Tuesday, June 24, 2014

NGSS: A Case for Writing in Science Part 1

For most of us in the PD world, NGSS is at the forefront of our minds these days. We talk a lot about how to read them, how to introduce them to teachers, and how to reconfigure our own lessons and presentations to be more aligned with the ideals of NGSS.

We've been focusing a lot on the practices. And as I've gotten to know them as more, I've also noticed the incredible emphasis placed on literacy in the performance expectations. Coming from a science background, I know how important "doing" science is but, the reading, the writing, and the meaning-making of the data takes much more of our time. NGSS focuses more on an authentic scientific process (not method) and I think it is going to be great for our students ... albeit a bit of an effort for our teachers. NGSS really requires our students to take a more active part in the development of experiments, asking questions, planning investigations, etc. But I'd also like to take a look at the ways literacy is integrated into these new standards, especially with regards to how the practices are translated into performance expectations.

The Science Practices (setting aside, for now, the Engineering Practices):
  1. Asking questions
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
Lets take a closer look at the highlighted practices as they are described in third grade performance expectations:

Here, students are asked to construct an argument. An important piece of arguing from evidence is the interaction between the writer and the other claims or opinions. Students negotiate their claim through the science they do, data analysis, talking, reading, and writing which may support, refute or strengthen their final argument. This is a sense-making activity. In a journal article this would occur before and after writing (peer review) but also during the discussion section that may include counterpoints.

In this performance expectation, students are asked to support an explanation. This type of assignment scaffolds the experience so that students don't necessarily have to develop the claim themselves (although they should have through the related investigations.) In science writing, it is often this sort of conclusion (the explanation of the evidence --reasoning) that ends a paper on a particular investigation.
Here students are required to read and synthesize, investigate and explain then, communicate a phenomenon. All very strong literacy skills that all scientists engage in especially during the literature review stages of their writing.

These are just 3 of 15 third grade performance expectations that have clear literacy demands as apart of the science process modeled as actual scientists experience them. It's a synergy of science and language instruction we're striving for. 

It's time to start taking science writing more seriously in our classrooms. It's time to give it the explicit instructional attention students need to make those connections between writing conventions and real world applications. I'm hoping to explore more ways we can help our students be successful writers in science in the coming year.