What do science classrooms and ELA classrooms have in common?
As science students build their scientific literacy, they also build their literacy literacy—as in,their capacity to read, write, and think across all disciplines. In a sense, all teachers are teachers of literacy, as students read to learn in essentially every subject.
An ELA teacher can help students learn to read and interpret certain types of non-fiction and science-related texts, while a science teacher is uniquely positioned to integrate a science curriculum with a focus on literacy goals. ELA teachers are the experts on what the average person considers literacy; however, science teachers are the true experts on science literacy.
In this post, we’ll take a look at what it means for science teachers to support literacy growth in their students.
Scientific literacy vs. literacy in science
First, let’s define our terms.
Scientific literacy refers to a student’s understanding of scientific concepts, inside and outside the classroom.
Literacy in science refers to the literacy skills that students use to acquire and share scientific knowledge. These skills include reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Developing students’ literacy in science helps them develop scientific literacy. Science literacy allows students to become critical thinkers, problem solvers, and strategic questioners.
Insights on integrating science and literacy
Integrating literacy into science is more than making sure students read articles and write lab reports—but the two are still a natural fit.
The standards that guide instruction in grades 6–8 make this integration concrete. Certain Common Core ELA standards intersect with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
To cite just a few examples, the Common Core requires students to be able to:
- Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts. RST.6-8.1
- Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions. RST.6-8.2
- Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks. RST.6-8.3
- Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table). RST.6-8.7
- Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text. RST.6-8.8
What’s required of students is what’s often called disciplinary literacy. That means literacy through the lens of inquiry in a given field. Science has its own set of vocabulary and reading/writing styles students need to learn to understand, decode, and write in.
And when they do, the academic benefits go both ways.
Integrating literacy into science encourages both science and ELA growth
The scientific method requires students to ask questions, listen to explanations, and present conclusions. And when science teachers use targeted literacy teaching strategies, they can help students understand challenging scientific vocabulary. For example, they can learn the difference between the two meanings of the word “culture.” Those are the same approaches students will use when analyzing with and communicating about texts in ELA.
Also, reading in science can be more than just reading a science textbook or science-related article—teachers can help students learn to read through a scientific lens by encouraging even the youngest students to articulate their questions about a text and understand where they might find answers.
And then there’s writing: “Science and writing standards are really in service of each other,” writes educator Gina Flynn in Literacy Today. “When we present authentic writing opportunities in science, we are not only developing students’ understanding of science concepts but also providing an authentic context for developing writing skills.”
Integrating science into ELA also encourages both science and ELA growth. When students grapple with science-related texts in ELA, they can develop ways of thinking and communicating that support the scientific approach, refine sense-making skills that are key to both disciplines, and get inspired to keep up with the latest scientific discoveries—yet another great reason to read.
More to explore