National awareness and ongoing movements promoting literacy and STEM education in the early years and early grades create an opportunity for collaboration to improve educational outcomes for our nation’s children. It seems that many teachers with limited resources feel compelled to focus their instruction on one or the other. This of course seems to create a competition between teaching literacy and STEM subjects. However, most research shows that students gain more knowledge and skills in literacy and STEM subjects when they are taught in tandem.
Some points to focus on as discussed in the Read/STEM Initiative:
- Interest in STEM can help develop reading skills.
Many beginning readers actually prefer to read information texts—about snakes, spiders and other STEM topics—instead of the fiction books typically provided in the early years and early grades. Offering a more varied selection of books may engage more children in reading.
- Reading proficiency is key to advancing knowledge and skills in STEM subject areas.
Students who do not “learn to read” proficiently by the end of third grade will not be able to pivot to “reading to learn” in the years that follow. They will not be able to comprehend STEM texts without sufficient literacy skills.
- Young children have the cognitive skills to understand STEM concepts.
Research on attaining higher order thinking skills shows that students can begin to develop essential cognitive skills in the early grades, and schools should reinforce this with science, technology, engineering and math instruction.
While these may seem like daunting tasks for those elementary teachers that are not considered STEM experts, there are many natural places where teaching in STEM classes compliments ELA and vice versa. This in turn might help lighten their teaching load, and encourage teachers to include more STEM!