As more teachers are using both the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, they will increasingly be confronted with a challenge: The standards in literacy and science—and the research literature in the two fields—disagree about when and how students learn to form arguments.
In a new article for Educational Researcher, Okhee Lee, a professor of education at New York University, suggests that standards writers and researchers need to consider the confusing and mostly unexamined situation teachers are in and figure out how to change it.
“The standards writers meant to help by making connections between science, ELA, and math, but the bodies of literature aren’t saying the same thing” about how students learn to form arguments, she said in an interview. “The foundational work hasn’t been done … Teachers, especially in K-5, must be very confused.”
Lee was clued into the discrepancy as she watched an experienced 2nd grade teacher demonstrate a lesson to a group of expert observers.
After a well-thought-out lesson on states of matter, the teacher’s sample writing assignment began with the following prompt: “Write your opinion on … .”
In Lee’s experience in teaching science, it seemed clear that a scientific writing assignment shouldn’t involve opinion, even in early elementary school. Opinions, she said, don’t require any evidence, and in a science class, students should be making arguments and backing them up with evidence. That’s the language used in the Next Generation Science Standards, which were in use in this teacher’s state.
But it turns out that the teacher’s writing assignment was perfectly in tune with the common core, which guides teachers to instruct their students in writing about opinions—but not arguments—in elementary school. In the common core’s standards for English/language arts, students aren’t asked to form arguments until middle school.
Lee writes that the two disciplines generally agree on the structure of argument. But, she writes, that “scholars across disciplines have yet to arrive at a common understanding of how ELA/literacy and science functionally interrelate with respect to argument.”
The NGSS specifically says that the standards should be interpreted so that they don’t misalign with or outpace the core. That leads to situations like the one Lee observed, where an elementary teacher asked students to write opinions, rather than arguments, about content in science class
Lee suggests that there may be a need for a forum or other research effort on the topic aimed at uncovering and resolving convergences and divergences in how educators think about argument, and for further research on how evidence-based argument can be promoted in elementary literacy and science classes. Her hope is that the standards can be seen as a “living document,” able to be updated when evidence from the field suggests that it’s necessary.
Click here to read the full story in Education Week (April 25 , 2017)