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Science and Reading: Shared Goals

Process Skills and Problem Solving

The disciplines of science and reading utilize the same intellectual skills needed to develop understanding and are both concerned with thinking processes. When an educator helps learners develop science process skills, learners develop reading process skills simultaneously (Mechling and Oliver, 1983; Simon and Zimmerman, 1980).

The tasks of using science and reading process skills are very comparable, with processing strategies at the core of both disciplines. Scientists focus on tools for observing and explaining natural phenomena, such as observation, experimentation, and communication. Similarly, effective readers use strategies for creating meaning from text. These strategies include developing background knowledge, using text structure, organizing information, and understanding new vocabulary.

Process skills are used to solve problems. They follow a logical order, starting with problem identification and usually finishing with a set of conclusions. Problem solving is the act of trying to resolve problem situations so that learners can find answers and make progress.

Bransford and Stein (1984) suggest using the IDEAL model for solving problems in science. First, identify the problem. Next, define and represent the problem. Then, explore alternative approaches. Finally, act on a plan and look at the effects.

Reading is also a problem-solving activity. In the process of reading, readers follows similar steps. To begin, readers identify the topic of a portion of text and then activate relevant background knowledge about the topic. Next, readers define the purpose of reading and predict the information the author will present. Then, readers explore the text, confirm predictions and draw conclusions. Finally, readers act on a prediction until it proves incorrect and needs revision. Readers look at the effects by interpreting the data presented in the text and drawing logical conclusions from what they have read.

Treating reading as a problem solving activity provides learners with opportunities to practice many of the science process skills they are expected to master. Problem solving strategies used in science are effective during the reading process. By incorporating these strategies into both disciplines, student learning is reinforced.

Active Learners

Educators in both subject areas attempt to actively engage students in the learning process. Science and reading educators are aware that it is difficult to learn content by reading or observing alone. Educators know that the most effective learning occurs through active involvement in the learning process through observing, reading, and experimenting.

The research on strategies and methodologies for teaching science have produced clear evidence that learners in process-approach or hands-on programs learn more than learners in traditional textbook-based programs (Bredderman, 1983; Shymansky et al., 1983). While hands-on programs are more effective in teaching science concepts, these programs are generally seen as lacking rigorous reading and research in scientific information. This problem must be addressed. As Metzenberg (2000) states, "A student who has not developed the skill of learning through reading has no professional future in science." The research indicates that learners need both—hands-on science instruction and a rigorous reading program.

Independent Learners

Ideally, educators want to help learners gain control over their own learning, ask their own questions and find their own solutions. Learners need to become metacognitive. When faced with difficult texts, learners need to know which strategies to use and how to use them to comprehend and learn science content.

In order to teach strategic metacognitive reading, educators must first model how and when to use specific strategies and gradually give more responsibility to the learners as they become more competent. The educator then works as a facilitator or coach, continuously scaffolding until learners are able to initiate use of strategies on their own (Bruner, 1969). Scaffolding is the act of providing guided support to learners by connecting their current efforts to previous learning.


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