Advertisement

Elementary Teachers’ Perception of Language Issues in Science Classrooms

  • Lay Hoon SeahEmail author
Article

Abstract

Although the importance of language in science learning has been widely recognized by researchers, there is limited research on how science teachers perceive the roles that language plays in science classrooms. As part of an intervention design project that aimed to enhance teachers’ capacity to address the language demands of science, interview data (N = 9) were collected to understand teachers’ perceptions and experiences with a wide range of issues related to language use in science classrooms. Adopting an interpretive approach to qualitative data, the analysis revealed that the teachers perceive a wide range of student difficulties related to language use in science classrooms, especially to the use of specialized terms and writing. Although the teachers are keenly aware of how language can be a barrier to learning science, they are less certain as to what students need to know about the language of science in order to master it. The findings suggested professional support that highlights the distinctive language demands of science and how these demands differ from other subject areas could be useful to these elementary school teachers.

Keywords

Fundamental literacy Language issues Language of science Sociosemiotic perspective Teachers’ perceptions 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This work is supported by a grant from the National Institute of Education, Singapore (OER 65/12 SLH). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position, policy, or endorsement of the funding agency. This paper has been much improved by the comments from the reviewers as well as the mentoring provided by Professor Larry Yore through IJSME. The author would also like to acknowledge Shari Yore for her editorial work on the paper.

References

  1. Aguiar, O. G., Mortimer, E. F. & Scott, P. (2010). Learning from and responding to students’ questions: The authoritative and dialogic tension. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(2), 174–193. doi: 10.1002/tea.20315.Google Scholar
  2. Carlsen, W. S. (2007). Language and science learning. In S. K. Abell & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (pp. 57–74). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  3. Christie, F. (1981). The language development project. English in Australia, 58, 3–9.Google Scholar
  4. Christie, F. (2005). Speech and writing. In F. Christie (Ed.), Language education in the primary years (pp. 48–63). Sydney, Australia: University of New South Wales Press.Google Scholar
  5. Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (1997). Common framework of science learning outcomes, K to 12: Pan-Canadian protocol for collaboration on school curriculum. Retrieved from http://science.cmec.ca/index.en.htm.
  6. Creswell, J. W. (2012). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  7. de Oliveira, L. C. & Lan, S.-W. (2014). Writing science in an upper elementary classroom: A genre-based approach to teaching English language learners. Journal of Second Language Writing, 25, 2339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. DiGisi, L. L. & Willett, J. B. (1995). What high school biology teachers say about their textbook use: A descriptive study. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32(2), 123–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., Mortimer, E. F. & Scott, P. (1994). Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom. Educational Researcher, 23(7), 5–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fang, Z. H. (2006). The language demands of science reading in middle school. International Journal of Science Education, 28(5), 491–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fang, Z. H. & Schleppegrell, M. J. (2010). Disciplinary literacies across content areas: Supporting secondary reading through functional language analysis. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(7), 587–597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fang, Z. H., Schleppegrell, M. J. & Cox, B. E. (2006). Understanding the language demands of schooling: Nouns in academic registers. Journal of Literacy Research, 38(3), 247–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gee, J. P. (2004). Language in the science classroom: Academic social languages as the heart of school-based literacy. In E. W. Saul (Ed.), Crossing borders in literacy and science instruction: Perspectives on theory and practice (pp. 13–32). Newark, DE: International Reading Association & National Science Teachers Association.Google Scholar
  14. Gibbons, P. (2002). Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning: Teaching second language learners in the mainstream classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  15. Gibbons, P. (2009). English learners, academic literacy, and thinking: Learning in the challenge zone. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  16. Glen, N. J. & Dotger, S. (2013). Writing like a scientist: Exploring elementary teachers’ understandings and practices of writing in science. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 24, 957–976.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Greeno, J. G. & Collins, A. (2008). Commentary on the final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. Educational Researcher, 37(9), 618–623. doi: 10.3102/0013189X08327997.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Halliday, M. A. K. (1993). Towards a language-based theory of learning. Linguistics and Education, 5, 93–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Halliday, M. A. K. (2004). In J. J. Webster (Ed.), The language of science (Vol. 5). London, England: Continuum.Google Scholar
  20. Halliday, M. A. K. & Martin, J. R. (1993). Writing science: Literacy and discursive power. London, England: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  21. Hand, B., Yore, L. D., Jagger, S. L. & Prain, V. (2010). Connecting research in science literacy and classroom practice: A review of science teaching journals in Australia, the UK and the United States, 1998–2008. Studies in Science Education, 46(1), 45–68. doi: 10.1080/03057260903562342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hand, B., Norton-Meier, L., Gunel, M. & Akkus, R. (2015). Aligning teaching to learning: A 3-year study examining the embedding of language and argumentation into elementary science classrooms. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10763-015-9622-9.Google Scholar
  23. Jagger, S. L. & Yore, L. D. (2012). Mind the gap: Looking for evidence-based practice of Science Literacy for All in science teaching journals. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 23(6), 559–577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kim, M., Tan, A. L. & Talaue, F. T. (2013). New vision and challenges in inquiry-based curriculum change in Singapore. International Journal of Science Education, 35(2), 289–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Martin, J. R. & Rose, D. (2005). Designing literacy pedagogy: Scaffolding democracy in the classroom. In R. Hasan, C. Matthiessen & J. Webster (Eds.), Continuing discourse on language: A functional perspective (Vol. 1, pp. 251–280). London, England: Equinox.Google Scholar
  26. McNeill, K. L., Lizotte, D. J., Krajcik, J. & Marx, R. W. (2006). Supporting students’ construction of scientific explanations by fading scaffolds in instructional materials. The Journal of Learning Sciences, 15(2), 153–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Moje, E. B. (2007). Developing socially just subject-matter instruction: A review of the literature on disciplinary literacy teaching. Review of Research in Education, 31, 1–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. National Research Council (2012). In H. Quinn, H. A. Schweingruber & T. Keller (Eds.), A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  29. Norris, S. P. & Phillips, L. M. (2003). How literacy in its fundamental sense is central to scientific literacy. Science Education, 87(2), 224–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. O’Toole, M. (1996). Science, schools, children and books: Exploring the classroom interface between science and language. Studies in Science Education, 28, 113–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Prain, V. & Waldrip, B. (2010). Representing science literacies: An introduction. Research in Science Education, 40(1), 1–3. doi: 10.1007/s11165-009-9153-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Schleppegrell, M. J. (2004). The language of schooling: A functional linguistics perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  33. Seah, L. H. (2015). Understanding the conceptual and language challenges encountered by grade 4 students when writing scientific explanations. Research in Science Education. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s11165-015-9464-z.
  34. Seah, L. H., Clarke, D. J., & Hart, C. E. (2011). Understanding students' language use about expansion through analyzing their lexicogrammatical resources. Science Education, 95(5), 852–876. doi: 10.1002/sce.20448.
  35. Shanahan, M.-C. (2012). Reading for evidence through hybrid adapted primary literature. In S. P. Norris (Ed.), Reading for evidence and interpreting visualizations in mathematics and science education (pp. 41–63). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Shanahan, T. & Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Shanahan, C., Shanahan, T. & Misischia, C. (2011). Analysis of expert readers in three disciplines: History, mathematics, and chemistry. Journal of Literacy Research, 43(4), 393–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Shymansky, J. A., Yore, L. D. & Good, R. (1991). Elementary school teachers’ beliefs about and perceptions of elementary school science, science reading, science textbooks, and supportive instructional factors. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 28(5), 437–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sutton, C. R. (1996). Beliefs about science and beliefs about language. International Journal of Science Education, 18(1), 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Swanson, L. H., Bianchini, J. A. & Lee, J. S. (2014). Engaging in argument and communicating information: A case study of English language learners and their science teacher in an urban high school. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51(1), 31–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Veel, R. (1997). Learning how to mean - scientific speaking: Apprenticeship into scientific discourse in the secondary school. In F. Christie & J. R. Martin (Eds.), Genre and institutions: Social processes in the workplace and school (pp. 161–194). London, England: Cassell.Google Scholar
  42. Wellington, J. J. & Osborne, J. (2001). Language and literacy in science education. Philadelphia, PA: Open University.Google Scholar
  43. Windschitl, M. (2002). Framing constructivism in practice as the negotiation of dilemmas: An analysis of the conceptual, pedagogical, cultural, and political challenges facing teachers. Review of Educational Research, 72(2), 131–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Yore, L. D. (1991). Secondary science teachers’ attitudes toward and beliefs about science reading and science textbooks. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 28(1), 55–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Yore, L. D. (2012). Science literacy for all: More than a slogan, logo, or rally flag! In K. C. D. Tan & M. Kim (Eds.), Issues and challenges in science education research: Moving forward (pp. 5–23). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Yore, L. D. & Tippett, C. D. (2015). Reading science. In R. Gunstone (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of science education (pp. 820–828). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-6165-0_130-2.Google Scholar
  47. Yore, L. D. & Treagust, D. F. (2006). Current realities and future possibilities: Language and science literacy—empowering research and informing instruction. International Journal of Science Education, 28(2), 291–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Yore, L. D., Bisanz, G. L. & Hand, B. M. (2003). Examining the literacy component of science literacy: 25 years of language arts and science research. International Journal of Science Education, 25(6), 689–725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zwiers, J. (2014). Building academic language: Essential practices for meeting common core standards in content classrooms, grades 5–12 (2nd ed.). Somerset, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Learning Sciences Lab, National Institute of EducationNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore

Personalised recommendations