How science texts and hands-on explorations facilitate meaning making: Learning from Latina/o third graders

Maria Varelas, Lynne Pieper, Amy Arsenault, Christine C. Pappas and Neveen Keblawe-Shamah

In this study, we examined opportunities for reasoning and meaning making that read-alouds of children’s literature science information books and related hands-on explorations offered to young Latina/o students in an urban public school. Using a qualitative, interpretative framework, we analyzed classroom discourse and children’s writing and drawing in a 3rd grade class during five instructional days that focused on the same science topic (earthworms and their features, behaviors, habitat, etc.) and included read-aloud sessions of print and digital books on earthworms along with observations and experiments with real earthworms. We identified ways in which dialogically shared read-alouds of children’s literature science books on earthworms became tools for children’s meaning making that involved a variety of types of reasoning (causal, teleological, comparative, analogical) in the form of questions, statements, or mini-stories, and how the teacher mediated the children’s engagement in reasoning. We also identified unique opportunities that hands-on explorations offered children to extend their ideas about earthworms, sprinkle their reasoning with playfulness, imbue affect in their meaning making, exhibit sensitivity to suffering and personal connections, and consider ethical treatment of animals. The study findings highlight the synergistic relationship between informational texts and hands-on explorations and point to the significance and usefulness of incorporating both in science instruction so that we maximize the richness of children’s learning experiences by offering them multiple access points and pathways via the assets they bring to the classroom and the ones they co-construct with their teacher and peers.

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