Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Learn - Research - Professional Development

During the holidays - on my birthday - I went to the WTE National Writing Conference and the keynote in the morning alone was worth getting up early for.

I took all my notes on a Presentation, which is here for you to view below or view at this link.

I absolutely have used these sentence-types in class. With the juniors I ran whole lessons around casting sentence types, to try and improve their writing.

Here's one lesson I ran on precision writing in science - this presentation linked to this set of activities for students.

The other thing I was absolutely blown away by was the way that we present students their assessment tasks. We've been giving them THOUSANDS of words to decipher and try to work out what to do before they even begin writing the assessment.

At the writing conference we sat down in groups with a real 1800-word, Level 3 PE task and all tried to work out what it was asking us to do, and how to get Excellence, and which parts were important.

Then Ian presented us with a single A4-sized task. It had exact word limits and included clear instructions on what students must include to gain top grades. We didn't have to guess what was meant! Why does it have to be a mystery what we want students to do? When he took his single A4 sheet to an NZQA moderators meeting (there were 40 of them there) they were bamboozled - they thought that's what everyone was giving students! The TKI tasks are not meant for kids' eyes!

Ian said the best way to make these amazing tasks is to write your own Excellence exemplar, and then see how many words you have apportioned to each section of the task. Set students a word count (as they would have in University, anyway!), and provide headings for each section. Provide clearly worded prompts about what to include. You can see two examples of this that he provided, in the presentation above.

Here is one that I wrote myself for Year 13

Friday, 26 October 2018

Learn - Research - Professional Development

Improving Boys Literacy PD with Joseph Driessen

First we read this piece of ‘boys writing’ to start with and then we discussed what made this appealing to
boys in particular;

The content involved risk-taking and misbehaviour.

It was humorous and self-deprecating.

The writing was active and fast-paced; not many wasted words, quite honest and blunt.

Similes were basic but effective - easy to interpret.

Next we discussed how would we develop a piece of writing like this; encourage students to write like
this and then develop their writing.

Boys preferences and strengths need affirmation.

Boys can be great writers if they feel welcome (a culture of respect); they will resist and disengage if
their efforts feel unwelcome.

Boys ‘like’ conflict, action, overcoming challenges, humor, the unexpected, irony or an alternative

Boys discussions are different to girls’

Boys enjoyed being coached how to write ‘edgy’ things.

I talked to two primary teachers about how they ‘coach’ boys writing and whether they agree with boys
liking conflict and action..

One recommended reading Des Hunt novels that link to science; a male, humorous writer with science

Another said that choosing contexts for boys is absolutely key to writing (the teacher chooses images
she thinks they will find most interest) and just gets them to write about it.

A small problem; in science we have the contexts given/laid out by the curriculum - in junior science
there is some flexibility to use current events or twist contexts, but senior science is quite limited.

The two primary teachers also mentioned they try not to mark too closely against rubrics like e-asTTle
does because that shuts down creativity.

Another small problem; in science there are stringent marking criteria, sometimes down to the actual
individual phrases that must be included in the writing to achieve a certain grade, such as “reaction rate
increases as there are more successful collisions between particles per second” in the year 11 Acids
and Bases exam. Meanwhile in senior Biology there are lots of different ways to say the same
information, and the best writers know the content well enough to “freestyle” in an exam rather than
freeze when they can’t remember the exact wording of a definition.

Next we discussed what the features of a good writer in our class are:

I said “they just start - they’re not hung up on the PERFECT words or way to write to impress the teacher.”

Vaughn said “some prefer to write plans at the start though and that’s just their style.”

Vaughn added that the best senior writers all re-read and edit their work.

Next we learnt that boys need a learning journey with milestones and accountability.

Introduce a challenging task/journey.

Give learning journey/outline of task with timelines.

Use milestones to set short term tasks; every milestone can be given a tick and celebrated.

Use grids (tick) to get detailed work.

Be supportive yet demanding.

Not meeting targets needs to be a big deal.

Endorse the progress and final destination.

Then we went through some recent literacy research. Research showed that the socioeconomic status
of families correlated with the total amount of words spoken to their children (lower SES = lower words
spoken), and another study found girls are spoken to a lot more often that boys by their parents. Well,
actually, mothers speak more to daughters and fathers speak more to sons BUT mothers speak more
in total so girls hear a lot more words than boys by age 5.

The recent LENA study (2018) found that children who had more two-way conversations correlated
with higher language scores, comprehension scores and school achievement. The conclusion of this
was that engaging children in two way conversation is the most powerful way to develop language
and stimulate cognitive development. I wondered to myself - “could this link to having a reading buddy
like the one mentioned in the National Science Teachers Association article Improving Science Reading

Near the end of the session I had a bit of a chat with a teacher next to me from Henderson Intermediate
- she’s been recording herself read along with a text, so lower-ability readers can read along with her at
any time. An example of this can be seen here.

Strategies to include in class:  

  • The opportunity to write freely and safely (in pairs, with an audience they trust) for just 3 or 4 mins.
    • How would you parent your mother?
    • A list of class improvements for the Principal?
    • Let them try to write something funny in just two sentences, judge based class laughs.
    • Anything you would investigate or invent if you could.
    • Should we use genetic engineering to create more food for growing populations?
    • If we had the power with science to bring people back to life, who would you bring back?
    • Which extinct species would you bring back and why?
  • Other science topics they could “freestyle” about:
    • Everybody can do science.
    • Potential research subjects should be told about risks AND benefits of the projects.
    • New technology can change cultural values and social behaviour.
    • Any belief about the world is as valid as any other.
    • Animals should not be used as research subjects.
    • The international community should enforce laws to prevent further global warming.
    • Companies should be allowed to drill for oil in protected wilderness areas.
    • Cloning of humans should be allowed.
    • Funding for future space programs should be reduced.
    • Unwanted, frozen, human embryos should be used for genetics research.

Use STORIES in class!!! 

Real life stories and storytelling of real people, or real people in to tell stories, or get some men in to read out loud, or get people in to talk about how they read in their different jobs.

Give INTERESTING CONTEXTS for writing; one guy dressed up as a pirate and then was really gruff for 5 mins, told kids to get under the desks, and read excerpts from a slave trader’s diary from in history.

Give safe and respectful OPPORTUNITIES for writing.

Increasing two-way conversation (GENUINE, NOT teacher-driven, closed-answer questioning) is the most powerful way to develop language.

Boys need care and consequences; some need more than others. Be firm and fair for boys.

Build boys up and make them feel like being part of a winning learning team; “in our class we always” and “I expect.”

And those are all the things I learned during my professional development today, which I feel is quite a lot compared to some other sessions! 

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Learn - Research - Literature Review

Literacy in Science - Minnesota STEM Teacher Centre

The list of strategies and tools from the Minnesota STEM Teacher Centre include a lot that have
previously been mentioned, so I have omitted them. The remaining, previously unmentioned
strategies are:

KWL- a graphic that helps students identify prior knowledge , establish a purpose for reading
and summarize or synthesize what they have learned (K = what I already know, W = what I want
to learn, L = what I learned).

Posing questions of the text (Lee & Spratley, 2010).

Friday, 19 October 2018

Learn - Research - Literature Review

Integrating Literacy Strategies into Science Instruction by the American Museum of Natural History.

This source was a website rather than an article, and it included links to six different literacy-boosting
activities which I’ve also linked straight through to here.

Paraphrasing - The teacher should select a text that is not overly complex for students. The goal of
that first lesson is for students to experience what it feels like to paraphrase successfully; first orally to
a partner without annotating in the margins.

Summarising - determining importance while reading a text. Summarising large sections of text or a
full text is a strategy that helps readers make meaning of complex material. If a reader can’t summarise
then that’s an indication they need to stop and use a comprehension-repair strategy before moving on.
Students could first try and summarise to a partner. Eventually they can move on to written summaries.

Interactive Reading - Interactive read-aloud that a student can do with a peer, with little invasion by
a teacher. They are given a text and a set of instructions which include when to stop, what to do; e.g.
sketch based on some information, underline the most important sentence in a paragraph, paraphrase
a section for a partner, write a summary each and compare.

Vocabulary Instruction - Our science-teacher-instinct may be to front load unfamiliar terms and get
students to research definitions for new vocabulary. Research suggests that the best approach is to
thoughtfully plan the learning sequence so it involves students observing or investigating phenomena
PRIOR to presenting definitions, or having students construct their own definitions (with teacher support)
from their own observations and new experiences.

Writing a Scientific Explanation - An explanation tool is provided on their website that looks quite useful!

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Learn - Research - Literature Review

Atkinson Jr., R. J. (2012). A Compilation of Literacy Strategies Used In Science and Earth Science Units.
Education and Human Development Master’s Theses, 146.

Literacy-based science instruction and incorporating literacy into science curriculum does not mean just
reading textbooks everyday in class. It can take the form of many strategies, some which I will summarise

The instruction that is done “should include emphasizing interactivity and collaboration in the activities,
relate concepts to ordinary life through a variety of textual forms, and provide opportunities for practicing
higher-order thinking/reading schools (Guzzetti & Bang, 2011, p56).

Science journalism - (as a side note, Science in the News was not found to improve literacy during an
extremely small-scale and pretty uncontrolled study for someone’s Masters in America..)
Students report on science in the news. They investigate, gather information, contextualise the
information and bring critical eyes to what they read and write. It forces students to use multiple
resources, and evaluate if the sources they gather information from are credible and reliable before they
report back any information to their peers.

Literacy circles
Use cooperative learning groups that have differentiated roles extracting information from text. Students
can become the inquiry organiser, word explorer, visionary, thinking connecter, webmaster, and big idea
developer. The strategy forces students to communicate effectively and teach one another about their
particular role and the information they bring to the concept. This can also be used with multi-level texts.
This sounds very similar to the reading roles Aaron Wilson has advised Tamaki College to use during our
Wide and Deep literacy units.

Include an introduction, task, list of resources for learners, the process, criteria or rubric, and a
conclusion. It is a way for teachers to scaffold research where students can extract information from
credible sources to gain valuable knowledge on specific content. I also learnt at a professional
development session about Improving Boys Literacy that boys in particular appreciate having numerous
small goals (on the rubric) with a timeline and to be held to those; celebrated when they’re achieved and
given consequences when they’re missed.

Argumentation with text
Allows students to express their ideas aloud and make their ideas concrete through their own expression.
State the main idea, explain your POV, explain what it is important to believe the way you do, present
information that supports your idea, focus only on your argument and the most important points,
determine arguments against you POV and offer evidence against them, support your argument with
evidence from research, summarise and restate your strongest argument. You could also have a debate
in class which incorporates genuine two-way discussion and allows space for students to speak what
they know, and also, anecdotally, students seem to love it (year 13 bio debating the costs v benefits of
migration was such a hit they requested to do it again).


Reflect on real-world problems and learn to express ideas and concepts and to communicate through
writing, as well as having access to an authentic audience.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Learn - Research - Literature Review

Today I’m posting about what I’ve learnt from reading the National Science Teachers Association (2005)
article Improving Science Reading Comprehension. NSTA WebNews Digest: Science Scope, Features.

This piece of writing mentions activating prior knowledge before beginning a reading; making predictions,
separating keywords (given by the teacher) into categories, and completing anticipation guides (as some
of the previous two posts also mention - so I won’t go into that again!)

Today I would like to share what I took away from this reading:

Keeping a response log
A response log can be closed - where the teacher decides what students respond to - or it can be open
and students can choose what they respond to. I nicked a screenshot from their website because it was
such a clear example:

Say something
This strategy also encourages students to think while reading. Students work in small groups and read
a passage from a text chosen by the teacher. Prior to student reading, predetermined stopping points
are marked into the text. For example, a chapter from a text may be divided into 10 sections.

All students begin reading along and read until stopping point one. Students then take turns “saying
something” about what was read. All students in the group are expected to respond to the text. The
groups are student-run, but the teacher serves as a rotating facilitator to assist and observe groups as

I used the Say Something strategy in the Microorganisms unit designed with my friend Graham Stoddard and the help of our school literacy specialist Marc Milford - you can view it / use it here if you would like: It has a heavy emphasis on literacy.

Special support for struggling students
Put reading assignments on audiotape and allow students to listen to them once they have attempted
the reading on their own. This repeated exposure can enhance comprehension and alleviate student

Teachers can also link students up with a reading buddy. The reading buddy can serve as the first
contact for answering questions about the text. This can eliminate a line of students waiting to ask the
teacher questions.

Teachers can also provide graphic organizers that assist students in focusing on the main ideas. These
can be outlines for students to follow during reading, a list of questions to check for comprehension
before a student moves on to the next section, or a dictionary keyed to the text to help identify essential

Friday, 5 October 2018

Learn - Research - Literature Review

Yup, I’m still writing about Seddon, M. (2017). Strategies for integrating literacy into a science
classroom. Graduate Research Papers, 115.

So far I’ve covered Seddon’s explanation of annotation, anticipation reading guides and reflection.
Today it’s on to the last two:

Graphic Organizers
Graphic organizers are visual and spatial representations of information and relationships found
within text. They are typically one page combination of words and diagrams. Teachers should begin
by modelling the use of specific graphic organizers; flow charts, Venn diagrams, t-charts or concept
maps. This is most effective when students are allowed to construct their own graphic representation
- but first they have to know how to!

Summarization and Synthesis
This skill is necessary for annotating, reflecting or constructing graphic organisers.. Teachers must
explicitly instruct students on how to put multiple sources together in a way that establishes
connections between sources and allows students to develop their own ideas and arguments (Silva,
2013). Teachers could use a jigsaw puzzle as an analogy for how synthesis works; no piece being
enough to see the whole picture. I also quite like the analogy of weaving..

The next step in a synthesis lesson would be to participate in a shared reading and discussion of
student/teacher responses based on that text; take part in a read aloud of a different text and
practice reflecting upon a new text. Finally, students should be provided with feedback concerning
an independent quick write or think-aloud. After students practice with the teacher, they should be
given multiple opportunities to practice throughout the term.

There's also a really great example of a unit plan employing these strategies here - Are We Ready
for a Pandemic?