Approaches to Science When science is taught from an inquiry-based, problem-solving orientation, students learn to define a science problem, state a hypothesis, gather data, analyze data, and make statements relating the hypothesis to the data. Through scientific inquiry, students develop learning processes inherent in thinking: observing, classifying, comparing, communicating, measuring, inferring, predicting, and finding space and time relationships. These thinking processes, applied in a problem-solving format, lead to the development of the concepts of science. A distinction between an inquiry approach to science education and a textbook-oriented approach is critical in any examination of the role of science in second language development. Emphasis on inquiry leads students to learn more about the “how” of science than the “what” and to understand that science is not a static body of knowledge but a dynamic quest. Overdependence on textbooks reduces the science class to exercises in literacy and develops a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of science. For second language learners, dependence on textbooks in preference to hands-on investigation seriously constrains the conditions that facilitate language development. If students cannot understand the language of the textbook and have little or no opportunity to interact with others to gain meaning, their second language proficiency will not improve. A lab-based inquiry approach to science must also be distinguished from science programs that rely largely on demonstrations by the teacher, promoting inquiry processes and language interactions only to a very limited extent. Science holds a unique position in the school curriculum in that it is one of the few content areas that emphasize hands-on experimentation. An important dimension of science instruction is recognition of the learner’s cognitive characteristics and how they interact with particular strategies to determine the overall effectiveness of instructional programs. Current science inquiry programs stress the cognitive processes of observing, inferring, predicting, hypothesizing, and experimenting. These and similar programs provide a rich environment for simultaneous cognitive and linguistic development. Confronted with observable natural events that set up a disequilibrium or cognitive conflict, in the Piagetian sense, children work hard to resolve the conflict if given the time to investigate and the opportunity to discuss their work.
ESl Through Content-Area Instruction
In problem-solving, students must select and order varied types of data, using concepts that they already know to guide their search for answers to questions. This process leads to an understanding of new concepts and their relationships. Associated with this process are the efforts students make to convert these experiences to language. Francisco, in his lab report on observations about a sow bug, saw relationships between the bug’s physical appearances and other phenomena in his world. He saw that a dead sow bug looked like a circle and that the hairs on its legs together with its shape made it look like a tire or even an armadillo.
The Language of Science
In a science textbook, abstract ideas are logically developed and linked through a number of linguistic devices: repetition of key words, use of paraphrase or semantically similar terms, and use of logical connectors such as because, however, consequently, and for example. These connectors indicate the nature of the relationship between the parts of a text. They can carry out a number of semantic functions. Science texts typically include connectors that signal addition or similarity, contradiction, cause and effect or reason and result, and chronological or logical sequence (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1983). Although little research has been done to identify the difficulties that logical connectors present to ESL students in the context of science learning, a study of 16,530 students enrolled in Grades 7-10 in Australia showed that substantial numbers of students experience difficulty with connectives used in various types of logical reasoning (Gardner, 1980). Other logical connectors in the language of science may be expected to pose particular problems for ESL students. As children pass through the Piagetian stages of intellectual development, they learn first to make discoveries through sensorimotor activity, then to ask questions of adults, and finally to ask questions of themselves. An important component of science instruction, especially with older learners, aims to promote activities in which students are actively engaged in discussion with one another over the truth of hypotheses presented and the meaning of data gathered. The
Key Factors for ESL and Science
Current approaches to science and second language education, based on results of both research and classroom practice, indicate a set of central notions for relating science and ESL. Evidence presented in this chapter gives particular emphasis to the following reasons why science inquiry can facilitate the development of ESL:
1. Science provides the sociocognitive conflict that spurs the development of a new language system.
2. Science provides a source of meaningful and relevant language input, using hands-on materials and texts with extralinguistic devices (diagrams, charts, pictures, other visuals) to clarify meaning.
3. Science provides the positive affective conditions of high motivation and low anxiety.
4. Science labs provide extensive opportunities for small-group interactions in which students negotiate meaning and receive comprehensible language input.
5. Science provides opportunities for heterogeneous grouping with the role .of peer tutor alternating among students, which contributes to input, interaction, and a positive affective climate.
6.Science provides experience with a wide range of language functions.
7. Science leads to extensive vocabulary development needed for school success.
8.Science integrates all modalities of language use: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
9. Science provides literacy-related tasks for the development of cognitive/academic language proficiency.
10. Science uses prior cultural and educational experiences for developing new concepts. All of these factors taken together reflect the optimal conditions provided through science for ESL development. However, classroom integration of science and language education will necessitate changes in current approaches to teacher preparation. For science education to affect ESL as fully as possible, science teachers need an understanding of basic principles in second language acquisition; ESL teachers need experience with basic processes in science inquiry. Although inquiry experiences are integral to effective science programs, they may require structural adjustments in a number of ways in order to promote language development. Both ESL and science teachers need awareness of how to recognize and make use of conditions that facilitate language acquisition in a content area.
In science, the ESL teacher can find the content and conditions to encourage language acquisition. Specifically, from the ESL perspective, science offers the following:
- interesting, relevant, and challenging content;
- opportunities for students to negotiate to mean;
- an abundance of appropriate language input;
- conditions for keeping students involved;
- interactions for oral language development;
- material for the development of reading;
- activities for the development of writing; and
- experiences with the forms and functions of English.
Science gives a rich context for genuine language use. From a language acquisition perspective, science as inquiry can serve as a focal point around which oral language and literacy in ESL can develop.