In honor of Kentucky Literacy Celebration Week, STEAM Academy hosted Kentucky’s First Lady, Jane Beshear, to share our innovative approach to increasing student literacy. Kerry Hancock, English teacher at STEAM, has implemented a series of steps to shed light on the gaps in student reading abilities and ways to address these findings. Ms. Hancock’s strategies currently include:
- Reading Groups – much like “grown-up” book clubs
- Piloting of Quill, Newsela, and ThinkCerca
- Individual practice reading aloud
- And our school wide Learning Management System (LMS), Canvas
It has been a privilege teaching with Ms. Hancock, as she is exceedingly willing to share her literacy insights in order to implement a common language regarding literacy across the disciplines.
I recognize that students who struggle with reading are typically uncomfortable with science; but working with Ms. Hancock at STEAM has led me to realize science’s secondary role among core classes. Now, don’t get me wrong here, science is still my favorite and I do not claim to bump it out of core class status. What I do mean is that in order to understand science fully, students must already be proficient in reading, writing, as well as math.
Due to the lottery selection for enrollment at STEAM, we have a wonderful degree of diversity in academic and social backgrounds. While I applaud the diversity and truly believe STEAM is more innovative for selecting this way, it has posed significant complications in meeting the needs of each student. We aspire to accelerate learning as our model school, the Metro School in Columbus, OH, does. However, this means discussing covering entire high school credit courses in one semester while also integrating the Arts and Design Thinking.
Our dream is admirable, but truly raises the question, “How do we meet students where they are, while accelerating them to reach college level courses by their Junior and Senior years?”
In science, for example, students need to be able to analyze informational texts and draw inferences. They also need to be able to work with mathematical equations and graphs of experimental data. When these skills are only rudimentarily developed, the task of teaching students science becomes more of a question of teaching them English and Math literacy with science as the topic.
When this realization finally “clicked”, my perspective on science teaching and how we prepare future science teachers has significantly shifted. Science teachers need to not only be masters of science content and typical educational pedagogy, but also proficient in teaching both English and Math literacy. Then we can change how we teach science across the board and reinforce the work being done in English and Math courses. The common language that Ms. Hancock speaks of can be a reality and the “ah-ha” moments among students can take off.
I have already begun to see the benefits of this approach in my current classes and will strive to find better ways of changing the curricular focus of science to put literacy first.
Put literacy first, and the rest will follow.