Drawing on writing for primary programming

Teaching programming is new to many primary teachers. Although there is a lot to learn for this new subject, there are opportunities to transfer expertise from the teaching of other subjects, and teachers don’t have to start from scratch with their teaching techniques. New research by a team of researchers from Queen Mary University of London and King’s College London suggests that there is a big opportunity for teachers to draw on their skills teaching writing and build them into their teaching of programming.

Originally published in Issue 8 of Hello World: The computing and digital making magazine for educators. Available free at helloworld.cc (Shared under Creative Commons CC BY NC SA).

It is well established that planning is an important part of the process when teaching writing. Teachers use resources such as storyboards and planning grids to help children organise their ideas, set out criteria they need to meet with their writing, consider audience and focus on the purpose of their writing. There is research that shows planning has an impact on the development of children’s writing.

The research team explored whether these kinds of approaches were being used by teachers for teaching programming and how this related to their confidence in teaching. They gathered their data using a survey with questions based on earlier work interviewing teachers in depth. 

They found that teachers mostly reported planning as being a useful approach to teaching writing, with 78% reporting it was ‘Essential’ or ‘Very Useful’. 88% reported that they ‘Always’ or ‘Usually’ used planning when teaching writing, so teachers think planning is useful and take action to use it. The use of design in programming had a different picture. 82% of teachers said design was ‘Essential’ or ‘Very Useful’, but only 44% reported they used design ‘Always’ or ‘Usually’. 

Teachers think design is important for teaching programming, just as they think planning is important for writing, but fewer of them are using design. The survey found that the longer someone had been teaching programming the more likely they were to be using design. This suggests there is a huge opportunity here for more teachers to make use of design in their teaching, an approach that more experienced teachers take that others could learn from. It also suggests there may be potential in exploring other parallels between well accepted teaching approaches in other subjects and how they could transfer to programming.

The full paper also covers more specific details about the types of design approaches teachers use, and differences between teachers of different genders and different levels of experiences.

You can read the paper here. 

 Photo Credit: rileywiebe Flickr via Compfight cc

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