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Using Standards-Aligned Reading Activities in the Science Classroom

It’s a common fact that with higher standards, students are required to use critical reading and comprehension strategies in their ELA classrooms. It’s equally important that students use these strategies across content areas, and that teachers reinforce them during instruction. More challenging reading standards are key to student success in a variety of content areas because they require students develop their critical thinking, analysis, and comprehension skills. The development of these skills helps students read and better comprehend science texts.

As a science teacher, I know that science texts at the middle school level can be difficult for students because of abstract concepts and terminology. That level of difficulty is further compounded when students are reading well below grade level or have learning disabilities. Critical thinking and analysis skills are crucial because students must utilize them as they conduct experiments and explore concepts in the science classroom. As a language arts teacher turned science teacher, I have implemented several effective reading techniques to help reinforce Illinois’ college and career-ready ELA standards and help my students better access the science text.  And I’ve seen incredible results!

First, pre-reading strategies are critical to help students activate their prior knowledge about a topic and help them make connections between the text and their own experiences. This can help to anchor new learning and increase student engagement while increasing reading comprehension. This is also a strategy that is used in aligned-ELA classroom instruction, so many students are already familiar with it.

One difference between science and literary texts is the visuals. Since more challenging standards have a greater focus on informational text, my students are better prepared to access things like data tables and graphs, which are regularly found in the scientific studies. I ask the students to preview them prior to reading a text as a way to help build background which, again, is a strategy useful in both the English and science classrooms. Examining data tables and graphs helps students build their analysis and comprehension skills through thinking about the relationships between graphs and the content they read.

I encourage my students to be active readers. It is helpful to have them engage with the text through annotating. Annotating is a great way to help students process their thoughts, make inferences, and think critically about the information they are reading. Having the students regularly work on annotating brief, easy to read articles helps develop the skill necessary to work through more difficult pieces of text and prepare them to reach the higher bar our challenging standards has set for them.

While I expect my middle school students to be able to gain insights and understanding reading independently, reading parts of the text aloud also provides opportunities for them to discuss the reading. As we read aloud, I model various comprehension strategies and ask students questions to probe their thinking about the text. When we engage in discussion about the text, I have students reference evidence from the text to support their ideas- a strategy that will support their mastery of higher writing standards.

My background as an English teacher has been beneficial in allowing me to effectively incorporate reading standards and strategies into my instruction. But it’s just as important that all teachers across all content areas are familiar with the standards. By incorporating high reading and writing expectations in multiple subjects, students will be better positioned to master the standards.

Jennifer Smith is a National Board-Certified Teacher in her fourteenth year of teaching. She currently teaches 8th grade science at Monticello Middle School where she is also the science club sponsor and makerspace supervisor. Jennifer was an Illinois Teacher of the Year finalist in 2014-15 as well as the STEM Middle School Teacher of the Year in 2016.