Dear “But I’m Not THAT Teacher!,” -- Yes, You Are
By Cheantel Adams, Ph.D & Sarah Milianta-Laffin
The pavlovian “ping” of your email alerts you to a message. Test scores are in; staff meeting after school. At day’s end your peers shuffle into the library for the big numerical reveal. You listen intently as your administrator waxes on the ramifications of each percentage point of the science scores. You are focused; this is your data, these are your kids, you own this. You look up, and notice that the Reading teachers are having a heated sidebar conversation about how students under-performed on informational text. After all, it’s the science data being discussed, and each of them is not “that” teacher.
The purpose of this article is to explore the reality that, as science teachers, we have a unique opportunity to foster active and meaningful collaboration between Science and literacy instruction. While the teaching profession has become very specialized, let us not forget that everyone has a responsibility to be “that” teacher. As “that” teacher, we acknowledge that science and literacy components are vitally intertwined, and must involve intentional collaboration and implementation. As all teachers evaluate their roles in improving not just the scores but overall student achievement, we all become “THAT” teacher.
Science & Literacy
The Science Notebook has become a key classroom instructional tool. Students use their notebooks like scientists use notebooks in the field, but calling them “Science Notebooks” has created this division that implies they are not also for writing and reading. Practicing scientists note that 80% of their time is devoted to reading and writing (Palincsar & Magnusson) Science Notebooks promote oral communication, written communication, and reading development - key traits that we find desirable across the contents.
A key element of scientific investigation is oral communication. Ideally, students should be talking in pairs, small groups, and even whole group during an investigation. This “Science Talk” “allows them to make sense of their thinking, share their ideas with others, and receive feedback. (Campbell & Fulton, 2003) All kids benefit from this structured conversation, especially developing language learners. Through “Science Talk” students access schema, and either confirm their thoughts or address misconceptions with teacher guidance. This requires no special scientific instruction, and “Content Talk”
should happen in every classroom. The science teacher provides a platform for students to showcase skills learned. These same conversations develop concepts in reading and writing. In all contents, this practice promotes and strengthens key critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
With Science Notebooks, oral communication supports written communication. By building schema through discussion, we can create a safe space where now even reluctant writers have something to express in their notebooks. Through the Science notebooks, students are writing about new experiences, investigations, and classroom discussion. Often the hardest part in the writing process for students can be finding a topic. The notebook contains many previously explored, high-interest topics, allowing writing teachers to call upon this information when seeking to develop various types of writing. While the notebook does not reflect the complete writing process, it may serve as an excellent pre-writing tool, providing organization, vocabulary, and basic content information.
“In this Information Age the importance of being able to read and write informational texts critically and well cannot be overstated. Informational literacy is central to success, and even survival, in advanced schooling, the workplace, and the community ( Duke, 2000).”
Science Notebooks are a tool that students use to organize their thinking, map processes, think critically, and draw conclusions. All of these items promote “informational literacy” (Campbell & Fulton, 2003.) We know that traditional Reading teachers often lament that students struggle with informational text, and yet in the notebooks students are creating their own informational text that they can read and synthesize because it comes directly from them. “After using notebooks as a beginning stage of reading, students can progress to
other related informational text. (Campbell & Fulton, 2003)
Informational texts are an integral part of the reading process. Through collaboration with content teachers, the process of presenting informational text becomes more meaningful when connected with topics upon which students have prior-knowledge. Having background knowledge allows student to focus on apply reading strategies, which the experience simultaneously increases content knowledge. Applying the skills of “that” teacher, sets students up for success in all content areas.
Collaboration to Promote Implementation
When schools discuss program needs or new initiatives, teachers often shy away from subjects they don’t primarily teach or content they find unfamiliar. In effort to facilitate reading and language arts teachers’ use of informational text, the science teacher has a unique opportunity to articulate how the two are interrelated. Likewise, the reading and language arts teachers benefit tremendously from supporting science teachers in practicing more writing skills through practices such such as CER (Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning) and Science Notebooks.
Tips to Becoming or Developing “That” Teacher
• Encourage cross-content plannings; share how informational texts are aligned to reading and writing instruction. Look for overlap -- “Oh, you’re working on procedural writing? What about writing the steps of our glacier investigation? We have an outline already in our notebooks.”
• Foster “Teacher Leaders” willing to “take the plunge” and report back to the other teachers so that refinement and collaboration occurs.
• Find creative ways to build the background knowledge of all teachers. Maybe it’s a 2 minute YouTube clip from Bill Nye, an inspirational TED Talk, a Science meme - anything that gets the conversation started.
• Grow teacher’s Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) wider than the building; try Twitter chats! We recommend the #TXeduchat (follow @TXeduchat) Sunday nights from 8-9pm; great info and different perspectives from all content areas.
• Share student work samples at Professional Learning Communities, and critically examine all content data. Actively collaborate; “How can I support your content?”
• Encourage each other; co-teach and support this “new” way of learning -- even administrators!
Above all, the vision at your campus must include the mantra that, “We’re all still learning,” and “Learning is everyone’s responsibility.” If that’s not your vision, create a new one. Remember, we are all “That” teacher.
Cheantel Adams, Ph.D is an Assistant Principal and Sarah Milianta-Laffin (@MiliLaff) is a teacher and Science/Technology Instructional Coach at Deborah Brown Alexander Elementary (@ALX_Adventurers) in Alief ISD (Houston, TX).