March 30, 2011

Using Science to Teach English Grammar and Reading

by Heather Falconer

It was a wonderful day when President Obama announced the National Math and Science Initiative, drawing attention to the reality that American students are lagging behind many first-world countries in math and science. It did none of us any good to ignore the fact that we ranked 19 out of 31 in math, and 14 out of 31 in science in the last assessment from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. So it has been great to see an emphasis in school systems across the country on increasing scientific and math literacy.

However, another important statistic seems to have been lost in all of these education changes. American students also ranked 15 out of 31 in reading — an important part of the “scientific literacy” concept. Unfortunately, as the extensive budgets cuts in the education system nationally begin to take hold, preserving math and science has taken precedence over almost everything else. Including reading.

That is why it was heartening, recently, to receive an email from Dr. Roma Kriauciuniene at Vilnius University in Lithuania. While not working in the US school system, Dr. Kriauciuniene’s classroom activities have taken “scientific literacy” to a whole new level. Using our Visionlearning module on States of Matter, she has devised a complete lesson on English grammar and comprehension.

In the lesson, students are asked (before reading the module) to define certain key words out of context, matching them to their Lithuanian translations. Other parts of the lesson include identifying the correct verb tense (in context), filling in the blanks, inserting omitted prepositions, and identifying proper headings for specific paragraphs.

What we love about Dr. Kriauciuniene’s lesson is its interdisciplinary approach. She is teaching reading in general, English vocabulary and grammar, and science all at the same time. For those of us working in the US, building lessons like this could be an excellent way of helping our students bridge the language and literacy gaps that contribute to low science and math scores. (It might also help some of the English classes survive budget cuts…)

Do you use Visionlearning modules in a unique way? We would love to hear about it. Send us an email, or post a note on our Facebook page.

Heather Falconer

Written by

Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics – from research writing to marine biology – in the public and private educational sectors.