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Literacy reaches into science and social studies

TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2014 10:21 AM

The Common Core State Standards primarily focus on English and math skills, outlining what students should know at the end of each grade level. But the goals of the Common Core reach beyond those two subjects, influencing science, social studies and technology. If you want to know how, all you have to do is read the Standards - the section on those last three subjects is "Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects." As the title suggests, students can expect to read and write frequently in all of their classes.

Reading and writing in science
Science and technical subjects include plenty of authorship opportunities under the Common Core. Students must be able to cite support from primary texts when making claims in the classroom. They also have to be able to read, comprehend and analyze complex scientific texts. While many science curricula have already required writing, now students will have to focus on writing well in all subjects.

"There will be more emphasis on how you write in science," Janet Steuart, a middle school science coach, told State Impact. "How you write with clarity. How you take a position; you defend it; you use evidence, pictures, text - whatever you have to defend it."

Steuart also gave an example of a writing assignment her class might perform: Students must write a report either defending or refuting the platypus's position as a mammal, using evidence of animal classification and characteristics to support their position. The assignment uses writing to get students thinking critically about science. 

Devoting class time
Such writing exercises, while related to science, takes up class time. According to Education Week, a survey conducted by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) asked educators to answer a few question regarding literacy and math standards in the science classroom. One of the key issues was time. Because educators must now teach literacy during class, time spent on science is limited. In fact, 62 percent of the teachers surveyed said they devoted "some class time" to literacy. The largest percentage (36 percent) of respondents believed that doing so somewhat helped students better grasp both science and reading concepts.

The survey also allowed teachers to write their own opinions on Common Core issues. Some felt that science class should focus on science, while others believed that students must know how to write well in the science field. 

The idea that writing occurs everywhere is, to a great extent, true. Researchers must write reports using data. People in technical fields also must organize and compose written reports. No matter what field a student enters, they will have to accurately and effectively communicate through the written word.