LogoScience IDEAS Project: 2002-2009

An Instructional Rationale for Linking
Content Area Learning and Literacy

Vitale and Romance (2007) outlined a logical basis for linking cumulative content-area learning and literacy through a rationale that considers reading comprehension as a subset of comprehension in general. By doing so, the learning dynamics (e.g., prior knowledge, instructional coherence) for developing meaningful comprehension and reading comprehension can be considered as parallel. More specifically, cumulative meaningful learning provides a strong foundation for both reading comprehension and student writing. This foundation is central to the implementation of the Science IDEAS model.

In considering research on the effectiveness of the Science IDEAS model across grades 1-8, Romance and Vitale (1992, 2001, 2008) and Vitale and Romance (2006, 2009, 2010) have demonstrated consistently that cumulative, in-depth science instruction results in substantial acceleration of student reading comprehension proficiency (vs. similar students receiving basal reading instruction). In such studies, it is important to recognize that the performance of Science IDEAS students on nationally-normed reading comprehension tests is, in itself, a significant transfer effect (i.e., students have no prior exposure to test content). As a result, these studies demonstrate the instructional power of integrating reading and writing within cumulative, in-depth science instruction represents a significant difference from the learning contexts represented by traditional basal reading selections (see Walsh, 2003).

Some ongoing research initiatives relevant to the present literature and to the Science IDEAS model are important to mention. For example, Cervetti and Pearson (2006) have reported the results of studies addressing the role of reading in the service of learning science through their “Roots and Seeds” curriculum. Within their model, students first participate in hands-on hands-on experiments to illustrate science concepts which are then followed by science reading assignments. Duke and her colleagues (Duke, 2000b, 2007; Duke et al., 2002) conducted a series of studies using informational texts in primary grades. These studies addressed an important instructional deficiency identified in earlier work in which Duke (2000a) reported a scarcity in the use of informational texts at the primary levels. In related work, Duke and Pearson (2002) reported the results of studies addressing use of informational text to build reading comprehension (see also Maniates & Pearson, 2008; Pearson & Fielding, 1995).

In research closely related to the Science IDEAS model, Guthrie and his colleagues (Guthrie & Oztgungor, 2002; Guthrie, Wigfield, Barbosa, & Others, 2004; Guthrie, Wigfield, & Perencevich, 2004) have conducted series of studies showing consistent improvement in student reading comprehension and motivation-to-learn resulting from embedding science-focused instructional modules into traditional reading programs using their CORI model. In a broader instructional intervention working with ELL students across grades K-6 for whom science instruction replaced traditional reading/language arts, Klentschy (2003) showed that grade 6 students who participated in the initiative for 4 or more years averaged a percentile rank of 64 on a state-administered nationally-normed reading test. Complementary essays by Hirsch (1996, 2006) addressed the cumulative learning of academic content as a major systemic deficiency in U.S. elementary schools.