written Science Observations of Second-Grade English Language Learners

Academic journal article Science and Children

Seeing the Science: A Rubric Helps to Examine Written Science Observations of Second-Grade English Language Learners

Article excerpt

English language learners (ELLs) bring a wealth of knowledge to our science classrooms, yet often that knowledge is untapped by traditional instruction and assessment. As classrooms become increasingly diverse, it is critical we recognize the depth of understandings ELLs bring to our classrooms to explain the scientific world around them. English language learners are faced with two challenges in the science classroom: learning subject matter and learning English. Research suggests that integrating inquiry-based science and language acquisition into our instruction may enhance learning in both domains (Brisk 2006; Lee 2005). Observing scientific phenomena over time, like a plant or butterfly life cycle, provides a rich opportunity for ELLs to both practice writing and learn science. However, it can sometimes be difficult to see science content within the context of a struggling writer's scientific observations.

Through our work in science classrooms with ELL students in an inclusive second-grade classroom we developed a rubric to assess ELL students' written observations of two plants growing over time. Specifically, we focused on the types of scientific observations made by students. We used this rubric to analyze the writing of three students and suggest key instructional strategies to support student learning.

Connections to the Next Generation Science Standards

While this lesson was developed and implemented prior to the release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), it contains elements closely aligned with NGSS. Using these observations to describe patterns in the natural world is a key aspect of the scientific practice of planning and carrying out investigations, which calls for students in grades K-2 to make observations (Achieve Inc. 2013). In the words of A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC 2012), "at the elementary level, students need support to recognize the need to record observations--whether in drawings, words, or numbers--and to share them with others" (p. 63).

This particular activity is most closely aligned with the NGSS second-grade performance expectation 2-LS2-1, which states that students who demonstrate understanding can "plan and conduct an investigation to determine if plants need sunlight and water to grow" (Achieve Inc. 2013, p. 18; see Connecting to the Standards).

To demonstrate their understanding in this lesson, students need to be able to:

* describe that plants depend on water and light to grow (disciplinary core idea LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems)

* record regular observations of their plants as data (science and engineering practice: Plan and Carry Out an Investigation); and

* notice that patterns in their plants that are generalizable (crosscutting concept: Cause and Effect).

Rubric

Rubrics can help teachers better understand their students' science content understanding, particularly over time. Through rubrics teachers also gain insight into their students' strengths and weaknesses (Eisenkraft and Anthes-Washburn 2008). In working with ELLs, one challenge in interpreting science writing can be looking beyond the students' limitations in writing in English to interpret their scientific understanding. We therefore designed a rubric to analyze science understanding in sequential observations by ELLs (see Table 1, p. 65, for the rubric).

TABLE 1.

Rubric for analyzing student writing.

Code              Description         Description         Example
                    (general)           (context        from student
                                       specific)           work

Description of  Student describes   Student describes   "They have
attributes      the                 the                 green leaves
                characteristics of  characteristics of  and Soil and
                the object          a plant.            Stam."
                observed. … 
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