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Critical Literacy in Lambert’s Bellies Bear a Burden Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 5th, 2020

Critique of a Newspaper Article Regarding Critical Literacy and Numeracy

The article Bellies bear a burden discusses the alarming tendency of a steady increase in the average weight and waistline circumference among the Australian population. The main conclusion drawn from the data is the visible deterioration of mental health and the increased risk of certain health problems such as heart disease.

The text is accompanied by several images, most of which are included to illustrate the dynamics of change in women’s body measurements over the years, as well as a photograph of an obese woman to confirm the severity of the issue. Interestingly, only one image is alarming while others are unlikely to create a negative reaction and therefore do not qualify as scare tactics. The words used in the text are fairly objective, impartial, and scientifically appropriate, such as the description of waistline as “a better indicator of a health risk than other areas of the body” (Lambert 2004, p. 29). Aside from excluding ambiguity, such word choice contributes to the credibility of the article from the readers’ perspective. The findings and extrapolated conclusions are presented by Dr. Rick Kausman, who is constructed in the text as a credible and reliable specialist on the matter. This allows us to further increase the readers’ trust.

The article makes use of several metrics important for understanding the issue which revolves around the mathematical concepts of average (arithmetic mean) and percentage. These numbers are presented in a table and included in the body of the article. The terminology is limited to essential scientific terms to make the message accessible for the majority of the newspaper’s audience. The concepts present quantifiable evidence of the suggestions postulated in the text, which further improves the article’s credibility. It is worth noting that while the table illustrates the increase of any given metric, a graph could be less confusing and more illustrative for the average reader. Most importantly, the cause of the trend is not covered in its entirety. Most prominently, not all possible causes of the observed phenomenon are given in the article. For example, the influence of culture and fashion on the physical characteristics of the female population is omitted from the text (Scott n.d.). Also, while the article explicitly states that “a growing waistline could indicate the risk of health problems,” no information is given on the optimal metrics, which skews the readers’ view towards the uncritical “smaller is better” perspective (Lambert 2004, p. 29).

The purpose of the article (raising awareness of a public health issue) connects into a bigger picture of the obesity problem observed on a global scale (Yatsuya et al. 2014). The inclusion and omission of details explained above results in promoting a healthy lifestyle and denouncing harmful habits (e.g. non-hungry eating). The text is not entirely fair as it does not include proper citation of sources and displays at least one possibility of confirmation bias. Furthermore, it mentions Dr. Kausman’s book, which suggests that he might benefit from scare tactics he condemns at the end of the article. Nevertheless, the fact that it also acknowledges unrealistic diets and does not promote any profit-generating solutions restore the fairness of the text. We can safely conclude that despite signs of possible bias the composer of the text assumes fair values and holds mostly benevolent intentions.

Identifying and Addressing Literacy and Numeracy Demands and Opportunities in a Unit of Work

Method: Biology

Topic: Heredity and Continuity of Life


Key Ideas Teaching &learning activities Literacy demands Numeracy demands References /Resources
Week 1
  • Understanding the processes responsible for the ongoing evolution of life on the planet and their role in the current diversity of the cellular mechanisms in the observed diversification of life on Earth (Australian Curriculum 2016)
  • Overview of the development of the scientific method and its influence on the worldview of the population
  • Understanding the core principles of scientific method and role of an evidence-based approach
  • Observation of impact made by the changing scientific paradigm on the social and cultural aspects of human life
  • Exploring the possible implications of scientific discoveries for political, economic, and social spheres of activity
  • Evaluating the limitations of scientific data for public context and its suitability for broader application
  • Understanding of the evidence-based approach and its main differences from similar intuitive concepts
  • The capability of contextualizing social and cultural implications and applying relevant knowledge from bordering disciplines
  • Appropriate use of specific terminology and acknowledgment of possible misuse of vocabulary
  • Understanding of statistical concepts such as probability, median, range, and mean.
  • Proper interpretation of the data presented through graphs
  • Year 12 textbook: Nelson Biology Units 3 and 4 (Borger et al. 2015).
  • Examples of related scientific reports (newspaper articles, theses, and main hypotheses)
  • Examples of related social and cultural responses (e.g. commentary in media)
Week 2
  • Understanding the approach to the formulation of scientific hypothesis and design of research capable of confirming or falsifying it (Australian Curriculum 2016)
  • Explaining the principles and necessary traits of a hypothesis such as the precise and unambiguous description of the phenomenon in question, a process intended for testing it, and conditions of confirming or falsifying the hypothesis
  • Evaluating the soundness of possible design methods and testing their validity for the procedure
  • Identifying criteria for the incorporation of the existing body of knowledge to support the hypothesis or show gaps demanding a further inquiry
  • Testing the hypothesis for validity and consistency
  • Determining the conditions of falsifying the hypothesis
  • Understanding the meaning and role of the specific scientific concepts such as falsifiability, consistency, and validity
  • Understanding of the purpose of scientific inquiry and the implications which result from it
  • Comprehending the importance of specific terminology and principles of construction of the scientific text
  • A critical approach to the validity of evidence and criteria for data collection, processing, and interpretation
  • Differentiation between several statistical methods of data processing
  • Understanding the relevance of the obtained data to the formulated hypothesis
  • Identification of the statistical methods appropriate for retrieving data relevant to the hypothesis
  • Year 12 textbook: Nelson Biology Units 3 and 4 (Borger et al. 2015).
  • Mobile devices for data collection and logging (smartphones and/or tablet PCs)
  • Software solutions for data collection (e.g. Google Forms)
  • Software tools for data processing (e.g. LibreOffice Calc)
Week 3
  • Understanding the principles of communicating the numerical data from the findings in multimodal forms such as graphs, charts, and diagrams (Australian Curriculum 2016)
  • Identifying segments of numerical data that would see an increase in accessibility as a result of conversion into the multimodal format
  • Selecting appropriate forms of visual representation that have the greatest potential for communicating findings and illustrating trends
  • Constructing a visual representation that is strongly related to the hypothesis
  • Evaluating the transparency and accessibility of the obtained data
  • Comprehension of the relative applicability of visual format to different types of data
  • Operating the vocabulary appropriate for commenting on specific types of media
  • Use of various software tools for conversion of quantitative data into a meaningful visual format
  • Identification of patterns and trends in visual data
  • The distinction between mathematically significant deviations and statistical noise
  • Use of mathematical tools to account for possible inaccuracies in the process of constructing graphs
  • Year 12 textbook: Nelson Biology Units 3 and 4 (Borger et al. 2015).
  • Software tools for data processing (e.g. LibreOffice Calc)
  • Examples of graphs and charts (Wilson 2014).
Week 4
  • Evaluating the data obtained from the research as appropriate for gaining insights into the principles of gene pool formation, heredity, and gene technology
  • Justifying evaluations (Australian Curriculum 2016)
  • Constructing a written report consistent with scientifically established criteria
  • Identifying the limitations of the study
  • Constructing the report about the needs and capacities of specific audiences
  • Creating scientifically sound arguments based on the data gathered during the research
  • Incorporating proper terms and specific vocabulary to enhance the reliability of the communicated evaluation
  • Incorporating relevant findings from other studies to support one’s point of view
  • Responding to criticism and sustaining evidence-based discourse throughout the discussion of the results
  • Identifying weak evidence and acknowledging the validity of results in the evaluation process
  • Determining the quality of existing evidence used to back the findings obtained in the research
  • Knowledge of specific terminology necessary for scientific integrity
  • Knowledge of the criteria for scientific reporting and proper application of knowledge for constructing the final document
  • Understanding of criteria for validity and statistical significance of the obtained results
  • Knowledge of the tools for verification of the data appropriate for the chosen method of data collection
  • Use of mathematical relations for the prediction of values
  • Use of statistical tools to support the findings by calculating the validity of obtained data
  • Year 12 textbook: Nelson Biology Units 3 and 4 (Borger et al. 2015).
  • Software tools for data processing (e.g. LibreOffice Calc)
  • Examples of scientifically sound reports

Selected significant literacy demand

The demand which will likely be significant for many students is the understanding of the evidence-based approach and its main differences from similar intuitive concepts. I chose this literacy demand because of the growing concern regarding the distorted perception of the scientific method among the population not professionally involved in scientific inquiry. Despite the improvements made in education in recent years, significant gaps in understanding of scientific principles can be traced among the population. Most notably, science is perceived by some as a collection of rigid and inflexible doctrines which at best are inapplicable to everyday practice, or a collection of static knowledge rather than a useful framework for inquiry (Harris 2014).

As a result, science is inaccurately viewed as a narrow framework rarely useful outside a classroom or lab. This, in turn, creates a situation where misguided individuals show little involvement in classroom activities. Even more importantly, students have difficulty contextualizing the obtained knowledge outside school (Freeman et al. 2014). This, in turn, undermines their capacity for critical thinking and decreases the possibility of distinguishing appropriate valid findings from pseudoscientific allegations bearing resemblance with the scientific method. Besides, obtaining a correct understanding of scientific principles lies at the core of most of the activities planned for the unit.

Strategies to address selected literacy demand

To address the possible misconceptions that can stand in the way of effective inquiry, the following strategy is recommended. First, it is necessary to identify possible misconceptions related to a specific key idea before the beginning of the class. Next, it is vital to prompt students to explain their conceptual framework in a non-intrusive manner, preferably directing the discussion towards the anticipated misconception (Erickson 2012). Once the gaps in understanding and distorted perception become apparent, several ways are possible to address them.

First, students may be invited to explain their viewpoints and provide arguments for their concept. Second, prominent examples from the existing body of scientific knowledge can be offered to promote the idea of science as a value-creating tool. Third, engaging real-world examples can be suggested to illustrate the opportunities of applying scientific principles to real-world situations (Erduran & Dagher 2014). Finally, it is possible to organize a dedicated event such as a short debate to determine the importance of scientific consistency and the risks associated with the introduction of deviations.

Selected significant numeracy demand

The most significant numeracy demand expected to be relevant for students is the proper interpretation of data presented through graphs. This demand can be difficult for students who are familiar with the basic premise behind visual data usage but rely on intuitive perception, which is often incorrect (Hardy 2015). The difference can be negligible in simpler constructions such as pie charts but will inevitably lead to errors in interpreting more complex structures such as correlation data or false causation implications.

Strategies to address selected numeracy demand

To address the identified numeracy demand, it would be necessary to introduce several activities that would improve students’ understanding of the matter. First, it would be useful to create several graphs that illustrate the same data and discuss the difference in its representation, followed by conclusions by the students on the specific features contributing to the clarity of data. Next, several graphs and charts can be created which would represent unknown data, with students analyzing the presentation to determine the probable content of each graph. After the students come up with their solutions, it would be necessary to prompt the discussion of the likely causes for the reached conclusions (Gilbert 2005). These strategies would help the students understand the important criteria for creating accessible visual aids and possibly identify drawbacks and pitfalls diminishing the clarity of data.

To illustrate the false parallels between correlation and causation, it would be necessary to include at least one graph with a pattern that does not hold beyond a certain point and thus challenge their preconceptions by extending the pattern to the point where it no longer holds, thus exposing them to cognitive conflict (Gilbert 2006). It would also be beneficial to incorporate several illustrations of false causation, thus confirming the difference between the two (Wilson 2014).

Analysis of School NAPLAN Results for Reading and Numeracy

The most notable difference observed it the data is the severe underperformance of the indigenous population cohort of students in the Northern Territory. This result is obvious in both reading and numeracy and is significant enough to influence the aggregated score. However, once disaggregated, it becomes obvious that the non-indigenous population in the region displays results comparable to those of the respective cohort in Tasmania (ACARA 2014). Notably, while the difference between indigenous and non-indigenous populations remains evident in all regions, Northern Territory is also the only territory to display significantly greater 5th percentile, again attributable almost entirely to the indigenous population. This result can be observed in both reading and numeracy scores data.

De La Salle College is a non-governmental, independent Catholic college located in a metropolitan area of Malvern (De La Salle College n.d.). The college consists of two adjacent campuses and provides education for boys of the age of 4-12 years. The education at college is oriented at achieving full potential while and attaining excellence while emphasizing encouragement and affirmation. The students are brought up in a Lasallian tradition promoting faith and facilitating leadership qualities. The college facilities include a playing field, a design complex that contains technology, graphics, music, art, and graphics studios, computer classes, two libraries, a weight-lifting room, a basketball court, several specialized as well as general science laboratories, and a chapel, among others.

The curriculum is designed to invoke creativity and facilitate excellence by creating a challenging environment and engaging students in high aspirations and expectations. Student engagement and independence are promoted, among other things, by incorporating an innovative digital learning management system. Such an approach allows for self-initiated learning and extends the experience beyond the classroom. The education opportunities are further diversified due to the presence of the diverse outdoor education program, a variety of sports and physical activities (along with the opportunity to compete in ACC), and outstanding pastoral care policy which improves the leadership qualities of students. The college has an above-average index of community socio-educational advantage of 1112.

The college displays NAPLAN performance in reading slightly below that of statistically similar schools, consistent through four consecutive years since 2012. However, it is worth noting that there is a visible improvement in comparison with years before 2012, both in median scores and participation, which had a peak percentage of 98% in 2015. Except for 2015, there was a steady improvement in scores starting from 2011, although the results remain. The NAPLAN performance in numeracy has a weaker trend towards improvement, with results showing little deviation starting from 2011, with a notable exception of 2014, where there was a setback in results, although the next year the results restored to the previous level. The student gain in reading from year 7 to year 9 shows an almost identical tendency of growth but stays lower by approximately 10 points on average. Performance in numeracy, on the other hand, shows a smaller gain in comparison with similar schools, with the 9-grade results being lower than 10 points despite starting at the nearly identical average score in grade 7 (My School 2015).

Analysis of Participants’ Responses to the ATAR Survey Based on Readings

Choosing the right set of courses for a senior secondary education is crucial as it plays an important part in further career opportunities and determines the chances of entering a university. Therefore, it is necessary to explain to a student who intends to make his choice based on the scaling factor the mechanisms behind the scaling process. My response would, therefore, include the following information. First, I will explain the important fact that scaling does not alter the relative performance within the course – that is, for any given student, his performance concerning others does not change after the scaling process (Board of Secondary Senior Students 2014).

If, for instance, he shows best results across the college, he would still be the highest-performing student after scaling (all students will have their scores scaled to the same magnitude). This applies to the national scale as well, which means that his chances in any given area remain the same regardless of the current scaling (Tertiary Institutions Service Centre 2016). However, the matter of choosing the subject based on the fact that the student “likes it” is an entirely different matter. Regardless of the scaling process technicalities, the chances of entering the university are still determined by the performance shown in the majoring subjects. If, for instance, the student decides to go base the choice on the scaling factor, he might end up with the set of disciplines he is not very good at.

As a result, even in a hypothetical situation where he manages to score higher than usual, his score can still be lower than that of students who entered the field based on their performance. Importantly, for upscaled subjects, the difference may be increased after scaling. Also, studying the subjects chosen solely on scaling and contrary to preference will result in additional load for a student. The same holds for the disciplines which are selected based solely on preference without acknowledging the likely performance. While the effort required for finishing a course will be significantly lower, it may not produce scores sufficient for entering a university. Therefore, my advice to such a student would be to disregard the factor of scaling as long as it contradicts his aptitudes and preferences. Instead, the focus should be on choosing the subjects which the student perceives as his strongest points.

The concern shown by this hypothetical conversation is a popular one among students. According to the survey, a third of respondents feel that there is a perception of disadvantage associated with studying humanities, with less than 7% firmly believing the opposite is true. There is no doubt that at least some of these reactions are triggered by an alarmist portrayal of the process in the media, describing it as socially unfair (Cook 2015). Unfortunately, such misconceptions already result in controversial decisions that may hurt student performance (Khadem 2003). Therefore, the survey indicates that despite the current progress made in the field, more effort should be directed at informing the students of the significance of scaling and dispelling the myths surrounding the phenomenon.

Reference List

ACARA 2014, , ACARA, Web.

Australian Curriculum 2016, Unit 3: Heredity and continuity of life, Australian Curriculum, Web.

Board of Secondary Senior Students 2014, What’s the ATAR?, ACT, Web.

Borger, P, Chiovitti, T, Duncan, J, Gerdtz, W, Guay, P, Martin, G, Walker, K, Woolnough, J, Wright, J & Jones, S 2015, Nelson biology units 3 & 4 for the Australian curriculum, Cengage Learning, South Melbourne VIC, Australia.

Cook, H 2015, , The Age, 10 Web.

De La Salle College n.d., , De La Salle College, Web.

Erduran, S & Dagher, Z 2014, Reconceptualizing the nature of science for science education, Springer, London, UK.

Erickson, F 2012, Second international handbook of science education. Springer, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Freeman, S, Eddy, S, McDonough, M, Smith, M, Okoroafor, N, Jordt, H & Wenderoth, M 2014, ‘Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111, no. 23, pp. 8410-8415.

Gilbert, J 2005, Visualization in science education, Routledge, London, UK.

Gilbert, J 2006, Science education, Routledge, London, UK.

Hardy, I 2015, ‘A logic of enumeration: The nature and effects of national literacy and numeracy testing in Australia’, Journal of Education Policy, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 335-362.

Harris, E E 2014, Hypothesis and perception: The roots of scientific method, Routledge, London, UK.

Khadem, N 2003, , The Age, Web.

Lambert, C 2004, ‘Bellies bear a burden’, Sunday Herald Sun, February 22, p. 29.

My School 2015, De La Salle College – Tiverton Campus, Malvern, VIC, My School, Web.

Scott, R n.d., , 1920-30.com, Web.

Tertiary Institutions Service Centre 2016, 2016 marks adjustment process for university admission in 2017, TISC, Web.

Wilson, M 2014, , Co. Design, Web.

Yatsuya, H, Li, Y, Hilawe, E, Ota, A, Wang, C, Chiang, C, & Aoyama, A 2014, ‘Global trend in overweight and obesity and its association with cardiovascular disease incidence’, Circulation Journal, vol. 78, no. 12, pp. 2807-2818.

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