Teaching science through literacy

With most of the professional development focus in primary and intermediate teaching going on literacy and numeracy in recent years, other “rich subject areas” have perhaps been a bit neglected, according to Accent Learning’s Helen Jackman.

The tools available to teachers to teach subjects like science, social studies and the arts are not as well developed as those for literacy and numeracy. “Literacy and numeracy have had a tremendous amount of professional development, but the other learning areas haven’t,” she says.

Up until recent years there were advisers with content knowledge in all the learning areas but these have disappeared with the focus on literacy and numeracy.

In areas such as science, for example – while recognised by both parents and the Government as an important subject area for the country’s economic future –science support for primary schools is a rarity.

Helen has identified a real need and is helping schools enhance their teaching of these other subjects by making use of the latest literacy teaching tools. “There’s a gap there – you can get someone into the school with content knowledge, but that’s usually a one-off.”

She says what is really needed is for teachers to build their own content knowledge

“Primary teachers generally have limited content knowledge when it comes to science – unless they have a real passion. They know how to teach, but they don’t always know the content.

“That’s where schools need assistance. Especially for those schools that are going along quite well with their literacy and numeracy – there’s limited help out there.”

Helen is now showing schools how to use the latest - and generally very highly-rated - literacy and numeracy assessment tools to open the way to learn the other subject areas.

She says with maths, for example, a large part of the assessment is actually measuring the ability of the child to read and understand.

And it is the same in science and any other learning area – the child’s ability to read and interpret the text serves as an indicator of how well they’re going to do in that subject.

 

"You can then measure the child's ability to understand in science as well as measure their ability to read."

 

“There’s a gap there – you can get someone into the school with content knowledge, but that’s usually a one-off.”

 

Conversely, you can use the tools available for teaching reading and writing as a vehicle to both impart subject area knowledge and assess understanding of its content.

To test understanding in science, you would choose a text and questions that required science content and process knowledge. “You can then measure the child’s ability to understand in science as well as measure their ability to read.”

“It’s quite exciting” but it’s a different way of approaching the teaching of content, Helen says. It is generally based on a conceptual understanding inquiry approach– not simply feeding the information in but involving the children actively looking for information.

“It’s using the web a lot and [the child] being able to differentiate between good and bad information which is very necessary now.”