Why do so many students struggle to read and comprehend scientific texts? Most science teachers have witnessed it at least once: a student reads from a textbook or article, proceeding calmly and clearly from sentence to sentence, only to reach the period at the end of the paragraph with little comprehension of what he or she has just read. Even children who learn to read quickly—who begin to devour books or blogs, novels or news stories—often seem to struggle with scientific prose.
With the Next Generation Science Standards, the Common Core State Standards for Literacy in Language Arts, the CCSS for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects, and the continuing expansion of high-stakes testing in our nation’s schools, reading comprehension in science seems more important than ever – particularly as reading is key to accessing all knowledge and to employment. Students must be able to engage with and read non-fiction texts such as those found in science, trace the steps of key processes, and cite evidence to draw inferences, formulate hypotheses, and support or critique arguments. These skills have always lain at the very heart of the scientific enterprise, but they are often exceptionally challenging to share with our students at the primary and secondary levels. Why?
Simply put: the language of science is unique. It can be used to communicate rapidly enormous quantities of information with extraordinary specificity—and the same features which make it so useful also make it uniquely challenging to learn. You, as a science teacher, are uniquely qualified to share the language of science with your students—and this course is designed to provide you knowledge and strategies to help you do so. We will examine the selection of useful science texts; see specific strategies for supporting student comprehension before, during, and after reading; learn how to recognize the unique challenges posed by science texts and how to help students overcome them; and acquire the skills to foster productive discussion around scientific ideas and texts. Along the way, there will be opportunities to apply your learning inside your classroom, and to pool ideas and resources with professional colleagues from across the state and around the country.