Language and Literacy, Multimodality, and STEM

Focus and Relevance
Building on the success of last year’s workshop (Tippett, Milford, & McDermott, 2016) we will focus on the intersection of language, literacy, and STEM as participants engage in a hands-on activity. The activity itself serves as an anchor for the discussion of effective multimodal use in STEM settings, so although we are taking a hands-on approach, the presentation is a workshop (exploring theoretical aspects) rather than experiential (learning one particular activity or tool). Language in science is an area of interest to many science education researchers and science methods instructors. With an increased emphasis on STEM and on science and engineering practices, even in areas where the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS, Achieve, Inc., 2013) has not been adopted, the role of language in STEM is emerging as a related area of interest. However, the functions of language (e.g., communication, argumentation), the relationship of language pairs of reading/writing, listening/speaking, and viewing/representing, and the affordances of multimodality are not well understood. This workshop will provide a foundation for exploring the interaction of language and literacy in a STEM learning environment. Participants will construct parachutes and analyze possibilities for infusing language into this engineering activity. The multimodal approach can be extended to other STEM activities. We use a common framework of literacy across the STEM disciplines: fundamental literacy, disciplinary understanding, and application of literacy practices to engage in the public consideration of pressing issues (Yore, 2011). We will also consider how language can be better incorporated into K-12 teacher education programs.
Language and Literacy
To be literate indicates a level of mastery in particular aspects of language. Literacy was once considered proficiency in the language strands of reading and writing. Then, in response to sociopolitical changes the notion of literacy expanded to incorporate the strands of listening and speaking. Next, there was a shift away from reading as a decoding skill toward negotiation of meaning (Myers, 1996). Recent technological advances led to an even more complex notion of multiple literacies that encompassed static and dynamic images as well as words and sign systems (New London Group, 1996). As dynamic images became more common, the strands of viewing and representing were acknowledged as important aspects of language and literacy (Myers, 1996). The six strands of reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and representing can be classified by function as interpretive (reading, listening, viewing) or constructive (writing, speaking, representing). These strands have been recognized as playing essential roles in science literacy because their interaction contributes to the communication and construction of knowledge; and they likely play a similar role in developing STEM literacy. The current emphasis on students’ construction of science understanding requires a reversal of the traditional language pairs to capture the constructive-interpretative epistemology in argument-based inquiry: writing/reading, speaking/listening, and representing/viewing.
The pairs are not just tools for the acquisition and communication of knowledge, because science, and therefore STEM is shaped by the language that is used and the language that is used is, in turn, shaped by the specialized demands of communicating science and STEM ideas (Fang, 2005; Fang & Schleppegrell, 2010; Halliday & Martin, 1993; Yore, Florence, Pearson, & Weaver, 2006). Language construes meaning and in science that construal has produced unique grammatical and textual features, such as high levels of lexical density (the amount of information contained in a text), abstraction, and technicality (the use of specialized terminology), and the frequent use of visual representations (Fang, 2005; Halliday, 2004; Unsworth, 2001). Just as science is a component of STEM, these specialized features are also an important aspect of language in STEM. The presence of multiple visual representations and symbolic language means that science is a multimodal discourse (Yore & Hand, 2010), and by association so is STEM. Furthermore, science as argument emphasizes the need to use linguistic patterns of evidence, claims, and explanation along with appropriate scientific meta-language to develop science knowledge and persuade others.
Science texts include nonverbal modes such as symbols, mathematical formulae, graphs, photographs, tables, animations, and diagrams, all of which are highly specialized representations and essential tools for conceptualizing science ideas (Lemke, 1998). The combination of verbal and visual elements used to communicate science concepts requires familiarity with the forms and functions of language and images in order to proficiently construct meaning (Yore & Tippett, 2015). Instruction encouraging the use of multiple modes in writing-to-learn tasks is emerging as an area of study in science education (Ainsworth, Prain, & Tytler, 2011; Eilam & Poyas, 2008). Multimodal writing-to-learn tasks have been shown to be effective pedagogical approaches to teaching science (McDermott & Hand, 2013) and are likely to be effective for teaching STEM. Learning benefits have been most evident when multiple modes are purposefully linked within communication tasks. Research suggests that students who can link multiple modes are likely to experience greater science learning, possibly because they are translating and transforming information across different modalities (McDermott & Hand, 2015). STEM learning environments afford opportunities for incorporating multiple modes to improve student understanding.
Sequence and Duration of Activities
We will use a parachute design activity (an engineering activity using readily available material) as the foundation for unpacking the language strands and illustrating the functions and modes of language embedded in STEM learning environments. Participants will work within constraints to design, construct, and test a parachute while identifying opportunities for highlighting language use. Participants will discuss the use of multiple modes of representation in communicating about and understanding STEM concepts and learn how to help students develop multimodal competency.
A. Introduction (10 minutes) Overview of the Workshop and its Goals
1. Introduction of presenters
2. Goals for participants
3. What is STEM?
4. STEM literacy framework
5. Constructive-interpretive language pairs and functions of language
6. Language and STEM
7. Outline of parachute activity
B. Activity (40 minutes) Parachute Construction (Small Groups)
Using materials provided participants will design, construct, and test parachutes. Participants will be encouraged to consider the science concepts, science and engineering practices, and literacy skills that can be addressed. This STEM activity affords multiple opportunities to emphasize the roles and functions of language, as well as multimodal representations of concepts and ideas. Suitable for K-12 and using readily available materials, creating parachutes is an ideal anchor activity.
C. Activity (20 minutes) Unpacking the Roles and Functions of Language (Whole Group)
1. Identify where language pairs existed in activity
2. Highlight multimodal aspects
3. Brainstorm ideas for additional language activities
D. Consolidation (20 minutes) Group Discussion
Participants will discuss the roles of language in STEM learning. Other topics include: a) embedding language in familiar STEM activities; b) things to consider when emphasizing language with STEM activities (challenges? possibilities?); c) changes in participants’ thinking about language, functions, and multimodality; and d) appropriate use of multiple modes in communicating about STEM and strategies for integrating multiple modes in STEM.
Objectives and Instructional Strategies
Participants will be able to: i) describe the constructive-interpretive nature of language and articulate a list of language functions; ii) identify the utility of multiple modes of representation in STEM learning; iii) construct learning experiences that incorporate language functions and STEM; iv) identify ways to infuse activities for encouraging multimodal communication in teacher preparation courses; and v) outline future research directions for language and literacy in STEM education. Instructional strategies that will be used to achieve these objectives will include: hands-on design and construction, Think/Pair/Share, and writing-to-learn.
Judging Workshop Effectiveness
After the workshop, participants will be asked to complete an online Likert scale questionnaire. Statements might include: ‘I am able to describe the constructive-interpretive nature of language’, ‘the activities offered in this workshop effectively demonstrated the utility of multimodality in STEM’, and ‘I am more able to construct learning experiences that incorporate language functions and STEM’.
Continuing Contact
All participants will be invited to join a Google group and/or share contact information with the presenters. We will provide our email addresses and send out a summary email after the session to all participants who wish to be contacted.
The workshop will be of interest to science teacher educators and graduate instructors because the activities and concepts can be easily incorporated into pre-service teacher education and graduate science education courses. Because we will be discussing the hows and whys of the activities, the workshop will also be of interest to curriculum developers seeking to infuse language and literacy into current STEM materials or wanting to create new materials.
Presenters’ Experience and Expertise
Mark A. McDermott is a clinical associate professor of science education in the College of Education at the University of Iowa. Mark taught secondary biology and chemistry for 14 years, and was a faculty member at Wartburg College before joining the faculty at the University of Iowa. Mark also serves as the College of Education STEM Coordinator and helps organize STEM Outreach efforts. Mark’s research interests include the impact of writing-to-learn and multimodal writing activities on student science learning, best practices in teacher training, and STEM pedagogy. Mark teaches methods courses for pre-service science teachers and has developed, run, and evaluated a number of professional development programs for K-12 science teachers.
Todd M. Milford is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria. He has science and special education teaching experience. Todd teaches at the postsecondary level primarily in the areas of science education, mathematics education, and classroom assessment. His research has been and continues to be varied; however, the constant theme is using data and data analysis to help teachers and students. Todd has provided professional development in a variety of formats.
Christine D. Tippett is an assistant professor of science education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. Chris was an engineer before she became a teacher, which influences her ways of thinking about science and STEM education. Her research interests include visual representations and professional development for science educators. Current projects focus on preservice science teachers’ images of engineers, early childhood STEM education, and assessment of representational competence. Chris has facilitated a number of professional development workshops for in-service teachers.
Budget / Room Requirements
We can accommodate 30 people. We will provide all materials, but we will ask audience to bring wifi devices.