It’s fair to say that when I left teachers college three years ago I had greatly underestimated how much focus there would be on teaching literacy strategies. As a science specialist, I had been taught some scientific literacy, but mostly it was theory-based or examples given during lectures of other people’s teaching practice. As a learner, I find it a lot easier to implement new techniques into my teaching if I can watch or talk to someone who is already giving it a go. This made it difficult to know where to start when I came to realise just how much support my students needed with literacy.
Before Southland Boys’ High School became involved in the Information Literacy Spaces research, I was already working with our amazing librarian Senga White, as well as English teachers on different literacy strategies for junior science. When Senga approached me about the new project she was taking part in, I immediately wanted to get involved. We decided our aim was to make sure that students explicitly understood what skills were required and how to demonstrate them as part of the assessment.
Our focus was on standard AS 91163 “Demonstrate understanding of the chemistry used in the development of a current technology” or more commonly known as the chemistry “research” assessment. Judging by a best practice workshop I recently attended, most chemistry teachers seemed to be making the standard much harder then it needed to be. For starters, most I spoke to had made students find their own information about the technology. However, the standard only requires students to “process and interpret” information to “provide an account of the chemistry involved”. This made the literacy skills focus to achieve the standard much clearer. Students need to be able to process the information they are given, interpret it and show their understanding. To achieve this standard at merit and excellence level, students need to make clear links and evaluation of how the chemistry related to the development of the technology.
Together, Senga and I designed two resources to help students.
1 Class analysis activity using blooms taxonomy concepts to show students what linking and evaluating looks like in a written form. We based this on a short introductory reading about polymers.
2 A logbook work template that included areas for students to develop and show processing of information through writing abstracts and annotations, as well as areas to reflect on the “so what?” questions, and expand on what the information means.
The template proved not only useful for the students to collect information, but also as evidence of students’ processing, which stream-lined the marking process. In fact, the check-marker commented on how much easier it was to find the evidence of processing using the template.
As a result of these interventions, this cohort had a higher proportion of students passing, as well as more merit and excellence grades, which met our learning outcomes. Survey results from students at the end of the assessment were positive, particularly related to using the template.
Senga and I plan to expand on the collaboration for this assessment next year, where we will aim to create some “mini-seminars” on key literacy skills that students can use as a resource.
Overall, these strategies proved very successful and improved students’ ability to develop and reflect on their critical thinking skills, in not only my chemistry class, but they transferred these skills across to other subjects.
In terms of my own teaching practice, I have found Senga’s information literacy knowledge and experience a most beneficial aspect of our collaborative planning. Sometimes you just need to consult an expert, do some co-construction and have some cross-curricular help, rather than struggle on your own.
Chemistry Teacher, Southland Boys’ High School, Invercargill