Articles Examine Links Between Science Ed. and Literacy

By Erik W. Robelen — April 27, 2010 2 min read
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The latest issue of the journal Science features a special section on the importance of linking science learning with language and communication skills. (If you click on the Science link, you cannot return immediately to this blog. Also, a subscription is required to view the articles online, or you can purchase individual ones.)

“By reconceptualizing science education through closely connecting literacy lessons with active inquiry learning in science class, one can make a strong argument for greatly expanding the time spent on science in primary school,” writes Bruce Alberts, the editor-in-chief of Science, in an editorial. “This alone would carry tremendous benefit in places where, like the United States, science for young students has often become marginalized to less than an hour a week.”

In one article, Catherine E. Snow, an education professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, notes that a “major challenge to students learning science is the academic language in which science is written. ... Students need help in learning academic vocabulary and how to process academic language if they are to become independent learners of science.”

She adds: "[Students] must have access to the all-purpose academic vocabulary that is used to talk about knowledge and that they will need to use in making their own arguments and evaluating others’ arguments. Mechanisms for teaching those words and the ways that scientists use them should be a part of the science curriculum.”

Snow’s article is titled “Academic Language and the Challenge of Reading for Learning About Science.”

Jonathan Osborne, a professor of science education at Stanford University, writes in another article that while argument and debate are common in science, they are “virtually absent from science education.” His article, “Arguing to Learn in Science: The Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse,” provides an overview of existing research on the contribution of collaborative discourse and argumentation to learning and discusses the implications for teaching and learning science.

“As one of the hallmarks of the scientist is critical, rational skepticism, the lack of opportunities to develop the ability to reason and argue scientifically would appear to be a significant weakness in contemporary educational practice,” he writes. “In short, knowing what is wrong matters as much as knowing what is right.”

One article, “Literacy and Science: Each in the Service of the Other,” examines the “synergies” between inquiry science and literacy teaching in schools. It is coauthored by P. David Pearson, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Elizabeth Moje, an education professor from the University of Michigan, and Cynthia Greenleaf, a researcher at WestEd.

It focuses on how reading and writing can be used as tools to support inquiry-based science, and how reading and writing benefit when embedded in an “inquiry-based science setting.”

Finally, although not about the nexus of science and literacy, the April 23 issue of Science also includes a new study my colleague Debbie Viadero has written up about pairs of identical and fraternal twins in Florida schools that bolsters a growing body of evidence on the importance of good teachers.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.