Active reading is an important activity for making meaning during the process of science inquiry (Osborne, 2010). The integration of science and literacy can enhance student learning in both areas (Greenleaf et al., 2010). However, research has shown that, for students to learn to read critically, teachers need to make explicit the tacit reasoning processes and strategies and consider the quality of the science reading materials they use.
A teacher (Kim) utilised a range of instructional reading approaches, including shared reading, reading to students, reading in small groups and guided reading, to engage her year 7 students in learning about native birds using the Science Learning Hub (SLH) materials. The science unit was aimed at helping students understand why certain birds in New Zealand have a threatened status and to investigate various conservation methods to protect New Zealand native birds.
Reading in small groups
In small group reading, the teacher can scaffold a group to help them make sense of the text and become actively engaged with it. In the first lesson, students, in small groups, read this science ideas and concepts article Native bird adaptations. Kim encouraged the students to read, synthesise and interpret the article and then answer their assigned questions using their own words. By doing this, Kim made sure her students were able to ‘talk science’ using their own words. When students’ prior knowledge is activated and they make connections between what they know and what they are reading, this improves their reading comprehension and helps them to hypothesise, infer and build their own interpretations (MOE, 2006) – something that is also important in learning science.
Shared reading is an approach in which the teacher as a reader and facilitator supports students as readers and listeners (Ross & Frey, 2002). It allows a high degree of teacher-student interaction to help students read and understand the text and come to see themselves as effective readers (MOE, 2006). Kim used handouts and the science ideas and concepts article Protecting native birds to introduce the methods used to protect New Zealand native birds. While Kim was reading the article, she asked the students to highlight the key points and explain the meaning of some technical terms such as ‘non-target species’. Kim used images from the SLH site to enhance students’ understanding.
Kim encouraged the students to read, synthesise and interpret the article and then answer their assigned questions using their own words. By doing this, Kim made sure her students were able to ‘talk science’ using their own words. When students’ prior knowledge is activated and they make connections between what they know and what they are reading, this improves their reading comprehension and helps them to hypothesise, infer and build their own interpretations (MOE, 2006) – something that is also important in learning science.
Linking reading to hands-on activities
It is important that students understand the reasoning that underpins the activities their teacher asks them to do (Weiss et al., 2003). Kim’s students read and talked about the different types of predators and the impact of bird habitat loss, prior to making tracking tunnels to check the presence of predators in the school gully. The students really valued this activity. It prompted some of them to think more widely about taking action to conserve native birds. Some students also placed tracking tunnels in gullies near their homes. As a student commented,
The science unit was great fun!! My favourite part was the tracking tunnel. Next year, I wish we will have this much fun with science.Student
This activity provides a science-based example of participating and contributing in science as outlined in the New Zealand Curriculum.
Reading stories to students
Reading to students is a time when the teacher is the reader, involving the students as active listeners as they jointly enter the world created by the story. Kim read aloud the book Old Blue: The rarest bird in the world by Mary Taylor (1993) about how the Chatham Island black robins of New Zealand were brought back from the edge of extinction. The story brought the ideas of the unit to life for the students and also helped the students understand the nature of scientists’ work.
Students’ interest and outcomes
Comparative findings indicated that students’ attitudes towards science were more positive and their understanding about native birds had increased after the unit. Both Kim and the students were of the view that students had learned much more than usual. One student said,
I learnt quite a lot more. When I heard that we were going to learn about kiwi, I thought I knew a lot about them, but then I realised that there was quite a lot that I didn’t know.Student
While reading is often contrasted unfavourably with opportunities for students to build science knowledge through hands-on scientific exploration, we hope that we have illustrated that reading can be an interactive activity that builds students’ interest in and ability to engage with science ideas now and into the future.
In addition to the links above, you might like to see the recorded webinar Bird conservation and literacy which features Kim talking about how she used the Hubs' resources.
In the activity, Making a tracking tunnel, students make a tracking tunnel to monitor the presence of pest species in a neighbouring gully or their school grounds.
See our Conserving native birds – introduction article for more teaching ideas, resources and links.
Greenleaf, C. L., Litman, C., Hanson, T. L., Rosen, R., Boscardin, C. K., Herman J., Jones, B. (2010). Integrating Literacy Instruction into Secondary School Science Inquiry: The Challenges of Disciplinary Literacy Teaching and Professional Development.
Ministry of Education (MOE). (2006). Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5 to 8. Wellington, New Zealand: Learning Media.
Ministry of Education (MOE). (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington, New Zealand: Learning Media.
Osborne, J. (2010). Arguing to learn in science: The role of collaborative, critical discourse. Science, 328, 463–466.
Ross, D., & Frey, N. (2002). In a spring garden: Literacy and science bloom in second grade. Reading Improvement, 39(4), 64–74.
Taylor, M. (1993). Old Blue: The rarest bird in the world. Auckland, New Zealand: Ashton Scholastic.
Weiss, I.R., Pasley, J.D., Smith, P.S., Banilower, E.R., & Heck, D.J. (2003). Looking inside the classroom: A study of K-12 mathematics and science education in the United States, Chapel Hill, NC: Horizon Research.