Science and Literacy

This week ASCD featured an online article by a D.C. area biology teacher. The writer addressed the need for all teachers to support the development of student literacy. Science and literacy connections feature prominently in  A Framework for K-12 Science EducationWe also see the literacy/science connection highlighted in the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

The message about science and literacy is simple, but even so, it often gets misunderstood.  Teachers of science need to:

  • value the development of student literacy,
  • understand literacy strategies, and
  • use literacy strategies to enhance the learning of science.

As my Maine Department of Education English Language Arts colleagues, Patsy Dunton and LeeAnne Larsen, are quick to point out, this does NOT mean that teachers of science need to become teachers of English Language Arts. However, it does mean that teachers of science need to understand the science/literacy expectations in the Framework and Common Core documents.  It also means that teachers of science need to collaborate with teachers of English Language Arts to ensure that literacy expectations for students are consistent and strategies are being used effectively across content areas.

We see the science literacy connection clearly in Practices 6, 7, and 8 of the Framework.  All three practices describe the interface between science and literacy. Practice 6 points to students being able to construct explanations (for science) and design solutions (for engineering).  Practice 7 points to students being able to engage in argument from evidence.  And Practice 8 points to students being able to obtain, evaluate, and communicate information.

I joined 15 Presque Isle area teachers earlier this week for a workshop on the Scientific and Engineering Practices and Engineering Design.  In our conversations about the practices they were quick to note that Practice 8 is not simply another way to say that students are discussing the results of their experiments.  Rather, Practice 8 intends that students will interact with and make sense of science media (for example science texts, talks, and videos). This opens the door wide for the application of literacy strategies to support students in making sense of the science ideas.

Colleen Good and Shari Ward at the Scientific and Engineering Practices and Engineering Design workshop.

Ernie Easter and Jan Perry at the Scientific and Engineering Practices and Engineering Design workshop.

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