Language in science matters

Over a decade ago now, Jerry Wellington and Jonathan Osborne pointed out that:

“We believe that there is a body of disparate research of the past 30 years that shows that one of the major difficulties in learning science is learning the language of science. Tragically, this is not a message that has reached the science teaching profession, for experience would suggest that science teachers often consider it to be of marginal relevance to the learning of science. Our view, therefore, is that paying attention to language is one of the most important acts that can be done to improve the quality of science education….” (p.1)

“Learning science is, in many ways, like learning a new language. In some ways it presents more difficulty in that many of the hard, conceptual words of science – such as energy, work, power – have a precise meaning in science and sometimes an exact definition, but a very different meaning in everyday life. Science education thus involves dealing with familiar words, like energy, and giving them new meanings in new contexts. Equally, many of the ‘naming’ words of our lives have been commandeered by science. Consider: element, conductor, cell, field, circuit, compound. This is made worse because many of the terms of science are metaphors: for example, a field in science is not really a field.” (p.5)

“The focus of secondary education has largely been on science as a practical subject, often quite rightly, for science is partly an empirical subject. But for many pupils the greatest obstacle in learning science – and also the most important achievement – is to learn its language. One of the important features of science is the richness of the words and terms it uses.” (p.3)

“Pupils should learn the language of science so that they can read critically and actively and develop an interest in reading about science; and develop competence in sceptically scrutinizing claims and arguments made in the press and on television based on ‘scientific research’ or ‘scientific evidence’, e.g. in the long-running BSE debate or the discussion on GM foods. This means, for instance, that they should be able to distinguish a cause from a claim, an assertion from an argument, a hypothesis from a conclusion and evidence from speculation.” (p.5)

Ref: Jerry Wellington and Jonathan Osborne (2001) Language and Literacy in Science Education. Open University Press: Buckingham, Philadelphia.

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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