When students have had concrete experiences about science concepts, they are better able to tackle science text with success (Olson & Mokhtari, 2010).” Meaningful background knowledge, provided by concrete science inquiries, enhances a student’s text comprehension.
Effective science text comprehension requires more than reading skills and the use of various strategies. Meaningful background knowledge, provided by concrete science inquiries, enhances a student’s text comprehension. A learning cycle that incorporates a concrete, representational, and abstract approach to teaching the “Big Ideas” in science includes exploration, explanation (concept development), and application. First, students explore an idea by doing hands-on inquiries or activities, uncluttered by reading text or learning vocabulary. Next, the teacher will explain the concept, connecting it to the hands-on experiences in which the students were just engaged. To understand the concept, they need to apply the concept in new situations. This cycle moves students through a spectrum that begins with a concrete experience (real phenomena), moves to representations of those concepts (videos, drawings, diagrams), and finally to abstract text (Olson & Mokhtari, 2010). Those concrete experiences provide students with a frame of reference that allows them to make sense of science text and to better understand the questions to which they will respond on written assessments.
Olson, J.,& Makhtari, K., (2010). Making science real. Educational Leadership, 67(6), 56-62.
Students explore objects, events, or situations. These include real phenomena, hands-on activities, and laboratory experiences, where students make and record observations.
Teachers act as facilitators by teaching routines and procedures for these activities, and generating curiosity.
Students use models, charts, formulas, graphs, and drawings for concept and vocabulary comprehension. Teachers ask for student explanations and help students connect to their previous experiences.
Teachers provide “Wait Time/ Think Time” to allow students to create connections and form new predictions and questions.
Students read about additional examples, illustrations and reinforcement of concepts, and explain in writing, or drawing about their concrete science experiences.
Teachers expect students to read, and use vocabulary, definitions, and explanations to describe the big ideas and science concepts being assessed, and scaffold that process where needed.
There are many ways teachers can connect the abstract and the concrete including using stories, simulations, hands-on activities, visual representations, and real-world problem solving.
The use of multiple representations–pictures, diagrams, charts and models– helps students visualize and understand difficult concepts. Explore the Doing What Works module, Connecting Abstract and Concrete Representations of Concepts