Elementary Preservice Teachers’ Science Vocabulary: Knowledge and Application

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<ul><li><p>Elementary Preservice Teachers Science Vocabulary:Knowledge and Application</p><p>Sarah J. Carrier</p><p>Published online: 11 March 2012</p><p> The Association for Science Teacher Education, USA 2012</p><p>Abstract Science vocabulary knowledge plays a role in understanding scienceconcepts, and science knowledge is measured in part by correct use of science</p><p>vocabulary (Lee et al. in J Res Sci Teach 32(8):797816, 1995). Elementary school</p><p>students have growing vocabularies and many are learning English as a secondary</p><p>language or depend on schools to learn academic English. Teachers must have a</p><p>clear understanding of science vocabulary in order to communicate and evaluate</p><p>these understandings with students. The present study measured preservice teachers</p><p>vocabulary knowledge during a science methods course and documented their use</p><p>of science vocabulary during peer teaching. The data indicate that the course pos-</p><p>itively impacted the preservice teachers knowledge of select elementary science</p><p>vocabulary; however, use of science terms was inconsistent in microteaching</p><p>lessons. Recommendations include providing multiple vocabulary instruction</p><p>strategies in teacher preparation.</p><p>Keywords Vocabulary Elementary Science Preservice teachers</p><p>Introduction</p><p>Science vocabulary knowledge contributes to understanding science concepts, and</p><p>students science knowledge is measured in part by their comprehension and use of</p><p>science vocabulary (Glen and Dotger 2009; Goldschmidt and Jung 2011; Lee et al.</p><p>1995). While background knowledge and conceptual understanding are key</p><p>components of vocabulary use, elementary students school science vocabulary</p><p>growth depends in part on their teachers knowledge and use of science vocabulary.</p><p>Unfortunately many preservice teachers memories of science vocabulary</p><p>S. J. Carrier (&amp;)North Carolina State University, 2310 Stinson Dr., Raleigh, NC, USA</p><p>e-mail: sarah_carrier@ncsu.edu</p><p>123</p><p>J Sci Teacher Educ (2013) 24:405425</p><p>DOI 10.1007/s10972-012-9270-7</p></li><li><p>instruction have consisted of copying vocabulary words and definitions. In spite of</p><p>the powerful impact of vocabulary in the science classroom, there is evidence that</p><p>effective vocabulary instruction is not well integrated in the elementary classroom.</p><p>In a study of how often and how effectively vocabulary instruction occurred in</p><p>elementary classrooms in Canada (Scott et al. 2003), researchers found only 1.4% of</p><p>school time was devoted to vocabulary development within academic subjects of</p><p>mathematics, science, art, and social studies, and most of this time was devoted to</p><p>mentioning and assigning rather than teaching. Effective use and instruction of</p><p>science vocabulary can impact students success in many school subjects.</p><p>Beck et al. (2002) identify a relationship between school achievement and</p><p>vocabulary knowledge, and vocabulary in content areas such as science and social</p><p>studies pose unique problems for learners (Wellington and Osborne 2001). One</p><p>main goal of national science reform efforts is making science relevant for all</p><p>students, including students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds</p><p>(AAAS 1989; TESOL 2006). This is of particular concern for students who depend</p><p>on schools to become more proficient in academic English (Scott et al. 2003;</p><p>Spycher 2009). Many strategies that support English language learning, such as</p><p>providing students with experiences using science vocabulary words and phrases</p><p>and relating them to other concepts, apply to science learning for all. On the other</p><p>hand, learning for all students is hindered when teachers introduce a word and its</p><p>definition at the beginning of a lesson as the sole vocabulary instruction strategy.</p><p>Further, while science content and process knowledge is a goal for science</p><p>instruction, language use is interwoven with learning science. Wellington and</p><p>Osborne (2001) emphasize that learning language is a major part of science</p><p>education and a major barrier for most students, yet a focus on learning language is</p><p>not always a priority in elementary science classrooms (Spycher 2009).</p><p>The present study examined elementary preservice teachers knowledge and</p><p>application of science vocabulary during novice instruction episodes. The purpose</p><p>of this study was to: (1) examine preservice teachers knowledge of elementary</p><p>science vocabulary at the beginning and end of a science methods course, and (2)</p><p>document preservice teachers use of elementary science vocabulary commonly</p><p>used in elementary science instruction during initial science teaching experiences.</p><p>Literature Review</p><p>As teacher educators it is important that we not only help preservice teachers learn</p><p>science vocabulary but we help them develop communication skills through</p><p>speaking, writing, and reasoning using scientific language. The job of science</p><p>educators according to Lemke (1990) is to help students learn how to use the</p><p>language of science for their own purposes (p. 100). Lemke identifies the</p><p>language of science as not limited to vocabulary and grammar but with thematicpatterns to develop a system for communicating meanings. Science vocabulary isdeeply tied to the larger discourse in the science classroom. This classroom</p><p>discourse includes interactions between students and teachers as well as students</p><p>with peers using a variety of semiotic modes: visual, action, along with</p><p>406 S. J. Carrier</p><p>123</p></li><li><p>representations using words, graphs, equations, tables and charts (Lemke 2003;</p><p>Tippett 2009), and preservice teacher preparation in science includes developing</p><p>communication skills in multiple modes.</p><p>Elementary preservice teachers well-documented avoidance of science (Schoon</p><p>and Boone 1998; Tilgner 1990) indicates that they need multiple opportunities to</p><p>discuss and develop science content knowledge and communication skills (Harlen</p><p>1997). An examination of traditional patterns of teachers discursive practices (Glen</p><p>and Dotger 2009; Wilson 1999) encourages an exploration of preservice teachers</p><p>science vocabulary knowledge as they learn to apply the language of science.</p><p>Science Vocabulary</p><p>Science vocabulary can be categorized in various ways and these intricacies pose</p><p>challenges in science instruction. Conceptual words (e.g. work, energy) often have</p><p>different meanings in science than in everyday language (Harmon et al. 2005;</p><p>Wellington and Osborne 2001). Some terms are visible and more concrete, while</p><p>others rely on abstract imagery (e.g. electron). In the seminal report Taking Scienceto School (NRC 2007), Vygotskys work is cited to support the idea that sciencelearning is a process of moving from the linguistically abstract to the concrete, not</p><p>vice versa (p. 59). Science language possesses various features that include content</p><p>specific meanings (e.g. isotope, atom) and functional terms (e.g. interpreting data,</p><p>drawing conclusions). Wellington and Osborne (2001) present an increasingly</p><p>complex taxonomy of words of science that includes naming words, process words,</p><p>concept words, and mathematical words and symbols: All contribute to science</p><p>understanding. Understanding science vocabulary requires developing relationships</p><p>between the terms and meanings (Lee et al. 1995), yet science terms and definitions</p><p>have a long history of isolated instruction.</p><p>Developing science vocabulary knowledge provides additional obstacles because</p><p>there are many terms to both read and understand. Yagers (1983) review of research</p><p>concluded that more vocabulary terms are introduced in science classrooms than foreign</p><p>language classrooms. Science textbooks have a lengthy history of high readability levels</p><p>(Chavkin 2002; Chiang-Soong and Yager 1993; Mallinson et al. 1950; OToole and</p><p>Bedford 1969), and the difficulty and numbers of specific science vocabulary terms have</p><p>been identified as reasons for poor comprehension of science text. Yet, instructional time</p><p>for vocabulary development is often limited, and many teachers neglect to include</p><p>strategy instruction to help students make sense of content area text (Glen and Dotger</p><p>2009; Kragler et al. 2005; Scott et al. 2003).</p><p>Strategies for effective vocabulary instruction include selecting words that build on</p><p>students prior knowledge and allow students to explore words and their meanings. Some</p><p>strategies include types of graphic organizers, predicting meanings of words and</p><p>interacting with word parts such as prefixes, suffixes, roots, and origins of words.</p><p>Classifying words can include grouping by word categories to develop deep</p><p>understandings through word relationships. Building a word rich environment provides</p><p>opportunities for students to become immersed in words and supports implicit and</p><p>explicit instruction for content vocabulary (Harlen 1997; Phillips et al. 2008; Lee et al.</p><p>1995).</p><p>Elementary Preservice Teachers Science Vocabulary 407</p><p>123</p></li><li><p>While most students come to school adept at learning and using language,</p><p>students cultural differences and histories can impact teachers perceptions of</p><p>students communication abilities. These forms of communication include produc-</p><p>tive discussions, reasoning, analysis, and descriptions of observations. As Michaels</p><p>et al. (2008) point out, There are no native speakers of science (p. 97), and</p><p>therefore teachers must learn how to provide equitable access to discourse in the</p><p>science classroom for all students.</p><p>Factors Affecting Students Vocabulary Knowledge</p><p>Socio Economic Status (SES)</p><p>Research indicates that SES has a strong impact on vocabulary knowledge. Children</p><p>from low socioeconomic status (SES) families may have smaller vocabularies than</p><p>students from high SES families. Rowe, and Goldin-Meadow (2009) examined</p><p>families of 14-month old children and found distinct differences in gestures and</p><p>complexity of vocabulary and syntax used by parents in low and high SES families.</p><p>They determined that children who come from low SES families generally come to</p><p>school with less developed language skills, and Williams (1999) found language</p><p>differences in how working- and middle-class parents read to their children. While</p><p>both groups were highly interactive in reading to prepare children for school, middle</p><p>class families in this study employed strategies such as elaboration that are also</p><p>encouraged in classrooms. Research on students from various SES levels</p><p>emphasizes the variances in language abilities within an elementary classroom.</p><p>Students different levels of exposure to academic language challenges teachers to</p><p>have broad knowledge of elementary science vocabulary and supports using various</p><p>vocabulary instructional strategies.</p><p>English Language Learners</p><p>While new vocabulary words are foreign to all students, the complexity of these</p><p>terms is highlighted with English language learners who are trying to learn science</p><p>in a language they have not yet mastered (Hart and Lee 2003; Stodart et al. 2002).</p><p>The increase of English language learners in schools has spawned research about</p><p>elementary students and science vocabulary that focuses on ELL students and</p><p>curriculum (e.g. Charmot 1983; Lee and Fradd 1998; Lee et al. 2009b; Scruggs and</p><p>Mastropieri 1994; Spycher 2009). Teachers can help ELL students develop science</p><p>vocabulary knowledge when they acknowledge their unique background experi-</p><p>ences and cultures. One study (Lee et al. 1995) compared culturally and</p><p>linguistically diverse students: monolingual English Caucasian, African American,</p><p>bilingual Hispanic, and bilingual Hatian Creole. Researchers measured students</p><p>accuracy of science knowledge displayed during tasks and by their use of science</p><p>vocabulary. They found distinct differences between the groups based on prior</p><p>knowledge, varied language backgrounds, different discourse patterns of verbal and</p><p>nonverbal communication, and teacher input. Some students lacked the prior</p><p>knowledge to connect to science tasks, while others possessed the knowledge but</p><p>408 S. J. Carrier</p><p>123</p></li><li><p>lacked the vocabulary to express their understandings. Researchers emphasized the</p><p>role of vocabulary in measuring students science knowledge. Many schools have</p><p>increasing numbers of ELL students and these populations are projected to increase</p><p>even more rapidly in coming years. It follows then that preservice teachers would</p><p>benefit from having clear understandings of elementary science vocabulary as well</p><p>as possessing a host of strategies for vocabulary instruction.</p><p>Many elementary teachers mistakenly believe that ELL students must first learn</p><p>English before learning science and fail to understand cultural influences on</p><p>learning (Lee et al. 2009a). Through hands-on inquiry instruction, students benefit</p><p>from science activities as they develop context-based content knowledge along with</p><p>language development. Lee et al. (2006) identify inquiry-based science instruction</p><p>as beneficial for ELL students in the following ways: (a) activities put less emphasis</p><p>on language because students can participate in activities as they learn English,</p><p>(b) students work collaboratively and interact with others about science content, and</p><p>(c) well-designed activities offer students written, oral, graphic, and kinesthetic</p><p>forms of expression. Coupled with science activities, intentional and explicit</p><p>vocabulary instruction can benefit both English proficient and ELL childrens</p><p>vocabulary and literacy development as they learn science content (Beck and</p><p>McKewon 2007; Graves 2006; Lee et al. 2009b; Stahl and Nagy 2006).</p><p>Instructional Strategies</p><p>Instructional strategies have an impact on vocabulary knowledge. Both English</p><p>language learners and monolingual English speakers can benefit from hands-on</p><p>learning to build their own understanding of science concepts and vocabulary. In a</p><p>study that examined middle school students science and language learning using</p><p>Quality English and Science Teaching (QuEST), researchers examined an</p><p>intervention that incorporated hands-on activities and teacher scaffolding including</p><p>the use of visuals, previews of activities to assure students understanding of goals</p><p>and procedures, explicit vocabulary instruction, and paring of ELL with English</p><p>proficient students (August et al. 2010). Researchers documented significant gains in</p><p>both science content and vocabulary. Another study (Gonzalez et al. 2010) found</p><p>that integrating science and social studies vocabulary instruction increased low-</p><p>income preschool childrens vocabulary, regardless of their entry-level vocabulary.</p><p>Learning Disabilities</p><p>Students with learning disabilities (LD) can struggle with abilities to read, write,</p><p>reason, and organize. Students who grapple with understanding the language of</p><p>science often have trouble with science content. Cooperative learning strategies</p><p>have been found to positively impact science vocabulary with all students, including</p><p>students with learning disabilities (Shook et al. 2011), thus contributing to the</p><p>development of students science literacy.</p><p>Elementary Preservice Teachers Science Vocabulary 409</p><p>123</p></li><li><p>Science Literacy</p><p>Elementary school teachers are responsible for helping students become scientif-</p><p>ically literate citizens. Communication skills a...</p></li></ul>


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