Improving Student Writing Outcomes in the Science Classroom Using a Genre-based Approach

Workshop Overview and Suggested Audience
As science educators many of us assign writing but feel uncertain how to enact meaningful writing instruction. We will introduce genre-based pedagogy and activities that are supported by this framework. This science writing instruction workshop is intended as useful for all science educators including those working with pre-service educators.

Workshop Presenters
Dr. Ally Hunter and Christine McGrail are both former research scientists and science educators who now teach and research in university STEM writing and communication. At the beginning of the workshop we will further introduce ourselves and our STEM trajectories to highlight our own diversity of experience and provide transparency of who we are as facilitators.

Workshop Focus and Relevance
In this workshop, we will introduce genre-based writing pedagogy as a tool for the science classroom. Genre-based pedagogy is a writing instruction strategy that deepens student understanding of modes of science communication. Writing practices in the science classroom typically employ process writing strategies to aid student generation of formal writing products. Process writing strategies may include pre-writing, multiple drafts and peer review, however, they remain decontextualized and fail to develop student understanding of rhetorical situations and language patterns used in specific contexts. Furthermore, typical process writing practices make assumptions about socially constructed meaning and cultural use of language which position some students at disadvantage for success, particularly students with backgrounds in non-dominant languages. Genre-based pedagogy is an approach to writing that has been honed in the second-language learning context where students master writing in a non-dominant language. This approach becomes especially useful for learners who are similarly learning to write and communicate in the new ‘language’ of science. Genre refers to socially established ways of using language to communicate. Genre based writing practices offer students explicit and systematic explanations of the ways language functions in social contexts and create an understanding of using language to create meaning in specific contexts (Hyland, 2003). Genre-based pedagogy strategies emphasize deconstruction of text as a mechanism for understanding the rhetorical moves in text, prior to construction of new text. For example, deconstructing a lab report allows students to understand the rhetorical moves necessary in each section of the paper. Genre-based approaches emphasize real-world genres writing with a specific purpose and for a specific audience. Because genre-based approaches also emphasizes revision as a key to understanding and improving text, in our science classrooms we have developed a robust series of highly effective revision strategies that move students away from passive peer review toward meaningful incorporation of feedback. We will explore both learning-to-write activities as well as writing-to-learn activities that are supported through this genre-based approach. Further, we will discuss and demonstrate how structured peer review in the classroom can help students improve their writing outcomes through revision steps, thereby positioning the instructor to support student’s writing gains rather than spending hours editing their written work.

Learner outcomes
After the session, participants will be able to:
1. Describe the genre-based approach in relation to strategies and activities for practice in the biology classroom.
2. Implement an in-class activity and structured assignment that are based in the genre-based approach.
3. Scaffold meaningful peer review activities for students to harness the power of revision in improving their writing.
Workshop Activities and Instructional Strategies
Throughout the workshop, participants will be actively engaged in discussing key elements of genre-based pedagogy. Genre-based pedagogy provides an ideal platform for inclusive pedagogy practices because it emphasizes student-facilitated knowledge construction. When educators make space for student voices, we have to control for dominant voices. The workshop presenters will position themselves as facilitators and model classroom use of structured small-group strategies such as a jigsaw to attend to the diversity in the workshop. Jigsaw is a strategy that allows participants to work in groups but also move through groups to share prior knowledge and prior experiences that move learners from the position of novice to the position of expert. Participants will be guided through a STEM identity activity (Tuitt, Haynes, & Stewart, 2016) that highlights diversity of experiences, further positions learners as experts and sets the stage for productive peer interactions. Brain writing rather than brain storming will be practiced as an additional strategy to minimize dominant voices in small group work and foster equitable sharing within and across groups. Participants will experience example writing activities and assignments through small-group and jigsaw teaching strategies. Participants will also explore how to structure peer review by using rubrics and strategies to foster student-generated revision steps.

Support for Continued Learning Beyond the Workshop
The workshop facilitators will provide participants with their emails and welcome questions and further discussion. To encourage participants to continue to learn from each other, we will make a Padlet where we can all check in with each other, comment, and post next steps and feedback asynchronously.