Integrating Science and Literacy Instruction: A Framework for Bridging the Gap
reviewed by Richard Frazier - September 15, 2006
Title: Integrating Science and Literacy Instruction: A Framework for Bridging the Gap
Author(s): Gene Freeman & Vickie Taylor
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 1578864038, Pages: 245, Year: 2006
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Integrating Science and Literacy Instruction: A Framework for Bridging the Gap by Gene Freeman and Vickie Taylor includes a variety of classroom practices that promise to make instruction more meaningful and efficient in light of the limited time available in a school day. No Child Left Behind is identified early in the book as the source of urgency many teachers and administrators feel as they grapple with how to help children achieve demonstrable gains in literacy and subject matter knowledge. Against the constraint of limited time, the authors define terms, propose various rationales, invoke selected findings from educational research, and promote a series of strategies, techniques, and practices that are intended to ameliorate difficulties children have in learning science and becoming literate.
The first six chapters touch on the connections between science and literacy by focusing on inquiry as well as the skills of reading, writing, and communicating orally. The final chapter poses issues of equity against the under-representation of various groups in the sciences and goes on to suggest that excellence in integrated science and literacy education can lead to equitable education and economic opportunities for all children.
A predominant feature of the work is lists. More than half of the pages include bulleted, numbered, boxed, italicized lists. This feature gives the book the feel of a compendium of presentation handouts. Many teachers like the idea of a treasure trove of teaching ideas. Having so many points included may have value for those who find inspiration from brainstorming or for those who want to make sure they have covered all the points. Others may find the inconsistent formats and principles of organization disconcerting. Oddly, there is no index, and the deficit greatly reduces the potential use of the book as a how to manual. One anecdote opens the book, but no other narratives are provided that might describe how teachers and their students actually accomplish the integration of science and literacy.
Some of the lists just appear. After a section on process skills for inquiry-based science instruction (p. 28), there are six pages of vocabulary words in science from kindergarten through eighth grade. No references are given in regard to the origin of the list, and no comment is made on issues of meaning when various words are used at each level. For example, hypothesis is included in the set of first-grade science vocabulary. On the one hand, many teachers do introduce this term in first grade; however, it seems neglectful for a text about science and literacy not to discuss the emergence of hypothetical reasoning during cognitive development and the dialectical dance children do as they construct and conflate words, experiences, and meanings during the acquisition of language. My bet is that most first graders and their teachers come to use hypothesis to refer to what they expect will happen in some situation rather than as the reason that is the basis of their prediction. Theories is the last word in the third-grade list; and again, no discussion is offered as to the importance of the term in science. Troubling usage of the word theory has plagued recent encounters of science with politics and religion.
At the end of the chapter on inquiry-based science, a set of guidelines for field trips appears. Many practical points are included, but the importance of place and place-based pedagogy as a basis for meaningful science and a motivation for literacy is not developed in any depth. What I wonder is whether any teachers, who do not ordinarily do so, would be persuaded to seek out opportunities for field study as a way to promote science and literacy for their students because of finding the guidelines in the chapter.
In addition to the ubiquitous lists, a tone of admonition characterizes the text. Should and must are used in noticeable abundance and produce a kind of urgent register of persuasion. But the arguments for adopting the practices advocated in the book are not spelled out beyond claim and directive. I am already convinced that science and literacy are intimately connected. I can imagine the value of the many lists and ideas for someone who is already persuaded but wants a reminder of some details. I do not envision the book affecting recalcitrant teachers who have settled into the idea that there is no common ground between their hesitant teaching of science and their primary mission to teach reading and language arts.
The final list in the book shows up in an appendix. Fiction and non-fiction titles, age level, authors last names, and science topics are provided. There is no provenance for the list and no detailed suggestions on how the specific works might actually be used. It seems puzzling that there is no mention of two important collections of book reviews from the National Science Teachers Association, NSTA Recommends and Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12. The efforts of NSTA to promote the connections between science and literacy are worth noting. Crossing Borders in Literacy and Science Instruction: Perspectives on Theory and Practice (Saul, 2004) is a joint effort by the International Reading Association and the National Science Teachers Association. In her introduction, Saul explains that the collection of papers from a conference constitutes an attempt to create a more nuanced discussion of the topic (p. 1). Saul worries about the trend in education to look for simple solutions. Douglas, Worth, & Klentschy (2006) edit articles from another set of conferences on Science and Literacy sponsored by NSTA, Linking Science and Literacy for the K-8 Classroom. Case studies, examples of student work, and transcripts of classroom discourse are included.
Integrating Science and Literacy Instruction: A Framework for Bridging the Gap will possibly have value for teachers who have already reached the conclusion that children benefit from exploring the common ground of literacy and science. Such teachers may be able to make use of the many lists of ideas that make up a significant portion of the text. The book does not on its own serve as an adequate introduction to the topic, nor does it explore in any depth major questions related to learning science, language, and communication arts.
Douglas, R., Worth, K. & Klentschy, M. (Eds.) (2006). Linking science and literacy in the k-8 classroom. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.
Saul, W. (Ed.) (2004). Crossing borders in literacy and science instruction: Perspectives on theory and practice. International Reading Association and National Science Teachers Association.