Secondary Preservice Teachers’ Development of Teaching Scientific Writing

Aug. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Volume 24, Issue 5, August 2013, p. 793-810.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of the study was to explore five science secondary preservice teachers’ intentions for teaching writing and their experience with the unit of study approach while writing a scientific genre. The study sought to understand how preservice teachers applied the unit of study in the field of science.

This study took place at a mid-sized university in the Midwest.
The participants were two undergraduate science preservice teachers and three MAT science preservice teachers. They enrolled in one of two Content Area Reading courses: a section designated for undergraduate secondary preservice teachers and a section designated for Masters in the Art of Teaching (MAT) secondary preservice teachers.

Data were collected through the following means: (1) an open-ended written questionnaire focused on the five science preservice teachers’ intentions for writing instruction, the genres prevalent in their discipline, and their school and personal experiences as writers, (2) correspondences with professionals in the field of science, (3) completed unit of study projects, (4) written reflections about the unit of study, and (5) focus group interviews at the end of the semester.

Discussion and Implications

The participants experienced the unit of study from the stance of a learner, with opportunities to reflect on the assignment from the stance of a teacher. This allowed them to learn more about scientific writing and to develop competence in an instructional approach they could utilize in their future teaching. Through their conversations with science experts and discussions among themselves, the preservice teachers were able to reflect on significant scientific genres and the purpose of scientific writing. They comprehend, interpret, analyze, and critique texts not only for an understanding of how the text is written, but also for the science content being presented. Specifically, close analysis through reading and deconstructing the genre helped preservice teachers recognize how the genre and intended audience influenced the particular language employed. The unit of study required the preservice teachers to be aware of the audience who would be reading their piece.

Preservice teachers considered the relevant genres in science and why scientists write certain genres. This knowledge became tied to conversations about language. Preservice teachers gained an awareness of the role of audience. They recognized that when the audience consisted of other scientists, authors wrote using the academic language of the field. When the piece was written for a more mainstream audience, authors used language that seemed to be more accessible.
Preservice teachers’ written reflections provided them the opportunity to think about the unit of study from a stance of a teacher and to think about the implications for their future classrooms. At the beginning of the semester, preservice teachers assumed their future students would be prepared for ‘‘scientific writing’’ without explicit teaching of the genres or language used in the field. In order to create students who are scientifically literate, they must be taught what scientific writing is, why it is important, and how to incorporate all the necessary components of scientific writing.

At the end of the semester, the five science preservice teachers said they would use the unit of study in their future teaching. Their reasoning included: (1) familiarizing students with genres significant in the field of science; (2) learning the discourse used in scientific writing; and (3) the deep thinking necessary to write an original piece. These five preservice teachers learned how the unit of study could enhance students’ learning of science.

The unit of study provides explicit writing instruction fostering students’ understanding of scientific writing. First, students have the opportunity to read scientific writing, genres authentic to the field. This exposure would provide models to consider when writing in a scientific piece. Second, as students are reading, they are also deconstructing and analyzing scientific writing. This gives students very particular and specific knowledge about how scientific writing is crafted. Third, using their knowledge learned from reading gives students the support and scaffolding necessary to produce an original piece of scientific writing.

This study suggests that preservice teachers need explicit conversations about their intentions for teaching writing. Teacher educators need to help preservice teachers view themselves as teachers with expert knowledge of how to write in science. This requires explicit conversations that debunk the notion that writing can just be ‘‘assigned’’ and not taught.
Preservice teachers need to investigate the various scientific genres, the purpose, and the types of writing students should do in a science classroom. They need to write and to experience the instructional approaches they might use in their future classrooms. This provides them opportunities to consider the practices as a learner and a future teacher. The unit of study offers a way for preservice teachers to learn to teach writing. The close analysis of text, examining both form and function, and the opportunity to use this knowledge to write an original piece, prepares students to become critical readers and writers.

Updated: Apr. 05, 2016


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