The ability to read for comprehension is fundamental to learning science; however, the reading of science text is often challenging for many students. A combination of unfamiliar vocabulary, dense sentence structure, and monotonal presentations of science texts result in students struggling to comprehend the information and losing interest in science. In his essay “The Power of Story,” E.O. Wilson proposes that science can be taught effectively through story. He states that the human brain functions by constructing narrative and that the presentation of complicated, essential science to a broad audience can be achieved through narrative and telling the science as a story, whether historical with scientists as the protagonists, or as events that result from scientific phenomena.
EDC’s project Foundation Science, which developed four introductory high school courses in biology, chemistry, earth science, and physics (now known as Concepts and Practices: Biology, Concepts and Practices: Chemistry, and EDC Earth Science), framed its approach on Wilson’s premise that story is a powerful tool for teaching and learning science. No learning can take place unless the learner is engaged in the topic and motivated by a need to know the information and how it relates to his or her own life. In EDC’s curriculum, a story from newspapers, magazines, books, and original fictional and nonfictional writings first engages the students’ interest and then presents them with a challenge or problem to solve. To address the challenge, students gather information from readings and activities designed to provide the required conceptual understandings. These informational readings are written in narrative form in order to sustain student interest while providing rigorous scientific content and vocabulary.
The importance of integrating literacy and science has been further validated in the Common Core Standards. Skills identified by the Common Core Standards for Literacy in Science are those critical to building knowledge in science and include the ability to understand domain-specific words and phrases, identify and analyze evidence, evaluate arguments, and extract and synthesize complex information. To implement these standards, teachers will need curricula that integrate the development of these skills with the content and professional learning experiences that enhance their own understanding of the skills and how to teach them.
E.O. Wilson identified the split between an educated person’s ability to understand science and the scientist’s ability to communicate scientific understandings in clear language as the “central challenge of education in the 21st century.” Accessible and engaging narrative in science writing and curricula offers a powerful approach to bridging that split and educating students about the wonders of the natural world.
Field tests in over 50 classrooms with a broad range of students have indicated that student willingness to read for comprehension increases over time as a result of the narrative style and the need to understand the concepts in order to solve a problem. These narrative readings can still be challenging for many students, but teachers felt that students were engaged and motivated both to read and use the information provided to address the challenge. Teachers provided many strategies to support student reading that were incorporated into the teacher guides.