Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Curriculum Literacies and the School Garden

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Curriculum Literacies and the School Garden

Article excerpt


The focus of this paper is the school garden as a site for engaging students in learning literacy in the curriculum. Of particular interest is how the garden works as a physical and curriculum learning space to bring into focus curriculum literacies across a range of learning areas. Literacy teaching opportunities occur both explicitly and incidentally during school garden lessons. Examples of several curriculum literacies accommodated within the school garden focus are provided together with descriptions of how discipline-specific literacy learning can occur in a school garden environment. The starting proposition for the study reported here is that literacy teaching is a cross-curriculum priority and the school garden allows curriculum literacies (Wyatt-Smith & Cumming, 2003) to flourish in a concrete learning setting. The authors draw on the school garden literature and on interview data from key stakeholders from two Brisbane State primary schools to inform this paper.


School gardens are engaging, authentic learning sites, with various writers identifying students' enthusiasm for these spaces (Nutall and Millington, 2008; Alexander, 2009; School Food Trust, 2007). There are many different types of school gardens in practice today including indigenous gardens, kitchen gardens, garden clubs, re-vegetation projects (or native gardens), and permaculture gardens. They cover a wide array of aspects of the school curriculum, most with some form of environmental education or sustainability component. The garden programs may carry on across several teaching years and vary in size from container gardens run by an individual classroom teacher to large gardens which employ specialist garden staff. Malone and Tranter (2003, p. 289) describe school grounds as having 'potential as a rich resource for formal learning', as well as providing learning 'via unregulated exploration and play'. As Henderson (2009) identified, central to student engagement with learning about literacies was the opportunity to engage with tasks with authentic purposes and audiences. The two school gardens investigated for the current study were established primarily to teach about nutrition and sustainability; however, many examples from middle years teachers and teaching staff included literacies across a variety of disciplines, including: English, Mathematics or Numeracy, Science, Environmental Education, ICT and Art.

Nuttall and Millington (2008) documented a teacher's school garden development at Seville Road State School in Brisbane, Queensland in the early 1990s. The action to make a vegetable garden as a result of her Year 5/ 6 class's suggestion to grow a rainforest, became 'child initiated experiential learning' (2008, p. 21). The teacher explained that from the students' ideas, 'It became my job to find the curriculum links and that, surprisingly, was not difficult' (2008, p. 21). Examples of curriculum literacies included Maths--volume (ordering soil) and probability (fundraising by running a raffle); and English--report writing; speech writing and speaking skills (giving talks on field days).

Further afield, in Waynewood Elementary School, Virginia, one teacher integrated every subject into the garden lessons. For example, Science investigations included observing and documenting lifecycles of plants and nutrient analysis; mathematics covered design of gardens and measurements of plant growth; SOSE looked at the cultural and historical aspects of the plants; English involved reading stories about gardens of the world; and Art lessons involved drawing plants and animals in the garden (Miller et al., 2002).

She taught environmental education using a cross-disciplinary approach and simultaneously taught such core subjects as math, science, and geography. (Miller et al., 2002, p. 139)


The literacy learning outcomes of Queensland primary school students are significantly below those in New South Wales, Victoria, the ACT and many OECD countries. …

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