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Abstract

Scientific literacy is a key objective for the educational systems of Qatar and the Middle East. Baseline findings are presented from a large scale, intervention study of how Qatari preparatory school students learn to read scientific material in Arabic and English. Results suggest that reading difficulties for both Arabic and English relate in part to an overemphasis on sentence-level meaning and reading aloud at the expense of other skills including locating key information, passage comprehension, and inferencing. Increased attention to strategic learning practices are suggested as a solution. To gain a comprehensive view of how science reading is learned, baseline data collection focused on the reading task as operationalized in school texts, student reading abilities and practices, and how reading is incorporated into classroom learning. With the cooperation of the Supreme Education Council, data was collected in a stratified sample of 12 Qatari Independent Schools (6 male, 6 female with balanced representation from cohorts 2, 4, and 6 of the Era of Educational Reform). Reading materials sampled included the grade 7 and 8 Arabic-language science textbooks, grade 7 and 8 scientific English textbooks, grade 7 and 8 English textbooks, and texts from the English-language Science Related Reading program. A paper-based instrument was used to measure comprehension of topically-related Arabic and English reading passages and to inventory reading strategy use (N=1035). This was complemented by think-aloud verbal protocol data collected from high and low ability students reading the passages from the written instrument (N=45). Classroom observations of both science and scientific English classes (N=24) were conducted. Finally an online survey about strategy awareness was administered to science, scientific English, and English teachers from each school (N=100). Findings with respect to student reading ability for both Arabic and English confirm results from the OECD's 2006 and 2009 Performance for International Student Assessment (PISA), which indicated clear weaknesses in Qatari students' ability to understand science material presented via a reading passage. Triangulation of classroom observations, verbal protocol data showing what students do when they read, and the kinds of exercises associated with reading passages in textbooks suggests that performance difficulties may be linked to a lack of practice in strategic behaviors. Current common practice emphasizes reading aloud in class and answering questions that require exact repetition of a portion of text. When students are asked to explain what they are thinking as they read, they primarily report the text itself with some checks on whether they understand the meaning of individual sentences. There is little opportunity in class for students to connect readings to other material, make inferences about implications, or paraphrase at the level of a passage; and there is little evidence that students do these things when reading. These findings suggest that a great challenge for human capacity building in scientific domains is teaching students how to learn science through reading. Future phases of the research therefore will focus on a teacher development program that can be implemented across Qatari schools.

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/content/papers/10.5339/qfarf.2013.SSHP-025
2013-11-20
2019-08-18
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