Research School Network: Ink and Pixels: Enhancing Disciplinary Literacy with OneNote Author of this blog and series editor: Jez Baker


Ink and Pixels: Enhancing Disciplinary Literacy with OneNote

Author of this blog and series editor: Jez Baker

by Staffordshire Research School
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As students transition into secondary education, the journey of disciplinary writing evolves swiftly from a sapling to a sturdy oak tree. Each subject establishes its own unique forms and conventions, requiring students to navigate through various branches throughout the day, absorbing and articulating knowledge tailored to each domain.

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In science, information is often presented with brevity, supplemented by diagrams for clarity, while history demands a more nuanced approach, encouraging critical thinking about causation, consequences, and inherent biases. However, these skills aren’t innate for all students and necessitate explicit instruction.

Consequently, it dawns on educators that regardless of their subject specialism, they are, at their core, literacy teachers. This realisation can pose challenges, particularly for those who may lack confidence in teaching grammar. Many echo the sentiment: I wasn’t explicitly taught this; I just acquired the skill naturally!” — a chorus I too have sung loudly in the past.

“I wasn’t explicitly taught this…’

The question arises: should teachers delve into the intricacies of appositives, relative clauses, and participle phrases? Perhaps not. However, it is imperative that we equip students with the ability to manipulate language structures to suit the requirements of each subject.

Shanahan and Shanahan (2012) advocate for a pedagogical approach that provides explicit guidance, enabling students to grasp the specialised literacy demands across disciplines. They contend that such tailored instruction would significantly enhance students’ comprehension and engagement with texts spanning history, science, mathematics, and literature.

So, what implications does this hold for whole-school literacy initiatives?

Disciplinary Literacy and OneNote

Geography teachers at St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School have long relied on booklets as their primary resource for curriculum planning, sequencing, and delivery. Over the past two years, integrating literacy-specific tasks into these booklets has been a pivotal aspect of our work. Now, we are beginning to develop a further element to the booklets, particularly concerning disciplinary literacy and the integration of OneNote.

Although the use of OneNote as a lesson delivery tool is still in its infancy, its potential to transform the way we utilise booklets is promising. Inspired by Adam Boxer’s instructional video, which showcased the simple yet impactful use of OneNote, we have begun exploring its possibilities. OneNote enables geography teachers to enrich booklets with dynamic elements such as images, tasks, and videos, all while structuring activities that support our literacy objectives. This approach promises greater consistency across our faculty and enhances our students’ writing skills over time.

For instance, the image below illustrates a segment from our Year 8 Globalisation booklet, featuring a series of lessons about the socio-economic effects of the growth in transnational corporations. The booklet’s double-spaced format allows for annotations, while the inclusion of images facilitates quick and easy reference. But why opt for OneNote over PowerPoint? The primary advantage lies in its non-linear flexibility, enabling teachers to adapt to students’ needs in the moment.

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Even before the OneNote trial commenced, literacy tasks were integrated into the booklets to foster robust geographical thinking. OneNote has the potential to significantly enhance the work by enabling annotation and the inclusion of additional examples as one navigates horizontally across the available workspace. Students can be assigned tasks that involve analysing landforms and comparing their characteristics, as demonstrated below. Here, students employ modelled sentences and u‑turn conjunctions to craft their writing, supplemented by fronted adverbials where appropriate to convey additional information. Ultimately, students are challenged to independently apply these skills when writing about shield volcanoes.

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Additionally, leveraging dual coding proves to be a valuable strategy in supporting the writing process. Understanding the concept of dual coding empowers teachers to comprehend students’ cognitive development while offering students a framework to organise their thoughts, thus alleviating cognitive load and allowing them to focus more intently on the intricate task of writing.

Recently, I tasked my Year 8 class with answering the question, Describe the socio-economic effects of the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption.” We began by categorising the effects using a simple graphic organiser as we read the relevant text. Subsequently, students were challenged to write their responses, with a focus on grammar and punctuation. This seamless transition was made possible by the removal of extraneous load with the graphic organiser, enabling students to dedicate more energy to crafting their written responses

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The next blog in this series will examine how strategies are blended together to increase the chance of their success. If anyone would like to discuss any of the points raised in these blogs or just find out more, please contact Jez Baker onj.​baker@​stacs.​bham.​sch.​uk.

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