Article | July 13, 2019
Science and Reading: A Key Connection
Some of the reading strategies commonly used by proficient readers are ineffective when applied to scientific writing.
Students who have always excelled in school sometimes "hit a wall" in high school science. For these students, high school science represents the first genuine academic challenge. In many cases, the source of the difficulty lies in the differences between scientific writing and everyday language.
Experts say that many proficient readers skip over words they don't understand, but accurately garner the overall meaning of text using cues in surrounding words and phrases. By contrast, less proficient readers tend to become fixated on every unfamiliar word, losing track of the overall meaning of the passage they are reading.
Because scientific writing tends to be more concise than everyday language, students are much more apt to misinterpret the meaning of entire paragraphs if they skip over unfamiliar words. Furthermore, even students with excellent word decoding skills can have problems with scientific words that contain unusual root syllables. It is easy to decode houseboat , but decoding transpiration is quite another matter. The only sure fire method of coping with unfamiliar science words is to look them up or to ask a knowledgeable adult.
Fast readers may have to slow down as they read scientific writing. They should frequently ask themselves, "Did I understand what I just read?" If the answer is no, they should reread the passage, identify unfamiliar words or confusing phrases, and seek help before moving on. Students should be able to say, "I don't understand the meaning of this sentence," not just "I don't get it." Thinking about one's own thinking, what educators call metacognition , is the key. The need for metacognition when reading scientific writing is so great that often only 2 - 4 pages of reading are assigned per night.
Be aware that students with well-developed verbal skills can sound scientific without having grasped the concept being taught. In verbal or written responses, one telltale of a lack of deep understanding is the repeated use of phrases that are identical to those in the text. Students should be able to elaborate on the meaning of a passage, or to give other examples that demonstrate the concept being discussed.