Crosscutting Concepts in Science Support Literacy and Writing

Crosscutting Concepts in Science Support Literacy and Writing

Diana Loyd O'Neal (Sulphur Springs School, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6364-8.ch016


The purpose of the chapter is to guide teachers in development of authentic and engaging lessons through multidisciplinary integration. As cross-curricular lessons are implemented, collaborative support between science, math, ELA, social studies, and related arts classes builds excitement for teachers and students. Students are challenged to take ownership of learning using higher-level thinking skills, creativity in design, and practicing 21st century skills such as collaboration, research, problem solving, and innovation. The chapter provides examples of integrative ideas and suggestions on how to begin developing multidisciplinary lessons. Although the primary focus relates to the crosscutting concepts in science with ELA expectations, the resources provided also include integrations for other content areas as well. The goal of the chapter is to provide models for the development of inquiry-based, authentic, and engaging opportunities for students to develop higher conceptual understanding and offer methods for applying their learning to real-world concepts.
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Science teachers are considered educators that spend time researching the natural world and determining patterns or rules that enable them to develop explanations of how and why things perform and function as they do. They make predictions and experiment to prove or disprove their ideas. According to an interview with P. David Pearson, “Science provides an authentic and engaging context for literacy learning” (Shapiro, 2006). Learning through multiple integrated subjects produces deeper conceptual understanding, better development of skills, and higher achievement (Moore et al., 2016). The purpose of this chapter is to connect the crosscutting concepts included in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS, 2013) to specific literacy and writing expectations in the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (CCSS, 2010) for grades 6–8. Students benefit from the cross-curricular exposure to science concepts in the ELA classroom, and the integration of literacy and writing in the science classroom. Using integrated strategies and methods helps students develop a usable understanding of concepts by combining multiple disciplines.

Collaboration between the science and literacy classes in developing integrated lessons provides a tremendous support system for teachers and students when the practices are intentional and well planned. Do science teachers consider themselves fully prepared to teach literacy skills and writing in the science classroom, at the level of trained literacy and writing teachers? The same question can be reversed. Do ELA teachers feel they sufficiently comprehend the depth of science concepts to explain and elaborate on science core content? Neither set of teachers should be expected to be experts outside their field but must view their cohorts as integral pieces of the big puzzle, each bringing its own expertise to create authentic challenges based on real-world applications.

Students’ engagement increases when they are active participants following strategies for literacy and writing adopted and shared by ELA teachers to read about it, talk about it, reflect about it, and write about it. The expectations for students in the ELA classroom include reading high-quality texts from fiction and nonfiction sources, interpreting and analyzing texts, daily writing about their learning, researching to find out what others say about their learning, speaking to share with others what they have learned, and listening to others so students can expand their own repertoire of understanding or counter the ideas that others put forth. Reading and writing are viewed as reciprocal skills to be integrated into all content areas. When students are experiencing integration of curriculum, they refine their capabilities to leverage critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, information, and media literacy. The also grow their leadership talents as they take ownership of their own learning (Johnson et al., 2016). These reciprocal processes in school develop the 21st century skills that students need because they are essential for working in a technical society (National Society of Professional Engineers [NSPE], 2017).

Although there are numerous lesson plans and units that incorporate reading and writing skills into science lessons, fully integrated science and ELA lesson plans or units appear to be limited. Science has frequently combined with math over several years as the education system has promoted STEM instruction. With new high-level ELA expectations and the focus on nonfiction reading and writing in all curricular areas, developing multidisciplinary units and using learning units that are based on problems, projects, or phenomena will change the face of integration. Students who have long asked when they will use the skills and concepts they are expected to master in the classroom can participate in experiences that provide justification that the skills are important and necessary in their present lives and in the future job market.

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