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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Examining the use of Writing-to-learn Strategies within Science Classrooms across Different Grade Levels

Brian Hand.

The importance placed on using writing-to-learn strategies within science classrooms has increased with the greater recognition given to science literacy in the National Science Education standards (NRC, 1995). The standards document has indicated that science educators need to adopt a much broader conception of science literacy to incorporate a greater emphasis on the communicative functions and purposes of literacy. However, researchers such as Halliday, Yore and Alvermann (1994) and Rivard (1994) have suggested that current research efforts have not been sufficiently developed for the science education community to have a rich understanding of the pedagogical processes required for implementation, the cognitive strategies used, conceptual gains achieved, and the overall benefits to students.

During the last decade there has been a number of classroom based studies which have begun to focus on these undefined areas, for example, Rivard and Straw (2000), Mason and Boscoli (2000), Prain and Hand (1999) and Rudd, Greenbowe, and Hand (2001). Each of these studies has focused on implementing writing-to-learn strategies within school based science classrooms ranging from grade four classes to university freshman chemistry laboratory classrooms. These studies have identified gains in students conceptual understandings and attitudes when using writing–to-learn strategies.

This paper will discuss a secondary analysis of seven studies on the implementation of writing-to-learn strategies within school science classrooms currently being conducted. The authors have implemented the studies over a range of contexts and thus this analysis seeks to determine common trends emerging.

Each of the seven studies used in the secondary analysis had the same basic research design in that each was a quasi-experimental pre/post test design. Two of the studies were conducted with year 7 biology students on the topic of cells, one with year 9 biology students on the topic of cells, three with year 10 biology students on the topics of cells and molecular biology, and one with year 11 chemistry students on the topic of stiochoimetry. Each of the test designs was based upon a two-section structure incorporating a multiple choice/short answer section and a section involving a number of higher order conceptual questions. The number of questions appearing in section varied across the studies, however each test had the same two-section structure. While the number of conceptual questions varied across each study, each of these questions was analysed and coded for type depending on the cognitive demands required. These questions were coded as recall, integration, analogy or synthesis.

Analysis is being completed using univariate analysis on posttest scores to compare group mean scores on each of the sections of the test. Scores from each test were broken into scores on the multiple choice/short answer section as a total score, scores on each of the individual conceptual questions, total score on conceptual questions and total score on the test itself. The co-variate used for each study was the pre-test score.

The following questions are being addressed as a part of the study in comparing control and treatment students:
1. Does using writing-to-learn strategies improve students performance on higher order conceptual questions?
2. Does using writing-to-learn strategies improve students performance on total test scores?
3. Is there a difference in performance on test across the students depending on year level and/or gender?
4. Is there a difference in performance on the various types of conceptual questions used?


Brian Hand  (United States)
Professor in Science Education
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Iowa State University

Professor and Dirfector of the Research Centre for Excellence in Science Eduication

  • Writing-to-learn
  • Science
  • Secondary School

(30 min Conference Paper, English)