From Images to Writing: A Formative Assessment Approach for Developing Understanding of Abstract Concepts in Primary Science

Project Number
AFR 02/15 JY

Project Duration
January 2016 - January 2019


The goal of this study is thus to design an “image-to-writing” approach as a means to elicit information about primary school students’ understanding from images they create and to develop strategies to help them close the gap of understanding of basic scientific concepts; as well as communicate their understanding with appropriate scientific language. Learning basic scientific terms and concepts is an important learning goal of primary science. We conceive concept learning to be learning to interpret and use the language of science. Drawing from the theory of multimodality, we hypothesise that a dynamic process of creating and transforming representations from concrete to abstract and from iconic images to abstract symbols of written text, can help students learn scientific concepts better. Such an approach is similar to the ways that scientists use representations to conceptualise ideas. The capability of images to give forms to entities and produce specific visual-spatial meanings also meant that teachers can better assess students’ conceptualisation in ways that written text might not be capable of. The information can then be used to develop strategies to help them close the gap of understanding basic scientific concepts. A pedagogy focused on representations also brings to the fore the representational and epistemic practices of science. However, an “image-to-writing” approach demands that teachers need to have representational and epistemological knowledge besides content knowledge. The objectives of this study are thus to (1) determine the effectiveness of an “image-to-writing” approach to formative assessment, (2) identify pedagogical processes and strategies that support primary science students in creating, assessing and refining representations, and in transforming them from images to writing, (3) identify the knowledge and skills teachers need to design and implement an “image-to-writing” lesson. To address the research objectives, the study will take a design research approach involving three cycles of design and development of lessons and interventions, implementation, and analysis and reflection. Participants will be primary four students of middle- to low-progress as these are the children who tend to struggle most with understanding of scientific concepts and the use of the language of science. Data will include video recordings of students’ talk and artifacts created during the lessons, teacher and students’ interviews, and meetings notes, and a conceptual test as a post-test (a control group will used for comparison). It is expected that the findings of this study will provide useful information on how primary science students’ learning of scientific concepts can be further enhanced and the areas of professional development for in- and pre-service primary science teachers.

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