The teaching and learning of science can be challenging for both educators and students. Students may struggle to understand complex passages in science textbooks or articles, while teachers are always searching for ways to increase students’ reading comprehension skills. New research from the University of Maryland, College Park, suggests that teachers can show students the best way to take notes as they read challenging science material.
William (Bill) Holliday, a University of Maryland education professor, has been teaching and writing about science-reading comprehension for 38 years. Holliday returned to the classroom as a teacher’s aide in February 2006 to conduct research on how science teachers could help their students develop good science-reading and notetaking strategies.
Students tend to have difficulty reading science textbooks and science news articles. “Nobody is teaching students how to read” complex text in the science classroom, said Holliday. If students cannot comprehend such material, “they are going to be at a huge disadvantage.”
To conduct his research, Holliday made 33 visits to middle and high school science classes taught by four teachers enrolled in his graduate-level science education class at the University of Maryland. For each class, he separated the students into two groups. Half of the students were instructed to read and take notes on a short passage, while the other half were asked to read the passage twice. For the students who took notes, the objective was to use drawings, symbols, and key words to help them better understand what they read as a way to prepare for a quiz or test.
Holliday believes it’s important for students to personalize their notes. “They cannot be teacher produced or teacher prompted or written like fill-in-the-blank study aids, such as worksheets and partially completed outlines…[Students] need an independent reading strategy that they can personally adapt or transfer to a new science learning situation that requires rigorous studying,” he explained.
Holliday’s strategy for taking science notes emphasizes that teachers
• Explicitly explain and illustrate how to write science notes,
• Provide support as students take on more responsibility for their notes,
• Praise students when they succeed, and
• Strive to help students become self-reliant and competent with the material they are learning.
Before Holliday began his study, he noted that students were expected to do only a minimal amount of proper science reading and notetaking. Teachers need support to help students improve their reading and notetaking skills, he said, adding that “if there is no support from the schools, it’s not going to happen.”