Teaching Reading in Science Class: A Common Core Trend?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 (All day)
  • Scott Sterling

Common Core

The majority of passages in statewide reading assessments are now made up of non-fiction, informational material. Seeing this trend only grow, administrators have begun asking teachers in subjects other than English Language Arts (ELA) to start incorporating more reading and writing tasks in their courses. They point out that a lot of graphs and statistics appear in these assessments. The essays tend to be of a historical nature. Scientific articles and stories appear often.

It makes sense. How many working adults in their daily lives are asked to read and react to pieces from Mark Twain or F. Scott Fitzgerald? Now, how many of those adults in their work have to read and react to reports, news articles, or other informational reading materials on a daily basis? Even in jobs that can be classified as “math jobs” or “science jobs”, skills like understanding the author’s purpose and comparing and contrasting matter.

An evolution, dictated by the Common Core

The new Common Core standards for reading have validated this approach, with language clearly stating that our students should be proficient readers of informational texts - not just literature. They have refocused ELA instruction to create a well-rounded reader and writer, not just one that can discuss personification or onomatopoeia.

To be clear, students are still expected to learn their reading and writing skills in their ELA classes. But what’s the harm in asking students to argue a cogent point or extrapolate information from the relevant texts while learning about science or social studies?

The theory is that more practice will equal better results. But the teachers of other subject areas are not as experienced in creating lessons that utilize these sought after skills. They need help, and not just from the ELA teachers at their school. 

The implementation solution

To that end, teachers across the subject areas have begun employing template tasks, writing prompts that ask teachers to “fill in the blanks” in order to make the prompt relevant to their own subject area.

These template tasks are the work of the Literacy Design Collaborative on behalf of the Gates Foundation. The hope is that if they make incorporating ELA strategies easy enough, more teachers of the other subject areas will be willing to integrate reading and writing practice in their classes.

An example of an informational template task would be “After researching (informational texts) on (content), write a (report or essay) that defines and explains (content). Support your discussion with evidence from your research. What implications can you draw?”

These templates make reading and writing tasks accessible across the curriculum, giving students further opportunities to practice the skills they learn in their English/language arts classes.

The success of our schools - not just on statewide assessments but in the altruistic goal of creating students prepared to contribute in the working world - is finally a cross-curricular effort.

For further reading:

Reading on Science, Social Studies Teachers' Agendas

Literacy Design Collaborative

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Related reading:

21st Century Learning: Preparing Students Today

Common Core Reading Recommendations and the Role of the Teacher



Opening the Classroom Through Online Collaboration: 21st Century Learning Environments

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 (All day)
  • Sherrelle Walker, M.A.

Online collaboration in our classrooms

Fifteen short years ago, our classrooms were relatively closed places. When we spoke of teaching students to collaborate with one another or exposing them to the world beyond our school walls, we were usually talking about a very limited number of options: either going out into the world to experience it first hand on a field trip, or bringing the outside world in via hosting a guest speaker. In rare and wonderful cases, students had the opportunity to go on exchange programs. In this way, “collaboration” meant working in small teams with fellow classmates.

Today, such collaboration is no longer dependent upon proximity or time of day. Online tools have brought down the many barriers to communication, allowing students, teachers and professionals to interact with and learn from one another regardless of location.

The potential for learning is mind-blowing to say the least. With a savvy educator as a coach and guide, the entire world can become the classroom, and peoples who populate it can be our co-educators. Even our students have the opportunity to become the teachers.

What do our students have to gain if we take steps to embrace online collaboration in our classrooms? We need only look to a few real-life examples to see:

  • Students in New Jersey are building understanding by learning about others. Through video conferencing, they have interviewed others their age in Iowa to talk about how they perceive one another and how the economic crisis is affecting their lives and families.[i]Read aboutthe efforts that are transforming the Van Meter Community School District in Iowa, written by Superintendent John Carver.
  • Teachers in the US are using free video conferencing such as Skype to facilitate international conversations. For example, educator Silvia Tolisano put together conversations in German and English by connecting her class with one in Argentina. See this and lots more examples in this article,50 Awesome Ways to Use Skype in the Classroom.
  • If you haven’t heard of it, the ePals Global Learning Community is facilitating collaborative learning across the planet. Through their network, students and teachers come together to do everything from using digital storytelling to learn about world cultures to discussing and developing solutions to global warming. Visitthe Projects section of ePalsfor ideas and ways to plug into great work already underway.

Of course, these kinds of tools and techniques expose our students to all that the world—literally—has to offer. But just as importantly, in using these strategies we are helping our students establish the neural connectionsthat will make these kinds of experiences second nature to them. We are strengthening their abilities to focus more on the meaningful content and creative ideas that come from these experiences as opposed to focusing on just the superficial “wow” factor. Not only that, but we are helping them develop the habits of mind for using these tools and techniques that will serve them so well as they endeavor to solve problems in the future.

For more ideas and articles about online collaboration, check out eSchool News’ collection of articles on the subject at http://www.eschoolnews.com/2010/11/21/engaging-students-through-online-collaboration/

[i]Prabhu, Maya T. Will Skype eclipse fee-based videoconferencing? eSchool News.May 17, 2010. http://www.eschoolnews.com/2010/05/17/will-skype-eclipse-fee-based-videoconferencing/?ast=55

Related Reading:

Creating the Optimal "Internal" Learning Environment

Ok, So You Made a Mistake. But Look What You Learned!

What Makes Superman So Great? Closing the Achievement Gap

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 (All day)
  • Terri Zezula

Closing the Achievement GapHe gets results! Rescuing the good citizens of Metropolis and instilling hope and wonder in all citizens. Yes, it’s a comical notion but we love to believe in the Superheroes and their ability to get things done!

When it comes to education, we look to our school district leaders to get things done – improved student achievement, high quality schools and low cost education programs that get maximum results. Especially in light of recent reports that show the US lagging behind other countriesin reading, math, science and social studies. But there is one district in Louisiana that is getting things done – their results are proof that good leadership, a supporting community and proven education programs can turn a district around, from failing to proficient in a short amount of time.

Once a low performing district, the St. Mary Parish Public School System has achieved significant gains to become a role model for schools looking to make dramatic changes in their performance. After using the Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ family of educational software products to strengthen students’ brain processing and literacy skills, students have increased their reading proficiency, and improved their achievement on state tests. In addition, fourth grade promotion rates have increased and test scores for student subgroups have improved, with the district making significant progress toward closing the achievement gap.

During the 2006-07 school year, St. Mary Parish started school-wide use of the Fast ForWord software at eight elementary schools that were in Academic Assistance. During the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, the Fast ForWord program was extended to the rest of the district. Students in grades three through five work with the Fast ForWord products 30, 40 or 50 minutes a day, depending on the school. Since 2008, the district has implemented Reading Assistant software as well.  Reading Assistant combines advanced speech-verification technology with the latest reading science to help students strengthen their fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary.


  • Improved state test scores
  • Increased fourth grade promotion rate
  • Fewer students required to attend summer remediation
  • Reduced achievement gap

From 2006 to 2010 the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above the Basic level on the initial LEAP ELA test increased from 55 percent to 78 percent. In 2008, for the first time in a decade, the district exceeded the state average for the percentage of fourth graders reading at or above Basic on the initial ELA test. In addition, for the first time in years, the district had no schools labeled Academically Unacceptable.

Similarly, from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above Basic on the initial LEAP test rose from 59 to 79 percent in Math, from 53 to 69 percent in Science, and from 59 to 72 percent in Social Studies.

Fourth Grade Initial LEAP Test
Subject20032004200520062007200820092010Net Change*
Social Studies56%58%55%59%66%63%63%72%+16%

*Net Change is measured from the year before Fast ForWord participation to 2010, i.e. 2006-2010 for 4th graders.

Fourth Grade Promotion Rates

In addition to improving LEAP scores, St. Mary Parish collected longitudinal data about the percentage of fourth grade students each year who were promoted to fifth grade. From 2006 to 2010, the district’s fourth grade promotion rate improved from 65 to 85 percent.

Both general education and special education students showed a positive trend in fourth grade promotion rates. Between 2006 and 2010, the fourth grade promotion rate improved from 67 to 88 percent for general education students, and from 33 to 59 percent for special education students.

 “Over the past four years, our fourth grade students have made astounding gains, outpacing their state counterparts in English language arts as well as math and science,” said Superintendent Dr. Donald Aguillard. “Our fourth graders now rank 14th in the state, signifying a continuance of annual proficiency increases since 2006. As a result, the number of fourth graders who require summer remediation has declined significantly, and students’ self-confidence and motivation have soared. In reading and across the curriculum, our students are clearly benefitting from our ongoing efforts to provide effective, targeted instruction and interventions through the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs.”

St. Mary Parish Public School System is an example of a district that is getting results – making significant gains in reading, math, social studies and science. Providing the standard for making our education system No. 1 in the world again!

Video Games: A New Perspective on Learning Content and Skills

Thursday, July 22, 2010 (All day)
  • Sherrelle Walker, M.A.

Playing Video Games for Learning

Being in the business of e-learning, I am fascinated by video games. No, I’m not a big player myself, but they amaze me for what they can do in terms of teaching and learning. While their primary goal may be to entertain, the core of what they do is perform a continuous process of teaching, simulated practice and assessment, all while engaging learners in learning from worlds rich with content and experience.

As teachers, we’ve always looked to various types of non-interactive content to engage and instruct students. Prior to the 20th century, we depended upon print. In the 1970’s, I remember cassette tapes and film strips coming into the classroom. In the 1980’s, it was video cassettes. Now, we show DVD’s and online video.

Today our digital native students are looking for the kind of interactivity that they experience in their lives outside of school—and that includes the video games that they play. But what skills and experiences can students gain through interactive gaming environments?

  • Learning to try. According to James Gee of Arizona State University, the essence of gaming is that, by its nature, it integrates learning with embedded assessment. With textbooks and lectures, a learner gains knowledge by reading and hearing about subjects. In simulated environments, learners experience situations and content first-hand. They attempt solutions, experience failures and learn from mistakes to proceed to higher levels. They are rewarded for pushing the envelope.
  • Thinking about the big picture. In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink discusses six different senses essential for success in our age, one of which is "symphonic thinking," or the ability to see the big picture of situations, manipulate multiple variables and add invention to solve problems. In today’s rich and detailed game environments, players must successfully learn to do exactly that to achieve the goals of the simulation.
  • Collaborating and cooperating. With the introduction of online video games, successful achievement of objectives requires communication and collaboration amongst multiple players. In today’s world, these are clearly skills that one needs to achieve success.

While the so-called edutainment market is small, educators and entrepreneurs alike are in the process of bringing the true educational value of computer games into the classroom.

Is the shift going to be rocky? Absolutely. As an example, look at the debate around a "historical action" game called Six Days in Fallujahand the mainstream discussion that has taken place on NPRand in Newsweek. Will this genre of game become a new form of documentary? If contextualized appropriately by a teacher, can this breed of games represent a serious way for students to experience the civics, political science or world history first-hand? After considering that, check out Games for Change, an example of a new breed of online games for teaching and learning a wide variety of topics with significant human impact. This is a challenging and productive debate, one that will take the marriage between computer games and the instruction of content and skills to the next level.

Edutopiarecommends many resources for further exploration of the value of computer games in education, including:

What role do you think video games should play in education?  Share your perspective on our Scientific Learning Facebookpage!

Can Scientific Learning Programs Improve School Test Scores?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

Improve Test Scores

When making a buying decision about educational software for a school or district, one of the most important questions to ask is whether the product is effective.  Administrators considering the Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ programs want to know: Do they help students learn and succeed?  Do they improve school test scores?  Are they evidence-based?

The answer to all of these questions is yes.  Scientific Learning programs have been proven to improve language, reading, and cognitive skills as well as to improve school test scores on state assessments and other standardized tests for schools that follow the prescribed protocols.  Our Scientifically Based Research page is your starting point for exploring the 200+ studies that have evaluated the effectiveness of the programs and that serve as evidence of improved learning outcomes.

On average, students can see a 1-2 year improvement in reading level on school test scores in as little as 8-12 weeks.  English language learners, struggling readers, and special education students have all been positively impacted.  So have students performing at grade level and above.

Here are just a few examples:

Dallas Independent School District, TX (View PDF)

  • Four year longitudinal study
  • Fast ForWord participants significantly improved their reading achievement scores on the TAKS state assessment and maintained their improved reading skills
  • Average decrease in the achievement gap for the 544 Fast ForWord participants was 25%

St. Mary Parish Public School System, LA (View PDF)

  • After using Fast ForWord products, percent of Centerville, LA, 4th graders scoring proficient on state assessments exceeds state average
  • Marked improvement in 4th grade Math, Science, and Social Studies test scores, highlights the impact of Fast Forword products on improving cognitive and foundational skills

Bridges Academy, Winter Springs, FL (View PDF)

  • A private school serving students with learning disabilities with a goal of improving reading skills
  • Case study on 2nd through 10th graders to evaluate the effects of adding Reading Assistant software to their existing Fast ForWord implementation
  • Reading Assistant and Fast ForWord products are used concurrently and students are assessed before and after use
  • In an average of three months, the students at the school improve their grade equivalent test scores by an average of one year and three months on the Basic Skills Composite, which combines the Word Identification and Word Attack subtests

The benefits of Scientific Learning products go beyond improving state assessment scores.  Researchers have measured improvements in self-esteem, communication skills such as vocabulary and pronunciation, improvements in listening and understanding, and stronger memory for things like phone numbers and event sequences.  Review our scientifically based researchfor detailed information.

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