I have included this artefact because it shows that the incorporation of high-quality literacy activities is crucial for students to become familiar with scientific language and terminology.
This artefact links with the following teaching standards (NSW Institute of Teachers, 2005):
2.1.6 Demonstrate knowledge of a range of literacy strategies to the meet the needs of all students.
3.1.3 Select and organise subject/content in logical, sequential and structured ways to address student learning outcomes.
4.1.3 Listen to students and engage them in classroom discussion.
5.1.4 Provide clear directions for classroom activities and engage students in purposeful learning activities.
The lesson included in this artefact was one that I did with my Year 7 class. The students were beginning a unit on separating mixtures, where each lesson in the unit would focus on a particular separation technique (sieving, filtration, evaporation etc). This was the very first lesson for the unit, introducing them to some of the key concepts and terms that they would need to become familiar with.
I started off this lesson with an introductory activity where they had to work in pairs to classify a list of common substances as either a pure substance or a mixture. We then went through these answers on the whiteboard as a whole class, explaining our reasoning as we went and taking a vote from the class for some of the more difficult examples. The students then watched a Clickview video on separating mixtures called “Sieving, Gravity, Chromatography and More” and filled in a cloze activity worksheet above. The last part of the lesson involved matching up a set of six terms with their corresponding definitions, both of which were all jumbled up. We then discussed their results as a whole class.
The purpose of the introductory activity was essentially to get the students to come up with the definitions of a pure substance and mixture by themselves. The students were really engaged with this task and very animated in their discussions. By deliberately refusing to give them the “right” answer, the students really had to think for themselves and give reasons for their choices. This also was useful for me to work our their prior knowledge and misconceptions before moving into the rest of the lesson.
By comparison, the video was a mixed success. It was overly long for their attention spans (taking up approximately 25 min of a 70 min period), the concepts it referred to were too unfamiliar for the students to really understand and it also used a lot of jargon, suggesting that it may have been aimed at a higher year level than Year 7. The cloze worksheet (which had been pre-prepared by my cooperating teacher) seemed to be reasonably effective as a note-taking tool, but because it was largely passive I doubt that it was very useful for the students long-term. Cloze activities need to be very carefully composed in order for students to get the most out of them (Heselden & Staples, 2002).
We also ran out of time to do the last activity effectively. The students found it difficult to match the definitions to the terms, as some of the definitions appeared very similar and there was not enough time to discuss the differences between them. It was also somewhat jarring for them to have put a lot of effort into coming up with their own definitions and then be given definitions that were worded rather differently to their own. It would have been valuable to go more thoroughly through the proper definitions with the students as a form of recasting; that is, taking the students’ ideas and rewording them using more academic and scientific language (Baleghizadeh & Abdi, 2010). However, without being able to spend enough time doing so, the students would not necessarily receive much benefit.
As a result of this lesson, I learned the importance of teaching literacy in the science classroom. I learned that activities that promote scientific literacy need to be adequately structured and allowed plenty of time in order to give the students maximum benefit. It is also important that the transition from everyday to academic language is adequately planned and scaffolded.