Children learning to read.

Can first graders read to learn as they learn to read? That was the intriguing question that drove Lawrence Hall of Science K–1 Curriculum Director Alison Billman to join forces with P. David Pearson and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education in search of an answer. In 2013 the Hall was awarded a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to develop a model for the integration of literacy and science for English language learners in first grade. The curriculum promotes language, literacy, and vocabulary development, as well as science knowledge, through opportunities to read about, talk about, and do science.

The grant, which officially concludes in December 2017, builds on the Hall’s Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading 2nd–5th grade curriculum. Studies of the 2nd–5th grade program have shown it to improve science learning and reading comprehension, especially for English language learners (ELL). The success of that research led the Hall to disseminate the program through our Amplify Science effort. K–1 Curriculum Director Billman (PI), along with co-PI Pearson and a team of curriculum developers and research assistants, wanted to see how the same principles could work for first grade students.

“Opportunities to learn science in first grade are important for children’s science knowledge development,” says Dr. Billman. “Unfortunately, the emphasis on learning to read and to write has often left very little room in the classroom day for science instruction.”

Hall researchers worked in two local first grade classrooms with at least 60% ELL students to develop and test a model of science knowledge and literacy integration. Using what they learned in these classrooms, Alison and her team developed two curricular units to be piloted and tested on a larger scale. Four classrooms with similar demographics and percentage of ELLs were selected for this pilot phase.

“Teachers provided critical feedback while we were in classrooms to help us make sure our model was appropriate for first grade learners and usable by first grade teachers,” Dr. Billman noted.

Using a large number of measures of student learning in science, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and English language, Dr. Billman and her team evaluated the efficacy of the model they developed. So what did they discover? Just as with Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading, researchers found that the First Grade, Second Language program improved first graders’ achievement in both reading vocabulary and science knowledge.

The Hall’s research into the efficacy of education and teaching methods informs everything we do. We hope to continue to build on this important work, and we believe that these findings can be implemented on a broader scale.

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