Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

'Proof of Concept': Beginning to Use Design-Based Research to Improve Science Literacies for Middle Years Learners

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

'Proof of Concept': Beginning to Use Design-Based Research to Improve Science Literacies for Middle Years Learners

Article excerpt

Introduction

The 'middle years' of schooling have been the subject of considerable and dedicated attention in educational research over recent decades. The adolescent learning years are often characterised as an 'at risk' period for learners' continued engagement in education, as they transition from primary to secondary teaching and learning contexts and encounter the changing demands of schools, school cultures, school curricula and the world around them (Luke et al., 2003; Smyth & Hattam, 2001; Smyth & Hattam, 2002; Smyth, McInerney & Hattam, 2003). More recently, the research focus has shifted towards considering issues of curriculum, policy and pedagogic renewal that might inform the underlying problems of transition, engagement and retention (Carrington, 2006; Comber, Nixon & Reid, 2007). One aspect of this shifting focus is consideration of the literacy demands for middle years' learners in specific curriculum areas. Research indicates that specific disciplines/learning areas have distinctly different literacy requirements in terms of the kinds of texts used and how these are constructed and interpreted (Green, 1988; Heselden & Staples, 2002; Shaddock & Freebody, 2005; Staples & Heselden, 2001; Unsworth, 1999), and there is increasing recognition of the significance of these varied literacy demands to learners' engagement, school success and identity development (Draper, 2010; Green, 1988; Lee, 1996; Shaddock & Freebody, 2005; Unsworth, 1999). It is also known that learners often struggle to cope with sudden requirements to understand and produce texts in discipline-specific ways when asked to do so with little scaffolded or explicit support (Draper, 2010; May & Wright, 2007; Staples & Heselden, 2001; Unsworth, 1999). Consequently, it is becoming understood that learners require curriculum-specific, targeted, explicit literacy support to develop the core 'skill sets' to cope with each discipline's particular literacy demands, including skills to decode, understand, analyse, produce, interpret and use texts in a range of genres (Green, 1988; May & Wright, 2007; Staples & Heselden, 2001), as well as to understand and have facility with the technical language or vocabulary of the discipline (Heselden & Staples, 2002; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008; Young, 2005). Additionally, middle years' teachers, often required to teach in a number of curriculum areas (especially in the primary years), need support to identify, understand and provide for this complex range of literacy needs, and to develop sustainable and rewarding pedagogical practices that empower them to both be and feel competent as (literacy) teachers (Comber, et al., 2007; Luke, et al., 2003; O'Brien & Stewart, 1990).

In the context of the new Australian curriculum, with its disciplinary differentiation across all years of learning (i.e. English, Science, Maths, History, Geography, Languages and the Arts are identified as discrete curriculum areas to be taught and assessed independently, from the Foundation school year onwards) and further disciplinary divisions made within these learning areas (e.g. in the Science curriculum, Biological, Chemical, Earth and Space and Physical sciences are identified as separate sub-disciplines, from the Foundation year onwards), it becomes more urgent to understand and provide for the specific literacy demands of each learning area- and its sub-disciplines--and to concurrently address teachers' needs to be able to provide for these varied literacy requirements and to feel competent and rewarded.

There is a need for more detailed research and case studies of teachers' pedagogical practices and learners' responses in the area of curriculum-specific literacies, to explore pedagogical possibilities, identify and clarify the different skills and literacy practices and genres required, and to disseminate this information to the wider Australian teaching population. …

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