This article is the third part of my Adapting Journal Articles for High School Students. To learn how to find a suitable journal and article, go to Part 1 and Part 2.
Writing your own adaptation of a scientific journal article can be a lot of work but in my opinion, it’s totally worth it. My students love being able to read real science! Below, I list the steps I go through when I write my adaptations.
1. Improve Readabililty!
As you write your adaptation, the most important thing to remember is to simplify the language.
Here’s an example paragraph from the zombie ants article I referenced in Part 2:
“Early studies of extended phenotypes focused on detailing behavioral changes and inferring whether they represent adaptations for parasites or should rather be interpreted as adaptive defense mechanisms of the host or as by-products of infection. Recently, more integrative approaches have emerged which includes a greater focus on the mechanisms by which behavioral changes occur. An important component is a fuller understanding of the biology of particular study systems and the timing of observation or experimentation, since parasite induced behavioral changes are highly dynamic.”
I ran a readability tool on this paragraph. You can do it too at http://read-able.com/. Here is the score:
Yep, this paragraph is probably unreadable for a normal adult and definitely unreadable for the vast majority of high school students. And when the whole paper is written like this, it needs a LOT of adaptation for high school students.
I use smaller word synonyms for longer words. I explain some terms in added short sentences or phrases. I shorten sentences to no more than 2 or 3 short phrases. I leave a few longer technical words in for students to decipher their meaning from the context. This is one way how I help my students develop scientific vocabulary! By slowly adding in new words students have to decipher, they learn the important skill of reading context and they will pick up new words. But if I add too many words in that they don’t understand, they may give up. This is why writing an adaptation with your students’ ability in mind is so important. I run the readability test at http://read-able.com/
several times as I work on my adaptation, to make sure my work is readable by the average high school student.
2. I add more relevant background information that is not included in the paper being adapted. Sometimes the paper strongly depends on the reader’s extensive knowledge of the field. Remember, these papers were written by grad students… for grad students! Because my students have very little knowledge of the paper’s field, they usually need some more information to truly understand and appreciate the paper. Usually I include a lot of this extra information in my introduction/background section, making it the longest section of the adaptation. I find this relevant background information by reading some of the sources referenced in the original paper’s introduction. When scientists write their articles, they put footnote numbers that tell you what other articles you can read to learn more about the background. I usually end up reading 1-3 other articles to get enough background to write my adaptation.
3. One section that often needs a lot of adapting is the data and analysis section. I like to simplify the data tables and graphs by creating my own in Excel. In rare circumstances, the data table or graph can be copied and pasted into my adaptation (Remember, when you copy and paste open access article material, you always need to cite the source.) Even if the data table or graph is displayed at an appropriate level for high school student understanding, I like to have them in black and white. Then I can photocopy without losing the quality of the graph. Often papers online have color graphs that lose all meaning when they are printed in black and white. If one set of bars on the graph is supposed to be blue and one set of bars is supposed to be red, and they both get printed in black, my students will not be able to tell which is which and the graph loses all meaning. I also like to redo the graphs to make sure they include all the things I require my students to have in their graphs, like titles, legends, labels, and units.
Another way to simplify data is to simplify or remove statistics. I like to pick articles where the raw data points (without statistics) speak loudly for themselves. Many papers use statistical methods to analyze data that is “close” or “barely significant” and students without a background in statistics will not be able to fully understand or analyze the results.
4. When adapting the conclusion section, I actually often leave some of the papers’ conclusions out. The author often writes about the limitations of their study in the conclusions and I like to include this in my adaptation for my students to read. Part of doing real science is doing the best experiment that is possible to design and complete within the scientist’s limitations, like location, time constraints, budget constraints, while following ethical guidelines. Students rarely hear about these limitations and this helps them to get a sense of what doing real science is like. I like to use my question section to ask students what they think the conclusions of the paper should be!