This research brief focuses on how one secondary school teacher used a Science Learning Hub activity to develop her year 9 students’ science and literacy skills. For this, she used a variety of read-aloud strategies. There has been a lot written about reading aloud to/with primary school children (Heisey and Kucan, 2010), but it can also be productive with secondary school students (Bircher, 2009). Trelease (2006) noted that “students have higher listening comprehension than reading comprehension” and that low-level literacy students “in particular tend to understand what they hear better than what they read” (cited in Delo, 2008, p. 33).
The science unit
The teacher, Hannah (a pseudonym), had designed a Circle of Life unit aimed at her lower-ability year 9 group who were working across levels 3–5. One of the lessons included the student activity Animal and plant adaptations using the student handout My trip to Antarctica, which is a diary describing someone visiting Antarctica for 6 days. Hannah identified the following science learning outcomes for the lesson:
- Understand the terms ecosystem, habitat, population and community.
- Recognise that animals have adaptations that enable them to survive in different environments.
- Classify adaptations of organisms as structural, behavioural or physiological.
Hannah introduced the activity by saying, “This is an article, and it’s a diary about someone’s trip to Antarctica. So we are going to read through it as a class. I’ll start it off and then I’m going to get some other people to volunteer to read them with me. So you’re going to follow through. We’re going to all read together but I’m going to read out loud.”
The students were keen to read segments of the diary entries. Nearly all of the students volunteered to read a part of the diary. Students in the audience were very supportive. For example, while reading a diary entry, one student had difficulty pronouncing the word ‘orca’ and some other students helped by correctly pronouncing the word. Hannah either asked open-ended questions after each student had read a passage from the diary or she summarised what had just been read.
One of the goals of the unit, along with introducing scientific concepts of biology, was to develop literacy skills.
After the reading of My trip to Antarctica, Hannah handed out copies of the student handout Antarctic adaptations. The aim was to identify different adaptations used by Antarctic animals and plants using the My trip to Antarctica diary as an information source.
Hannah helped the students to understand the worksheet task by projecting a copy on an overhead projector and providing an example of an adaptation identified in the diary. This activity sparked a discussion amongst the students as to the meaning of adaptation. Students then individually reread through the diary and completed the handout.
Hub materials easy to adapt
After the lesson, Hannah reported that the Hub materials had been useful and easy to adapt for her students’ reading level. She believed her students had been engaged during the lesson and had particularly enjoyed the diary-reading activity. She commented that some students in the class had lower-level literacy skills and reading a text aloud as a class was a useful way to engage those students.
This brief offers an alternative for how teachers could use the text on the Hub.
Bircher, L. (2009). Reading aloud: a springboard to inquiry: trade books in the science classroom. The Science Teacher, 76(5), 29–33.
Delo, L. (2008). Reading aloud: integrating science and literature for all students. The Science Teacher, 75(5), 33–37.
Heisey, N. & Kucan, L. (2010). Introducing science concepts to primary students through read-alouds: interaction and multiple texts make the difference. The Reading Teacher, 63(8), 666–676.