In the early years of education, much instructional time and effort is placed on learning to read, however as students progress through the grades, the emphasis shifts to reading to learn. Students will use ‘reading to learn’ in science more than any other modality in school. Students in secondary school are expected to independently engage with scientific texts, however, this may pose a significant challenge for students who struggle to read.
Students with LDs may present with some of the following challenges as they engage with science-based texts:
Students with LDs may experience challenges comprehending science texts if they lack prior or background knowledge of the concepts that are presented in the text (Mason & Hedin, 2011). For them, relating new content to prior knowledge is not always a fluid process. It is critical for students to make connections from their existing knowledge of science to ‘new’ and essential concepts in science that contribute to the expansion of their understanding of scientific concepts (Villanueva et al., 2012).
Many students with LDs are unlikely to independently transfer reading strategies that they have learned in one subject to other contexts (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006), especially when the text relates specifically to science. Students with LDs require explicit instruction to understand how to use and apply reading strategies in all instances that demand reading.
Students with LDs may have challenges remembering information while also performing other cognitive operations (Hallahan et al., 2010). Science texts are dense with facts, concepts, and data to be remembered. When ‘reading to learn’ a science concept, the text might also present the reader with visuals such as a graph or an image to complement what the student has read. Coordinating these operations in working memory may be difficult for students with LDs (Dexter & Hughes, 2011).
Content-based text in science is rich in description but dense in vocabulary, due, in part, to the Latin and Greek roots (e.g., thermometer: Greek roots "therm" [heat] and "meter" [measure]) found in science vocabulary (Rasinski et al., 2008). Such vocabulary is often not phonetically regular, making the task of decoding challenging for students with LDs. As well, the technical use of science-specific vocabulary might be unfamiliar to students with LDs (Weiser, 2013).
The readability of informational science texts varies depending on the format and text structures (Liang et al., 2013). This makes it difficult to determine text gradients (Pitcher & Fang, 2007). Furthermore, science texts are considered conceptually dense. This refers to the rate at which science concepts are introduced, along with the logical relationships inferred throughout informational texts (Mason & Hedin, 2011). For students with LDs, science texts are complex both in their linguistic and cognitive features, and this can intensify comprehension demands (Kosanovich, 2013).