Literacy Development and Modeling Proficiency

Can teachers support their students’ development of literacy skills while also supporting the development of science modeling practices during Project-Based Science?  We were curious to find out more about how literacy learning and modeling practices were related. The team reasoned that when students engage in scientific modeling they must speak, listen, write, read, represent and view – all critical aspects of literacy development. We investigated the relationship between teachers’ support of literacy development during science and their students’ modeling proficiency in the PBL context. Modeling proficiency refers to students' ability to develop and use scientific models to explain phenomena.

We focused on the first unit, Why do I see so many squirrels, but I can’t find any stegosauruses? in the Multiple Literacies in Project-based Learning (ML-PBL) materials. The unit includes many multimodal texts that combine print text, audio, video, graphics, and models. We systematically gathered data from 557 students in 24 classrooms across 12 schools who were enacting the ML-PBL curricular system that includes teacher-facing materials, professional learning, and assessment.

We analyzed three different data sources: written observations of teachers and students enacting the ML-PBL lessons, data from teacher exit surveys about their use of the materials, and student assessments of learning.   We applied multilevel mixed linear regression analysis to these data to explore relationships between outcomes and features of curriculum enactment.  For example, we analyze students’ high scores in modeling with how often the observer saw the teacher explicitly support literacy during the lesson, and how often the teacher reported teaching literacy and science together.​​​​​​​

Our analysis shows that high scores in modeling correlated with consistent support by the teacher for literacy. The reverse as well was found – lower modeling scores occurred with fewer instances of literacy teaching during the context of PBL science. Clearly, the findings suggest an important relationship between modeling and literacy support. In short, when teachers support the literacy skills their students need to engage in the modeling practice, they are also supporting the development of modeling proficiency. Teachers and administrators can realize the benefit of honing literacy teaching during science, especially while teaching students to develop and use models. In addition, the study can encourage those interested in Project-Based Learning to consider using multimodal texts as part of PBL, as well as incorporate prompts for the teacher to support students in using those texts.