Academic language impedes students' ability to learn science

Apr 22, 2010

With a little guidance, educators can help students learn to read and understand the complex language of science texts, according to Catherine E. Snow of Harvard University and the SERP Institute.

Middle and high school students who read fluently in English class and on the Web may find that they cannot understand their science texts. And their science teachers may be ill prepared to guide them in reading the academic language in which science information is presented. In "Academic Language and the Challenge of Reading for Learning About Science," an article to be published in Science on April 23, 2010, Catherine E. Snow, a professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and the Boston research director for the Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP), makes the case that students need to be taught academic language in order to learn science and other subjects.

Word Generation, a SERP program developed under Snow's leadership, presents middle school students with all-purpose academic words embedded in interesting topics and provides materials for teachers of , mathematics, and social studies to extend the academic language focus across the curriculum and throughout the week. "The goal is for students to be able to read academic material on their own, but many will need some help through programs like Word Generation to get to that point," said Snow.

In addition to having its own specialized vocabulary, academic language is more concise, using complex grammatical structures to express complicated ideas in as few words as possible. This is especially true when it comes to scientific writing. who prefer reading Web content over books have fewer opportunities to learn this language on their own.

Snow is helping teachers solve everyday learning problems that occur in classrooms thanks to a unique collaboration between the nation's top research and development talent and education professionals created by the SERP Institute. "By recruiting highly distinguished scholars like Catherine Snow, SERP has succeeded in making the difficult and often unglamorous work of tackling critical problems of everyday practice a respected endeavor," said Suzanne Donovan, SERP executive director.

The SERP collaboration is thriving at the William B. Rogers Middle School in Boston, which serves as a showcase for other schools in the district and beyond. With Word Generation now firmly embedded in everyday practice, academic language is taught systematically by teachers across the spectrum. "Word Generation is not a program to have kids memorize words and their meanings each week," said Principal Andrew Bott. "It is a program about how to look at words, to consider them in different forms, to access them across content areas, to determine different meanings of words depending on the content area, and to use a more sophisticated vocabulary on their own," he said.

Explore further: Saddam Hussein—a sincere dictator?

Provided by Strategic Education Research Partnership

4.5 /5 (8 votes)

Related Stories

Turn off TV to teach toddlers new words

Jun 28, 2007

Toddlers learn their first words better from people than from Teletubbies, according to new research at Wake Forest University. The study was published in the June 21 issue of Media Psychology.

New study may revolutionize language learning

Jan 27, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The teaching of languages could be revolutionised following ground-breaking research by Victoria University, New Zealand, PhD graduate Paul Sulzberger. Dr Sulzberger has found that the best way to learn a ...

Psychologist to study how we put stress into words

Dec 06, 2006

How does a child learn that the stress is on the second syllable of giraffe, and on the first of zebra? Is it memory, the structure of the word itself or clues provided by the sounds in the word?

Reading Tests that 'Misread' Some Children

Nov 19, 2007

Screening tests widely used to identify children with reading problems are being misapplied, landing students in the wrong instructional level and delaying treatment for their true difficulties, says new research ...

Recommended for you

Computer games give a boost to English

5 hours ago

If you want to make a mark in the world of computer games you had better have a good English vocabulary. It has now also been scientifically proven that someone who is good at computer games has a larger ...

Saddam Hussein—a sincere dictator?

10 hours ago

Are political speeches manipulative and strategic? They could be – when politicians say one thing in public, and privately believe something else, political scientists say. Saddam Hussein's legacy of recording private discussions ...

Healthy working environment is a salvation

11 hours ago

Contract workers in Norway often face the worst and most unpredictable working conditions. But good management and support from colleagues makes these workers more robust.

Why marvellous isn't awesome any more

11 hours ago

Using the Spoken British National Corpus 2014, a very large collection of recordings of real-life, informal, spoken interactions between speakers of British English from across the United Kingdom, Cambridge ...

User comments : 0