Advertisement

Research in Science Education

, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 849–873 | Cite as

Language in Science Classrooms: An Analysis of Physics Teachers’ Use of and Beliefs About Language

  • Samuel Ouma OyooEmail author
Article

Abstract

The world over, secondary school science is viewed mainly as a practical subject. This may be one reason why effectiveness of teaching approaches in science education has often been judged on the kinds of practical activity with which teachers and students engage. In addition to practical work, language—often written (as in science texts) or oral (as in the form of teacher and student talk)—is unavoidable in effective teaching and learning of science. Generally however, the role of (instructional) language in quality of learning of school science has remained out of focus in science education research. This has been in spite of findings in empirical research on difficulties science students encounter with words of the instructional language used in science. The findings have suggested that use of (instructional) language in science texts and classrooms can be a major influence on the level of students’ understandings and retention of science concepts. This article reports and discusses findings in an investigation of physics teachers’ approaches to use of and their beliefs about classroom instructional language. Direct classroom observations of, interviews with, as well as content analyses of the participant teachers’ verbatim classroom talk, were used as the methods of data collection. Evidence is presented of participant physics teachers’ lack of explicit awareness of the difficulty, nature, and functional value of different categories of words in the instructional language. In conclusion, the implications of this lack of explicit awareness on the general education (initial and in-service) of school physics teachers are considered.

Keywords

Physics teaching Language of instruction Initial preparation of physics teachers Continuing professional development of physics teachers 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The very helpful comments on an earlier version of this article from three anonymous reviewers as well as the guiding notes by the Editor, Research in Science Education are highly appreciated. The comments and the guiding notes have served to make the text of this article clearer; any mistakes in text however remain mine.

References

  1. Abagi, J., Cleghorn, A., & Merritt, M. (1988). Language use in standard three: science instruction in urban and rural Kenyan schools. Kenya Journal of Education, 4(1), 118–145.Google Scholar
  2. Abdi-Kadir, J., & Hardman, F. (2007). The discourse of whole class teaching: a comparative study of Kenyan and Nigerian Primary English lessons. Language and Education, 21(1), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Asoko, H. (2000). Learning to teach science in primary schools. In R. Millar, J. Leach, & J. Osborne (Eds.), Improving science education: The contribution of research (pp. 79–93). Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bali, S. K., Drenth, P. J. D., van der Flier, H., & Young, W. C. E. (1984). Contribution of aptitude tests to the prediction of school performance in Kenya: A longitudinal study. Lisse: Swets and Zeitlinger.Google Scholar
  5. Barnes, D., & Todd, F. (1995). Communication and learning Revisited: making meaning through talk. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Publishers Heinemann.Google Scholar
  6. Barnes, D., Britton, J., & Rosen, H. (1969). Language, the learner and the school. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  7. Barnes, D., Britton, J., & Torbe, M. (1986). Language, the learner and the school, 3 rd (New) edition. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd.Google Scholar
  8. Bauer, A., Brust, F., & Hubbert, J. (2002). Entrepreneurship: a case study in African enterprise growth—expanding private education in Kenya: Mary Okelo and Makini Schools. New York: Columbia Business School.Google Scholar
  9. Bearne, E. (1999). Conclusion: language in use—from policy to practice. In E. Bearne (Ed.), Use of language across the secondary curriculum (pp. 234–269). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Bleicher, R. E., Tobin, K., & McRobbie, C. J. (2003). Opportunities to talk in a high school chemistry classroom. Research in Science Education, 33(3), 319–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brock-Utne, B., & Holmarsdottir, H. B. (2003). Language policies and practices—some preliminary results from a project in Tanzania and South Africa. In B. Brock-Utne, Z. Desai, & M. Qorro (Eds.), Language of Instruction in Tanzania and South Africa (LOITASA (pp. 80–101). Dar es Salaam: E & D Limited.Google Scholar
  12. Bulman, L. (1988). Teaching language and study skills in secondary science. London: Heinemann Educational Books.Google Scholar
  13. Cassels, J. R. T., & Johnstone, A. H. (1980). Understanding of non-technical words in science. London: Royal Society of Chemistry.Google Scholar
  14. Cassels, J. R. T., & Johnstone, A. H. (1985). Words that matter in science. London: Royal Society of Chemistry.Google Scholar
  15. Cazden, C. B. (1988). Classroom discourse: The language of teaching and learning. Portsmouth: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  16. Cleghorn, A. (1992). Primary level science in Kenya: constructing meaning through English and indigenous languages. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 3(4), 311–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cleghorn, A., Merrit, M., & Abagi, J. O. (1989). Language policy and science instruction in Kenyan primary schools. Comparative Education Review, 33(1), 21–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Driver, R. (1989). Changing conceptions. In P. Adey, J. Bliss, J. Head, & M. Shayer (Eds.), Adolescent development and school science (pp. 79–99). Lewes: Falmer.Google Scholar
  19. Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., Mortimer, E., & Scott, P. H. (1994). Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom. Educational Researcher, 23(7), 5–12.Google Scholar
  20. Edwards, D., & Mercer, N. (1987). Common knowledge: The development of understanding in the classroom. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Farell, M. P., & Ventura, F. (1998). Words and understanding in physics. Language and Education, 12(4), 243–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fensham, P. J. (2004). Defining an identity: The evolution of science education as a field of research. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  23. Flanders, N. (1970). Analysing teaching behaviour. Reading: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  24. Fontana, A., & Frey, J. H. (2003). The Interview: From structured questions to negotiated text. In N. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials (2nd ed., pp. 61–106). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  25. Gardner, P. L. (1971). Project SWNG—Scientific words: New Guinea. A Research Monograph. Melbourne: Faculty of Education, Monash University.Google Scholar
  26. Gardner, P. L. (1972). ‘Words in Science’: An investigation of non-technical vocabulary difficulties amongst Form I, II, III and IV science students in Victoria. Melbourne: Australian Science Education Project.Google Scholar
  27. Gardner, P. L. (1977a). Logical connectives in science: An investigation of difficulties in comprehending logical connectives in both scientific and everyday contexts amongst junior secondary school students in Victoria. Melbourne: A Research Monograph: Faculty of Education, Monash University.Google Scholar
  28. Gardner, P. L. (1977b). Logical connectives in science: a summary of the findings. Research in Science Education, 7, 9–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. George, J. (1999). Worldview analysis of knowledge in a rural village: implications for science education. Science Education, 83(1), 77–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gibbons, P. (1998). Classroom talk and the learning of new registers in a second language. Language and Education, 12(2), 99–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gyllenpalm, J., Wickman, P., & Holmgren, S. (2010). Teachers’ language on scientific inquiry: methods of teaching or methods of inquiry? International Journal of Science Education, 32(9), 1151–1172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Halliday, M. A. K., & Martin, J. R. (1993). Writing in science: Literacy and discursive power. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  33. Hand, B., Yore, L. D., Jagger, S., & 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.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Henderson, J., & Wellington, J. (1998). Lowering the language barrier in learning and teaching science. School Science Review, 79(288), 35–46.Google Scholar
  35. Hodson, D. (1999). Going beyond cultural pluralism: science education for socio-political action. Science Education, 83(6), 775–796.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hodson, D. (2009). Teaching and learning about science: Language, theories, methods, history, traditions and values. Rotterdam: Sense.Google Scholar
  37. Hodson, D., & Hodson, J. (1998). From constructivism to social constructivism: a Vygotskian perspective on teaching and learning science. School Science Review, 79(289), 33–41.Google Scholar
  38. Högström, P., Ottander, C., & Benckert, S. (2010). Lab work and learning in secondary school chemistry: the importance of teacher and student interaction. Research in Science Education, 40, 505–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Krippendorff, K. (2004). Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  40. Leach, J., & Scott, P. (2003). Individual and sociocultural views on learning in science education. Science and Education, 12, 91–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lemke, J. L. (1990). Talking science: Language, learning and values. Norwood: Abex.Google Scholar
  42. Macintyre, C. (2000). The art of action research in the classroom. London: David Fulton Publishers.Google Scholar
  43. Marshall, S., & Gilmour, M. (1991). Problematical words and concepts in physics education: a study of Papua New Guinean students’ comprehension of non-technical words used in science. Physics Education, 25(6), 330–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Marshall, S., Gilmour, M., & Lewis, D. (1991). Words that matter in science and technology: a study of Papua New Guinean students’ comprehension of non-technical words used in science and technology. Research in Science and Technological Education, 9(1), 5–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Matthews, M. R. (1998). Introductory comments on philosophy and constructivism in science education. In M. R. Matthews (Ed.), Constructivism in science education (pp. 1–10). Dordretcht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Meyer, J. P. (1993). The educational system of Kenya. Milwaukee: Educational Credentials Evaluators, Inc.Google Scholar
  47. Miller, G. (1999). On knowing a word. Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Miller, J. (2009). Teaching refugee learners with interrupted education in science: Vocabulary, literacy and pedagogy. International Journal of Science Education, 31(4), 571–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mortimer, E., & Scott, P. (2000). Analysing discourse in the science classroom. In R. Millar, J. Leach, & J. Osborne (Eds.), Improving science education: The contribution of research (pp. 126–142). Buckingham: Open University.Google Scholar
  50. Mortimer, E. F., & Scott, P. (2003). Meaning making in secondary science classrooms. Maidenhead: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Murphy, G. (2002). The big book of concepts. Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  52. Njeru, E., & Orodho, J. (2003). Access and participation in secondary school education in Kenya: emerging issues and policy implications. Policy Brief - Institute of Policy Analysis and Research, 9(6), 2.Google Scholar
  53. Ogborn, J., Kress, G., Martins, I., & McGillicuddy, K. (1996). Explaining science in the classroom. Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Oyoo, S. O. (2000). Understanding of Some Non-Technical Words in Science and Suggestions for Effective Use of Language in Science Classrooms. M.Ed (Science Education) dissertation; School of Education: University of Leeds, England, United Kingdom.Google Scholar
  55. Oyoo, S. O. (2004). Effective teaching of science: The impact of physics teachers’ classroom language. PhD Thesis, Faculty of Education: Monash University, Australia.Google Scholar
  56. Oyoo, S. O. (2007). Rethinking proficiency in the language of instruction (English) as a factor in the difficulty of school science. The International Journal of Learning, 14(4), 231–242.Google Scholar
  57. Oyoo, S. O. (2008). Attention to female students’ ‘lower’ outcomes in science as social construction of a negative perception of their ability in school science. The International Journal of Learning, 15(11), 271–286.Google Scholar
  58. Oyoo, S. O. (2009). Beyond general proficiency in language of instruction: Towards the appropriate perspective on language for effective learning in African science classrooms. In M. Shafer and C. MacNamara (Eds.), Proceedings (Refereed) of the 17th Annual Conference of the Southern African Association for Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education (SAARMSTE 2009), 19–22 January 2009, Rhodes University, Republic of South Africa. Book Version, Vol. 1 (Long Papers, pp. 197–212); ISBN 978-92-990043-6-4; CD Version ISBN # 978-92-990043-6-4.Google Scholar
  59. Oyoo, S. O. (2010a). Attracting more girls to school physics in Kenya: findings in a ‘distance’ study. The International Journal of Learning, 17(10), 1–21.Google Scholar
  60. Oyoo, S. O. (2010b). Science teacher effectiveness as a condition for successful science education in Africa: a focus on Kenya. The International Journal of Learning, 17(9), 469–484.Google Scholar
  61. Pickersgill, S., & Lock, R. (1991). Student understanding of selected non-technical words in science. Research in Science and Technological Education, 9(1), 71–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Porter, A. C. (2002). Presidential address—Measuring the content of instruction: uses in research and practice. Educational Researcher, 31(7), 3–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Porter, A. C., Floden, R., Freeman, D., Schmidt, W., & Schwille, J. (1998). Content determinants in elementary school mathematics. In D. A. Grouws & T. J. Cooney (Eds.), Perspectives on research on effective teaching (pp. 96–113). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  64. Prophet, B., & Towse, P. (1999). Pupils’ understanding of some non-technical words in science. School Science Review, 81(295), 79–86.Google Scholar
  65. Republic of Kenya. (1999). Totally Integrated Quality Education and Training (TIQET): Report of the commission of inquiry into the education system of Kenya—learning and moving together into the 21st century and the third millennium. Nairobi: Government Printer.Google Scholar
  66. Rodrigues, S., & Thompson, I. (2001). Cohesion in science lesson discourse: clarity, relevance and sufficient information. International Journal of Science Education, 23(9), 929–940.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Schwille, J. R., Porter, A. C., Belli, G., Floden, R. E., Freeman, D. J., Knappen, L. B., et al. (1983). Teachers as policy brokers in the content of elementary school mathematics. In L. Shulman & G. Sykes (Eds.), Handbook on teaching and policy analysis (pp. 370–391). New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  68. Scott, P. H. (1998). Teacher talk and meaning making in science classrooms: a Vygotskian analysis and review. Studies in Science Education, 32, 45–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Sutton, C. (1992). Words, science and learning. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Sutton, C. (1998). Science as conversation: Come and see my air pump. In J. Wellington (Ed.), Practical work in school science: Which way? (pp. 174–191). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  71. Tharp, R., & Gallimore, R. (1988). A theory of teaching as assisted performance. In R. Tharp & R. Gallimore (Eds.), Rousing minds to life: Teaching, learning and schooling in social context (Chapter 3, pp. 27–43). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Tobin, K., & McRobbie, C. J. (1999). Pedagogical content knowledge and co-participation in science classrooms. In J. Gess-Newsome & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Examining pedagogical content knowledge (pp. 215–234). Dordrecht: Kluwer Educational Publishers.Google Scholar
  73. Tytler, R. (2003). A window for a purpose: developing a framework for describing effective science teaching and learning. Research in Science Education, 33, 273–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Vygotsky, L. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge: MIT.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  76. Wallen, N. E., & Fraenkel, J. R. (2001). Educational research: A guide to the process (2nd ed.). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  77. Wanzare, Z. O. (2007). The transition process: The early years of being a teacher. In T. Townseed & R. Bates (Eds.), Handbook of teacher education: Globalisation, standards and professionalism in times of change (pp. 343–364). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  78. Wellington, J. (1994). Language in science education. In J. Wellington (Ed.), Secondary science: Contemporary issues and practical approaches (pp. 168–190). London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wickman, P. -O., & Östman, L. (2002). Learning as a discourse change: a sociocultural mechanism. Science Education, 86(5), 604–623.Google Scholar
  80. Wilson, J. (1999). Using words about thinking: content analyses of chemistry teachers’ classroom talk. International Journal of Science Education, 21(10), 1067–1084.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. 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(2–3), 291–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Yore, L., 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), 689–727.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Yussuffu, A. (1990). Using the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) for university admission abroad. Nairobi: Kenya National Examinations Council.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marang Centre for Mathematics and Science Education, School of EducationUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgRepublic of South Africa

Personalised recommendations