Integrating, fostering and encouraging the development of literacy skills in the Irish Primary science classroom
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The National strategy to improve literacy and numeracy among children and young people 2011-2020 in Ireland states that we need to prioritise literacy and numeracy through positive interventions and integrating these skills across the curriculum. Irish Primary Schools are currently introducing best practice methodologies in literacy and numeracy teaching and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) courses are being rolled out all over the country. However there have been no specific models and CPD courses designed and implemented guiding teachers on how literacy and numeracy skills can be effectively developed in the Primary Science Classroom. The practice and development of key scientific process skills contribute significantly to developing the child’s oral language, reading and writing skills. There is the fear that other curricular areas could be left behind with such a strong focus on developing skills only in English and Mathematics lessons. The overall research question was as follows: What are teachers opinions on and attitudes towards the use of science lessons in, fostering the development of literacy skills in the Irish primary science classroom? This research employed an exploratory sequential mixed methods design of data collection, investigating, identifying and examining the literacy strategies and approaches used by teachers during science lessons, the teachers background and experience and provision of continuous professional development in this area by gathering both quantitative and qualitative data using questionnaires (N=42) and semi-structured interviews (N=3). It was found that teachers incorporate oral language skills as much as possible in science lessons. However employing higher-order inquiry based oral language skills that encourage argumentation, collaborative discussions, pupil questioning, open ended-questioning, reading and writing strategies did not feature as prominently in science lessons. Difficulties impeding the use of such strategies were identified as follows: class sizes, overloaded curriculum, classroom management issues, teachers’ poor scientific knowledge, lack of familiarity with and confidence with pupil lead activities and argumentation strategies. It is clear from the results that high-quality science CPD and supports are needed focusing firstly on developing the teachers Inquiry Based Learning skills, Science Knowledge, Critical Thinking and Argumentation Skills and secondly on school planning of science and integrated approaches to teaching. Overall the integration of Literacy skills across the curriculum needs to be addressed. Science offers a wonderful opportunity for children to develop literacy skills. If science can be envisioned as a subject matter that welcomes the inclusion of literacy practices, it is more likely that primary teachers will find ways to integrate science into their curriculum.