Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

A Comparison of Readability in Science-Based Texts: Implications for Elementary Teachers

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

A Comparison of Readability in Science-Based Texts: Implications for Elementary Teachers

Article excerpt

Introduction

Content area literacy is reading and writing in order to learn more about a domain or discipline (Moss, 2005). Instructionally, teachers access an assortment of text types and genres to connect content learning with literacy and technology skills. The outcome is enhanced learning and the ability to read, write, and discuss in authentic ways. This is especially integral to science learning and scientific literacy (Yore, Hand, & Florence, 2004). Comprehending, interpreting, analyzing, and discussing science are all functions of being scientifically literate (Norris & Phillips, 2003).

The intersection between reading and learning in science offers important considerations for educators to note when providing texts to assist elementary students in reading to learn science. Background knowledge and vocabulary are key components in a literacy-rich science curriculum, and are also important in providing the means to improve student understanding and achievement in science (Gallagher, Fazio, & Gunning, 2012; Gallagher, Fazio, & Ciampa, 2013; Fazio & Gallagher, 2014; Fisher, Grant, & Frey, 2009). This study examined the juncture between the accessibility of text and students' science knowledge. Accessibility of text is influenced by how readable the text is. With reference to readability, vocabulary repertoire contributes to reading fluency (Graves, 2006) and vocabulary knowledge influences text comprehension (Bravo & Cervetti, 2008). It is important to note that the instructional supports provided by the teacher are helpful for students accessing text.

Contemporary students have unprecedented access to texts they can use to read to learn in science. The term "text" refers to a range of print words, images, video, or sound, used to communicate and express (Semali, 2001). Texts take on different forms. Literacy or basal readers are grade-levelled sets of short passages compiled into one resource; some passages are precises of original works (Pilonieta, 2010). In Canada, literacy or basal readers are written in an attempt to correlate with learning outcomes from various curriculum or standards policy documents (Bainbridge & Heydon, 2013). Trade books are published, commercially sold books that combine printed words and pictures into a paper-bound text (Bintz, Wright, & Sheffer, 2010). Trade books are narrative or informational in nature, and can address a wide range of reading levels. Existing research documents the efficacy of using trade books to teach science concepts and enhance science vocabulary (e.g., Brassell, 2006; Ford, 2004; Holliday, 2004; Plummer & Kuhlman, 2008; Saul & Dieckman, 2005). For the purposes of this research, online articles are defined as those texts that are accessed through the internet on websites designed for elementary students' education purposes. These digital texts and images include open-access sites and other online versions of magazines (Hiebert, 2013). The impact of such online reading in various content areas is a burgeoning field of research (Leu et al., 2007). The online articles accessed for analysis in this study were selected based on the topical content of the article (e.g., "Growth and Changes in Plants") and not by readability, text difficulty, or grade level.

It is important to note that the balance of literary qualities and science content in different texts (e.g., literacy readers, trade books, online articles) is delicate. This is a particular concern since both the International Literacy Association and the National Council of Teachers of English are critical of the use of readability formulae. Why? Readability formulae are inexact and improperly applied. Given the accessibility and extensive use of literacy readers, trade books, and online articles in the elementary classroom, close examination of readability in these sources of science-based text is warranted. Accordingly, the purpose of this study is to raise awareness of the discrepancies among common readability measures given the variety of text sources that elementary classroom teachers are accessing for use in science instruction. …

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