Being a good reader correlates with good performance in science. Well, it would wouldn’t it? Reading scores correlate well with performance in most subjects. But it would be naive to think that improving reading ability would improve performance in science.
It is hard to learn science through reading, which is presumably why we don’t do it often in class. If you want a learner to understand and learn a complex concept, you are unlikely to set a text. This isn’t what reading is good for, at least for most of us.
In this post I will describe three effective and efficient uses of reading in science lessons: elaboration, concrete examples and hinterland.
Elaboration (Learning Scientists here)
“The term elaboration can be used to mean a lot of different things. However, when we are talking about studying using elaboration, it involves explaining and describing ideas with many details. Elaboration also involves making connections among ideas you are trying to learn and connecting the material to your own experiences, memories, and day-to-day life.”
The Learning Scientists
Reading is good for this – if the concept is already well know, reading can provide examples and links to other previously learnt knowledge.
To ensure the reader thinks about the text, she should do something with the information. For example:
- write a couple of sentences (e.g. “In class we learnt about respiration in animal cells, but it also takes place in plant cells. Plants use respiration for growth and reproduction.”) or
- add to graphic knowledge organisers.
Concrete examples (see learning scientists here)
“To really nail down an abstract idea, you need to solidify it in your mind. You can do this by being specific and concrete.”
The Learning Scientists
Reading is an effective way of introducing well chosen concrete examples. You might teach anaerobic respiration in the context of an athlete, but then ask your readers to read texts about yeasts and bacteria.
The follow-up task needs to involve thinking about respiration as concrete examples (and then discussing the similarities and differences with other concrete examples – which takes us back to elaboration).
Hinterland is scaffolding knowlegde – knowlegde which helps the learner contextualise and structure new knowledge. The clearest explanation of hinterland in science is Adam Boxer’s blog (here). Reading is well suited to expanding a concept’s hinterland. This respiration timeline is a good example.
My book (here) is full of hinterland – a shameless plug, but I spent a long time on the stories behind the discoveries.
We know that only the rarest learner will be able to learn key scientific concepts through reading. But reading is an efficient way for developing schema once the core knowlegde is learnt. We should ensure it happens in our teaching.