Writing in elementary school science: Factors that influence teacher beliefs and practices
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Teaching and Leadership
Writing in science, Elementary science, Content area writing, Teacher beliefs, Content area literacy, Elementary teacher science
Education | Educational Administration and Supervision | Elementary and Middle and Secondary Education Administration | Science and Mathematics Education
Recent calls for scientifically literate citizens have prompted science educators to examine the roles that literacy holds in students' science learning processes. Although many studies have investigated the cognitive gains students acquire when they write in science, these writing-to-learn studies have typically been conducted with only middle and secondary school students. Few studies have explored how teachers, particularly elementary teachers, understand the use of writing in science and the factors that influence their science and writing lessons.
This was a qualitative case study conducted in one suburban school with four elementary teachers. The purpose of this study was to understand: (a) how teachers' uses of and purposes for writing in science compared to that in English language arts; (b) the factors that drove teachers' pedagogical decisions to use writing in certain ways; (c) teachers' beliefs about science teaching and learning and its relation to how they used writing; (d) teachers' perceptions of students' writing abilities and its relation to how they used writing; and (e) teachers' views about how writing is used by scientists.
Seven main findings resulted from this research. In summary, teachers' main uses of and purposes for writing were similar in science and English language arts. For much of the writing done in both subjects, teachers' expectations of students' writing were typically based on their general literacy writing skills. The teachers believed that scientific writing is factual, for the purpose of communicating about science, and is not as creative or "fun" as other types of writing. The teachers' pedagogical practices in science included teaching by experiences, reading, and the transmission of information. These practices were related to their understanding of scientific writing. Finally, additional factors drove the decisions teachers made regarding the use of writing in science, including time, knowledge of curriculum requirements, science and writing content knowledge, and classroom management.
The findings indicated that the teachers were using writing in some of the ways supported by science and literacy education, but there were many areas of writing in science in which teachers could use support and education. This included more knowledge of authentic uses of writing in the science discipline, general writing-to-learn strategies, and assessment of student ideas and information in writing and not only writing skills. The teachers also needed support in better understanding the nature of science and scientific inquiry, and in how to negotiate the social and cultural factors that influence their pedagogical decisions in order to use writing in more authentic ways. This study suggests that teacher educators and administrators must learn more about how teachers understand their role as elementary teachers, as teachers of writing and science, and the environments within which they work in order to help them move toward authentic literacy and science writing practices.
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Glen, Nicole J., "Writing in elementary school science: Factors that influence teacher beliefs and practices" (2008). Teaching and Leadership - Dissertations. Paper 17.