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Convergent research (Pearson, 2010) indicates a need for explicit literacy strategies within content area instruction, particularly science, for students to gain proficiency with understanding challenging texts. Despite overlap, every discipline and genre of writing comes with its unique literacy, and science is particularly challenging (Fang, 2006). Proficient skills in science and reading are a prerequisite to be productive members of society. However, current instructional practices, in which reading and content instruction are typically separated, often leave students unable to handle the more challenging demands of content texts (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).The present study examines the use of concept mapping and questioning on student's organization and retention of science knowledge while using interactive informational read-alouds. Assessments were administered and the results are reported as well as possible implications for further research.
Current assessment data in the areas of science and reading indicate the need for improvement (NAEP, 2005; 2009). There have been promising instructional practices shown to benefit science and reading instruction including: science literacy (Pearson, Moje & Greenlee, 2010); using informational text/text sets (Smolkin, McTigue, Donovan & Coleman, 2008); using interactive read-alouds (Smolkin & Donovan, 2001); and the use of graphic organizers specifically concept maps (Oliver, 2009). But little or no research has combined these methods to examine its effect on student learning. The present student was to examine how the use of interactive read-alouds using informational texts/text sets with concept mapping and questioning affect student's organization and retention of different types of science knowledge.
The theoretical framework is based on current educational research on the use of the following instructional methods: science literacy; using informational text/text sets; using interactive read-alouds; and using graphic organizers (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008; Smolkin, McTigue, Donovan & Coleman, 2008; Jang, 2010).
Science literacy is defined as the integration of reading and science instruction and has yielded positive results on students' acquisition of skills (Pearson, 2010; Van de Broek, 2010). But there are challenges to science literacy instruction. One challenge involves the use of limited science instruction in the primary grades (Akerson, Flick, & Lederman, 2000). The demand for advanced science skills requires individuals to have had early exposure to science concepts in order to build their conceptual foundation for later grades in which they will be faced with more complex science concepts. Another factor affecting science literacy instruction is the limited instruction in using informational text. By the time students are in middle school, the majority of text is informational. Researchers have suggested that expository text is more difficult than narrative text for students to comprehend. In fact, according to Conderman and Elf (2007) the same students, who can read chapter books at grade level, cannot independently understand the written text found in expository sources including textbooks, trade books and informational magazines. The reading skills and strategies are different than those applied to narrative texts. As Van den Broek (2010) suggests, texts, specifically science text, differs from narrative because it requires different demands on working memory, comprehension strategies and the use of background knowledge.
Informational Text Use
Using informational text has many advantages and can be a powerful tool in teaching science principles and concepts (van den Broek, 2010). It has been shown to increase motivation in reading for students by evoking students' personal interests and curiosities (Duke, 2000). Students can make connections with topics in this genre to real aspects of their lives (Granowsky, 2004). Informational texts can also be an effective tool to teach vocabulary terms.
Informational Interactive Read-Alouds
The definition of informational interactive read aloud is multifaceted. As an active process, the teacher chooses an informational text on specific topic. The text is read aloud in an "interactive" process in which the teacher engages the student in discussing including questions, ideas and connections before, during, and after the read aloud (Heisey, Kucan, 2010). According to Heisey and Kucan (2010), teacher-led read alouds can provide the necessary support as children encounter potential difficult content, text features, and challenging vocabulary often found in informational text.
Graphic Organizers/Concept Mapping
Graphic organizers aid students in learning from text in multiple ways. The visual and verbal structure helps students organize information as a whole, helping make connections (Katayama, 1997). Graphic organizers have been shown to be advantageous in aiding students versus using text alone. One reason is much "cognitive effort" is needed to perform a linear search of text as well as storing the information into memory (Katayama, 1997; Larkin & Simon, 1987). Furthermore, searching for information allows information to be assessed from both spatial and verbal memory (Winn, 1991; Katayama, 1997). In addition, performing the act of translating information from a text format to a graphic organizer or other advance organizer may deepen the learning process for the reader than they normally do when reading or listening to a lecture (Nesbit & Adesope, 2006). One type of graphic organizer is the concept map, created by Novak, specifically has been used as a tool to help students organize ideas and thoughts especially in the area of science.
In using a concept map, a teacher selects a certain topic to be mapped (Novak & Gowin, 1984 ). The students have an opportunity to identify key concepts. They students draw lines to connect and show relationships between the concepts. Linking words or phrases are used to define these connections. The use of concept mapping can be a promising strategy for reading comprehension using expository text. An advantage to concept mapping is that it can be used as a pre-reading, during reading and/or a post reading activity (Oliver, 2009.)
Participants in the study were 58 third grade students from a public school located near Houston, Texas. There were 29 students in the experimental group and 29 students in the control group.
The study focused on the topic of soil formation with eight instructional lessons. Classes were randomly assigned to either the control group which was the group using questioning or the experimental group using concept mapping. Students participated in the following "pre-reading" activity. The control group (questioning) independently answered comprehension questions on the topic of soil formation. The experimental group (concept mapping) constructed a class concept map on what they knew about soil formation. Then both groups participated in an interactive informational read-aloud. Then, both groups participated in a post-reading activity. Participants in the control group answered comprehension questions about soil independently. Participants in the experimental group continued creating their class constructed concept map. Then the students work on a concept map independently.
The students were administered a pre-test, post-test and delayed post-test over the concept of soil formation using the following assessments: Multiple-Choice; Matching Vocabulary; Relational Vocabulary; and a Writing Assessment. A pilot study was conducted at a school with similar demographics to test the fidelity of the assessments. The pre-test was given a week before the instructional lessons on soil started. The post-test was given the day after the last instructional lesson and the delayed post-test was given a week and a half after the instructional lessons ended.
Tables 1-4 display the means of the four assessments of both the experimental and control group. The participants in the experimental group performed better than the control group in all four assessments. Table 5 displays the mean difference, standard error and the p-value of the experimental group and control group for each assessment. The experimental group performed significantly higher in the multiple choice assessment, relational vocabulary, and the writing assessment. Though the experimental group outperformed the control group in the matching vocabulary, there was no significant difference.
The implications for this study can help improve instructional practices in science instruction through staff development. This study also lends itself to further replications with ESL students and students with learning disabilities.
Interests to LRA Audience
This study is relevant for pre-service teachers and in-service teachers who teach content-specific subjects including science, social studies and math and how to implement reading strategies such as using graphic organizers to help their students learn new instructional concepts.
Table 1: Means of Matching Vocabulary Assessments
Table 2: Means of Multiple Choice Assessments
Table 3: Means of Relational Vocabulary Assessments
Table 4: Means of Writing Assessments
Table 5: Pairwise Comparisons