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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Teaching science and social studies improves reading (and math)

After a long battle to persuade educators they need to teach phonics, systematically and explicitly, the science of reading has moved on to focus on teaching the vocabulary and background knowledge students need to understand what they decode.

Learning about how paleontologists study dinosaur fossils can help students understand how archaeologists study the ruins of the city of Pompeii.

Studying science and social studies improved reading comprehension for low-income, urban students in North Carolina, writes Hechinger's Jill Barshay, citing an important new study of the Model of Reading Engagement (MORE).

Harvard's James Kim and colleagues developed knowledge-building lessons in science and social studies for first, second and third graders. They were used in 15 schools, in addition to the standard reading lessons, while another 15 schools served as the control. All 30 schools used a science-of-reading curriculum, Expeditionary Learning, which teaches phonics. 

School closures disrupted the experiment, but the "1,000 who received the special science and social studies lessons in first and second grades outperformed the 1,000 students who got only the abbreviated online science in third grade, writes Barshay. Reading and math scores were higher in third grade -- and in fourth grade, "more than a year after the knowledge-building experiment ended." 

Kim thinks that a knowledge-building curriculum should teach students how the same patterns -- he calls them "schemas" -- crop up in different ways, Barshay explains.

Students learned about animal survival in first grade and dinosaur extinction in second grade. In third grade, that evolved into a more general understanding of how living systems function. By the end of third grade, many students were able to see how the idea of functioning systems can apply to inanimate objects, such as skyscrapers. 

Students' math scores improved as much as their reading scores, researchers found.

"Teachers can steadily and systematically build word connections over time to help students transfer explicitly taught knowledge to new topics," writes Ethan Scherer, director of the READS Lab at Harvard, on the Knowledge Matters Campaign site.

MORE lessons build "vocabulary networks" connected by key ideas, writes Scherer. "For example, if students know and thoroughly understand the word 'system,' they can better understand a variety of concepts, such as the skeletal system, ecosystems, and market systems."

Schemas "help students to spot connections between seemingly unrelated topics," he writes.

For example, when MORE students developed a schema about paleontologists studying dinosaur fossils, they were better able to read about topics that were seemingly different, such as archeologists studying the ancient city of Pompeii. By studying one type of scientist, students acquire a robust set of words and concepts that can be applied to similar topics. 

The MORE curriculum spirals, Scherer writes, so students master simple concepts which are "revisited with increasing complexity in later units."

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3 תגובות

חבר/ה לא ידוע/ה
19 באפר׳

By the end of third grade, many students were able to see how the idea of functioning systems can apply to inanimate objects, such as skyscrapers.  drift boss


Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
13 במרץ

The MORE researchers appear to be catching up to the International Primary Curriculum, which nonetheless is not regarded as primarily for promoting English reading, since such language studies should build the awareness of grammar required by the Common Core, and developed via Cambridge curricular frameworks and Oxford Education's English pupil books.


12 במרץ

Jeez, don't these "educated" educators get out much? Every music tutor knows you don't just teach theory, etudes, scales and arpeggios, you also teach musical compositions from a variety of genres. Reading, math, music; none are interesting in and of themselves, they need to be about something.

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