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STEAM and Literacy are Possible with Innovation.

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An ongoing series of informational entries

Connection of Literacy to Three-Dimensional Learning

First Published- February 2018 for Achieve the Core National Blog from Welding Literacy into Scientific Instruction

December 20, 2018

Why does disciplinary literacy play a dominant role in three-dimensional learning?

As I reflect on three-dimensional learning and its implications, one wonders how literacy fits in the puzzle. Looking at current research, the text complexity would pose difficult obstacles for my students. So, the question becomes “How can scientific complex texts be taught for accessibility?” The key word in the question is accessibility. Science is a human endeavor in which one questions the world. Most students think that science is using equipment without a purpose. This is not the true reflection of science and engineering practices. Much of the time is spent reading and researching current information on the posed question or problem. It is the gaining of background knowledge. Thus, the quest was to shape my classroom to showcase this aspect. As a teacher, I must study how complex texts are written so I am able to anticipate misconceptions during student discussions, modeling think alouds, and scientific inquiry. It is essential that I gauge the threshold of difficulty so learning does not stop.

Text Complexity for Scientific Anchor Texts

Let us look at the implications of text complexity on scientific anchor texts:

The quantitative measure is typically calculated by computer software. Quantitative measures assess word length, word frequency, sentence length, and text cohesion. Sentence Length is determined by averaging the number of words in each sentence in a selection. Word Frequency refers to how often the same words appear in a text. A low score indicates that the text most likely has words that students may not have encountered. These include the Lexile Framework for Reading. Most scientific texts are two or more grades about the intended audience due to complexity of information. When I am doubt about a text’s level, I use the Lexile website.

The qualitative measure is best addressed by an attentive human reader. Qualitative factors include levels of meaning (literary texts) or purpose (informational texts), text structure, language conventionality and clarity, and knowledge demands. Looking at science and engineering, I realized that complex texts were heavy in what is called concept loading. Concept loading is where several relationships and images are presented within a paragraph (Fisher 2012). Authors rely on such text features as graphs, diagrams, charts, and tables to describe a written concept or idea. Academic vocabulary is emphasized using context clues such as direct definition. As a result, students must apply disciplinary literacy skills to think like a scientist or engineer.

The Reader and Task measure focuses on the individual reader and the task or purpose for reading. By using a student’s motivation, knowledge, and experience; the complexity of the task; and the teacher’s professional judgment; a teacher is able to determine how appropriate a text may be for that specific student. STEM and literacy are based on parallel or reciprocal processes- both involve critical thinking skills. Scientists and engineers activate background knowledge, observe, ask questions, search for information, design investigations, note details, compare and contrast, sequence events, distinguish fact from opinion, make inferences and predictions, link cause and effect, and use language to communicate their findings. It is imperative that I teach these skills in context of my daily instruction to impact student learning.

Role of Anchor Text in STEM Instruction

I found that anchor texts can create a sense of purpose and direction for given unit by promoting connections between the disciplinary core ideas from Dimension 1 and Dimension 3- Science and Engineering Practices. By aligning such an explicit way, students better grasp what is being taught and what they are to learn. Another advantage is that anchor texts can bridge the gaps for struggling readers by aiding with comprehension difficulties. While I realized the benefits of anchor texts, I had difficulty locating texts that were appropriate for my students. So, I had to determine what key concepts were important for conceptual understanding. A study by Swan (2003) showed those students that observed and interacted with scientific phenomenon in combination with access to interesting texts gained greater conceptual knowledge of the science content and experienced greater engagement than those without the literacy connection. In planning using anchor texts, I combine both expository (informational) and literacy texts based on the type of thinking for the given science and literacy standards.

In the example, I used a science fiction text called the Adventures of Carla Calcite and song lyrics- The Rock Cycle based on Life is a Highway by Mr. Parr. You can assess the video, lyrics, and text with links below. The Adventures of Carla Calcite Song Video and Lyrics

It is important that students make text to text, text to self, and text to world connections with the primary anchor text. The following shows my brainstorming about the possible connections with the rock cycle.

  • Carla is the main character giving human identity such as a name. Personalization- ELA Connection

  • Her last name-Calcite is actually a mineral found in rocks.-Key Concept Connection

  • Carla Calcite goes through different processes found in the rock cycle. She is a part of a marble statue in ancient Rome.-

    History Connection

  • Students compared the informational and literacy texts to create their own cartoon and story about the rock cycle.

Foundational literacy protocol such as Reciprocal Teaching provides a platform for active discussion and reflection on complex texts. Providing students with opportunities to apply their reading skills and strategies in meaningful and varied types of text is extremely important; however, teachers must be sure to use materials that students can handle.

A Final Note

As scientific instruction is evolving based on new standards, it is an exciting yet perplexing time for us educators. The paradigm shift requires learning opportunities that entwine scientific and/or engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. We are clamoring to fill an instructional void because it is uncharted territory. One thing is consistent—obtaining scientific knowledge is dependent upon literacy.

STEM and literacy are truly related.

Until Next Time, EdInnovators

Reflective Questions to Ponder for Future Planning

• In what ways does text complexity determine a scientific anchor text?

• How is the use of foundational literacy protocol connected to science and engineering practices?

• How can a teacher make a complex text be accessible to all students?


1. Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D. (2012). Teaching students to read like detectives: comprehending, analyzing, and discussing text. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

2. Frey, N., Fisher, D., & Pearson, P. D. (2013). Rigorous reading: 5 access points for comprehending complex texts. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

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An ongoing series of informational entries

Teaching Features in Scientific Complex Texts

First Published- February 2018 for Achieve the Core National Blog from Welding Literacy into Scientific Instruction

December 10, 2018

Why is teaching features essential for reading comprehension? 

Informational texts depend heavily on concept load- the number of ideas within a passage (Fisher 2012). Text features help the reader make sense about the purpose. Think how GPS helps us to navigate unfamiliar surroundings. Text and visual features serve a similar purpose to the reader. It draws the attention to what is truly important for conceptual understanding. Teachers must be explicitly in teaching this important literacy skill. My struggling students grapple with interpreting scientific complex texts. They tend to gross over most text and visual features when reading. They do not recognize that these features have been placed to bring clarity for presented scientific concepts. Thus, students were taught the differences between text and visual features using a think-aloud and were able to reflect on these differences by asking each other reflective questions during the active reading. This caused my students to pause and reflect on why a particular feature was used.

Here are some suggestions for designing an effective student transfer:

 Choose a print rich mentor text that showcases the different features to emphasize the written text connection. When students are aware of what features to look for, they are better equipped to analyze the author’s purpose. 

 Make a real-life connection using a prop such as glasses and textbooks for feature differences between text and visual features. With these examples, students can discern how these features convey information.

 Make a connection between the previous feature and the current one by using a question checklist for student reflection. Students will examine the what, how, and why the particular feature was placed within the text for clarity.

Checklist for Defining Features

Feature  (What)

How do you know if it is a text or visual feature?

Can you name the given feature and its purpose?

Evidence  (How)

Are you able to find key words from the text to connect with the feature?

Purpose  (Why)

Why is this feature important for giving additional information and what is the information given?

 When creating the think aloud, students need to be aware of the type of thinking for modeling performance expectations. Use a thinking chart with text and visual features such as T-chart.

 A glossary with list and visuals is used to anchor prior knowledge of listing features with purpose. Students need to reflect on their own thinking process by citing evidence from the actual feature to justify its name and purpose from the glossary.

 Use a real life application such as stop sign to show why features are important for understanding information. This will causes students to internalize the purpose of features.

A Final Reflection

Science and literacy are truly related to each other. Teaching literacy within science content breathes life and meaning into the written text by connecting learning experiences through discussion and reflection. Always look for print rich texts that cause the reader to infer and grapple with features for deepen scientific reasoning.

The Importance of Graphic Organizer and Connection of Multimedia to Complex Text

First Published- February 2018 for Achieve the Core National Blog from Welding Literacy into Scientific Instruction

December 9, 2018

Create or Choose a Common Graphic Organizer to Monitor Thinking Within Activity

Gauging literacy skills within a discussion is essential to determine progress. When I first looked at my students’ annotation notes, there were no predictions or questions from the given text. I realized that my students required a structural framework to complete the four actions called for by Reciprocal Teaching Hence, a graphic organizer was created.

Using a sentence stem, students make a prediction about what the text will be about based on keywords within the title. As students read, they summarize the paragraphs and write any unknown words on the class poster. This simple poster addresses specialized vocabulary by allowing real-time examples.

During and after reading, students create questions using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Stems. Within the graphic organizer, they reflect whether their posed question is answerable. From these questions we, as a class, determine if they are literal (directly stated), inferential (indirectly stated), or thematic (beyond what is stated). 

Frontload Background Information Using Video or Demonstration

Before students read the anchor text, I always introduce a short video or demonstration to build background knowledge. However, the implementation lacked focus at first. When I showed a video, students fail to understand the purpose was to gather information- not just watch.

Working with my ELA colleagues, we discovered that informational text and video utilized the same text connections: text to text, text to self, and text to world. So, we brainstormed about audiovisual cues to simulate connections creating the close view. The technique is modified from the close reading routine in which a text is read multiple times with a different task.

In the first view, students concentrate on the visuals using their eyes. As a class, we make connections by brainstorming a list. Students then watch for a second time to write at least three points from the video. In a group discussion, they write down another key point and connect the points to the created list. This strategy allows my students to reflect by concentrating on only one video aspect at a time. The brain can incorporate more information which helps my lower level students to retain key ideas.

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An ongoing series of informational entries

Use a Foundational Instructional Activity as a Base

First Published- February 2018 for Achieve the Core National Blog from Welding Literacy into Scientific Instruction

November 29, 2018

What makes a viable foundational reading activity is one that incorporates the thinking skills for comprehension, allows for dialogue, and is reflective in nature. After much research, I decided that Reciprocal Teaching fit the bill perfectly. Reciprocal Teaching utilizes four strategies: clarifying, questioning, predicting, and summarizing. Students clarify previously unknown vocabulary terms, ask questions about the text’s content, predict what the text will explain, and summarize the text concisely. 

All of these tasks are completed through careful reading of the text and use of its features, such as bolded words, context clues, etc. I modeled these strategies over a period of four weeks devoting 15 minutes each day using the same text. Chunking the activity into small pieces allowed students to digest the nuances of a given strategy. Though this model of instruction is usually completed by one reader, I created a rotation in which students take turns reading, and the group annotates the text together.

I would add that a foundational instructional activity also lends itself easily to embedding related techniques. Using Reciprocal Teaching, I incorporated other known reading strategies/techniques such as annotation notes, question stems, and close reading/views. For a good example of Reciprocal Teaching in science, watch the video from NYC DOE Presents: MSQI Stories-Reciprocal Teaching: Science.

The Importance of Anchor Texts in Science

First Published- February 2018 for Achieve the Core National Blog from Welding Literacy into Scientific Instruction

November 25, 2018

Science is a subject dependent upon reading and writing. So even if I do not explicitly teach literacy, it is present in my daily instruction. Grappling with this, I sought the experts—my ELA colleagues. I watched, questioned, and probed their techniques to create my own unique teaching style, and continue to do this today. One of my biggest takeaways was how to weld essential literacy elements that promote scientific communication.

The Need for an Anchor Text

My first hurdle to implementation was finding suitable anchor texts. It was so frustrating that many rigorous and relevant texts were above grade level. Specialized vocabulary, scientific background knowledge, and concept load make these above-level texts difficult for student comprehension. 

How can students ask questions and make inferences if there is no common reference point for analysis? Using an anchor text brings authenticity to scientific content - a point of analysis. When a text is combined with hands-on experiences, it creates a foothold for thinking and problem solving. This foothold generates creativity in which the teacher can stimulate further discourse combining both textual and data evidence. A deeper conceptual understanding is gained through reflection.

Yet, most of my students struggled when reading informational texts. 

So, I found myself with the following question: “How do I develop an effective scaffolding protocol that will engage my students in interpreting scientific complex texts?”

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