Mapping the language of science and science teaching practices : a case study of early childhood school science

Doyle, Katherine Mary (2011) Mapping the language of science and science teaching practices : a case study of early childhood school science. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Concerns raised in educational reports about school science in terms of students. outcomes and attitudes, as well as science teaching practices prompted investigation into science learning and teaching practices at the foundational level of school science. Without science content and process knowledge, understanding issues of modern society and active participation in decision-making is difficult. This study contended that a focus on the development of the language of science could enable learners to engage more effectively in learning science and enhance their interest and attitudes towards science. Furthermore, it argued that explicit teaching practices where science language is modelled and scaffolded would facilitate the learning of science by young children at the beginning of their formal schooling. This study aimed to investigate science language development at the foundational level of school science learning in the preparatory-school with students aged five and six years. It focussed on the language of science and science teaching practices in early childhood. In particular, the study focussed on the capacity for young students to engage with and understand science language. Previous research suggests that students have difficulty with the language of science most likely because of the complexities and ambiguities of science language. Furthermore, literature indicates that tensions transpire between traditional science teaching practices and accepted early childhood teaching practices. This contention prompted investigation into means and models of pedagogy for learning foundational science language, knowledge and processes in early childhood. This study was positioned within qualitative assumptions of research and reported via descriptive case study. It was located in a preparatory-school classroom with the class teacher, teacher-aide, and nineteen students aged four and five years who participated with the researcher in the study. Basil Bernstein.s pedagogical theory coupled with Halliday.s Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) framed an examination of science pedagogical practices for early childhood science learning. Students. science learning outcomes were gauged by focussing a Hallydayan lens on their oral and reflective language during 12 science-focussed episodes of teaching. Data were collected throughout the 12 episodes. Data included video and audio-taped science activities, student artefacts, journal and anecdotal records, semi-structured interviews and photographs. Data were analysed according to Bernstein.s visible and invisible pedagogies and performance and competence models. Additionally, Halliday.s SFL provided the resource to examine teacher and student language to determine teacher/student interpersonal relationships as well as specialised science and everyday language used in teacher and student science talk. Their analysis established the socio-linguistic characteristics that promoted science competencies in young children. An analysis of the data identified those teaching practices that facilitate young children.s acquisition of science meanings. Positive indications for modelling science language and science text types to young children have emerged. Teaching within the studied setting diverged from perceived notions of common early childhood practices and the benefits of dynamic shifting pedagogies were validated. Significantly, young students demonstrated use of particular specialised components of school-science language in terms of science language features and vocabulary. As well, their use of language demonstrated the students. knowledge of science concepts, processes and text types. The young students made sense of science phenomena through their incorporation of a variety of science language and text-types in explanations during both teacher-directed and independent situations. The study informs early childhood science practices as well as practices for foundational school science teaching and learning. It has exposed implications for science education policy, curriculum and practices. It supports other findings in relation to the capabilities of young students. The study contributes to Systemic Functional Linguistic theory through the development of a specific resource to determine the technicality of teacher language used in teaching young students. Furthermore, the study contributes to methodology practices relating to Bernsteinian theoretical perspectives and has demonstrated new ways of depicting and reporting teaching practices. It provides an analytical tool which couples Bernsteinian and Hallidayan theoretical perspectives. Ultimately, it defines directions for further research in terms of foundation science language learning, ongoing learning of the language of science and learning science, science teaching and learning practices, specifically in foundational school science, and relationships between home and school science language experiences.

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ID Code: 45941
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Refereed: No
Supervisor: Watters, James & Exley, Beryl
Keywords: Bernstein, early childhood, early childhood pedagogy, early childhood science, early years teaching, functional grammar, halliday, science pedagogical discourse, science education, science language, systemic functional linguistics, top-level structure, visible and invisible pedagogies
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 12 Sep 2011 03:03
Last Modified: 12 Sep 2011 03:03

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