Guiding Pupils to Work Scientifically: A Seven-Step Approach
Our latest blog by Becky Grimshaw
by Manchester Communication Research School
Increased curiosity, building resilience, and improved literacy skills – Those were the aims of our text rich Science curriculum.
A key focus for us at Manchester Communication Academy, is to improve literacy skills in our students. In line with guidance report from the EEF on Improving Secondary Literacy, our school does not see literacy as a focus just for the English department but a focus for the whole school which means each department needs to develop ways to support this strategy. So how do we improve literacy skills for students through our science curriculum alongside teaching such a large volume of scientific theories and skills? We had to think of literacy strategies that link directly to the curriculum alongside hooking students, so they are invested in the curriculum and reading. This led us to the idea of teaching scientific concepts in year 9 through reading a science based fiction book.
Student curiosity about Space provides a hook for learning so we tapped into this by selecting the text ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir. Whilst a fiction book, the scientific content of the book is accurate and would allow us to link key concepts from the curriculum to scenarios faced by the astronaut in the book. For example, the character needs to find ways to grow food which we could link to photosynthesis and produce oxygen which we could link to the periodic table. The character in the book shows huge resilience to the situation they are faced with which is something we could discuss with our students to help them develop their own resilience. Building curiosity and existing subject knowledge into reading would help develop the student’s ability to read a complex text.
So, we had the idea but we now needed to make it a reality. First, we met in discipline teams to decide on the content of the scheme of learning. Then it was the work of three of us, a biologist, chemist and physicist, who had extra year 11 downtime to develop schemes of learning linked to the text. Regular discussion, feedback, and re-writing of schemes of learning ensued until we had a scheme of learning that we felt met the demands of curiosity, building resilience and aimed to improved student literacy. We had sought the advice of many of our English team to discover the best methods to read with students. We also spoke with drama teachers to help us develop our confidence in delivering reading strategies which introduced us to ‘mantle of the expert’. This was a great strategy to hook students in at the start of the scheme of learning.
As CPD for all science staff teaching the scheme of learning, an English specialist ran a training session to provide ideas and support for reading with students. This session was highly influential in helping science staff feel more confident in delivering the scheme of learning and our experience would support the recommendation from The EEF around ensuring teachers are specifically trained on how to teach reading. One good piece of advice was to not feel like you have to read the whole text especially with students who had very low reading ages. Evidence from the EEF guidance report suggests providing targeted vocabulary instruction into each subject curriculum so with students our focus could be on explicitly teaching the tier 2 and 3 vocabulary that was important to our curriculum and the development of Scientific knowledge.
Our science department has a great team spirit with everyone invested in wanting to improve the lives of students in the area by providing them with a broad and varied curriculum. However, when I handed out copies of The Martian and asked staff to read it over the summer and then plan lessons based on the book, I felt a certain level of concern. Would staff buy into it? What would happen if a member of staff didn’t read the book? These concerns were removed instantly when I did my first learning walk. I was moved listening to students reading through the book as a class, answering scientific questions using scenarios from the book to explain their answer. Watching teaching and learning develop around a text was inspiring. During one learning walk I observed a student lifting the pages of the book so he could read instead of listening to the teacher. When challenged he just said, ‘I really want to know what happens next.’ We have year 9 period 1 on a Friday and now have students turning up early for lessons so that they can do some extra reading of the text.
Staff have freedom as to how they feel they can best deliver the lessons to their group however most lessons start with reading an extract from the book followed by discussions linked to the outcomes of the lessons which provides the hook. Retrieval practice questions are then linked to scenarios from the book for example ‘Mark Watney needs to grow food on Mars, describe the conditions he needs to grow food.’. Although we are yet to see whether the text rich science curriculum in year 9 has impacted on reading ages, we do know that the curiosity around the text has supported our teaching of scientific content and skills. As teachers we have become increasingly skilled at teaching literacy allowing us to develop these strategies in other year groups. Is it something I wish to develop in other year groups? Of course
Our latest blog by Becky Grimshaw
By Susan Fraser. Director of Manchester Communication Research School
Part 1 of 3
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