Academic journal article Science Scope

Saturn, Science, and Cross-Curricular Literacy Standards

Academic journal article Science Scope

Saturn, Science, and Cross-Curricular Literacy Standards

Article excerpt

One day in science class, as students were reading about the solar system and creating K-W-L charts, the teacher overhead the following exchange. When one student asked her partner, "Why is Saturn so cold?" her partner claimed this was "because it is so far from the Sun." The science teacher knew this was a moment for integrating the practice of argument but was unsure about how this question could serve as a hook for another lesson. Later that day, a language arts colleague and the science teacher discussed this as an opportunity to integrate science and literacy. (This vignette is based on a compilation of several of our combined teaching and professional development experiences and observations with science students and teachers and does not represent a single event.)

With the growing interest in "science practices" (NRC 2012) and the Common Core State Standards, ELA (NGAC and CCSSO 2010), science teachers must solve the problem of how to integrate literacy and content standards. However, some science teachers do not have strategies to scaffold students' use of text and so avoid using text resources (Rowell and Ebbers 2004). In this article, we describe how the questions students ask during science lessons can be thoughtfully integrated with strategies for literacy instruction and science practices such as engaging in argument from evidence and the crosscutting concept of patterns (NRC 2012).


Comprehension windows and science

A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC 2012) emphasizes students engaging in its eighth scientific practice, which requires them to obtain, communicate, and evaluate information, skills that are mirrored in the Common Core State Standards for reading informational text (IT) and writing (W), such as the following (NGAC and CCSSO 2010):

* Ask and answer questions about a text (R.IT.l).

* Use features and search tools to locate relevant information (R.IT.5).

* Use information gained from words and illustrations to explain why things happen (R.IT.7).

* Compose informative texts that clearly convey ideas and information (W.2).

* Conduct research projects (W.7).

* Gather information from print and digital sources; take notes (W.8).

In the lesson profiled in this article, we integrate three Common Core State Standards that are particularly relevant to practicing science and often pose difficulties for students: gathering information from a variety of sources and taking notes (W.8) and using that information to develop and clearly convey ideas through a written, informative text (R.IT.7 and W.2) (NGAC and CCSSO 2010). These standards call for students to seek information, look for common themes within that information to draw conclusions, and use the language of logic to employ their information to support their conclusions (W.3.1) (NGAC and CCSSO 2010).

Although the terminology is a bit different (i.e., data/information, patterns/similarities, explanations/conclusions supported by data), these literacy standards parallel scientific practice 7 of the Framework (Engaging in argument from evidence). This cross-curricular parallel is not coincidental--the sharing of knowledge within scientific communities is always a literacy-related event. Therefore, just as literacy is integral to the work of science, the teaching of literacy needs to be integral to the teaching of science.

Effective science teachers guide and facilitate learning by focusing on and supporting inquiry through a range of linguistic activities, from hands-on investigations that include observation, discussion, and recording of natural phenomena or the work of others, to critical analyses of media, books, and journals (NRC 1996; 2012). Therefore, for the literacy-related aspects of science, educators need to teach students how to use texts, in this case online data about the planets, as a tool to access the data and conclusions of others; record data and conclusions; synthesize ideas from several sources in order to form explanations; and share conclusions in ways that make sense to others. …

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