Last month I wrote a blog post about my new favorite book for baby showers and the value of supporting science practice through children’s literature. As if recognizing my desire for more evidence to support this claim, my summer science inquiry course recently led me to read Gina Cervetti and Jacqueline Barber’s Science and Children article, “Bringing Back Books.” Its here the authors’ assert with supporting evidence that embedding trade books into our inquiry-based science curriculum has five major benefits. The incorporation of trade books will:
- Provide real-world context to science concepts
- Provide scientific models for students
- Support students’ investigations
- Interpret others’ data and conclusions and
- Deliver content in a digestible format.
Cervetti and Barber also make an important distinction between how students treat trade books as opposed to text in science classrooms. Textbooks “can cause students to refer to the authority of text even when they are capable of investigating and generating their own answers.” This is of course a no-no in inquiry-focused classrooms and why many science teachers shy away from the use of text. But Cervetti and Barber insist that trade books “can be used to deepen conceptual understanding by helping students extend, sharpen, and clarify the concepts investigated through hands-on experiences.” They present a number of texts that support this claim, including Joanne Ryder’s Where Butterflies Grow, which presents contexts to the environment and life of a butterfly to children who study their life cycles, and Leslie Dendy’s Tracks, Scats, and Signs, a field guide that provides students with exposure to the kinds of evidence one might see of local wildlife during a nature walk.
With so much childrens’ literature out on the market, the idea of reviewing and selecting titles with the most benefit to offer can be daunting. In these cases I think its important as educators to get out and tap the expertise of others around us. Our school and local town librarians will prove to be invaluable when identifying contemporary and classic trade books that connect well to our curriculum. As an added bonus, NSTA’s Science and Children has been publishing a list of outstanding trade books for several years now with connections to learning strands and activities to boot!
After reading this article one can’t help but recognize the increased importance of making connections between reading and the science practices. Analyzing and interpreting data along with assessing whether peers’ conclusions are valid requires scientists to read one another’s published works. But not every unit will line up nicely with inquiry-based learning. In such cases students will have to gather evidence from sources other than their own. This will require teachers to spend more time helping students decode non-fiction text and draw out the important information they contain. I look forward to more sharing between peers to gain a broader perspective on the use of trade and reference books in their science classrooms beyond those outlined in this article. I’ll also forever be curious to know what titles my professional learning network uses to help incorporate reading into their science classroom!