January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

Academic Language in Science Teaching

Posted: Monday, November 1st, 2010

by Donna Ross

Most preservice teachers in California are preparing to teach in diverse communities.  And, perhaps more immediately on your minds, is your preparation to complete one of the high-stakes assessments (PACT, TPA) demonstrating your understanding of pedagogy, with an emphasis on meeting the needs of learners from diverse backgrounds.  A critical component of meeting the needs of all learners is recognizing the academic language demands in the science classroom and implementing strategies to support learners.  There was a time when science teachers whined, “But I’m not the English teacher!”

Fortunately, we have moved beyond that mindset.  Our job is to provide comprehensible instruction in science.  To do that, we must recognize the demands we place on the learners and ensure their skills allow them to make sense of the content.

I’ve read that a high school biology class has as many new vocabulary words as a high school French class.  How do we handle this language load?  Start by deciding if all those words are critical to understanding the concepts.  If not, don’t require the students to memorize them.  If so, teach strategies to help learn the words.  Incorporate mini-lessons on root words, cognates, prefixes and suffixes, relationships between words, and common mistakes you have seen.  Provide students with graphic organizers, foldables, or illustrated glossaries to use as study guides.  Be explicit about which vocabulary you consider critical for the class.  Have illustrated word walls available during the unit to provide support as the students are doing labs.  Consider having photographs or actual objects as part of the word wall and show the connections or relationships among the words, as well.  English learners need support with the function words used for sequencing, comparing, contrasting, and cause and effect.

Many science terms have specialized meanings different from their use in everyday language while others have common homophones.  For example, students may be confused by the use of cell (jail), cell (biological), and sell (market) or different uses of the term period (punctuation, physics, health, synonym for stop).  Even native English speakers have trouble distinguishing the common use of acceleration, control, model, and theory, with the scientific meaning of the words.

Academic language is more than just vocabulary, of course.  Think about the demands on the students while you are lecturing or providing instructions.  As students listen, what supports do you provide?  Do you have visuals and real objects to illustrate your meaning?  Do you decrease the complexity and length of your sentences?  Try audio-taping yourself.  Do you use idioms or metaphors that are difficult for English learners?  Do you speak quickly, or do you pause at the end of every sentence to allow students to mentally “catch up”?  Are your instructions written and illustrated, as well as described and demonstrated?  Many students need the added time to go back and review the written directions after hearing the verbal instructions.

Reading poses a whole set of challenges, not just for English learners.  Science textbooks are difficult for many students to comprehend.  We can support learning by including mini-lessons on text structure and expository reading strategies, such as using headings, sub-headings, interpreting figures, reading charts, using a glossary and table of contents, identifying main ideas, noticing bold words, and looking for summary paragraphs.

Provide the most language-heavy instruction of the unit, either verbal or written, AFTER the hands-on investigations.  This will provide a meaningful schema to connect with the new language.  Then, during the verbal and written portions of the lessons, refer frequently to the investigations the students have experienced to make those connections explicit.

Analyze your assessments, as well.  It is not unusual for a preservice teacher to create a series of excellent lessons with many supports for English learners but conclude with an exam that requires such a high level of reading and writing skills it is impossible to judge what the students know about science.  Performance-based assessments are the most authentic, but the use of diagrams and figures can ease the academic language demands on an assessment.

These recommendations are not meant to convert your course into an English class; rather they should scaffold your science instruction so that all students can learn the content.  The mini-lessons and supports should be focused and brief to assist the students in comprehending the science.  Your planning and implementation of strategies to help all students understand science is the best preparation for becoming a teacher in the diverse schools in California.  These are also a few of the skills necessary for passing the high- stakes assessments in teacher preparation programs.  Best of luck on both!

Donna Ross is associate professor of science education at San Diego State University and is CSTA’s 4-year college director.

Written by Donna Ross

Donna Ross is Associate Professor of Science Education at San Diego State University.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the great summary of how to use academic language to scaffold science instruction. Not only is this important information for our preservice teachers but it is an excellent reminder for veteran instructors as well. Our school is focusing school wide on accountable talk to increase critical thinking in all content areas. Academic Language is a key component of this.

  2. I agree with what you said in all aspects, but it is a very hard thing to accomplish all of this as a new teacher. Many of these ideas take some years of experience with feelling comfortable with their classes and what they teach. We all need to step into our own style of teaching! Having a seasoned teacher as a mentor is also one way of helping a new teacher with all of these techniques you mentioned. We have also used the aide of our English teachers in helping with some of the science words in their classes. We have a school word wall where common words are put up each month that contain words that have meanings for both science and english and have all of the definitions listed and the areas that the meanings pertain to. I have taught science for 28 years in junior high and am still finding new ways to present all of the strategies that you mentioned in your article.

Leave a Reply

LATEST POST

California Science Test Academy for Educators

Posted: Thursday, February 15th, 2018

California Science Test Academy for Educators

To support implementation of the California Science Test (CAST), the California Department of Education is partnering with Educational Testing Service and WestEd to offer a one-day CAST Academy for local educational agency (LEA) science educators, to be presented at three locations in California from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. As an alternative to traveling, LEA teams can participate virtually via WebEx on one of the dates listed below.

The dates and locations for the CAST Academy are as follows:

  • Monday, April 23, 2018—Sacramento
  • Wednesday, April 25, 2018—Fresno
  • Thursday, April 26, 2018—Irvine

The CAST Academy will help participants develop a deeper understanding of the assessment design and expectations of the CAST. The academy also will provide information and activities designed to assist educators in their implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional learning to help them gain an understanding of how these new science assessment item types can inform teaching and learning. The CAST Academy dates above are intended for school and district science instructional leaders, including teacher leaders, teacher trainers, and instructional coaches. Additional trainings will be offered at a later date specifically for county staff. In addition, curriculum, professional development, and assessment leaders would benefit from this training.

A $100 registration fee will be charged for each person attending the in-person training. Each virtual team participating via WebEx will be charged $100 for up to 10 participants through one access point. Each workshop will have the capacity to accommodate a maximum of 50 virtual teams. Each virtual team will need to designate a lead, who is responsible for organizing the group locally. Registration and payment must be completed online at http://www.cvent.com/d/6tqg8k.

For more information regarding the CAST Academy, please contact Elizabeth Dilke, Program Coordinator, Educational Testing Service, by phone at 916-403-2407 or by e‑mail at caasppworkshops@ets.org.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

WHO SHOULD ATTEND
If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

OVERVIEW
Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.

REGISTER

http://bit.ly/ACCELERATINGINTONGSS

DATES & LOCATIONS
MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.