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Inexperienced Oakland Readers Dig into Chemistry

Intro to Chemistry (2:49)

Will Brown’s Oakland high school students are profoundly inexperienced readers. But their teacher invites them to learn about acids and bases by asking questions, making connections, and noticing where the reading gets sticky. Then they problem solve.

Nearly half the students in the video from Dr. Willard Brown’s Introduction to Chemistry class scored below the 10th percentile on standardized reading tests. Yet these very inexperienced readers are learning to value the questions a text raises for them, including questions that arise when they recognize that they do not understand what they are reading. While the Introduction to Chemistry class at Skyline High is the school’s least demanding science class that counts towards college admission, it is a chemistry class all the same. Students must read and understand challenging academic texts. Learning to actively process their reading experiences is an important first step.

In this video, filmed in early January, students are beginning a two-month unit on acids and bases. The unit was organized around an Acid and Base Exploration lab, in which students discovered the properties of acids and bases by determining the pH of household chemicals.

Will embeds Reading Apprenticeship strategies as he teaches this unit, engaging students in reading a variety of discipline-based texts in class, including a supplementary text on acids and bases, lab procedures, numerical equations, and data tables.

While reading, students monitor their comprehension and used three cognitive strategies—clarifying, questioning, and summarizing. Will engages students in ongoing small group and whole class conversations about their reading and thinking processes, and models his own strategies for making sense of science materials.

Through this cycle of reading and talk, Will’s students practice discipline-based reading and thinking skills. They gain stamina for challenging reading as well as knowledge of the chemistry content.

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