Common Core Tips – Literacy in Science

In the last article, Dissecting Science Literacy Standards,  we focused on common core standard 1, citing specific evidence within technical texts, which including some strategies for making documents in your curriculum align to this goal.

This article is going to focus on standard 2,  which states “Determine the central ideas or conclusion of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms”

Let’s break this down into what is really expected of students.   Based on this standard, students
should be able to:

1.  determine the central ideas of a text

2.  summarize complex concepts, processes, or information in a text

3.  paraphrase text

 To address this standard, students should be reading their textbook, news articles, essays, novels, and short stories.    Standard 1 requires them to locate specific information, but this standard is more general, where learners must summarize, draw conclusions, or make inferences.   This is the trinity of literacy:   Cite,  Summarize, Infer.    Here are some strategies for dealing with Standard 2.

1.   Post-It Summaries

In this strategy, students take a large chunk of text, perhaps from a textbook or from an article and place post-it notes in the margin, they write in their own thoughts, summaries, or questions they have about what they are reading.    This process can be made more involved by adding symbols and specific tasks.  For the nonfiction book “Stiff”, by Mary Roach, students are required to include post-its in the margins with a symbol.  For example, the question mark indicates where the reader had a question.  A star symbol on the post-it would indicate something about the text that grabbed their attention.   At the end of the assignment, post it notes are gathered and taped to paper (to turn in) and students finish with a timed writing exercise.  The full assignment can be seen at “Stiff by Mary Roach“.

The assignment described above is something I do with advanced biology, and it is not something I would do with every class or even on a regular basis.    I replaced my original Stiff assignment with this one to facilitate more summarizing and synthesis of information.  The original assignment had basic questions about the chapters that required students to find specific information (citing), but very little thought required.  Sadly, I also noted many students just copied other students answers.  The post-it method is open-ended enough that no two projects should look alike, since students have the freedom to quote, ponder, and summarize any part of the text they are reading.

Post-its can be used in the same way for student textbooks, articles or other basic reading material you area already using in your class.  It is not necessary to go buy a classroom set of a nonfiction book.

2.  Pair and Share

You have probably heard this phrase before, though context vary the general idea is usually the same.  In this case, take an article or section of reading and ask students to work on their own to write down THREE MAIN POINTS of the text.   Then they compare their three points with the person sitting next to them, and are asked to discuss between the two which is the most important point.  The pairs are then to combine or alter their original three points into a single MAIN IDEA.   As an extension, you can then expand by asking them to share all the single points with the class and decide as a class what is the main idea of the text.

3.  Highlight

In this strategy, ask students to read text that they can write on, like a news articles or copies of texts.  Ask them to highlight areas of the text that are confusing to them.  As a class (or in small groups),  discuss why the text is confusing, and model strategies for  figuring out what the author means.  Modeling reading strategies is something teachers rarely do with students, as we assume they come to us with reading skills.   However, you may notice that students can read the words, but often don’t understand what they are reading.  Model the text by reading it out loud, skipping over words that you aren’t sure about and making guesses about what the words (or phrases) mean within the context of the text.  You would be surprised how many students give up reading the text entirely when they encounter a phrase or word they don’t understand.    Reassure students that even adult,  college-educated readers stumble over difficult texts, but can still get the jist of what the author was trying to say.

4.  Cause and Effect

Create a table with CAUSE in one column and EFFECT in another.  Ask students to identify causes and effects from the text they are reading.  This may not work for all reading assignments but can be modified.  For instance, in a science class you might instead use procedure/outcome  or  hypothesis / data / conclusions  or  fact / opinion.    The chart method does rely heavily on you determining what headings work best for the particular reading, so this one may require some advance planning.

5.  Concept Mapping

Concept mapping has been a favorite strategy of mine in advanced biology class because it forces students to think of difficult ideas in nonlinear ways.  They must first decide what are the main ideas, then connect the main ideas to small support details and show how all the concepts relate to each other.  In this sample, students read text about DNA and created a concept map.   While this is not exactly a summary, it does require students to synthesize and organize information, and the main ideas of implied in the map’s main concepts, linked from the center.  Students can use concept maps to organize a news article they read or information in their textbook.   There are many programs ( out there to assist students with mapping and it is a good idea to model concept mapping on the board before assigning one.

A combination of these techniques can be used with articles, such as this article about Satellites with questions at the end for students to answer.   In this case, students read the text and cite specific information, they highlight parts that are confusing, they make inferences about what the article does not say, and finally write a short summary about the overall article.   Be proactive with finding news articles.  I place news feeds from science sites in my social network so that I get a constant supply of interesting things to share with students.

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