Adapted Primary Literature

What is Adapted Primary Literature (APL)?

"Adapted primary literature (APL) comprises modified scientific articles, created so that the language and concepts are simplified while the authentic form of the primary article upon which it is based is preserved. Studies have shown that using APL to teach high school science can enhance scientific inquiry skills such as critical thinking."

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Published Articles

1) Norris, S.P., Macnab, J.S., & Wonham, M. (May 2009). West nile virus: Using adapted primary literature in mathematical biology to teach scientific and mathematical reasoning in high school. Research in Science Education, 39(2), 321-29. doi: 10.1007/s11165-008-9112-y

This paper promotes the use of adapted primary literature as a curriculum and instruction innovation for use in high school. Adapted primary literature is useful for promoting an understanding of scientific and mathematical reasoning and argument and for introducing modern science into the schools. We describe a prototype adapted from a published article on a mathematical model of the spread of the West Nile virus in North America. The prototype is available as a web-based resource that includes supplemental pedagogical units. Preliminary feedback from use of the prototype in two classrooms is described and a sketch of an ongoing formal evaluation is provided.

2) Norris, S.P., Stelnicki, N., & de Vries, G. (2012). Teaching mathematical biology in high school using adapted primary literature. Research in Science Education, 42(4), 633-649. doi: 10.1007/s11165-011-9215-8

The study compared the effect of two adaptations of a scientific article on students’ comprehension and use of scientific inquiry skills. One adaptation preserved as much as possible the canonical form of the original article (APL, Adapted Primary Literature) and the other was written in a more narrative mode typical of secondary literature (SL). Both adaptations contained the same content. Two hundred and eleven senior high school students in a Western Canadian school district participated. The numbers of males and females were approximately equal, and all students were registered in an introductory calculus course. All students were given a 90 min class by their teachers that introduced them to the basic mathematical concepts needed to read the articles. Students were randomly assigned to read either the APL or the SL and afterwards to complete a questionnaire, which was common to both groups. Major findings showed that the SL students better understood the article, that the APL students thought more critically about the article, that females understood the article better than males, and that students’ attitudes towards reading the articles, regardless of group, were positively associated with their comprehension and use of inquiry skills. The results coincide in important ways with those of similar studies in Israel, and show that asking students to read text that resembles scientific writing increases their use of critical thinking skills when reading.

3) Phillips, L.M., & Norris, S.P. (2009). Bridging the gap between the language of science and the language of school science through the use of adapted primary literature. Research in Science Education, 39(3), 313-39. doi: 10.1007/s11165-008-9111-z

In this paper we make the case that the language of school science and the language of science are widely divergent. We trace the divergence to a simple view of reading that prevails not only in science education but in most of schooling. Based upon the importance of language in science and the role of language in capturing the essential nature of scientific reasoning, we conclude that conceiving of reading as a form of inquiry could assist in bringing the two languages more into alignment. We recommend the use of adapted primary literature as one curriculum and instruction innovation that can be useful in illustrating the nature of reading as inquiry.

4) Stelnicki, N., Braga, J., de Vries, G., & Norris, S.P. (2011). Using adapted primary literature to teach high school science. Alberta Science Education Journal, 41(1), 11-15.

Adapted primary literature (APL) comprises modified scientific articles, created so that the language and concepts are simplified while the authentic form of the primary article upon which it is based is preserved. Previous studies have shown that using APL to teach highschool science can enhance scientific inquiry. In this article we present key findings from a study of APL to teach mathematical biology in four Edmonton high schools. In particular, we show that use of this APL resulted in an increase in students’ critical thinking. Additionally, we describe an upcoming study of APL for enhancing scientific reasoning within physics.

5) Yarden, A. Falk, H., Federico-Agraso, M., Jimenez-Aleixandre, M.P., Norris, S.P., & Phillips, L.M. (2009). Supporting teaching and learning using authentic scientific texts: A rejoinder to Danielle J. Ford. Research in Science Education, 39(3), 391-395. doi: 10.1007/s11165-008-9116-7

In her commentary Danielle J. Ford mainly focused on three issues that highlight the promises and challenges for the use of Adapted Primary Literature (APL) in science curricula: the possible contribution of APL to authentic experiences in secondary schools, implementation issues of APL including the support required for the teachers, and the possibilities to extend the use of APL to younger and older students. In this rejoinder, we first offer some general comments on Ford's commentary. Then we offer more specific comments on two areas of her response, authenticity and the support for teachers.


We also encourage you to visit the website of Anat Yarden, Associate Professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science, for access to publications and learning materials on the topic of adapted primary literature.