Strengthening Middle School Science and Health Education for Diverse Learners by Linking Grade-Level Reading of Complex Texts and Inquiry

Using innovative means to leveling the science learning arena for students with different abilities and for those where English is a second language.

Project Audience

Middle school diverse learners who are underrepresented in the STEM workforce; and science, English and special education teachers

Project Description

Many middle school students in Missouri and throughout the nation are disadvantaged when it comes to knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) principles. Mastery of such content requires strong literacy (reading and writing) skills, and the ability to understand/synthesize complex concepts, which can be especially challenging for learners with disabilities, or those from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds.

William Folk, PI/Project Lead, professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the School of Medicine; and Delinda van Garderen, Co-PI, professor and director of graduate studies at the University of Missouri (MU), lead a team of educators and researchers from MU and other institutions in Ohio and Nevada, that will work with teachers to (1) develop multimodal texts connected to inquiry-based activities that reflect current Missouri and national standards, and (2) help identify instructional practices that can support all learners in their classrooms.


This project will contribute to NIH’s and the nation’s overarching goal to “enhance the training of a workforce to meet the nation’s biomedical, behavioral and clinical research needs and especially of students from underserved communities.” Science requires sophisticated literacy skills such as the ability to access scientific terminology, interpret arrays of data, comprehend scientific texts, engage in interpretive and critical reading, and read and write scientific explanations. The well-established reciprocal and synergistic relationship of language learning and literacy skills for science learning and inquiry are acknowledged by the National Research Council “Conceptual Framework to Develop New Education Standards,” the accompanying Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the Common Core State Standards for English/language arts-technical subjects (CCSS-ELA.RST). However, two-thirds of US middle school students are not reading at a proficient level, and underachievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is particularly severe for diverse learners–children with disabilities, at-risk for school failure, and/or from culturally, socioeconomically or linguistically diverse backgrounds.

To address their needs, the proposed program will develop, implement and rigorously evaluate innovative STEM multimodal text sets and linked inquiry activities, and innovative teacher professional development workshops for teachers to strengthen learners’ STEM education. A multimodal text set is a coherent sequence of texts and other information sources pertaining to a specific topic or line of inquiry that supports students in building the vocabulary and background knowledge required for reading comprehension. The project tests the hypothesis that use of such text sets in appropriate settings with linked inquiry activities will strengthen diverse learners’ interest in STEM and achievement of NGSS Performance Expectations and CCSS Standards. The following Specific Aims will be implemented.

Aim 1: With partner teachers, develop sixth- to eighth-grade-level STEM multimodal text sets and linked inquiry activities;

Aim 2: Provide instructional support to teachers, with special attention to the needs of diverse learners;

Aim 3: Rigorously assess i) the teachers’ use of the STEM multimodal text sets and linked inquiry activities; ii) the accompanying teacher instructional support; and iii) changes in students’ interest in STEM and achievement of NGSS Performance Expectations and the CCSS-ELA.RST; and

Aim 4: Disseminate widely the descriptions of the STEM multimodal text sets and linked science inquiry activities and teacher support. The program will draw together investigators with expertise in science, literacy, special education and educational assessment and with experience in proven K–12 outreach and professional development programs, along with schools and teachers committed to improving science education through evidence-based studies.

The program is especially targeted for diverse learners who are underrepresented in the STEM workforce, so that they will consider careers in health and medicine. The resources developed will be disseminated widely in a manner that can be easily adopted.