Reading to Learn in Science (MOOC)

Jonathan Osborne
Jan 13, 2016 / 12:00 AM PST to Mar 01, 2016 / 12:00 PM PST

Why do so many students struggle to read and comprehend scientific texts? Most science teachers have witnessed it at least once: a student reads from a textbook or article, proceeding calmly and clearly from sentence to sentence, only to reach the period at the end of the paragraph with little comprehension of what he or she has just read. Even children who learn to read quickly—who begin to devour books or blogs, novels or news stories—often seem to struggle with scientific prose. As a teacher, these struggles raise important questions: Which texts should my students read? What should I do if they struggle to understand? Am I teaching a text too quickly? Too slowly? Will more reading become an uphill battle? Will less reading become less rigorous, a slippery slope that will make reading even more difficult for my students? This course is designed to address such concerns, giving teachers the tools to help students read for understanding in science.

With the Next Generation Science Standards, the Common Core State Standards for Literacy in Language Arts, theCCSS for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects, and the continuing expansion of high-stakes testing in our nation's schools, reading comprehension in science seems more important than ever – particularly as reading is key to accessing knowledge and to employment. Students must be able to engage with and read non-fiction texts such as those found in science, trace the steps of key processes, and cite evidence to draw inferences, formulate hypotheses, and support or critique arguments. These skills have always lain at the very heart of the scientific enterprise, but they are often exceptionally challenging to share with our students at the primary and secondary levels. Why?

Simply put: the language of science is unique. It can be used to communicate rapidly enormous quantities of information with extraordinary specificity—and the same features which make it so useful also make it uniquely challenging to learn. You, as a science teacher, are uniquely well positioned to help your students comprehend the language of science texts—and this course is designed to provide knowledge and strategies to help you do so. We will examine the selection of useful science texts; see specific strategies for supporting student comprehensionbefore, during, and after reading; learn how to recognize the unique challenges posed by science texts and how to help students overcome them; and acquire the skills to foster productive discussion around scientific ideas and texts. Along the way, there will be opportunities to apply your learning inside your classroom, and to pool ideas and resources with professional colleagues from across the state and around the country.

Course timeline:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 to Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Course instructor: Professor Jonathan Osborne