Dissecting Science Literacy Standards

My last entry,  “Why the Common Core Standards Are Good For Educators,” described some of the changes that will occur for Illinois educators, specifically science teachers, when the common core standards go live.   The common core will require some changes to how you currently teach your subject matter, and there are extensive resources at the Common Core State Standards website.   However, the volume of information at this site can be overwhelming, and a classroom teacher with an already busy day can find themselves intimidated, or not even knowing where to start.      I spent two days as a common core training workshop and can share some of the strategies for implementing the standards within your curriculum,  a process that won’t be as painful as you might imagine.

Superficial Observations

The science literacy standards are numbered one to ten, then divided into two sections:  9th and 10th followed by 11th and 12th.  It looks like a lot to take in, but upon closer observation, the #1-10 standards are the same, just slightly modified for difficulty as you go to the 11th and 12th grade sections.   If you care to go even further down the rabbit hole, you may find that the  standards will follow a child all the way back to kindergarten, the wording and difficulty level being modified for each age group.  When a child reaches the 6th grade, there are new standards called Literacy in History/Social Studies, and Science and Technology.  (See Common Core Anchor Standards)

For example, at the 9th grade, RST (Reading for Science and Technology) states:  Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions.

At 11th and 12th grade, the same standard reads:   Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to important distinctions the author makes and to any gaps or inconsistencies in the account.

For someone like me, with several mixed classes, it is important to remember that the standards are essentially the same for all grade levels, with a ramped up difficulty within advanced classes.   Seniors may be exposed to more difficult text than 9th graders, but the goal is very similar for both groups.

Going Deeper

While it’s not a bad idea to read all of the standards, it’s probably more practical to take each standard one at a time, and brainstorm ways you can add or modify your current curriculum to include the common core goals.   Many of the standards are already being addressed in your classroom and may just require minor tweaking of content or spending more time reading, and teaching kids how to read.   We assume that when we hand students a textbook, or an article, or even notes on an overhead that they can read what it says.   For the most part, students can read the words, but they don’t always *understand* what they are reading.    They may have difficulty tying what they read to broader principles, connecting ideas, or even analyzing a specific word or phrase that doesn’t make sense to them.

Focus on  RST  Standard #1

In this section, I want to look at  a single standard and describe ways you can modify your current documents or add simple activities to your current curriculum.    This is no way implies that everything you do needs to be changed; some worksheets, activities, and labs will be a better fit for this goal than others.   RST standard #1 states:

 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions.

Strategy 1 :  Add a Cite Section

Do you have your students read the chapters, or sections in the text?   I have a collection of chapter worksheets that students fill in as they read a section, such as this worksheet on the cell.    I do not plan to completely eliminate these worksheets, but I see that with minor adjustments we can change them to address standard 1.   At the end of the worksheets, I can simply add a section that requires students to find page numbers and paragraphs where certain information can be found.  This requires students to actually look back to the information they just read to find information they may have skimmed over the first time they read it.     A simple addition to the bottom of the worksheet now requires students to CITE sources in their textbook, as seen in the new worksheet, the addition simply says:

Part II: Reread the section and find the exact spot that addresses each of the topics/questions.
Indicate page number, and paragraph number.

1. Which type of cell has a nucleus: page ____ paragraph _____
2. What type of microscope is used to see cells: page ____ paragraph _____ .....

Seems simple enough?   Citing and locating information in text is something we already require students to do, but chances are we didn’t refer to it as “citing”.   Students should become familiar with this reading strategy:  looking at text, finding specific information and indicating where that information can be found.

Strategy 2:   Highlight Information in Articles

Science is a great subject to teach in this age, as new discoveries occur every day.   I use many news articles in my class to supplement the textbooks, which are seven years old and already showing their (information) age.    Most of the articles I assign include questions at the end for students to answer to show me they have read it.    Usually I assign this article as they leave and expect it to be completed for discussion the next day.     Here is an example of an article my anatomy students read about the body farm:  “The Remains of Doctor Bass” where at the end is a collection of questions.  I have modified the questions to also cite specific areas of the text, but since this is an article students can write on, the assignment requires them to circle, highlight, put a star next to…etc… areas of the text that address specific questions.

 Strategy 3:  Paragraphs on the Overhead

You can also show text on a paragraph to be displayed to the class.   One source for short, interesting paragraphs is Wikipedia’s featured article page.  Usually the featured article has a short introductory paragraph that contains a lot of information about what the article is about. You can put this on an overhead and ask students to read it and to CITE specific words or ideas.   This is also a good opportunity for you to MODEL how to read complicated text.  Show students that sometimes you don’t know every word you read, but you can make a guess about what it means.   Show students that it’s okay to read something twice to find the answer.

Storage and Disposal

RST #1 is one of 10 standards we will be looking at, though there is some amount of overlap with the strategies.   As you can see from the strategies above, it should not be necessary to throw away all of your old worksheets and projects, but certainly this is a good time to give them another look and consider revisions that align more closely to the science literacy standards.   I am pretty sure that not a day goes by that you don’t have your students read something, whether it is notes on the board, an article,  a section of text,  or laboratory procedures.     Go over the instructions and ask students to CITE a particular part of the instructions where it tells you what to do with your equipment or dead frog.   How often do you hand a worksheet to your students and the first thing they ask is “what page is this on?”   Tell students to find the page on their own next time.    With these tiny little changes, you have addressed RST #1.


English Language Arts Standards for Science and Technology 9th and 10th Grade
English Language Arts Standards for Science and Technology 11th and 12th Grade

Coming Soon:  Dissecting Standard #2