In today’s quickly evolving educational system, content area teachers are faced with the challenge of the statement “All teachers are teachers of reading.” When interpreting this statement, content teachers interpret the meaning to be, “All teachers are reading teachers.” This doesn’t have to be the case. As science teachers, we have an opportunity to teach not just content literacy, which is simply defined as teaching reading strategies to slog through the next chapter of the textbook, but to teach disciplinary literacy, which pertains to becoming a strong whole reader of a range of science texts. It does, then, become our responsibility to teach our students how to navigate the disciplinary texts that they come face to face with in the course of their science education. This disciplinary literacy in its most rudimentary form translates in to using text structures, figures, tables, and graphs to our advantage while reading a complex text.
However, there is another avenue to pursue that can also get students linked more viscerally to the world of Meteorology and Oceanography, and that is through the use of trade books and current events. Trade books are typically non-fiction books that are intended for general readership. They are usually interest-related books designed for a specific and narrow audience. Current events are high interest articles that are published for general readership in journals and from other news sources. By using these non-fiction sources for instruction, students can find their own entry points in to their learning and explore more directed scientific concepts.
This year, we are using the trade book Warnings, a non-fiction book written by Mike Smith. The text is of high-interest and is easily accessible to all kinds of readers. The goals of using this as a trade book for students are mutually beneficial to both the teacher and the student. The teacher has the opportunity to teach both content and disciplinary literacy to students, and, in return, students can link in the critical importance of weather and weather prediction in society. Both teacher and student have the added benefits of becoming consumers of science text, increasing interest, and finding entry points to high interest topics. Through use of this book as opposed to a traditional text book, students are exposed to the humanity of weather prediction, the history and development of the science of meteorology, and are exposed in small chunks to new meteorological concepts. Through case studies, the author demonstrates the humanity of devastating weather events, exposes bureaucracy and limiting “red tape” scenarios that meteorologists fought for years to be removed, and scientifically reviews scientific topics in layperson’s terms that are understandable to student populations. Further, the book exposes what work in atmospheric sciences is like and smashes the misconception that career scientists spend their workdays in white rooms wearing lab coats mixing chemicals to achieve a known result.
We are also using current events posted through AMS News You Can Use as a secondary source to explore topics of high interest. For many teachers, using trade books can be a time or cost-prohibitive method of instruction. AMS News You Can Use is a resource that eliminates both of those constraints. Using current events can achieve the same end in creating interest and developing consumers of science. It also has the added benefit of giving students a wide selection of high interest topics at different reading difficulties. This allows students to skim an article to determine if it’s a) accessible, and b) interesting enough to pursue. This models the adult world of reading selection.
Both uses of trade books and current events have their benefits and drawbacks. Use of the trade book allows for an in-depth discussion of a few topics or issues, but does not allow for a wide range of personal choice in reading and can be time consuming if not carefully edited by the instructor. Trade book use also has the advantage of giving students time to explore one topic or series of connected topics in a deep and meaningful way. Current events take a more cursory glance at weather-related topics, but allow for a wide range of interest-based selection and parallels closely with the way that students will soon consume scientific topics as adult readers. Current events also have the added advantage of being easier to work in to a tightly-packed curriculum. Both methods achieve the goal as educators we work tirelessly toward – replenishing our scientific community with new members to the workforce, or, alternately, growing smart consumers of good scientific literature to create actively informed members of society.