THE EFFECTS OF LITERACY INTERVENTION IN HIGH SCHOOL BIOLOGY. Christopher G. Monsour

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THE EFFECTS OF LITERACY INTERVENTION IN HIGH SCHOOL BIOLOGY by Christopher G. Monsour A professional paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Science
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THE EFFECTS OF LITERACY INTERVENTION IN HIGH SCHOOL BIOLOGY by Christopher G. Monsour A professional paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Science Education MONTANA STATE UNIVERSITY Bozeman, Montana July 2011 ii STATEMENT OF PERMISSION TO USE In presenting this professional paper in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a master s degree at Montana State University, I agree that the MSSE Program shall make it available to borrowers under rules of the program. Christopher G. Monsour July 2011 ii TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND...1 Background... 1 Focus Question... 2 CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK...2 METHODOLOGY...7 DATA AND ANALYSIS...14 INTERPRETATION AND CONCLUSION...24 VALUE...27 REFERENCES CITED...30 APPENDICES...33 APPENDIX A: Informed Consent...34 APPENDIX B: Biology Reading Survey...36 APPENDIX C: Reading Anticipation Guide...40 APPENDIX D: Rate Reading Comprehension...43 APPENDIX E: Odyssey Annotation...45 APPENDIX F: Pre-Reading Organizer...48 APPENDIX G: Poverty Reading Annotation...50 APPENDIX H: Student Led Discussion...52 APPENDIX I: Metacognitive Reading Log...54 APPENDIX J: Stem Cell Annotation...57 APPENDIX K: Supplemental Reading APPENDIX L: Supplemental Reading List APPENDIX M: Reading Verification...64 APPENDIX N: Evaluation of Intervention APPENDIX O: Change In Reading Level APPENDIX P: Three Areas to Improve On...71 APPENDIX Q: Transcript from Final Interview...73 iv LIST OF TABLES 1. Triangulation Matrix...14 v LIST OF FIGURES 1. Biology and Memorization Study for Vocabulary Reading Skills and Biology Hurdles to Reading Reading Intervention and Understanding Change in Reading Level Understanding of Biology Increased More Likely to Read Science on My Own...24 vi ABSTRACT In this investigation, issues of reading comprehension in high schools students were explored. Reading comprehension interventions such as metacognitive reading logs were administered with the goal of improving student literacy. Trade books, newspapers, and others types of media were used to differentiate instruction as part of intervention strategies. The results indicate that when students are given the opportunity to read outside of class, their ability to comprehend scientific information increases. 1 INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND The purpose of the study was to investigate how students' opportunities to read and learn in science were related to development of skills in science and reading proficiency. The class that was selected for the study was advanced biology. Advanced biology taught at Tiffin Columbian High School, Ohio, is a rigorous course offered to ninth and tenth graders. There are currently 75 students in the class: 39 males and 36 females spread out over three periods. A majority of the students are classified as college preparatory, and the course is meant for students going into a math or science career. All of the students in the class are Caucasian and come from middle to upper class households. There are 972 students currently taking courses at Tiffin Columbian High School, Tiffin, Ohio, with 97% Caucasian and 3% being African American or Hispanic (http://ilrc.ode.state.oh.us/schools). Science and the communication skills of reading and writing are important aspects of the science classroom. I have recognized there is a need to make instruction meaningful and relevant to the real world of my students. I have found an array of trade books available today that can be used to introduce my students to the world in which they live and to teach reading skills and science content in a meaningful context. Having worked with students in the past who have limited reading ability, it has become clear that for students to be successful in science, they must be able to read, and more importantly, be able to comprehend the material found in science textbooks. As a school, some departments have addressed the issue of reading in the content area better than others. As a school though, there is no one uniform strategy. Unfortunately, there is little use of such strategies in the science classes at Tiffin Columbian High School. Some of the teachers use the texts only as a source of problems to use for assignments. Others assume their students have the ability to effectively read and comprehend the text 2 information without any prior instruction or modeling. What results, in my opinion, is an inability of the students to effectively gather information from a text and apply that information to new situations. Concern about the reading ability of students led to the development of the primary focus questions. The first question was, what types of interventions can be created to improve the reading comprehension of students in science class and increase their knowledge base? The second was, if specific reading strategies were taught, will students demonstrate an increase in their comprehension of the reading assigned? CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK For centuries, the ability to read and write has given power to those who possessed it, although access to book learning is often limited to a privileged minority (Vincent, 2000). Today, by contrast, students live in a digital age in which written texts are more widely available than ever before. One of the most commonly cited reasons for the level of illiterate youth is students simply do not have the literacy skills to keep up with the high school curriculum, which has become increasingly complex (Kamil, 2003; Snow & Biancarosa, 2003). In the era of Reading First and especially the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, performing below grade level in reading and writing carries increasingly higher stakes for retention and ultimately withholding of high school diplomas (NCES, 2003). Less than one-third of America s high school students read or write at grade level. Almost 7,000 students drop out of high school every school day (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2006). Among low-income students, fewer than one in six can read at grade level (Perie & Dion, 2005). In a typical high-poverty urban school, roughly half of incoming ninth-grade students read at a sixth- or seventh-grade level (Balfanz & Shaw, 3 2002). Creech and Hale (2006) describe a study in which 65% of incoming high school freshmen read below a sixth-grade level. Heller and Greenleaf (2007) make a sobering statement about the reading level of the nation s 8th and 12th graders when they state that millions of America's students in grades 4 through 12 are unable to read and write well enough to achieve academic success. The National Assessment of Education Progress indicates that more than two thirds of all eighth and 12th graders read at less than proficient level, and half of those students are so behind they drop off the scale entirely (Perie, Grigg & Dion, 2005; Grigg & Donahuet, 2007). Ippolito (2008) discusses how high school students who lack core-reading skills such as understanding and evaluation are at a disadvantage. Of greater importance is the effect of an illiterate population. According to America's Perfect Storm (2007): Current labor market trends, demographics, and student achievement data are combining to create a perfect storm that could inflict lasting damage upon the nation's economy and upon its social fabric, as well. Simply put, if the middle and high schools continue to churn out large numbers of students who lack the ability to read critically, write persuasively, and communicate effectively, then the labor market will soon be flooded with young people who have nothing to offer, and who cannot handle the jobs that are available. There will be tens of millions more adults, who lack the education and skills they will need to thrive in the new economy, raising the specter of joblessness and despair on a scale not seen since the Great Depression. If that future is to be avoided, the nation's secondary schools will have to begin immediately to help many more students to reach much higher levels of literacy than ever before. (p. 4) 4 Over the past decade there has been an effort to increase the literacy of students. Reading is an essential part of scientific literacy. Literacy is the ability to read and make sense of written symbols in a variety of settings and subject areas and then to be able to locate information, evaluate it critically, synthesize it and communicate it. Far too many students leave American secondary schools without the advanced literacy skills they need to succeed in higher education or to flourish in a knowledge-based economy (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006). When students graduate from high school, many do not have the knowledge or skills to tackle readings, tests, and papers at the next level (Bauerlein, 2011). More alarming is that some research has found that students engage in very little sustained reading. In schools, the reading is mainly from brief, teacher-created handouts and textbooks. In a 2006 report titled Reading Between the Lines: What the ACT Reveals About College Readiness in Reading, the ACT asserts, The type of text students are exposed to in high school has a significant impact of their readiness for college-level reading (p. 23). The more students are exposed to complex texts, the more they realize that they can t complete their studies through a single superficial reading (p. 24). Most content area teachers devote little, if any, class time to showing students, explicitly, what it means to be a good reader or writer in the given subject area. In schools, much of the reading to which students has access is in course textbooks, and most students engage in very little discussion of what they have read, how to write, or how to interpret, analyze, or otherwise respond to texts (Wade & Moje, 2000; Connors, 1997; Cuban, 1989; Hillocks, 1986). Studies have shown students are capable of reading most of the words in their textbooks and can memorize words and phrases for short-term purposes. Memorizing terms and learning for short-term does not indicate mastery of the subject nor does it indicate the students are literate in the subject (Clark, 2009). The most difficult hurdle to literacy as defined above is for teachers to help students 5 connect with texts being read and viewed in class. Many times extra activities and inclass time may be used to try to get students to connect. With so much focus on high stakes testing and scores, many teachers are not doing the extra activities in the name of covering content (Miners & Pascopella, 2007). David Donahue (2000) describes science readers as interactive information processors who switch between selective perceptions of texts and concurrent experiences such as experiments and discussions. He suggests that science reading should be as interactive as a lab experiment. So the challenge to teachers is to make reading an involved, active, and interactive exercise. This means science teachers need to use strategies in their classrooms that help students to read, to understand and most importantly, to connect to the science content (Matheny, 2009). Even though most science teachers are not reading experts, their teaching methodologies share at least one important characteristic. Effective reading and science teachers integrate the acquisition of skills with the understanding of content. Science teachers can build on this to help their students become more proficient readers (Improving Reading Skills, 2005). It has been common practice for teachers to rely on traditional textbooks as means to relay or review information. When assigned the task of reading and taking notes from the textbook, many students skim the section and write down the bold faced words. Martin (2002) suggests that students do not take expository reading seriously. They skim over the text, ignoring the sidebars, and picture captions. Donovan and Smolkin (2001) explained that students have difficulties with textbooks because of the nature of the textbooks. There is too much information densely packed, too much assumed knowledge, and too much irrelevant information. Along with the amount of information, Moss (1991) explained that textbooks are unappealing to students and often fail to arouse student interest (p. 27). Beyond the 6 problems of the texts themselves, Donovan and Smolkin (2001) discuss another limitation of traditional textbooks: one book and one grade. The use of single text per grade makes it difficult to differentiate instruction. Students come to class with a myriad of learning styles and textbooks do not always facilitate differentiated instruction. Some make a good point that the movement to improve the quality of learning begins with freeing teachers and others to become facilitators of learning. Science teachers often lack the expertise and interest in teaching reading (Rogers & Frieberg, 1994). When instruction is planned around minimizing reading weaknesses however, students receive fewer opportunities for reading practice and support, and a critical science instructional tool goes unused (Improving Reading Skills, 2005). Teachers of science may not be trained to teach reading in the content area and therefore avoid it. By providing professional development and classes on how to incorporate reading, learning can improve. To address the problem, teachers first need to identify the areas of weakness in students in the science classroom. Vocabulary, detailed concepts and relationships, and multi step processes and cycles are identified as the three areas in which students struggle (Improving Reading Skills, 2005). By using techniques to tackle the weaknesses in reading comprehension, teachers then can incorporate reading into the classroom. By incorporating books into class activities or to extend investigations, students will develop advanced literacy skills. Guensberg (2006) further reinforces this concept when she states, basic literacy no longer suffices. In higher education and the workplace, young people must handle an array of complex texts -- narratives, repair manuals, scholarly journals, maps, graphics, and more -- across technologies. They need to evaluate, synthesize, and communicate effectively (para.1). 7 If the nation's students are to go beyond the basics of literacy, then secondary science teachers must acknowledge they are more than teachers of facts, figures, dates, and procedures. Science teachers must teach their students to read and write and communicate like scientists and educated members of society. Educators must figure out how to ensure every student gets beyond basic literacy skills to the more challenging literacy of secondary school years. This will require teaching students new literacy skills: how to read purposefully, select materials that are of interest, learn from those materials, figure out the meanings of unfamiliar words, integrate new information with information previously known, resolve conflicting content in different texts, differentiate fact from opinion, and recognize the perspective of the writer in short, they must be taught how to comprehend (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006, p. 1). METHODOLOGY My project was based on the action research model. It spanned four biology units that occurred between late September 2010 and early January These units included concepts in nutrient cycling, cellular biology, metabolism, and genetics. The project focused on the use of contemporary scientific literature (textbook alternatives) to investigate how students' opportunities to read and learn in science are related to reading proficiency. As found in the literature review, science textbooks can be overwhelming for students to read and comprehend due to the amount of new vocabulary. Textbooks cover many topics that often leave students memorizing facts and figures with little comprehension of the topics. The lack of comprehension and sufficient understanding of material leaves students lacking conceptual understanding that is necessary to become scientifically literate citizens. Students do not understand why they are learning the 8 science content and find little relevance to the material they are learning. However, if students can find personal connections, like those found in materials other than textbooks, then they are more likely to become interested in science and closer to becoming scientifically literate. There is an array of trade book and other alternatives available today. Teachers can use trade books to introduce students to the world in which they live and teach both reading skills and science in a meaningful context. There had been discussion at previous staff meetings and professional developments that addressed the need to improve reading in the content area and the plan for my project was discussed with the staff. Once the purpose and the plan for suggested action research was discussed, Mr. Anway, the high school principal, decided that a blanket Informed Consent form would suffice for the project (Appendix A). The pre-treatment phase began in late September with the administration of the Reading Interest Survey to determine the types of literature students read and the amount of time students spend reading (Appendix B). The survey was given before the pretreatment phase, and the data analyzed to look for the most common response to questions. This information gave some insight into attitudes and beliefs students had about reading in the science classroom and the amount of time spent reading for both pleasure and school. This survey also gave insight into what type of material the students were reading and aided in the selection of materials to be used in class. The data from the survey was broken up into common themes, and then percents of response were calculated. These percents were then plotted as a bar graph for use during analysis. During late September, I began to read passages from the text aloud to the students in hopes that it would improve students reading skills. I thought hearing the text while looking at it on a page would help my students process the information more effectively. This was utilized in three ways in the class. The configurations included 9 students reading to a small group of students, students reading to the whole class, and the teacher reading to the students. The students were not forced to read aloud, but were invited to read and to my surprise many students did volunteer to read. While the students read to the whole class, I would make note of words that were mispronounced and phrases students stumbled over. During the reading aloud, I would stop the class and make predictions about what would happen or how it related to what was being discussed. At the end of the reading I would then go back to the list of words I created and as a class we would discuss the meanings. The texts read included the textbook, contemporary magazines and the newspaper. The challenge here was finding the time to make room for these different types of text in the curriculum. The treatment phase began with the use of a Reading Anticipation Guide (Appendix C). The anticipation guide was used during the discussion of ecological principles and biomagnification of chemicals in the environment. Biomagnification was one of the topics that have been recognized as being difficult for students to understand. Students were given an excerpt from Rachel Carson s book Silent Spring. Reading Anticipation Guides were completed because I wanted to develop students analytical reading skills, develop students awareness of interactive reading strategies and finally to develop students abilities to respond to texts they read. I formed a series of three generalized statements related to the passage of text the students read. I chose the statements from the beginning, middle and end of the text. Prior to reading, the students were asked to consider each generalization and use The Reading Anticipation Guide to indicate their level of agreement or disagreement with the
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