Academic journal article Science Scope

Comic Relief: Using Comics and Illustrated Trade Books to Support Science Learning in First-Year English Language Learners

Academic journal article Science Scope

Comic Relief: Using Comics and Illustrated Trade Books to Support Science Learning in First-Year English Language Learners

Article excerpt

In order to strengthen the connections between literacy and science, the Common Core State Standards for English language arts (CCSS ELA) have clear anchor standards related to science learning that ask students to read informational texts and orchestrate content-specific discussions (NGAC and CCSSO 2010). For example, CCSS Reading Anchor #7 states that middle school students should be able to "integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words" (NGAC and CCSSO 2010). This anchor connects strongly to science and engineering practices of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that ask students to analyze data presented in various formats. Another CCSS ELA standard that directly connects to science is Writing Anchor #8, which states that students should be able to "gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources ... and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism" (NGAC and CCSSO 2010). Similarly, the National Research Council's (NRC) Framework for K-12 Science Education, Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, states:

   Any education in science and engineering needs to develop students'
   ability to read and produce domain-specific text. As such, every
   science or engineering lesson is in part a language lesson,
   particularly reading and producing the genres of texts that are
   intrinsic to science and engineering (NRC 2012, p. 76).

For English language learners (ELLs), the challenge of learning complex science concepts is compounded by their simultaneous learning of English. Because the NGSS are cognitively demanding, science teachers with ELLs in their classrooms need effective strategies to incorporate literacy instruction. Experts have promoted the use of comics and illustrated trade books (CTBs) when teaching science to strengthen students' understanding of concepts, practices, and how scientists do science (Cheesman 2006; Donovan and Smolkin 2002; Pappas et al. 2004; Yore 2004). Using CTBs as resources for strengthening students' background knowledge, motivating their questions, or validating their results can support their investigations in science (Cervetti, Pearson, and Barber 2006; Morrison and Young 2008). Further, incorporating CTBs helps students build confidence and independence in accessing complex ideas as they begin by "reading the pictures" (Vardell, Hadaway, and Young 2006, p. 734).

In middle level classrooms, students who struggle with dense texts or have difficulty comprehending academic language involved in science content may do well when reading highly visual CTBs, a format that is part of popular culture, providing students with a familiar frame of reference (Morrison, Bryan, and Chilcoat 2002; Ranker 2007). Indeed, education research has linked the use of CTBs in science classrooms with improvement in both ELL and non-ELL students' science conceptual knowledge, reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, and strategy use (Fang and Wei 2010; Morrow et al. 1997; Fang and Wei 2008; Gaskins et al. 1994). There is also evidence to suggest that texts accompanied by visual supports may be particularly beneficial to ELLs with low English proficiency (Liu 2004; Tang 1992).

About our ELL target group

This article focuses on strategies (described in greater detail later in this article) for integrating CTBs--delivered weekly, during Reading Day sessions--to support middle school ELLs' learning of science during their first year in the United States. Reading Day sessions were delivered once a week and lasted for the entire 50-minute period of the class, with students reading CTBs in pairs. Shorter books were read in their entirety during the Reading Day, whereas longer books were read over two to three weeks; this applied particularly to the comics, naturally broken down into chapters. (Alternatively, once the Reading Day routines described in the article are established, the CTBs could be read daily during the last 10-15 minutes of the class. …

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