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Science Education and Literacy -- Imperatives for the Developed and Developing World

Science Education and Literacy -- Imperatives for the Developed and Developing World

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Science Education and Literacy:Imperatives for the Developedand Developing World
Paul Webb
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
and learners
second language. Literature supporting the premise thatpromoting reading, writing, and talking while
doing science
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 pasfive decades that there is a need to focus onscience literacy. The framework within which thisconsensus initially developed emphasized scien-tific knowledge and applications. However, 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 (
)believethatfosomeone 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 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 largenumbeof 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
et al 
) 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 tharequired 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.
Fig. 1.
)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
 proach across science topics and at all education-al levels (primary school to university).
Science and Second-Language Learners
Research has shown that in developed countriesreal benefits accrue from developing nativelanguage literacy when working with English-language learners (
). There is evidence that,where the home language is neglected in favor of a second language such as English, younglearners develop neither language sufficiently(
). Similarly, in previously colonized Africanand Asian societies, where the teaching andlearning of science often takes place in a secondor foreign language for bothteacher and learners, the use of an unfamiliar European lan-guage often results in restrictedteaching methods and poor student achievement (
). Con-versely, when Haitian-Creole stu-dents were encouraged to usethe vernacular to discuss topicsin science, both their concep-tual understandings and their capacitytorecognizeestablishedrelationships between claimsand evidence improved (
).In the South African con-text, where most parents andteachers tend to choose En-glish instruction for their chil-dren because it is perceived to be the language of socio-economic power and mobility,the teachers do most of thetalking while children under-stand little and remain silent and passive (
). These chil-dren
s performance in nationaland international tests of sci-ence, literacy, and numeracy isexceptionally poor (
). In contrast, studies in Nigeria and Zambia have revealed that better results were produced in schools where mother tongue instruction was continued until second-ary level and have shown that too early an em- phasis on English impairs children
s subsequent learning (
). Consistently poor South Africanresults, as well as well-researched argumentsaround language use in schools, have stimulatedSouth African studies that investigated the talk-ing, writing, and arguing aspects of science inelementary and middle schools (Fig. 1). Theseinvestigations included research on classroomdiscussion (
), use of the
science notebook 
approach (
), and argumentation (
). All of the studies incorporated the use of students
native language and produced encouragingresults in terms of improved problem-solving,science, and argumentation skills, respectively.These South African findings resulted in thedevelopment of an approach (
) that aimed tointegrate reading to learn science and learning toread for science; exploratory talk toward inves-tigable questions, planning, and doing an investi-gation; and scaffolded writing to learn science,argumentation, and critical thinking. The basictenets of the model are illustrated in Fig. 2.The stimulus (the reading material, discrepant,orunexpectedevent,etc.)providesthestimulationfordiscussionbutcanalsohelpaccessinformationneeded to raise investigable and researchablequestions. The discussion and the investigablequestion generated provide the framework for  planning and executing the investigation, whereasthe data generated are recorded in a sciencenotebook (
). Once the line of learning is drawnin the children
s science notebook 
that is, theyhave drawn all the conclusions that they can fromtheirclassroominvestigation
furtherreadingandresearch allows them to go beyond the limits of their investigatable question. This means that theycanexplorethenoninvestigatablebutresearchablequestions that were raised as part of their earlier discussions through other forms of informationgathering. Lastly, getting students to record their arguments within an argumentation writing frame provides an exercise that aims to improve their understandings of the nature of science, scientific processes and procedures, and notion of audienceand presentation. When teachers were trained touse the model, issues of bilingualism and codeswitching were discussed, and they were encour-aged to make explicit to their students that theycould legitimately discuss, argue, and write intheir home language while doing a scientific in-vestigation (
).The model was implemented with grade sixteachers and learners in a deep rural area of SouthAfricawhere,althoughthelanguageofteachingandlearningintheseschoolsisEnglish,thechildrenand parents rarely hear or speak the language. The re-sultsofthis1-yearinterventionmirroredthoseoftheearlier South African studies described above, but new findings were that the students
English read-ingskillsimprovedsignificantly,asdidtheirwritingand listening skills in their native language (
Language and Learning
There are a number of research findings, both inthe developed and developing world, that showthe benefits of native language instruction for English-language learners (
). In terms of science education, it is suggested that for suc-cessful learning to take place attention must be paid to cognitive development in both the lan-guage of instruction and the students
native lan-guage. One such way of doing this is by teacherscode-switching (when possible) and/or allowingchildrentofirstmakesenseofwhatisexpectedof themintheirhomelanguageandthentotranslatewhattheyunderstandintotheofficiallanguageof teaching and learning. In turn, there is growingsupport for the premise that promoting reading,writing, and talking while
doing science
playsa vital role in effective teaching and learning of the subject. In the final analysis, what is impor-tant is that, whether in homogenous or language-diverse settings, science educators can make a significant contribution to both understandingscience and promoting literacy. As such, theyshould be encouraged to pay closer attention to
Readingto fostercuriosityDiscrepanteventReportsPublicationsPredictionProcedurePresentationsDatacollectionConclusionStudent-generatedideas & wordsScientificvocabularyNewapplicationof conceptsPose newquestions
Line oflearning
Fig. 2.
An integrated strategy for promoting teaching and learning toward scientific literacy.
VOL 328 23 APRIL 2010

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