As a science teacher, and not an English teacher, I found the prospect of including literacy in lessons quite daunting, however since then I have discovered that it is something we do in science every day. My intention with this blog post is to assess some of the strategies I am currently using and research further strategies to improve my current practice to ensure that pupils are being given strong literacy skills to take forward.
Ofsted (2012) reported that secondary schools should be strengthening their whole-school literacy work through all departments. Including the use of literacy skills in lessons is something that is regarded as essential, this is becoming a more prominent requirement as it is reported that many students are leaving school without the necessary literacy skills required to help them to thrive as working adults (Ofsted, 2013).
Some of the following simple strategies are ones that have been suggested to me during my teacher training that I have found to work well.
Use of keywords:
Displaying the keywords in the classroom, either on the whiteboard, PPT presentation or written elsewhere. By doing this the students are aware of the keywords and the spelling of these keywords. I find this technique a lot more valuable with the older year groups, they will actively copy the keywords into their books at the start of the lesson and use the words within any written task. The younger year groups are not as skilled at this; however, this is something I will continue to encourage pupils to do and as it becomes embedded I hope it will have the same effect.
Encouragement of the pupils to write glossaries in their books – research the definitions of the words given as homework/starter activity, this is helping the students develop their independent learning as well as reading and writing skills. Students will use dictionaries and text books to look up words provided and make their own glossary to refer to. This is an activity I will do regularly with lower ability groups, in some cases, the students will now look for dictionaries and text books to assist with spellings without being prompted. I believe that instilling a culture that promotes using these resources is helping these pupils to gain more independent research skills.
‘Fill in the blanks’ activities:
A simple strategy, this is something I use as a plenary activity to check pupils understanding, but is also developing pupils writing and reading skills. I generally use this on the younger groups, or low ability older year groups. It is the type of activity that pupils enjoy completing and it can provide instant feedback. To encourage pupil participation, I also ask pupils to come up to the whiteboard and write the answers out, this usually increases student engagement very well.
However, the above strategies will only help pupils improve their basic literacy skills, but will not integrate the literacy within the scientific ideas and concepts being taught. To do this it is necessary for teachers to model the work and skills they expect of the students (Minnesota STEM teacher center).
One of the main aims when teaching science is to encourage pupils to question and evaluate, analyse and draw conclusions. To do this effectively, pupils are asked to write up their scientific observations in the form of a report. The use of literacy skills while learning science content improves their ability to write these reports (Hapgood & Palincsar, 2007). Having the increased skills in language allows students to clarify their ideas, record and present their findings and argue their case (Douglas et al., 2006).
A study by Swan (2003) also showed that students observing practical science in combination with access to texts about it showed a better conceptual knowledge of the content and were more engaged. Once students are more engaged in a subject, they are more likely to do further reading about it, this will also help to increase the students reading and comprehension (Minnesota STEM Teacher center). Questioning pupils on text they have been given will also increase their comprehension of what they are learning and enables them to practice their reading, listening and speaking skills (Lee & Spratley, 2010).
Upon reflection of the importance of literacy in science, reflection on my own current practice and researching further strategies, it has become apparent that I can be doing a lot more to combine the scientific skills I need to teach the pupils with the literacy skills they require. By integrating them carefully, I believe it will not only help to improve the students literacy, but also give them the tools required to communicate their scientific knowledge in a much more thorough way.
Teaching standards linked to this blog post:
- 3(c) Demonstrate an understanding of and take responsibility for promoting high standards of literacy, articulacy and the correct use of standard English
- 3(a) have a secure knowledge of the relevant subject(s) and curriculum areas, foster and maintain pupils’ interest in the subject, and address misunderstandings
- 3(b) demonstrate a critical understanding of developments in the subject and curriculum areas, and promote the value of scholarship.
Douglas, R, Klentschy, M.P., & Worth, K (Eds.). (2006). Linking Science & Literacy in the K-8 Classroom. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.
Hapgood, S., & Pallincsar, A.S. (2007). Where Literacy and Science Intersect. Education Leadership, vol. 64 no. 4, pp. 56-60.
Lee, C.D., & Spratley, A. (2010), Reading in the Disciplines: the Challenges of Adolescent Literacy. Carnegie Corporation of New York, pp. 17-18.
Minnesota STEM Teacher Centre (Unknown) Literacy in Science [online] Available at: http://scimathmn.org/stemtc/resources/science-best-practices/literacy-science [Accessed 20 April 2017]
Ofsted (2012) Moving English forward: action to raise standards in English [pdf] Available at:https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/181204/110118.pdf [Accessed 20 April 2017]
Ofsted (2013) Improving literacy: effective characteristics of secondary schools [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/improving-literacy-effective-characteristics-of-secondary-schools [Accessed 18 April 2017]
Swan, E.A. (2003). Concept-oriented reading instruction: Engaging classrooms, lifelong learners. New York: The Guilford Press.