Assessing Conceptual Understanding in Primary Science Through Students’ Multimodal Representations in Science Notebooks



This chapter reports on a study which explored how teachers could identify gaps in their students’ conceptual understanding, and facilitate students’ use of both appropriate content vocabulary and visual representations to communicate scientific concepts through the use of science notebooks. The study pilots a framework that was developed for assessing, through students’ artefacts, the extent to which students’ conceptual understanding, specific content vocabulary, and the ability to show relationships between concepts were made explicit. Implications are discussed, with attention given to refinements of the framework.



The authors wish to thank Noorhafidzah Shaffi, Amy Tan Li-Xian, Wong Choo Lat supported by Chew Mun Wai of Ang Mo Kio Primary School for their invaluable support and contribution to this study.


  1. Airey, J., & Linder, C. (2009). A disciplinary discourse perspective on university science learning: Achieving fluency in a critical constellation of modes. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(1), 27–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allison, E., & Goldston, M. J. (2018). Modern scientific literacy: A case study of multiliteracies and scientific practices in a fifth grade classroom. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 27(3), 270–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bybee, R. W., Taylor, J. A., Gardner, A., Scotter, P. V,  Powell, J. C., Westbrook, A., & N. Landes, N. (2006). The BSCS 5E instructional model: Origins and effectiveness. A report prepared for the Office of Science Education, National Institutes of Health. Colorado Springs, CO: BSCS.Google Scholar
  4. Danielsson, K., & Selander, S. (2016). Reading multimodal texts for learning – a model for cultivating multimodal literacy. Designs for Learning, 8(1), 25–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Edwards, N. (2015). Multimodality in science education as productive pedagogy in a PGCE programme. Perspectives in Education, 33(3), 159–176.Google Scholar
  6. English Language Institute of Singapore (ELIS). (2011). Whole school approach to effective communication. Retrieved from
  7. Hargrove, T. Y., & Nesbit, C. (2003). Science notebooks: Tools for increasing achievement across the curriculum. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED482720).Google Scholar
  8. Halliday, M. A. K., & Martin, J. R. (1993). Writing science. Literacy and discursive power. London: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  9. Ho, M. L. C., Nelson, M. E., & Mueller-Wittig, W. (2011). Design and implementation of a student-generated virtual museum in a language curriculum to enhance collaborative multimodal meaning-making. Computers & Education, 57(1), 1083–1097.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jewitt, C., & Kress, G. (Eds.). (2003). Multimodal literacy. New York, NY: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  11. Klein, P. D., & Kirkpatrick, L. C. (2010). Multimodal literacies in science: Currency, coherence and focus. Research in Science Education, 40(1), 87–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality. A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. Kress, G., & van Leeuwen, T. (2001). Multimodal discourse: The modes and media of contemporary communication. London, New York: Arnold.Google Scholar
  14. Lemke, J. (1998). Multiplying meaning: Visual and verbal semiotics in scientific text. In J. Martin & R. Veel (Eds.). Reading science: Critical and functional perspectives on discourses of science (pp. 87–113). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Lim, F. V. (2018). Developing a systemic functional approach to teach multimodal literacy. Functional Linguistics., 5, 13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lim, F. V., O’Halloran, K. L., Tan, S., & E, M. K. L. (2015). Teaching visual texts with multimodal analysis software. Educational Technology Research and Development, 63(6), 915–935.Google Scholar
  17. Lim, F. V., & Tan, K. Y. S. (2018). Developing multimodal literacy through teaching the critical viewing of films in Singapore. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy., 63(3), 291–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Macken-Horarik, M., Love, K., Sandiford, C., & Unsworth, L. (2017). Functional grammatics. London, New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Marquez, C., Izquierdo, M., & Espinet, M. (2006). Multimodal science teachers’ discourse in modelling the water cycle. Science Education, 90(2), 202–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McDermott, M. A., & Hand, B. (2013). Improving scientific literacy through multimodal communication: Strategies, benefits and challenges. School Science Review, 97(359), 15–20.Google Scholar
  21. Mills, K. A., & Unsworth, L. (2017). Multimodal literacy. In Online Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Retrieved from
  22. Prain, V., & Waldrip, B. (2006). An exploratory study of teachers’ and students’ use of multi-modal representations of concepts in primary science. International Journal of Science Education, 28(15), 1843–1866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Prain, V., & Waldrip, B. (2010). Representing science literacies: An introduction. Research in Science Education, 40(1), 1–3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Reed, M. (2012). Science notebooks: Improving students’ conceptual and scientific practices. Paper submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Science Education. Montana: Montana State University.Google Scholar
  25. Ruiz-Primo, M. A., Li, M. & Shavelson, R. J. (2002). Looking into students’ science notebooks: What do teachers do with them? CSE Technical Report 562. Los Angeles, CA: Centre for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing, University of California.Google Scholar
  26. Schleppegrell, M. (2004). The language of schooling: A functional linguistics perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Tang, K. S., Tan, S. C., & Yeo, J. (2011). Students’ multimodal constructs of the work-energy concept. International Journal of Science Education, 33(13), 1775–1804.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Tang, K. S., Ho, C., & Putra, G. B. S. (2016). Developing multimodal communication competencies: A case of disciplinary literacy focus in Singapore. In B. Hand, M. McDermott, & V. Prain (Eds.), Using multimodal representations to support learning in the Science classroom (pp. 135–158). Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tang, K. S. (2015). Reconceptualising science education practices from new literacies research. Science Education International., 26(3), 307–324.Google Scholar
  30. Towndrow, P. A., Nelson, M. E., & Yusuf, W. F. B. M. (2013). Squaring literacy assessment with multimodal design: An analytic case for semiotic awareness. Journal of Literacy Research, 45(4), 327–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Unsworth, L. (2014). Investigating point of view in picture books and animated movie adaptations. In K. Mallam (Ed.), Picture books and beyond: Ways of reading and discussing multimodal texts (pp. 92–107). Sydney: Primary English Teaching Association of Australia.Google Scholar
  32. van Leeuwen, T. (2017). Multimodal literacy. Viden om Læsning [Knowledge About Reading], 21, 14–21.Google Scholar
  33. Yeo, J., & Gilbert, J. K. (2017). The role of representations in students’ explanations of phenomena in physics. In D. F. Treagust, R. Duit, & H. E. Fischer (Eds.), Multiple representations in physics education (pp. 255–287). Cham: Springer International Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ministry of EducationSingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore

Personalised recommendations