Using a Discussion Strategy for Enhancing Reading Comprehension in the Science Classroom

Submitted by: Léonard P. Rivard
Abstract: Keywords: reading comprehension, science texts, discussion


To fully participate in today’s society, citizens must possess skills for making sense of everyday texts (Alvermann & Wilson, 2011). Yet, many students have not acquired these by the time they complete their secondary studies. Teachers have an important role to play in preparing students to read authentic science texts, which are ubiquitous in print and digital media (Patterson, Roman, Friend, Osborne, & Donovan (2018). Teachers devote very little classroom time to reading texts, and still less in supporting struggling readers’ attempts to comprehend these. Moreover, teachers appear to have difficulty orchestrating instruction in which diverse strategies are effectively combined while also balancing individual, small-group, and whole-class activities. A three-level reading guide is one approach that teachers can use in the classroom to scaffold students’ reading of science texts while using different participatory structures to good effect. Furthermore, studies suggest that a text-processing approach, one which focuses on content while students build meaning through collaboration with peers and whole-class discussion with the teacher, may be more effective for enhancing comprehension skills than traditional approaches involving strategy instruction (McKeown, Beck, & Blake, 2009). We investigated the use of reading guides in three different schools: one English-language school in a rural setting; and two Francophone schools, one in an urban setting and the other rural. The analysis of data is based on three classroom discussions which were guided by each science teacher, respectively, and seven small peer-group discussions which preceded the whole-class discussion. The presentation will be framed by the following questions: (1) What kinds of reasoning operations underlying effective reading are enacted during both peer-group and whole-class discussions of texts in the middle-school science classroom? (2) How does teacher questioning during discussions relate to students’ talk about the text (Boyd, 2015)? (3) How do students make meaning from texts while talking in peer groups?

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Boyd, M. P. (2015). Relations between teacher questioning and student talk in one elementary ELL classroom. Journal of Literacy Research, 47(3), 370–404.
McKeown, M. G., Beck, I. L., & Blake, R. G. K. (2009). Rethinking reading comprehension instruction: A comparison of instruction for strategies and content approaches. Reading Research Quarterly, 44(3), 218–253.
Patterson, A., Roman, D., Friend, M., Osborne, J., & Donovan, B. (2018). Reading for meaning: The foundational knowledge every teacher of science should have. International Journal of Science Education, 40(3), 291–307.