Reading skill and science understanding are deeply linked. Kids need to be able to read in order to learn science independently. Otherwise, their knowledge is totally dependent on what their teachers know and how well they explain it. Too often, students do not have the opportunity to develop the science reading proficiency that would enable them to understand important science content. Teachers, too, are often under-prepared to support reading in science in ways that would deepen students’ understanding of important concepts.
Let’s take a closer look at this problem…
Most young kids have a natural fascination for science. They love hands-on scientific play. They love to do things like experimenting with magnets, putting objects in water to see what floats, and planting seeds and making observations. Science explains how the universe, and everything in it, works. We can take that natural fascination and capitalize on it. We can teach students how to read text that will answer their questions and pique their interests. The consequences of not teaching them how to understand scientific text is great. If we don’t teach kids the strategies needed to understand the scientific principles, no matter how many investigations they do, their learning will be limited.
Unfortunately, the way science is taught in school often dampens kids’ natural curiosity and enthusiasm.
Once students are asked to read scientific text for understanding, they become lost because of all the vocabulary and new concepts the text contains. Too often they decide that science is too hard or boring, and they stop trying to learn it on their own.
The reading tasks in science classrooms are quite extensive. Students must read to gain knowledge, to solve problems, to understand the steps in an experiment, to answer questions, to compare their inquiry results with what others have found, and hopefully, for enjoyment. Students in science classrooms must also know how to read a variety of text formats. They read books, directions for experiments, newspaper articles, websites, and peer work.
Science teachers need to support struggling readers with strategies that enhance their comprehension of science text.
Our job is not to water down content for those students who struggle. Instead, it is to make rigorous science concepts accessible by tailoring instruction to students’ needs. You need rich science material that is written on different levels, so all students have access to the same scientific information.
Remember, you empower your students!
When you teach students how to read with understanding, you are empowering them to become lifelong independent learners! When you teach them how to understand science text you enable them to become critical thinkers and problems solvers.