One cannot underestimate the importance of helping learners pursue meaning by becoming active, independent problem solvers. Educators must implement and model for students the learning processes as they are applied to the science curriculum, as well as reading strategies that develop metacognition. Both are fundamental to comprehension.
Science and Process Skills
"An essential goal of science education is to encourage students to develop into independent learnersable to acquire information from many sources, to weigh alternatives, and to reach defensible conclusions" (Watson, 1983). Science educators have identified a core set of process skills those students taking science courses are expected to acquire (Carin and Sand, 1985; Esler and Esler, 1985, Peterson et al., 1984). These skills include observing, classifying, comparing, measuring, describing, organizing information, predicting, inferring, formulating hypotheses, interpreting data, communicating, experimenting, and drawing conclusions.
Some of these skills, tactics and strategies that scientists use in their pursuit of understanding are summarized by Dr. Karen Ostlund in the Electronic Journal of Science Education (June 1998):
Reading Strategies and Metacognition
Metacognition is awareness and control over one's cognitive processes or the ability to think about one's own thinking. Many researchers have advocated the importance metacognition plays in effective comprehension and retention of text (Baker, 1985; Brown, Armbruster, and Baker, 1986; Billmeyer and Barton, 1998). Understanding metacognition can help science educators provide better ways for their students to learn from text materials. In addition, integrating metacognitive strategies into the classroom can help foster independence in learning through lectures, discussion, laboratory work, and hands-on activities.
Metacognition allows the self-regulation of thinking through the use of strategies: planning steps for action, checking outcomes of efforts, evaluating the effectiveness of the actions and remediating any difficulties, and testing and revising learning techniques. Baker (1991) states that one of the most important self-regulatory skills for reading is monitoring comprehension, which involves deciding whether we have understood (evaluation) and taking appropriate steps to correct whatever comprehension problems are noted (regulation).
When learners appraise their understanding effectivelyusing relevant criteria or standards of evaluationthey should be aware of comprehension problems. Proficient readers apply the following standards of evaluation simultaneously throughout the reading of a text (Baker, 1985):
In other words, metacognition provides learners methods for gauging the success of their efforts to learn and comprehend through the use of specific strategies. Such strategies include identifying important information, relating new information to prior knowledge, generating questions, making predictions, and producing summaries.
The primary purpose of providing instruction in reading strategies that develop metacognition is to enable students to take responsibility for their own learning and comprehension activities. Psychologists believe the best way to achieve this goal is by gradually transferring responsibility for regulation from more knowledgeable persons (educators) to the learners (Vygotsky, 1978).
Learners need to know how to use a particular strategy, why that strategy is useful and when it should be used. Educators must be explicit about the purposes of the strategies they would like their students to use. The ability to self-reflect on cognitive processes is a crucial first step to becoming a strategic learner. Educators can foster this skill by modeling their own thinking and problem solving approaches as they attempt a particular activity.