Felicity also presented a professional learning session on building literacy skills in the Science classroom earlier this year. The recording of that session is available here (and the accompanying teacher activity pack here).
There are two key terms to unpack when discussing literacy in a science classroom:
1. Literacy in science refers to the ability to read, write, and communicate science.11 In the Australian science classroom, student literacy is dependent on
This means that a student who is finding it difficult to engage with the ideas of science may be needing support to decipher the languages (words and texts) used.
2. Scientific literacy is the ability to engage with scientific knowledge and evidence, to apply it to real-world problems and then make informed decisions.1 It involves critical thinking, reasoning, and evaluating. Scientific literacy rests on a foundation of literacy in science as application requires knowledge and skills.
There is a clear evidence-based link between literacy and scientific engagement and achievement, including how
Literacy is essential to engage with, understand, evaluate, and communicate scientific ideas. That means integrating literacy instruction into science classrooms is a key component of how we, as science teachers, can support student outcomes.7, 12, 16
Integrating explicit, consistent literacy instruction is essential in supporting science students3, 5, 6 and it doesn’t have to be hard for teachers.
The following are examples of activities I’ve used and have seen work in the Science classroom. They can be easily adapted to many class contexts, you may have come across some of these, or their variations, before. The activities are categorised into:
They can be readily modified to support differentiation: targeting the students in your class with the key skills of reading, writing, speaking, questioning, and explaining.
1. Don’t say that
2. Morphemes: growing words
3. What’s that mean?
1. Performing Science
2. Poorly explain…
1. Ask students to respond to a question in a way that is technically correct, but choose at least one way to do so poorly. For example, answering the question in a way that is
2. Have students share their answers with a partner who guesses what the possible question could have been.
3. Then create a proper/clearer answer and identify the improvements it makes over the original answer.
3. Question starters
1. Headings, please
2. Human interest story
3. 'Unjumble' my text
1 Australian Academy of Science. (2015). Science literacy: What it is, how to assess it, and why it matters. Retrieved from https://www.science.org.au/learning/general-audience/science-literacy-what-it-how-assess-it-and-why-it-matters.
2 Australian Academy of Science. (2019). Science and the Australian Public 2019. Retrieved from https://www.science.org.au/supporting-science/science-and-the-australian-public-2019
3 Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). (2016). Literacy and numeracy in science: Exploring the intersection of disciplinary knowledge, literacy and numeracy. Retrieved from https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017&context=research_conference
4 Australian Council for Educational Research. (2019). Science literacy and achievement in Australia. ACER. https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1013&context=ozpisa
5 Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). (2014). Literacy and numeracy in science. Retrieved from https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/resources/curriculum-connections/portfolios/literacy-and-numeracy-in-science/
6 Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA). (2015). Science literacy: Position statement. Retrieved from https://asta.edu.au/advocacy/position-statements/science-literacy-position-statement
7 Gardner, P., & Grace, M. (2010). Science literacy: Preparing Australian students for the 21st century. Teaching Science: The Journal of the Australian Science Teachers Association, 56(1), 45-50. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0016756809990335
8 Gregory, J. (2014). Scientific literacy and the moral imagination. Science & Education, 23(10), 2157-2172. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-014-9682-2
9 Hidi, S., & Renninger, K. (2006). The Four-Phase Model of Interest Development. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 111–127. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15326985ep4102_4
10 Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Foy, P., Kelly, D. L., & Fishbein, B. (2020). TIMSS 2019 International Results in Mathematics and Science. Retrieved from Boston College, TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center website: https://timssandpirls.bc.edu/timss2019/international-results/
11 National Research Council. (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. The National Academies Press https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/13165/a-framework-for-k-12-science-education-practices-crosscutting-concepts
12 National Science Teachers Association. (2016). NSTA Position Statement: Science and Literacy. https://www.nsta.org/nstas-official-positions/science-and-literacy
13 Purcell-Gates, V., Duke, N., & Martineau, J. (2007). Learning to read and write genre-specific text: Roles of authentic experience and explicit teaching. Reading Research Quarterly, 42(1), 8–45. https://doi.org/10.1598/RRQ.42.1.1
14 Rennie, L. J., Goodrum, D., & Druhan, A. (2021). Science literacy and the moral, social and ethical implications of science: A cross-curriculum priority? Curriculum Perspectives, 41(2), 189-200. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41297-021-00139-x
15 Shaffer, J. F., Ferguson, J., & Denaro, K. (2019). Use of the Test of Scientific Literacy Skills Reveals That Fundamental Literacy Is an Important Contributor to Scientific Literacy. CBE life sciences education, 18(3), ar31. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.18-12-0238.
16 Shanahan, T., & Shanahan,C. (2008). Teaching Disciplinary Literacy to Adolescents: Rethinking Content Area Literacy. Harvard Educational Review. 78. https://doi.org/10.17763/haer.78.1.v62444321p602101