Science Education and Literacy:Imperatives for the Developedand Developing World
This article explores current language-based research aimed at promoting scientific literacy andexamines issues of language use in schools, particularly where science teaching and learning takeplace in teachers
second language. Literature supporting the premise thatpromoting reading, writing, and talking while
plays a vital role in effectiveteaching and learning of the subject is highlighted. A wide range of studies suggest that, whetherin homogenous or language-diverse settings, science educators can make a significant contributionto both understanding science and promoting literacy.
here is concern around the apparent in-ability of science education to counter current negative perceptions of science in both developing and industrial countries (
).These concerns have resulted in consensus withinthe science education community over the past five decades that there is a need to focus onscience literacy. The framework within which thisconsensus initially developed emphasized scien-tific knowledge and applications. However, a more recent consensus that has emerged withinsectors of the science education community is theneed to focus more on the literacy aspects of scienceliteracy(
)drawadistinctionbetweenthefundamentalandderivedsenses of science literacy in that the fundamentalsenserequiresproficiencyinsciencelanguageandthinking, whereas being proficient in the derivedsense means being able to make informed judge-ments on scientific societal issues (
)believethatfor someone to be judged scientifically literate in both the fundamental and derived senses, he or she must be first proficient in the discourses of science, which include reading, writing, andtalking science. In order to achieve these goals,students must be helped to cross the borders between the informal language they speak at home and the academic language used at school, particularly the specialized language of science(
).Furthermore,therearemanysituationswherethe teaching and learning of science takes placeinasecondorforeignlanguage.ManypreviouslyAnglophone colonial states in Africa chooseEnglish as the language of teaching and learningin their schools because it is seen as the languagethat best provides access to economic and socialmobility. In these and many other countries,issues of language are exacerbated by the fact that often both teachers and learners are second-language speakers in terms of the language of teaching and learning in their schools (
). It iswithin the above contexts that this paper reviewslanguage-based strategies aimed at promotingscience literacy.
Integration of Language and Science Studies
The uncritical belief that hands-on science ac-tivities automatically lead to understanding has been replaced with the realization that this is a necessary, but not sufficient, approach. What isneeded are minds-on experiences that includediscussion,planning,reading,andwriting,aswellas deliberations and argumentation. One of thefirst programs that explored the integration of language and science instruction introduced a science-content reading program emphasizinginquiry activities, science processes, and thecomprehension of written information providedfor the topic at hand (
). The result was that bothreading and science scores improved, as well asstudent attitudes toward science. Further efforts,whichincludedsciencewriting ina largenumber of elementary and middle schools in two verylarge school districts, resulted in similar findings(
). Other researchers have also shown thevalue of reading to learn science. Cervetti
) built and tested a curriculum that usedliteracy instruction to help studentsacquire the knowledge, skills, anddispositions of inquiry-based science,an approach that also saw studentsmaking significant gains in terms of both literacy and science.In the El Centro district in Cali-fornia, a science kit
based writing program was developed for lowsocioeconomic elementary schoolswith a high percentage of Englishsecond-language learners (
). Theresults of a large-scale study (over 1100 students) revealed significant improvementsingradesfourandsixscience achievement and grade sixwriting in English. In another study(
), professional development was provided that integrated literacy,science, and mathematics acrossfive school districts. The grade fivestudents of teachers who participatedin this program achieved higher scores for reading, writing, mathe-matics,andscience,anditwasshownthat improved student performancewas significantly affected by teacher beliefs and classroom practices.Hand (
) used an approach that required learners to pose questions,makeclaimssupportedbyevidence,consult with experts, and reflect onchangesthattheymadetotheirorig-inal thinking. The Science WritingHeuristic (SWH) approach represents a movefrom laboratory work as recipes and simple re- port writing to meaningful writing toward sensemaking by integrating understandings of thenature of science, scientific inquiry, and issuesofargumentation.Hand
)research showedgreat benefits to students, and a meta-analysisof six quantitative studies (
), as well as a meta-synthesis of 10 qualitative studies (
), revealedconsistently positive evidence for the SWH ap-
Science, Language, and Literacy
Centre for Educational Research, Technology and Innovation,Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth 6001,South Africa.
)Writing to learnscience. (
) Whenthelight goes on:thinking aboutscience.
P H O T O C R E D I T : E L I Z E K N O E T Z E
23 APRIL 2010 VOL 328