Reading is an important part of science education

Unfortunately, Wellington and Osborne have found that “…reading is not seen as an [-p.42] important part of science education. Large amounts of time are devoted to so-called ‘practical work’…. Little time, if any, is set aside or planned for reading. The reading which does occur is largely from the black or whiteboard, the overhead projector or instruction sheets for experiments. …Textbooks…are often used (from our observations) as follows: to give instructions for practical work; as extension work for pupils who ‘finish their work early’; as part of a punishment activity, e.g. a pupil disrupting a practical; for pupils who have been ‘off sick’ and need to catch up; when teachers are ‘off sick’ and the geography teacher or a supply teacher needs a quiet lesson.
Does extended, deliberately planned reading occur? Rarely, or never, we suggest. Do pupils ever read ‘real’ writing about science, i.e. from a magazine, a novel, a newspaper, the Internet, a journal, the notes of a past scientist or a ‘real’ book? Rarely, we would argue.” (pp.41-42)

“Extended reading rarely occurs in science lessons. Science is perceived as a practical, hands-on subject. Yet reading is an important scientific activity. ‘Minds-on’ is as much a part of real science as ‘hands-on’….” (p.42)

“The justification for making reading a key part of a future science curriculum has two important strands. First, as discussed already, reading is a scientific activity. To be capable of reading carefully, critically and with a healthy scepticism is a vital component of being a scientist. But second, and most importantly for the majority who will not become scientists, when pupils leave school they are far more likely to read about science than they are ever to do it. A large percentage of the public glean their information about science from the media. The ability to read about science carefully, critically and with healthy scepticism is a key element of scientific literacy. Moreover, it is a prerequisite of citizenship and playing a part in democracy.” (p.42)

Reasons why reading about science may not be included:

“There are several reasons why reading about science is often more difficult, less engaging and therefore less likely to be part of science lessons than reading in other areas:

  1. …the vocabulary of science texts is not easy….
  2. Science texts contain many ‘connectives’ which are vital to the logic of science: making inferences, drawing conclusions, indicating a time sequence or chronology, hypothesizing and spotting cause and effect. These logical connectives are poorly understood and meaning cannot be taken for granted.
  3. Equally scientists (unlike, perhaps, journalists) are trained to be cautious in their use of language and their conclusions. Consequently, science texts often contain a lot of qualifying words or phrases, e.g. ‘most’, ‘some’, ‘the majority of’, ‘in a few cases’. These can make the reader ‘hesitate’ and put a ‘barrier between the reader and the information (Bulman 1985: 21).
  4. Science texts have traditionally had a high ‘reading age’. …
  5. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, science texts are often less engaging and less motivating than other types of reading matter. They rarely have a storyline to hold the reader’s attention. To use the old joke, once you put them down it’s hard to pick them back up again; or as John Holt once put it, textbooks are defined as the books you only read because you have to.” (p.43)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Jerry Wellington and Jonathan Osborne (2001) Language and Literacy in Science Education. Open University Press: Buckingham, Philadelphia.

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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