In the field of science, literacy takes on many meanings. More than that, to truly be a part of the scientific community, one must be able to interpret many different forms of conveying meaning and information. While this can be broken down into many categories, two that I have come across in my reading so far involve the use of visualizations and academic language.
As discussed by Ainsworth, et. al. in Drawing to Learn Science, visualizations are integral to science. This includes not just being able to interpret visual representations of data, but being able to create representations as well. Scientists have numerous ways of communicating findings through different graphs, tables, pictures, and endless other visual representations. Students must learn to be able to identify and interpret these representations in the manner accepted by the scientific community as a whole. In this paper, they discuss using drawing as a means to teach students about science. To begin with, it is an effective strategy, as surveys have found students to be more motivated to learn when using drawing to explore, coordinate and justify their understanding. But more than that, the authors list five ways of using drawing that are especially helpful to gaining scientific literacy. Students must learn to draw to represent data/questions, etc. Another helpful tool is drawing to reason: research shows how students reason as they create and refine models under teacher guidance. Drawing can also be used as learning strategy. The article notes how much of science is visual/spatial, and drawing fits that perfectly. Developed scientific literates can also communicate their data and findings, and this is often done through visual means, which students can practice through drawing. Lastly, drawing can be used as a way to enhance engagement, and increase student’s desire to participate in the scientific community.
As mentioned, a second form of literacy in science involves the use of academic and scientific language. The language of academics used by experts in the field can be hard for students to comprehend. It is impersonal, data and research driven, concise and dense, as well as precise in the selection of terminology. On top of that is the scientific terminology that students will be unfamiliar with. These are two of the types of language expected in school that are listed by Snow in Academic Language and the Challenge of Reading for Learning about Science. This academic and scientific language is a barrier to reading comprehension. The article notes that reading accuracy and fluency does not equal comprehension. In science, many terms have multiple meaning in English, but a specific one in the discipline. Exposure to and practice using these terms in the classroom is imperative to the development of this form of scientific literacy.
In the article Literacy and Science: Each in Service of the Other, by Pearson, et. al., they begin to list ways in which learning to communicate in the language of scientists and academics can help in the learning of science content, and vice-versa. Reading of text can actually supplant the implementation of inquiry-based practices in the classroom, by default removing the experiences from the scientific community, which is experimentally driven. Instead, reading can be used as a form of inquiry itself, by using reading and writing as tools for investigation. For example, students (or scientists in the field) can produce texts to represent their understanding of a certain topic, such scientific journaling or public reporting. Both of those aspects of science communication use terminology and phrasing that is somewhat unfamiliar to students, but are common place in science literacy. This helps students learn to write and think like scientists. But this article also goes on to mention another aspect of scientific literacy – that of being able to use literacy tools to learn and reason. To be proficient in scientific literacy, it means to be able to make sense of date, draw inferences, construct evidence-based arguments, infer word meanings and construct meaning from texts. These are all characteristics of good readers in general, and indicative of a scientifically literate individual. We want students to leave the science classroom familiar with the natural world, and with key science concepts, principles and ways of thinking.