Promoting the Understanding of Photosynthesis Among Elementary School Student Teachers Through Text Design

Aug. 01, 2014

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Volume 25, Issue 5, (August 2014), 581–600
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study was to investigate what kind of conceptions elementary school student teachers have regarding photosynthesis and whether or not a refutational text fosters an understanding of the phenomenon more effectively than a traditional, nonrefutational text. The authors were also interested in how the level of learners’ previous knowledge was connected to learning via different text types.

A total of 91 native Finnish-speaking second-year student teachers from a Finnish university participated in the study. Approximately three out of every four students had completed a compulsory basic course on biology for the elementary school level.
The students were randomly assigned to different text groups, where half of the students read a refutational science text on photosynthesis, and the other half read a non-refutational text about the same phenomenon. Then, they answered open-ended questions.


The results indicate that pre-service elementary school teachers’ understanding of photosynthesis was relatively poor before they read the text, although most of the students had completed a basic course on the pedagogy of biology for the elementary school level. However, after reading the text, the participants achieved significantly better results, and thus the intervention was successful. On the delayed post-test, students’ scores decreased only slightly from the post-test level.

The results also indicate that the refutational text supported students’ learning of photosynthesis more than the traditional, non-refutational text. In this study the refutational text interestingly appeared to be a more effective support for systemic and factual learning than the non-refutational text. The effectiveness of the refutational text might be based on an awakening of the reader’s meta-conceptual awareness, when he or she starts to compare his or her previous conceptions with the contents of the text.

The refutational text seemed to especially support those students with weak conceptual understanding regarding the connection between the concepts of ‘photosynthesis’ and ‘nourishment’. These students did not understand how concepts of nourishment and photosynthesis are linked to each other and, hence, did not truly understand the nature of photosynthesis. In contrast, for those students who had moderate or high previous knowledge concerning these concepts, it made no difference whether they read a refutational or a non-refutational text.
The authors suggest that refutational texts could be used in teaching in science classrooms such that they could support those students in higher education with a weaker previous understanding.
Furthermore, participants’ answers were analysed using a conceptual map in order to clearly see if a learner had truly understood, first, the essential concepts regarding photosynthesis, and, second, the interconnections between those concepts. Thus, a refutational text may act as an effective facilitator of conceptual change. The authors believe that conceptual maps could be used more than at present in teacher education, where students face the challenging goal of mastering a huge amount of information from different disciplines.

This study has implications for developing the science curriculum and textbooks in teacher education, which involves independent studying across different domains. Using refutational texts would be an easy and economical tool to promote an understanding of the most complex scientific phenomena.

Updated: Nov. 29, 2016