Wednesday, 16 January 2013

ASE conference session: Literacy in Science

I really enjoyed this talk by Chris Haines of Essex LA. I don't think that any of the things he said were a surprise to me, at least they shouldn't have been, but they did make me think.

Firstly Chris showed us a list of criteria from other GCSE subjects (including Maths). All of them required quality if written community (QWC) to be measured. This shouldn't have been a surprise to me, as it would be obvious that writing would be important in an essay subject such as history.

Literacy is important to every subject as ultimately the students are going to be assessed through their writing.

Then he gave us a list and asked us to put them into "English", "literacy in Science" or "both" in the form of a Venn diagram.

To be honest all of the things should have been in the "both" section. Just because we don't explicitly teach verb tenses in science doesn't mean that we shouldn't ensure that the students in our classes are using them correctly or challenge them if they get it wrong.

I often find tenses a challenge when writing an investigation. The plan should be in the future tense, but the evaluation in the past tense. Encouraging children to write in the third person is also difficult, but I do try and do it in lessons.

The idea of addressing literacy in science lessons isn't new, but after a push in the early 2000s it is becoming increasingly more important in schools. (Maybe to do with ofsted and QWC in exams, but I don't think that any reason to improve and expand the teaching of our own language can be bad).

Some of the points I wrote down from Chris were:

All teachers must teach literacy - this is included in new teaching standards. Are we teachers of English or science? (Both) Including literacy in out teaching is also part of the ofsted criteria (and numeracy). As literacy is a common thread across curriculum - QWC Required in most subjects - we are supporting each other by teaching it. It is also important to note that there is an increasing demand of literacy with increasing grades.

Finally he asked: Is there a difference in demands between key 3 and 4? This is something that I am not sure about, although I am sure the answer would be yes!

Chris pointed out some major questions that need to be asked in a science department in order to assess how well literacy is being taught.

Will teachers need support?
How will you transfer skills between subjects?
Do your students show the same level in their writing in science as they would be expected to do in English?

He said when writing an action plan:

Find out what you need to do,
Find out where you are,
Find out what you need to do to get there.

Words I am finding useful, not just in addressing literacy but a lot of the developments in the science department.

The question to ask myself is "Where do you find the support?" I have already approached my teaching and learning assistant head teacher who also happens to lead English about this and she is keen to support me.

Chris went on to say that quality written communication is not the same as getting the spelling, punctuation and grammar correct. But about structure, coherence and use of key words too.

He said we should think about how key words are introduced, e.g look at how MFL introduce new vocabulary. He suggested a book called "mucking about with sentences" and using the old strategy resources.

He also suggested departments provide students with rich tapestry for reading. I have mentioned Alex Weatherall's Science Library in a previous blog post and I think that Chris's comments mean that it is something all science departments should take notice of.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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