ELA in My Science Class? Wait..What?
Posted: Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
by Jill Grace
For many science teachers, the thought of having responsibility for the language development of students is a sobering prospect. Burned into my memory are the comments of many of my single subject peers in my credential program that could be summed up with the phrase, “I’m teaching science, not reading, that’s the job of the language arts teacher,” clearly unhappy over the prospect of having to take a course on reading and writing in the subject area. Over the years, these words still echo in staff meetings, on discussion boards, and even over meals between colleagues.
From day one, I was shocked by this mentality.
Maybe it was all of the great field research experience I got as an undergrad. Maybe it was the years I spent working “in the field” before discovering my passion for teaching. Whatever it was, I always knew that these skills were central to doing science.
You see, the little secret is, anyone who has ever worked in a science-related job can actually be taught techniques and a lot of the science on the job, but you had better walk in the door with the ability to think for yourself, analyze data, and effectively communicate in collaborative settings and in writing, or you’ll never make it.
This isn’t just important in the “real world,” students in a science class need these skills for another important reason. As a teacher, I have no idea what my students have learned if they can’t communicate about it. Just selecting the “right” answer on a multiple choice test doesn’t actually tell me anything other than they are good at memorizing or can guess a correct response.
From day one in the classroom, I made it my mission to work on literacy skills with my students. This was no easy challenge. On most days I felt like I was the only content teacher asking kids to write. The kids even seemed confused, “This is science, why do we have to write?” I even had parents object. Despite students doing their best to comply, what I would get from them looked like something pulled out of a dialogue between two friends hanging out on a Saturday afternoon, “When I saw my bacteria I was so surprised. It grew because I put it there. I really liked this experiment and I want to do more experiments. Bacteria is awesomesauce.”
It became apparent that I couldn’t just ask my students to write a conclusion, I had to teach them what that looked like in science. I also had the added challenge of helping students who struggled with reading and writing, no matter the reason. For some, this was because they were learning a new language, others were below average in reading comprehension, written expression, etc., and some just have what I call “literacy phobia.”
Now it’s 2014 and Common Core is pushing the issue. Turns out, a lot of the strategies that I started using to help my students be successful complement beautifully the Common Core standards. I know a lot of teachers, however, who are running into challenges. So here are three things that I think are pretty important to get off on the right foot: implement an interactive notebook, find some good supplemental readings, and provide scaffolds.
Interactive Notebook (IN)
In my article last month, I hinted about the way in which the IN supports literacy. The IN basically begs for students to regularly record observations, express reasoning, make connections in content, formulate conclusions, and so much more.
To illustrate this, I have opened up the NGSS page for the preferred model for California 7th grade science. At the very bottom of each Performance Expectation, relevant Common Core standards are identified. As a case in point, I’m using a personal favorite of mine, Earth Science, MS-ESS2 (1-3) (this PE is in the 6th grade in the discipline specific learning progression). Identified in this table I created are the Common Core ELA standards identified, and how I think the IN supports that standard.
Keep in mind that students can use both the source material and their IN as a reference for all of this work. Once students understand how the IN works and what outputs are, all of this work is entirely realistic – you’ll be amazed at what your students can do!
Age-appropriate sources of science information
I have always moved beyond the textbook with my students as I feel it is important to share up-to-date information as scientists are always learning new things. Common Core standards support this behavior. One of the challenges that I face is finding good quality readings for students that are age-appropriate, scientifically accurate, timely, and interesting. With the help of some awesome teachers on the California Middle School Science Teacher’s Facebook Group, here are some suggestions:
The Story Behind the Science
This has great biographical pieces on scientists behind important breakthroughs with strong nature of science connections. They are lengthy pieces, but very well done. I can see myself using a portion of an article with my middle school students – or guiding them through a full article over a few days.
When CPO Science™ released their materials in the last science textbook adoption, they had great “ancillary” materials that included one-page biographies of scientists that give a lot more information than the standard textbook nod. Fortunately, these are fairly easy to find on their website. From the home page, select the tab “for students” → choose your grade-level → Under “Ancillaries” (right hand column), select skills and practice sheets → choose a unit. Not all units will have the biographies, but most do.
The Nature Education Project
Brought to you by the folks who publish the journal, Nature, this site looks promising! I just discovered it this past spring and I’m eager to try out some pieces on my students (possibly with a little editing by me). Since they are intimately connected to a primary literature source, the information is reliable.
Brought to you by the folks who publish the journal, Science, this page has a lot of different resources. Do a little digging and you’ll find some age-appropriate articles that can be used with your students. As with The Nature Education Project, since they are intimately connected to a primary literature source, so the information is reliable.
New York Science Times
Issued every Tuesday (you can even pick one up at your local Starbucks) this has good quality science writing and is one of my favorite go-to sources for science reporting (I find a lot of problems with other newspapers taking liberties with scientific information or generally presenting incomplete and therefore misleading conclusions). Since it’s written for a non-science audience, it’s fairly readable for many middle school kids.
National Public Radio
As with the New York Times, NPR also has writers with science backgrounds and therefore has good quality science pieces with the added benefit of many also being archived as a podcast students can listen to.
This is a really robust site that features a summary of the latest research findings with links to the original literature.
Scholastic Science World
With options that include print, web, and even an iPad app, students usually love their articles and find the reading more “user friendly” than the ones I’ve previously listed, so it’s great for a more relaxed reading source.
California Department of Education Recommended Literature List
Recently updated and with suggestions on how to use books for classroom instruction, this is a very comprehensive list of literature with a powerful search engine.
Appendix A of the ELA/ELD Framework
This Appendix provides a rough outline of strategies as well as references sites with recommended reading sources (you’ll have to dig around for science-related information).
With countless articles that can be searched for by topic and even Lexile level, this is a large collection of articles. For the full experience, your school needs to be a subscriber. I know a lot of teachers who have been using this, but my science colleagues and I in particular have mixed feelings (our predominant view is that the science-related articles are out-dated). I still share this, however, as it is a powerful site and I keep hoping they will add more science articles.
With a free registration, you’ll have access to some research-based readings that include follow-up materials.
This site has numerous articles from the news that allows for adjustments for various reading levels (so cool!)
The third big challenge I have faced is supporting my students who have difficulty with putting ideas on paper. Quite frankly, everyone, even strong students, have rough days and just need a little more help. Scaffolding for students generally helps most find success and align work towards the expectations of the teacher. Here are a couple suggestions:
Many times, even high achieving students have good ideas, but it’s intimidating to put it into a sentence on the first try. One example of this is when students need to make an evidence-based conclusion. A simple “claim/evidence table” usually helps them be successful:
When one’s brain turns to mush, a simple sentence frame can both help students understand what is expected, and also get the writing mojo going. The beauty of frames is that once students have used them once or twice, they don’t need them anymore. Here is an example of a frame for writing out that full conclusion sentence:
In conclusion____ insert claim____ My evidence is ____ insert evidence____.
Obviously sentences will need a little tweaking, but this is usually a big help to students.
Paragraph structure directions
Give students directions for how to construct a paragraph in science! This helps everyone understand exactly what the expectations are. Students who are more advanced writers won’t need this and can branch out on their own, but this little bit of guidance helps reduce anxiety and help students understand your expectations. Here is one example:
- 1st sentence: thesis sentence where you identify your main point. If you are responding to a question, you should rephrase the question in this sentence.
- 2nd sentence: first supporting concrete detail with example or commentary
- 3rd sentence: second supporting concrete detail with example or commentary
- 4th sentence: third supporting concrete detail with example or commentary
- 5th sentence: concluding sentence (rephrase your thesis)
At least one example should come directly from something you learned in class. Use your new vocabulary!
I also often have the whole class brainstorm the structure, and I record the conversation on the white board. (Oh, and those funny little purple icons are a little thing called Depth and Complexity, it takes student writing to a whole new, glorious, level.)
Hopefully these suggestions will be helpful to you and your colleagues. No doubt there are other wonderful techniques and resources that have helped you blend ELA and science. I encourage you to join the discussion on our California Middle School Science Teacher Facebook group and share what has worked for you!
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…