Instructional Strategies for Science Lessons

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Having the skills to read science texts is vital to students' success. How can teachers plan instruction so all students learn scientific concepts? This lesson will teach instructional strategies for all learners.

Reading in the Content Areas

We don't just see reading skills used in language arts classes. In fact, reading is present in just about every content area. Students are called on to read and make sense of information in subjects like science and social studies, often without the necessary support they need to understand the material.

Danny is a student who loves math and science, but struggles as a reader. While he's passionate about the content he's learning and understands concepts when he's told them or when he gets a chance to do experiments, his lack of reading skills holds him back from succeeding in science class. Lucky for him his teacher, Mrs. Lowe, is great at planning and choosing strategies that support all the learners in her classroom. What does she do? Let's take a look.

Differentiated Instruction

It's hard to believe the term differentiated instruction is relatively new to the world of education. This broad term refers to any way a teacher uses information about a student's needs to teach. In other words, Mrs. Lowe will differentiate, or teach content differently, to some students than she will to others. She modifies reading in science class for her students in three ways:

  • Content: Mrs. Lowe can change the content of her lessons, or what she teaches, to help students like Danny learn. She knows he struggles with reading, so she finds reading material on his level. She prepares him beforehand for difficult vocabulary by creating a list he can refer back to and use as often as he needs. She also has some reading material recorded so he can listen instead of read. In fact, she uses the other skills Danny is strong in, auditory and visual, to reinforce reading concepts using materials like picture cards and video. All of these help Danny and other struggling readers make sense of concepts in science class.
  • Process: Mrs. Lowe can also modify the process, or how things are taught, to support all readers. She makes sure she has plenty of hands-on experiences for her students. She also varies the amount of time allowed for students to finish a reading assignment or offers a reading buddy to help out. Finally, she uses tiered activities; all students work on the same basic scientific concepts but are offered different support, guidance or depth. For example, on an earth model project Danny's group was given less criteria, a longer amount of time to finish and a less stringent scoring guide.
  • Product: The last aspect of differentiation is how Mrs. Lowe asks students to show what they've learned, or the product. Like we saw above, sometimes she modifies the finished product on projects. She does the same with homework, classwork and testing. Danny may only be required to answer a portion of the questions or may be given some orally. Instead of writing his answers he can create pictures to show understanding. The scoring guide can be modified and she may allow Danny to work with a partner or small group.

Identifying Gaps in Background Knowledge

Some of Danny's struggle with understanding concepts comes from his limited amount of background knowledge, or what he already knows about science and reading. Some students come to school with many experiences and have been exposed to lots of different concepts. They already know what a meadow is or have seen oceans, lakes and rivers. Other students, like Danny, have lived a more limited life and haven't been exposed to as much. This limits their ability to make connections to new learning; their schema, or the amount of stuff they already know, isn't as full as other students. They're already at a deficit.

Recognizing when students don't possess background knowledge helps Mrs. Lowe teach her students. She can spend extra time building in the knowledge necessary to be able to understand new concepts. For example, before a solar system project Danny and a few other students weren't yet aware of the difference between planets, moons and stars. By front loading these concepts she caught students up and made sure everyone was on the same page when formal teaching began.

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