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Curriculum Development Assignment on the Development of Cross-curricular Skills in Students

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I have undertaken my curriculum development assignment (CDA) in Irlam and Cadishead College. For my assignment, I have chosen to concentrate on a mixed ability year 7 class. From my initial observations of the class and subsequent discussions with the teacher, it has become obvious that the class has been struggling with reading and writing and accessing the relevant information. This has been further observed by the way they engaged with extended questions that required explanations to be provided in answering the questions.

With the above observations in mind, I have decided to focus my CDA on employing science in the news in the secondary curriculum. This will enable me to investigate how newspaper articles can provide a valuable context and engaging stimulus for the development of critical reading and writing skills, and especially those associated with scientific analytical thinking skills.

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In this study I will also attempt to develop the pupils’ confidence to enable them to become scientifically literate citizens with a lifelong interest in science who are able to not only read and write but also understand crucial points from source material including media reports (Jarman, 2011).

To enable me to support learning in science and encourage scientific literacy through the news, I will draw upon research from a wide range of relevant sources to inform and guide me on this assignment. During this process I hope to prove that science literature is an outstanding context for developing literacy for pupils. All four critical models of languages can be addressed: reading and writing, talking and listening using discussions in class. These models will be measured by assessing the students’ attitudes towards discussing and debating scientific ideas and issues, critical reflection on information included in the newspaper articles. This process will be enacted through lesson evaluations, student questionnaires and the students’ individual and cooperative work.

Discussion of key critical issues and perspectives

The importance of cross-curricular skills (reading writing, listening and speaking) lies in their transferability. By teaching and assessing cross-curricular activities, teachers can see how pupils improve their attainment across all the subjects and, if required, take the necessary action to move towards further improvement.

Skills such as writing reading, listening and speaking are crucial for communication. Communication is central to the entire school curriculum, and pupils should be able to communicate to express themselves socially, emotionally and physically (Byrne, 2011). Therefore, pupils should be given the chance to engage with relevant articles and demonstrate their skills of communication; to improve their knowledge about communication skills and apply them successfully to real-life situations across the curriculum.

The models of communication include talking and listening and reading and writing. In addition to verbal communication we can use cross curriculum literacy and the use of multimedia and ICT technologies which may show different ways. Pupils should, therefore, be encouraged to become emotional communicators by using a range of techniques, forms and media to transport information and ideas creatively (table 2). Many of these can be officially and informally assessed using both formative and summative techniques.

To explore how to inspire students to read a news article or report by making connections to the explicit topic within the scheme of work, it is important to give due consideration to lesson objectives in relation to the scientific newspaper articles. When newspaper articles are exploited to promote the learning of scientific content, then most of the learning involvements will relate to scientific knowledge and understanding. This may be as simple as alerting students to the presence of relevant science in the newspaper articles, thereby illustrating its importance in everyday life.

News reports are not written with the school curriculum in mind. Nevertheless, some science-related news items may be used to support teaching and learning of science subject acquaintance or ‘science content’. They can be the focus of a complete lesson or even several lessons.

It is also vital to consider how students will be encouraged to dynamically engage with the news reports or texts whether spoken or written. To move students beyond a casual encounter, the teacher will want them to ask or answer questions, to translate information from one form to another and to apply new knowledge in new contexts. The overall level of challenge of the lesson will vary depending on the age and ability of the students. Additionally, there are a number of approaches that may increase the accessibility of an article for students with reading difficulties. Key words and phrases can be discussed in advance. This strategy should increase students’ understanding of the important key terms. Reading support can also be provided. It might be an innovative idea for the teacher to read the article aloud with a class.

One of the most common problems among children with learning difficulties is their lack of accomplishment in the four modes of linguistic appearance. This is attributed to one, or a mixture of, the following factors: speech or sensory impairment; intervention of another language; social, cognitive and emotional skills. Research stresses science education for all, not just for those who have the potential to become scientists (Frost, 1998). Science is seen as a critical component of the curriculum for every boy or girl up to the end of obligatory schooling. Consequently it follows that, since language is the medium through which education is conducted, science teachers must also play their part in encouraging its active use in their own subject by all children, including those who experience linguistic difficulties.

Analysis of the reading and background research that informs the investigation. In a major study (Wellington, 2001) of reading across the curriculum it was found that pupils in the first year of secondary school spent only 9 per cent of their science lesson time reading. Of this small amount, a large share (up to 75 per cent) were reading from a board or from a textbook. Over 90 per cent of all pupils’ reading occurred in ‘bursts’ lasting less than 30 seconds. Extended reading rarely occurs in science lessons. Science is considered a practical, hands-on subject. Validation for making reading a key part of a future science curriculum has two important strands. Firstly, is that reading is a scientific activity. But second, and more significantly for the majority who will not become scientists, when pupils leave school they are far more likely to read about science than they are ever to do it. A significant proportion of the public extract their information about scientific progress from the media. Science teachers are certainly teachers of language; because they are teaching pupils to write, read and talk about science and to listen to other people talking about science. Science has its own rich terminology and language conventions; which must be taught and practised as a component of science lessons. Frost identified some of the features of the language components of science as follows

  • Naming words – nouns that give the names of objects which can be seen: thermometer, sodium, metal…
  • Process words – words that refer to a process: respiration, evaporation, transpiration…
  • Concept words – nouns referring to abstract concept: energy, species, density…

To this list I must add words and phrases associated with study, such as: accuracy, average, pattern, anomalous, correlation, data, reliability, sampling, and variables. They are all linked with procedures required to obtain reliable data and to make suppositions out of the data. Pupils do not just pick up such ’procedural knowledge’, they must be taught it explicitly.

Science is about fundamental connections, which have their own language conventions, mainly in the use of connecting words and phrases. Most of these technical words are not part of the everyday language for many pupils. Even though they are not explicitly scientific words, they can act as a barrier to learning if a teacher is not aware of the difficulties they may cause.

Writing is something which happens a lot in science lessons. Pupils copy notes from the board, they write up observations and conclusions, they draw and label diagrams and they summarize ideas or work they have done in the lesson. Osborne suggested that much of the writing teachers require from pupils in science is of a low-level nature and unchallenging. In recent group survey of year 11 pupils, one of the leading criticisms that emerged about school science was that pupils spent too much time ‘copying’. If being scientifically literate is to mean anything, it should be that pupils need to learn both how to read and how to write in science.

The act of writing in the form of discovery helps the students to shape their ideas. This should be one of the main reasons pupils are asked to write. Writing in science is fundamentally non-fiction and factual. The KS3 Literacy strategy (DfES, 2012) identified eight different types of non-fiction writing. There are listed in appendix 14.

Most teachers in the science department in my placement school prompt the pupils to write descriptions of their laboratory work in their own words rather than to complete sheets or copy notes. The earlier maturation of girls is often showed in their control of writing and drawing and in their marked attention to the presentation and detail of written work. This was occasionally mistaken for an indication that they preferred this way of working.

Justifications for planned subject curriculum development and classroom investigation

Students should develop their ability to read scientific news stories, as this will assist in their reflective and questioning skills. Students were required to work independently to read and respond to the news report. It can then be concluded that the students have learnt something if they know something that they did not know before. Nevertheless, not a lot is known about how students study in the sense of what goes on in their heads when they attain real understanding. There are 3 types of involvement in learning: passive, active and interactive. These kinds of involvements correspond unevenly to the perspectives and approaches (appendix 13). The core involvements include passive, active and inactive.

Newton (2005) states that when you are choosing a piece of text it is essential to ensure that it matches the ability of the students as well as addressing the specific content. Teachers should deliberate the following potential difficulties for students: length and layout of text; presence of accompanying visual clues; replication of keywords and ideas.

Teaching thinking skills allows pupils to recognise how they learn. Although the term ’thinking skills’ is usually used in education circles, the processes involved go way beyond what might be merely described as ‘skills’ (Wilson, 2000). McGuinees (1999) points out that different researchers have formed different taxonomies of thinking.

Thinking involves many multifaceted processes, such as concept formation, tactic learning, decision making and problem solving. All are involved in the construction of knowledge. Nelson mentioned a problem-solving strategy- IDEAL system that can be used in a variation of curriculum areas with students of different ages. It involves five stages: identification of the problem, definition of the terms, discovery of possible strategies, action on the selected strategy and look at the effects. In developing effective writing tasks for pupils, teachers need to carefully consider the following: the determination of the task; the intended audience or relationship; the key concepts to be addressed and whether it will be done through individual or group work (Amos,2002).

A different method to the ‘scientific enquiry’ strand is to demonstrate the involvedness of science research. Reports of research which appeal to pupils and relate to National Curriculum content can be found easily in newspapers, journals and on websites. As a trainee teacher I am planning to try many methods and tactics to help pupils recognise the practices of scientific enquiry.

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