Science literacy

The Science Teacher Jan 2010Making the connections between science, reading, writing, and media literacy has been a professional interest of mine for many years. So I get really excited when The Science Teacher has literacy as a theme. In addition to these articles, SciLinks has additional resources under the topic Reading and Writing in Science with ideas to help students understand the structure of informational text and understand the content.
Our colleagues at the elementary level are probably familiar with “literature circles.” This month’s Prepared Practitioner column describes how this technique for getting students to read and discuss can be applied at the secondary level (see a similar article in the Literature Circle Roles for Science Vocabulary (TST Summer 2007), Literature Circles for Science (S&C November 2006), and A Literature-Circles Approach to Understanding Science as a Human Endeavor (SS October 2007). Literature circles are not difficult to implement, and many teachers have the structure in place to do so. As the authors describe these versions of Literature Circles at various grade levels, I was reminded of the “jigsaw” cooperative learning strategy, which many secondary teachers already use in labs or other activities.

Another term that’s used in elementary reading is “wide reading,” as described in the article Building Background Knowledge. The authors define the term as “students independently read books, magazines, or other available materials for an extended period of time.” They describe an action research project that looked at the use of wide reading a way of improving students’ content knowledge. A difference between free reading and wide reading is a focus on a specific topic. If you need more materials at different reading levels, you could consider searching SciLinks for informational websites, using the “Save to Favorites” option to create a list of sites for a wide reading list on a topic. If electrophoresis is part of your curriculum, you could start a wide reading list with the SciLinks sites suggested in the article Gel Electrophoresis on a Budget to Dye For.
If your efforts at poetry consisted of the roses-are-red style, take a look at Rocks and Rhymes. The authors describe a process in which students summarize field notes in creative ways. I observed a biology class that did this. The students added a haiku as part of the summary of the lab activity. Using this format caused the students to really think about their observations and analysis, and they couldn’t copy something from a textbook (or a partner). If you want to see what some of these poetry styles look like, go to Poetry for Kids or Types of Poetry. Your students may be familiar with these from their language arts class, so they might think their science teacher is crazy at first. Acrostics or cinquains are good places to start.
Check out the Connections for this issue. Even if the article does not quite fit with your lesson agenda, the authors provide handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, examples of student work, etc.

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