Comprehension Strategy Support in Inquiry-based Science

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

This five year cycle of design research resulted in the development of the Geological Observational Inquiry system (GO Inquire) that strives to improve students’ coherent representations and understanding of scientific text related to erosion and landform change through promoting multiple connections among the individually and collectively generated text-based observations, visual geological information, explanations, outside text resources and attempt to uncover students’ background knowledge and misconceptions in a geoscience-based inquiry classroom context.


Arlington Public School classrooms, Arlington VA.

Research Design: 

The research for this project is designed to generate descriptive (design research) evidence. The project includes an intervention consisting of the GO Inquire prototype system that has been specifically developed to address observational inquiry processes in geomorphology for upper elementary students and teachers, specifically targeting slow landform change related to erosion and fluvial systems. This project collects original data using personal observation, videography, and web log observation, and face-to-face structured Interviewer-administered questionnaire surveys. To date, the major research activities have included 1) several qualitative case study analyses related to the investigation, refinement and articulation of a new approach to teacher professional development called Teacher Design Research (TDR); 2) a series of design experiments and video analyses focused on the nature of geological observations, explanations and drawings made by upper elementary students when engaged in place-based geological observational inquiry in the classroom; 3) case study research identifying student misconceptions of slow geomorphological processes; 4) a quantitative pilot study investigating the relationship of culturally sensitive scientific text and reading comprehension scores among students in a bilingual classroom exposed to parallel reading-science inquiry strategies; 5) a qualitative pilot study investigating dual language learners with disabilities experience in reading scientific text; and 6) a quasi-experimental pilot study involving 4-phase embedded metacognitive prompts based on the nature of science (4-Phase EMPNOS) to find out if students can be taught to think scientifically on a metacognitive level.


Continuing analysis investigating the participation of five teachers in a design-based research experience was the focus of the recent phase of research resulting in a new framework for teacher professional development called Teacher Design Research (Bannan-Ritland, 2008). The findings of several qualitative case studies revealed that each participating teacher (N=6) demonstrated a transformation and progression of his or her articulation of scientific inquiry during their participation in the design research experience. The evidence suggested the teachers experienced a progression of thinking about science from a rigid set of steps toward a more fluid process when engaged in design research. There was also evidence that the teachers began to see connections across the curriculum related to the inquiry process, particularly in science and reading. Each of the teachers expressed some attempt or action to try out different teaching approaches in their classrooms during the course of the TDR experience. The articulation of the overlap of science and reading processes by several of the teachers was especially noteworthy.

A quasi-experimental study was conducted with 308 8th grade students in four classes who were engaged in experimental activities to investigate the use of explicit metacognitive prompts based on the nature of science to explore if students can be taught to think scientifically at a metacognitive level. Findings indicated that there was a significantly higher gain in content knowledge and nature of science knowledge for the experimental group receiving the embedded prompts than in the control group. Students who were instructed in the 4-phase developmental prompts based on the nature of science not only gained in their understanding of the nature of science, but also gained in their understanding in the science content. The intervention resulted in a significantly higher gain in content knowledge and nature of science knowledge for the experimental group receiving the embedded prompts than in the control group. The focus group transcripts showed that students who used the 4-phase EMPNOS (see Peters, 2007) talked more about the development of their knowledge than the control group. The control group tended to focus on listing the content their learned when asked about how they thought in a scientific way during the focus group discussion. While this study was conducted at the middle school level, it provides a trajectory of what is needed to progress fourth graders toward increasing demands of metacognitive processing of science content and informs the design of technology-based embedded metacognitive prompts to support science learning.

A second study examined the effect of the use of questioning and self-monitoring in science and reading. The study specifically examined reading comprehension, science content knowledge, the awareness of the relationship between science and reading and the transferability of strategies of questioning and self-monitoring among upper elementary, bi-lingual students with and without documented disabilities. The study employed a quasi-experimental mixed methods approach combined with a multiple baseline single subject design (N=78). The students participated in an active experience involving the GO Inquire system, field experiences and visual-based assessments. Students exposed to the integrated science and reading intervention: 1) generated higher level of questions; 2) demonstrated a higher ability to monitor their comprehension and 3) demonstrated a decreased number of misconceptions related to slow geomorphological changes and 4) made more connections on a concept map between science and reading providing evidence of increased awareness of these connections.

Another study focused on investigating the assessment of geological observation through the development and field testing of performance tasks. Employing qualitative coding, item-difficulty analysis and non-parametric comparisons, this study contributed to the limited knowledge related to geological observation and assessment at the upper-elementary level. Results revealed that assessment should take into account the separation of visual from verbal responses which inform different components of the performance of geological observation. In addition, assessment should identify the use of iconic gestures more associated with relevant observations than deictic gestures during classroom interactions. As a result of this data the redesign of performance tasks was conducted and a conceptual framework of design assessment for geological observation was presented that linked the methods of design with research to guide future inquiry.

Publications & Presentations: 

Bannan, B. (accepted for publication). The integrative learning design framework: An illustrated example from the domain of instructional technology. Plomp, T. and Nieveen, N. (Eds.) Perspectives on Design Research Methods. University of Twente: The Netherlands.

Bannan-Ritland, B. (2008). Teacher design research: An emerging paradigm for teacher professional development in Kelly, A.E. and Lesh, R. (Eds.) Handbook of Design Research Methods in Education. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum

Bannan-Ritland, B., and Baek, J. (2008). Investigating the act of design in design research: The road taken, in Kelly, A.E. and Lesh, R. (Eds.) Handbook of Design Research Methods in Education. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum

Middleton, J., Gorard, S., Taylor, C. and Bannan-Ritland, B. (2008). The “compleat” design experiment: from soup to nuts, in Kelly, E. and Lesh, R. (Eds.) Handbook of Design Research Methods in Education. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum

Conference Papers:

Peters, E., Kisantis, A., B., Baek, & Bannan-Ritland, B. (April, 2007). The effect of the nature of science metacognitive prompts on science students’ content and nature of science knowledge, metacognition and self-regulatory efficacy. Paper presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, New Orleans, LA.

Martinez, P. (April, 2007). Implementing a technology system combining inquiry-based science comprehension strategies to help second language learners improve their understanding of scientific text in a bilingual environment. Paper presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, New Orleans, LA.

Bannan-Ritland, B., Baek, J., Peters, E.E., Martinez, P., Qutub, J. & Xia, Q. (2006). Teachers as collaborators in design-based research: Designing a technology System integrating inquiry-based science and reading comprehension strategies. Presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Resarch Association, San Francisco, CA.

Peters, E., Bannan-Ritland, B., Baek, J., Martinez, P., Qutub, J. & Qing, X (2006). Design-based research as professional development: Case study of a reading teacher in a science inquiry project. Presentation at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, San Francisco, CA.

Other Products: 

Technology support system for geological observational inquiry for use in upper elementary classrooms.

Target Population: 
Research Design: 


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