Effective science instruction includes opportunities for students to engage in inquiry, and to engage in scientific discussions to construct explanations (Gallas, 1995; Lemke, 1990; Rosebery, Warren & Conant, 1992; Wilkinson & Silliman, 2000). Participating in scientific discourse, however, requires specific discourse skills. Students need to know vocabulary as more than definitions; they need to understand the scientific concepts embedded in the words. Students should be able to recognize the difference between evidence and interpretation, and must be able to construct explanations and defend them with appropriate evidence. They must be able to synthesize information from several sources – experience, discussion, and text – to construct explanations. These general cognitive skills must be mastered in three domains: in oral discourse, in the analysis of text, and in the production of writing.
Defining Academic Literacy in Science:
- The ability to use appropriate oral discourse structures that support the joint construction of knowledge in the classroom.
- The ability to select from a range of reading strategies to extract meaning and analyze both subtle and overt statements in textbooks and other resources such as popular accounts of scientific concepts.
- The ability to summarize information, construct written explanations and arguments, and synthesize and analyze information, evidence, or arguments from several sources and write proficiently.
Program Goals for Teachers:
- Master a repertoire of dialogue and reading strategies to help students make meaning from complex expository text, and identify the evidence supporting scientific claims.
- Acquire additional techniques for scaffolding students’ ability to write explanations of concepts, models, and theories in science and construct scientific arguments.
- Develop classroom discourse structures that support cooperative work and deepen student understanding.
Research Population Demographics:
- Urban, high-poverty area
- Ethnically and linguistically diverse population
- >60% ethnic minorities
- 1 in 4 of the district’s 13,558 students are English Learners, 37 different languages spoken
- 24% live below poverty line, 63% are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch
- Lowest decile in state’s API (500’s and 600’s)
- In reading, only 16% of EL’s scored at or above the 50th percentile on the CAT6
- In English, less than 7% of EL’s reached the proficient level on the ELA CST
- English speakers: 39% and 24%
- In science, less than 20% of students reached the proficient level on the CST
- Trained 65 science teachers in strategies designed to teach science content and literacy skills
- Provided follow-up observations, coaching and lesson planning assistance Assessed impact of programming on student achievement with student reading-writing assessments
- Documented statistically significant student improvement on science reading-writing assessments in experimental group as compared to control group
Research Implications for Educational Practice:
- Intensive Professional Development
- Content-Rich Instruction
- Emphasize Conceptual Understanding
- Provide Authentic Science Experiences
- Interactive Inquiry
- Purposeful Reading
- Productive Dialogue
- Meaningful Writing