Big Ideas in Literacy
Equity in the Science Learning Environment
The workforce in the scientific disciplines, like many other professional fields, does not adequately reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of the broader society. Especially at the highest management levels, women of all cultural backgrounds are underrepresented in science. Such circumstances means missed opportunities for diverse perspectives and creative thinking and a dearth of diverse professional role models for students of varying backgrounds.
It is challenging to delineate specific strategies that are effective for particular populations; however, an instructor can clearly strive to incorporate culturally responsive teaching and to create a learning atmosphere that is open and inviting to students of many different backgrounds. Fortunately, many inquiry- and student-centered learning practices are beneficial to students of many stripes; examples include finding ways to make scientific problem solving local (researching local environmental issues), personalizing instruction (students pursue topics or projects they find relevant), and providing individualized coaching and learning goals. A key aspect of advanced training in science is mentoring, where more experienced researchers team up with students and younger professionals and, primarily through informal discussion, help them to think about questions and experiments and coach them in writing and giving presentations. The teacher as coach and mentor can be very encouraging in a classroom, as can peer mentoring.
Explore: Try to identify local professionals with diverse backgrounds who can visit your class, be an interview subject, or advise on projects.
One of the goals of disciplinary literacy is for students to learn the forms and norms of science communication. This means that whatever their background, they need help in acquiring the requisite vocabulary and understanding and then formulating for themselves complex textual structures. But teachers have to help students find their way to the door, otherwise they never have a chance to step in and contribute.
Students bring a variety of understandings about the world that can be used either as a bridge into science concepts or as the subject of scientific study in its own right. Asking questions, listening to students, and believing that what they are interested in has academic value help establish a pathway into science discourse. These practices also help establish positive relationships among the teacher and students, another important way to begin creating equity and engagement in reading and writing in science.
Reflect: You may have visually impaired students in your school or classroom. Consider asking your students to think about how challenging it would be for a visually impaired student to interpret the data in a graph. Ask them to think about accommodations and technology that could be helpful. In part, such inquiry may help students understand how important graphical literacy is to science.