Designing and Responding to Adolescent Literacy Needs in Science

Students learn in a multitude of ways, if you are to believe the urban legend of verbal and visual learners being different. The reality is that all students have the capacity to learn the same way, just may prefer a way they are most comfortable with. As a teacher, our job is to motivate the students through transparency, generate inquiry with purposeful instruction, and reinforce our students with tasks that fit their needs. These three ideas are what will help reinforce the foundation for literacy needs in science, and are utilized in the gradual release of responsibility framework. This is described as Fisher, Frey, and Lapp (2010) as the “we do it together aspect of teaching and learning (p. 57).

Motivation is key to teaching students. Frey and Fisher (2010) state that “motivation is a linchpin to learning” and that it is the lowest in the seventh grade (p. 30). Lessons should begin with a guided portion, to make sure the students have a model to follow and a time to ask questions so the outcome is desirable. Fisher, Frey, and Lapp (2010) state the time to ask questions is when “errors or misconceptions arise” and gives the teacher an opportunity to “prompt the learner” (p. 57). Frey and Fisher (2010) argue that motivation is easier to achieve if you use group work, since it is favored by students. Certain elements must be present and use the acronym “TARRGET: task, autonomy, recognition, resources, grouping, evaluation, and time” (p. 30). Using TARRGET, students within groups will get the most benefit from the time they are allotted.

Tomlinson and Strickland use inquiry to get their students involved in the thought process and interest in learn. “The early lessons involve hands-on activities, movement, mathematics, reading, and possibly drawing” (Tomlinson & Strickland, 2005, p. 319). This provides scaffolding to help decide what the next part of the lesson should be based on the students’ abilities and interests. They create a foundation in order to meet state and federal standards for education, including lesson plans that are full of different options for students who may finish early, have a large interest in the material, and for those who may not be as quick to respond as others. They even include a lesson on how the students could apply what they’re learning to the community. Grant, Lapp, Fisher, Johnson, and Frey (2012) speak about how there is a call for reform in science education, by using inquiry-based instruction. This method of inquiry is “intended to enable students to understand how to solve problems by sharing dilemmas that invite weighing evidence, drawing on background knowledge, and considering possible explanations for data (p. 45).” Anderson (2002) defines science inquiry as “the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work.” Inquiry allows students to be active in their learning, and increases their desire of responsibility. The gradual release of responsibility uses “four components: purpose and modeling, guided instruction, productive group work, and independent tasks” to promote purposeful instruction (Grant, Lapp, Fisher, Johnson, & Frey, 2012, p. 46). Homework is an important independent task, which should be used to further understanding of students in course work.

Fisher and Frey (2008) use homework for “fluency building, application, spiral review, and extension” (p. 42–44). These methods promote literacy in subjects by giving students the opportunity to complete more difficult concepts at home. Fluency is promoted through reading and reading responses, giving students several assignments a week to work independently using approaches taught in the classroom. Application is using the knowledge gained through instruction and apply it to their assignments. For a teacher, this step creates a structure that allows monitoring of progress. Spiral Review gives questions from previous chapters, to ensure students aren’t forgetting material that may be on cumulative final examinations. Extension allows students to transfer their knowledge across different disciplines and applications. Following these methods, allows for students to create a structure that allows them to create responsibility for what they are doing at home. Textbooks are mentioned in research, but more of their shortcomings than ability to help students.

Koppal and Caldwell (2016) researched a variety of textbooks to check to see if they are “well-aligned with the content recommended in both Benchmarks and NSES and are designed to provide support for the instructional strategies that research has shown to be most effective” (p. 28). They go on to state most textbooks will bring information to the table, but present isolated fragmented information at best. A scaffold that could be helpful for a teacher’s lessons, but perhaps not in the hands of a student with a lack of interest and motivation.

The gradual release of responsibility, is a method to have students become intrinsically motivated with their school work. Providing scaffolding in classes by modeling and providing time for them to ask questions builds their confidence. Creating a method for generating inquiry in the sciences opens doors for activities in class or research outside of class that students may create for community outreach. Traditionally the final step of reinforcement was homework or reading textbooks at home, which may not always fit the needs of the students. Textbooks and homework can be useful when presented in the right way. When evidence based research is used in designing a lesson, it creates an open classroom where response and dialogue becomes natural rather than forced. This creates avenues for all students to learn literacy in subjects.


Anderson, R. (2002). Reforming science teaching: What research says about inquiry. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 13, 1–12. <>

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2008). Homework and the gradual release of responsibility: Making “responsibility” possible. English Journal, 98.2, 40–45. <>

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D. (2010). Responding when students don’t get it. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54.1, 57–60.

Frey, N., & Fisher, D. (2010). Motivation Requires a Meaningful Task. English Journal, 100.1, 30–36.

Grant, M., Lapp, D., Fisher, D., Johnson, K., & Frey, N. (2012). Purposeful Instruction: Mixing up the “I”, “we”, and “you”. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56 (1), 45–55.

Koppal, M., & Caldwell, A. (2004). Meeting the challenge of science literacy: Project 2061 efforts to improve science educations. Cell Biology Education, 3, 028–030. <>

Tomlinson, C. A. & Strickland C. (2005) Differentiation in Practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum development. 319–348. <>