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Thinking Response 1: Why Literacy Across the Curriculum

Science and literacy have not always been thought to go well together. More

traditional definitions of literacy were focused on reading and writing and were thought to be

only in the delegation of the English class (Alber, 2010). Recently, the definition has

expanded to also include listening and speaking and has been encouraged to become a key

feature in every curriculum (Alber, 2010). In order to explain why this approach is being

taken today, it is important to discuss why this approach benefits students, what areas of

science are able to incorporate literacy components, and what strategies are best for

incorporating it into the curriculum.

First off, why is this literacy across the curriculum approach being taken? Allan Luke

gave a presentation in which he talked about the main benefits of this approach (Luke,

2018). His first major point was that most subjects are rather difficult to understand until you

have a basic understanding of the jargon that is associated with said subject (Luke, 2018). If

a student was told that hydrocyanation of alkenes is possible with a nickel complex catalyst

with excess phosphite ligands, they wouldn’t even begin to be able to understand the

process for such a reaction until they understood all of the jargon associated with inorganic

chemistry such as hydrocyanation, alkenes, nickel complex catalyst, and phoshite ligand.

Another good point made in his presentation is that when students are better able to

understand the material they are learning, they obviously become much more involved and

see achievement gains as a result (Luke, 2018). This can also have the effect of preventing

behaviour management problems (Luke, 2018) which makes sense as other studies have

shown that keeping students busy and engaged is an effective way to prevent them from

getting themselves in trouble (Hao, 2017). Also, the literacy learned in an english class may

not always crossover into other subjects that well (Luke, 2018). The example he gives in his

presentation is trying to write a science report using the format of an english report (Luke,

2018). Obviously the formats of both are wildly different as both are trying to achieve very
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different goals and so if students are to succeed in writing scientific reports they must first be

taught how to write them.

But what areas of science are open to incorporating literacy into the lesson plan?

Well, the Grade 11 and 12 curriculum document states three key areas of literacy which are

to be taught: general literacy, mathematical literacy, and investigation skills (inquiry and

research) (Ministry of Education, 2008). General literacy can itself be broken up into many

topics. Oral communication is important for discussing topics with other classes and

brainstorming possibilities (see PEOE and think pair share later on) (Ministry of Education,

2008). Written communication is a particularly good skill to teach for when students start to

write lab reports but can also be important for answering questions on tests and showing

method when solving a problem (Ministry of Education, 2008). Visual communication is also

very important for being able to draw chemical structures, force diagrams, structures in

biology, and more (Ministry of Education, 2008). Finally, reading is important not only for the

jargon as mentioned before (Luke, 2018) but for understanding the structure of scientific

papers and learning where to find pertinent information (Ministry of Education, 2008)

The two other types of literacy are more specific in their nature. Mathematical literacy

is very prevalent in both chemistry and physics but also occurs in biology with statistics

(Ministry of Education, 2008). The main focus here is learning how to find the right method to

solve a particular math problem and being able to show your work for how you got there.

Investigation skills are of particular interest because they relate to one of the most important

scientific principles: the scientific process itself (Ministry of Education, 2008). Students will

need to be able to create reasonable hypotheses based on previous knowledge as well as

some more general skills such as distinguishing between primary and secondary sources

(Ministry of Education, 2008).

Finally, there needs to be ways to effectively teach these literacy skills to students.

One general teaching strategy that works well in other areas as well is think-pair-share
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(Sherrington, 2017). When asking students what their predictions might be as to the result of

a particular experiment, the traditional hands up method is terrible because it discourages

students to put their hands up out of a fear of looking dumb for being wrong (Sherrington,

2017). This is particularly bad in science as making a wrong hypothesis is a perfectly normal

part of the scientific process. In think-pair-share, kids are given a moment to discuss in

groups or pairs about what they think might happen which usually gives them more courage

to raise their hands afterwards and share their predictions (Sherrington, 2017).

Another effective tool is predict, explain, observe, explain or PEOE. In PEOE, a

demonstrator sets up an experiment and students have to make a prediction and explain

their prediction (Liew, 1995). Then, the experiment is performed and students observe what

happened and explain their observations (Sherrington, 2017). Research has shown that this

structure to performing demonstrations or experiments to the class increases the student’s

retention of the topics demonstrated compared to just performing the experiment itself

(Sherrington, 2017).

Finally, Inquiry-based investigations is another great tool in the arsenal of teachers.

This approach focuses less on a content heavy approach to teaching science but instead

allows students to conduct experiments, make predictions, and interpret data (Alper, 2018).

This can be a difficult approach for some teachers as it can feel like it takes a lot of power

away from them, but is very effective at getting kids to engage in the scientific process and

get past the discomfort of not immediately knowing the answer (Alper, 2018).

Despite the misconceptions, science is a great topic where literacy can be learned by

students in ways that are more specific to science and in ways that are more general.

Incorporating literacy should be a goal of any great science teacher.

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Alber R. (2010) How Important is Teaching literacy in all Content Areas


Alper C. (2018) Embracing Inquiry-Based Instruction.


Hao Z., Cowan B. W. (2017) The Effects of Graduation Requirements on Risky Health

Behaviors of High School Students. American Journal of Health Economics.

Liew C. W., Treagust D. F. (1995) ​A Predict-Observe-Explain Teaching Sequence for

Learning about Students’ Understanding of Heat and Expansion of Liquids.​

Australian Science Teachers Journal, Vol 41, No 1

Luke A. (2018) Literacy Across the Curriculum


Ministry of Education (2008)​ The Ontario Curriculum Grades 11 and 12 Science.​ Queen’s

Printer for Ontario.

Sherrington T. (2017) ​The Learning Rainforest: Great Teaching in Real Classrooms. ​Melton,

Woodbridge, John Catt Education Ltd, Pg. 200-203.