Port Ahuriri School (TLIF 2-031) - Purpose-based writing through science Publications
Port Ahuriri School had a teacher with significant expertise in science pedagogy. An inquiry into students’ attitudes towards science revealed high levels of interest and that they wanted to do a lot more. Meantime, teachers in the senior school had engaged successfully in the Accelerating Learning in Literacy (ALL) initiative.
Author(s): (Inquiry Team) Colleen Reid, Emma Robertson, Haley Pierson and Jo Radley
Date Published: February 2019
Through ALL, they had explored the impact of purposeful writing based around student interests. Data analysis revealed a group of boys in the junior school who were not achieving at the appropriate National Standard in writing. The school saw an ideal opportunity to bring the expertise of its staff together with the boys’ interest in science and explore whether this might be the secret to getting these boys to write.
This is the second term I have had a stronger focus on science and the writing that goes along with it. I feel that it is going really well, and I am becoming more confident in teaching science. I try to prepare well for my lessons and brainstorm words the night before. This way I can prompt the students to come up with the vocab I want them to use. They are very engaged during all our class discussions and experiments and love to do the practical side of it. When it comes to writing, they use the vocab we came up with during our class brainstorm. Their writing has become more specific and scientific, and even my reluctant writers come up with a decent piece of writing in the end.
Year 3–4 teacher, Port Ahuriri School
Two years later, the school can report that when boys are presented with authentic reasons for communication around topics they are interested in and can connect to, they become engaged in the task and their achievement is accelerated. When teachers are offered professional learning in how to teach science and integrate it with their teaching of literacy and they are provided with resources that they can just ‘grab and go’, their confidence and capability grow. From reaching out to other schools and experts for learning support, the school is now a source of learning for others, including colleagues in their Kāhui Ako.
The project was led by teacher and middle school leader Colleen Reid, who brought expertise in science. Emma Robertson was the literacy leader. Teachers Haley Pierson and Jo Radley completed the team.
External support included:
- Robyn McCool and Ruud Klienpaste (Cape to City Biodiversity Project)
- Tracey Kinloch-Jones (Hereworth School for Boys)
- Gemma Gardiner (Waikato University)
- Kate Roundtree (Ministry of Education)
- Parents, whānau, and other community members, including people with specialist expertise in science.
The inquiry story
Initially, one member of the inquiry team trialled the innovation in her classroom, with a group of target students as the ‘yardstick’ for improvement. The project was then adapted and rolled out across the junior school and middle school and finally, into the senior school. A Science Writing Project Sustainability Plan is now in place to continue the momentum.
What was the focus?
The school’s achievement data showed that students in the first two years of school were having difficulty in achieving the expectations for writing set out in the National Standards. This was particularly the case for some boys. The school wanted to accelerate their progress in writing so that, by the end of year 3, all students would be at or above the expected level.
The school’s 2014 inquiry into perceptions of science revealed that, like students, parents and teachers had a positive attitude towards science, seeing its value. There were parents with skills they were happy to share, but a significant percentage of teachers did not feel confident about science and wanted help to build their capability. They also felt that the time and effort it takes to assemble resources for science investigations was a barrier to hands-on science learning experiences.
The team used what they had learned to set three outcomes:
- An increase in boys’ motivation and achievement in writing.
- An increase in teacher knowledge and capability regarding successful science and writing strategies.
- All children in the target groups will make accelerated progress towards achieving at the appropriate writing standard.
Their inquiry questions were:
- How can we use the interest and motivation students have for science to motivate and accelerate students’ achievement in writing?
- How will changing the type of writing prevalent in the junior school from personal recounts to scientific writing impact on students’ writing achievement?
What did the teachers try?
The team began by supporting a year 2–3 teacher to increase the hands-on science learning opportunities she provided in her classroom. Its members developed a series of simple science investigations that required basic equipment, mostly sourced from supermarkets and emporiums. They also developed a range of connected writing tasks, such as descriptions, simple explanations, narratives, and poetry (for example, “I saw …, I heard…, I felt …”). Following the trial, these resources evolved into over 60 ‘grab-and-go’ kits, each containing:
- enough equipment for a class of 30 students;
- clear instructions and discussion prompts; and
- a writing activity connected to the Literacy Learning Progressions.
To support teaching and learning across the school, the team developed a rubric setting out the school’s expectations for students’ scientific knowledge at different year levels. Alongside this, they specified what an effective science writing lesson would look like (for example, “Science is made explicit”, “Teachers are modelling ‘I wonder’ type questions.”)
The teacher of the trial class gave each of her students a special book for recording their science learning and their developing written skills. She planned two lessons per week, both based on the same scientific activity. Recognising that oral language is the foundation of all learning, her initial focus was on vocabulary, moving from the descriptive language needed to describe events and observations to scientific vocabulary that she modelled. Next, the students began drawing diagrams and labelling and captioning them and finally, they began engaging in short writing activities to describe their investigations. A pattern evolved of a first lesson in which the students focused on science and oral language and a second focused on writing about their investigation. This second lesson was so integrated into science learning that students didn’t see it as learning to write.
The team gradually introduced the programme, first to junior teachers, then to middle school teachers, and finally, in an adapted form, to the senior school. Teachers coming into the programme were supported with a day’s professional learning and, in an ongoing way, by the project team. The teacher of the trial class was by now an expert. External experts and members of the community supported the learning, with people coming into the school and the students experiencing science learning opportunities outside of the school.
What happened as a result of the innovation?
The project monitored the impact on teaching and learning, taking in the perspectives of students, teachers, and parents. The team identified improvements to teacher confidence, knowledge, and capability. Teachers understand the expectations for science teaching at their school. They offer students learning experiences that are more authentic and relevant to their lives. They know what students have already learned and can make links to previous investigations and support the students to deepen their understanding of simple scientific concepts. They are competently using deliberate acts of teaching, including offering more explicit feedback and feed forward and scaffolding thinking through questioning, modelling, and prompting.
The changes in pedagogy have led to the following outcomes:
- improvements in target students’ motivation to write and their writing achievement, with some making accelerated progress;
- increased student agency, with students able to make and share judgements about their learning;
- more educationally powerful connections with parents and whānau, with some sharing their scientific expertise within lessons;
- a strengthened Education Outside the Classroom Programme that is prompting students to view the world through a scientific lens and to use rich vocabulary to describe their experiences; and
- improved student transitions within and beyond the school with the development of shared expectations for teaching and learning.
What did they learn?
The success of this project is consistent with research demonstrating that students’ motivation and achievement improve when learning is relevant, authentic, and purposeful. The project also demonstrates the value of such experiences for raising teachers’ professional self-efficacy and for strengthening connections with parents, whānau, and others in the community.
The school does not intend to stop here. Its sustainability plan is about continuing the momentum. A next step is to investigate the use of science as a rich learning task for developing mathematical skills.
Cameron, S., & Dempsey, L. (2016). The oral language book. Dunedin: S & L Publishing.
Jacobs, N. & Gardiner G. (2016). The Literacy Learning Progressions monitoring sheet. Retrieved from https://vln.school.nz/discussion/view/951972
Gluckman, P. (2010). Looking ahead: Science education for the twenty-first century. A report from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor. Wellington. Office of the Prime Minister’s Science Advisory Committee. https://www.pmcsa.org.nz/science-education-for-the-twenty-first-century/
King, K., & Gurian, M. (2006). With boys in mind: Teaching to the minds of boys. Educational Leadership, 64(2), pp. 56–61.
Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum for English-medium teaching and learning in years 1–13. Wellington: Learning Media.
Ministry of Education. (2010). The Literacy Learning Progressions: Meeting the reading and writing demands of the curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.
Osborne, J. (2002). Science without literacy: A ship without a sail?, Cambridge Journal of Education,32:2, 203–218.
Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H., & Fung, I. (2017). Teacher professional learning and development: Best Evidence Synthesis iteration [BES]. Ministry of Education, New Zealand.
For further information
If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact the project leader, Colleen Reid, at email@example.com
Where to find out more
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