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“See, You Can Make Connections with the Things You Learned Before!” Using the GRR to Scaffold Language and Concept Learning in Science

The Gradual Release of Responsibility in Literacy Research and Practice

ISBN: 978-1-78769-448-4, eISBN: 978-1-78769-447-7

Publication date: 26 August 2019


Purpose – This chapter explores the work of one expert seventh-grade science teacher, Ann, as she used the gradual release of responsibility (GRR) to develop students’ knowledge and use of science language and conceptual knowledge. Ann’s use of scaffolds such as thoughtful definition, classroom discussion, and writing frameworks is explored, as well as her methods of incorporating language into science inquiry, and the evidence she gathered as proof of learning. Her instructional decision-making and specific instructional actions are analyzed to describe the ways she gradually guided students from heavily scaffolded learning opportunities, through guided practice with extensive modeling, and ultimately to independent and accurate use of science language and conceptual knowledge in spoken and written discourse.

Design/methodology/approach – In a researcher/teacher partnership modeled on the practice embedded educational research (PEER) framework (Snow, 2015) the author worked with Ann over four school years, collecting data that included interviews, Ann’s teaching journal, student artifacts, and vocabulary pre/post-assessments. The initial task of the partnership was review of science standards and curricular documents and analysis of disciplinary language in seventh-grade science in order to construct a classroom science vocabulary assessment that incorporated a scaffolded format to build incremental knowledge of science words. Results of 126 students’ pre/post scores on the vocabulary assessment were analyzed using quantitative methods, and interviews and the teaching journal were analyzed using qualitative techniques. Student artifacts support and triangulate the quantitative and qualitative analyses.

Findings – Analysis of students’ pre/post-scores on the vocabulary assessment supported the incremental nature of vocabulary learning and the value of a scaffolded assessment. Improvement in ability to choose a one-word definition and choose a sentence-length definition had significant and positive effect on students’ ability to write a sentence using a focus science word correctly to demonstrate science conceptual knowledge. Female students performed just as well as male students: a finding that differs from other vocabulary intervention research. Additionally, Ann’s use of scaffolded, collaborative methods during classroom discussion and writing led to improved student knowledge of science language and the concepts it labels, as evident in students’ responses during discussion and their writing in science inquiry reports and science journals.

Research limitations – These data were collected from students in one science teacher’s classroom, limiting generalization. However, the expertise of this teacher renders her judgments useful to other teachers and teacher trainers, despite the limited context of this research.

Practical implications – Science knowledge is enhanced when language and science inquiry coexist, but the language of science often presents a barrier to learning science, and there are significant student achievement gaps in science learning across race, ethnicity, and gender. Researchers have described ways to make explicit connections between science language, concepts, and knowledge, transcending the gaps and leveling the playing field for all students. Analysis of Ann’s teaching practice, drawn from four years of teacher and student data, provides specific and practical ways of doing this in a real science classroom. Scaffolding, modeling, and co-construction of learning are key.

Originality/value of paper – This chapter details the methods one expert teacher used to make her own learning the object of inquiry, simultaneously developing the insights and the strategies she needed to mentor students. It describes how Ann infused the GRR into planning and instruction to create learning experiences that insured student success, even if only at incremental levels. Ann’s methods can thus become a model for other teachers who wish to enhance their students’ learning of science language and concepts through infusion of literacy activity.



Hayden, H.E. (2019), "“See, You Can Make Connections with the Things You Learned Before!” Using the GRR to Scaffold Language and Concept Learning in Science", McVee, M.B., Ortlieb, E., Reichenberg, J.S. and Pearson, P.D. (Ed.) The Gradual Release of Responsibility in Literacy Research and Practice (Literacy Research, Practice and Evaluation, Vol. 10), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 189-204.



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