Kathie M. Black, Ph.D., University of Victoria




Personal development of science teaching begins as preservice teachers contemplate their own learning situation during a science methods course.  Perhaps students have thought of how they want to teach or know inherently strategies they want to incorporate, but when asked to write and analyze their learning process through journaling with directed focus question, this process becomes clearer (Klentschy & Molina-de La Torre, 2004).  This section of the workshop focused on reincorporating writing to learn in science methods courses through journaling using instructor given focus questions.  Participants worked through the enterprise of developing appropriate journal focus questions and analyses of student answers.




Learning any new subject is challenging, often frustrating, but usually rewarding.  Pre-service education students come to the science methods classroom with a myriad of experiences and understandings of the world around them.  They’ve studied science content previously, to what extent largely dependent upon personal choice and degree programme, and they’re looking toward learning to teach science.  Many of them are nervous about their teaching abilities and personal knowledge of science and carry a trepidation of how content and pedagogy come together successfully in the science classroom.   Pre-service teachers are bombarded with a plethora of new terms and ideas related to inquiry based science, hands-on/minds-on activities, assessment in science, the nature of science, scientific literacy, current reform suggestions, and standards based instruction.  Pulling together and making sense of the knowledge swirling around them and putting that knowledge into practice becomes their ultimate objective in science methods.  However, pre-service students often tend to be resistant to new ideas, preferring rather to pull together their existing previous knowledge and experience, but these beliefs can change as a result of instruction and experience that helps students meld old ideas with new ones being presented (Bryan & Tippins, 2005).  One of the most effective strategies at helping students meld new understanding with old is through the science-literacy connection.  Linking literacy skills to learning how to teach science content helps pre-service teachers have practical and personal motivation to use language in helping them make the connections between content knowledge and teaching pedagogy (Klentschy & Molina-De La Torre, 2004).  According to Klentschy & Molina-De La Torre (2004), communication through language is vital in the process of learning and conducting science.  Words help us frame our understanding and give us a space to reflect on these ideas through writing.  Writing helps us to attach a personal response to our experiences, clarifies our ideas, and helps us construct our knowledge.  In practice of the science structured inquiry based classroom that uses a five “E” structure, writing becomes a natural foundation for the extend and evaluation phase of our lessons (Black, 2005).

            Writing in the science classroom takes on many forms from research reports, lab reports, science notebooks, and reflective journaling.  The term ‘science notebook’ and ‘science journal’ are often used interconnectivily in the research.  Some authors refer to ‘science notebooks’ as lab notebooks in which students write their findings of experimentations and ‘journals’ to places where students write their reflections of their experiences.  Science notebooks have become more then just lab reporting notebooks in most science research forums, they have become the place where students can not only record data from experiences, but also reflect on their own learning, answer questions, formulate ideas, generate new questions, and dialogue with the teacher (Akerson & Young, 2005; Fulton & Campbell, 2004; Klentschy & Molina-De La Torre, 2004). 

Just asking students to write and reflect in their journals is about as effective as asking “yes” “no” questions during a science class or simply stating to students, “are there any questions” (Olson & Clough, 2004).  Questioning techniques in teaching remain a strong focus in all our teaching efforts from the first establishment of the ‘three second wait’ rule in giving students time to formulate their verbal answers to higher level questioning in class discussions.  Journaling in science is most effective when developed around effective prompts and questions.  Helping students formulate their answers through guiding their writing and giving them a ‘start’ point enhances knowledge construction and connections between their existing knowledge and new information (Klentschy, 2005).  Miller & Calfee (2004) suggest six suggestions of writing prompts for guiding student writing.  The first involves a focus statement that serves the purposes of activating student prior knowledge and draws students into critically thinking about what they are about to write.  A second is to ask students to consider their audience, in journaling the audience is either the teacher or the students’ own personal voice, and a third is the type of form the writing takes, such as essay, letter, or narrative.  Two more suggestions are to be specific and simple with instructions regarding students writing and encourage students to support their written statements with details from their experiences.  Finally, writing needs space – time and physical space – within which to develop. 

After establishing effective parameters for student reflective writing, it is up to the instructor to develop focus questions to help students ponder while writing.  These questions help create the dialogue between student and teacher by exploring issues involved in the learning situation, defining evidence found, or exploring new avenues for thought.  Effective focus questions ask students to give evidence for their claims, encourage them to offer other explanations for what they experienced, or ask them to elaborate on a particular event or subject discussed or explored in the science classroom (Klentschy & Molina-De La Torre, 2004).  

The following are sample focus questions:

  • Based on class discussion, video presentation, class readings, and your own experience, how do you think you might become aware of your own misconceptions of science concepts and/or also those of your students?

·        Write for one minute in your journal about everything you experienced in today’s class.  After the one-minute, discuss how you might like to introduce/remind your own students of the science process skills.

·        Compare & contrast the learning cycle teaching strategy with the way you’ve learned science.  Discuss your feelings of teaching in this manner.

·        Looking back at your own education, what has been the major form of assessment?  How do you think you could incorporate more effective assessment techniques into your own planning?


Workshop Activity –

Designing Focus Questions

1.      Establish for yourself the most important ‘need to know’ aspect from the learning situation (whether it be science or methods – perhaps both if your students are uncomfortable with science content);

2.      Write several higher order level questions that you might ask during a discussion.

3.      From these questions, determine one or two that might be best explored through writing.

4.      Consider your audience – do you want to change this for individual journal explorations or simply have it be a dialogue between student and instructor?

5.      Encourage students give support for their claims.

Responding to Answers

1.      Responding to reflective answers is tricky.  Do not be judgmental.

2.      Look to see if answers are knowledge ‘telling’ or knowledge ‘developing’.

3.      Respond to questions with a question.  Such as, “this is interesting, have you thought of…” or “you claim to be ineffective at… please give an example of a situation where you’ve felt this and one where you’ve succeeded”.  Etc. 



Akerson, V.L. and Young, T.A.  (2005).  “Science the “Write” Way”.  Science and Children, NSTA, Vol. 43, Number 3: 38-41.

Black, K.M.  (2005).  Strengthening pre-service student understanding and application of writing to learn in science through sequenced writing tasks.  Conference paper presentation at ASTE, Colorado Springs, Colorado, January 2005.

Bryan, L.A. and Tippins, D.J.  (2005).  “The Monets, Van Goghs, and Renoirs of Science Education:  Writing Impressionist Tales as a Strategy for Facilitating Prospective Teachers’ Reflections on Science Experiences.”  Journal of Science Teacher Education.  Vol. 16:227-239.

Fulton, L. and Campbell, B.  (2004).  “Student-Centered Notebooks”.  Science and Children, NSTA Vol. 42, Number 3; 26-29.

Klentschy, M.P.  (2005).  Science Notebook Essentials.  Science and Children, Vol. 43, Number 3: 24-27.

Klentschy, M.P. and Molina-De La Torre, E.  (2004).  Student’s Science Notebooks and the Inquiry Process. Crossing borders in literacy and science instruction: Perspectives on theory and practice. Newark, DE/Arlington, VA: International Reading Association/National Science Teachers Association. Pp 340-354.

Miller, R.G. and Calfee, R.C.  (2004).  Making Thinking Visible.  Science and Children, Vol. 42, Number 3: 20-25.

Olson, J.K. and Clough, M.P.  (2004).  What Questions Do You Have?  In Defense of General Questions:  A Response to Croom.  Teachers College Record, http://www.tcrecord.org, ID Number 11366.


Contact information:

Dr. Kathie M. Black

1120 Fabrick Drive

Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada V9K 1M9

(250) 240-7488 (cell)