Learning the Language of Science

By Amy Cassata-Widera, Yuko Kato-Jones, Joyce Mahler Duckles, Kathleen Conezio and Lucia French.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The discourse in formal school settings involves the use of language to exchange information, a social practice important in all cultures that allows learners to construct, debate, and elaborate shared knowledge. Familiarity with and participation in this “academic social language” in the early years is important for ongoing school success. The use of science discourse, marked by specific language structures and patterns of interaction, serves as a vehicle for language and cognitive development, providing children new ways of representing, organizing and interpreting daily experiences. This research project considers interactions within a single preschool classroom, using an inquiry-based science curriculum, examining the forms discourse takes as young children “do science.” Transcripts from classroom videotapes were analyzed in order to identify aspects of teacher-child talk during hands-on science activities as well as aspects of classroom context that nurture children’s participation in and appropriation of science practices and discourse. Discourse analysis reveals that the classroom teacher played a vital role in creating diverse participation structures, providing children sustained opportunities for conversation, fostering a community of learners who authentically listen to one another, and bridging home and school language practices. Our analysis demonstrates that within moment-by-moment interactions young children engage in multiple science activity structures (including observing, predicting, and arguing) and are competent emerging participants in school science discourse.

Keywords: Science Discourse, Scientific Genre, Language Development, Cognitive Development, Inquiry-based Instruction, Early Childhood Education

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 15, Issue 8, pp.141-152. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 618.180KB).

Amy Cassata-Widera

Graduate Research Assistant, Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA

Amy Cassata-Widera is a PhD candidate in Education at the University of Rochester, Warner School of Education and Human Development. With a research concentration in Human Development in Educational Contexts, she examines the ways classroom talk, teaching practices and the use of mediating tools facilitate the development of cognitive and metacognitive skills in young children.

Yuko Kato-Jones

Research Assistant, Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, University of Rochester, NY, USA

Yuko Kato-Jones is a research assistant for ScienceStart! She investigates how preschoolers learn science activity structures through interaction and participation in a classroom community.

Joyce Mahler Duckles

Research Assistant, Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, University of Rochester, NY, USA

Joyce M. Duckles is a PhD student in Human Development at the Warner School at the University of Rochester where she teaches and conducts research on families as contexts for learning and development.

Kathleen Conezio

Director of Curriculum and Research for ScienceStart!, Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA

Kathleen Conezio is a doctoral candidate in Education at the University of Rochester, Warner School of Education and Human Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education and a Master of Science degree in Elementary Education. Her current research focuses on early literacy development within the context of inquiry based science activities in preschool classroom, especially focusing on the role of co-constructed writing activities as a tool for understanding the ways that literacies can be developed within preschool. She has worked on grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education developing curriculum, designing and implementing professional development in the areas of science inquiry and early literacy learning, and has led a team of classroom mentors for the Early Reading First grant. She has recently presented her work at the National Science Teachers Conference and the NAEYC Professional Development Institute.

Lucia French

Earl B. Taylor Professor, Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, University of Rochester, NY, USA

Dr. French investigates the relationship between cognitive and language development. As a Fulbright Scholar in South Korea, she investigated how the language experiences of Korean preschoolers prepare them for academic success. She led the research team that created ScienceStart!, which has fostered the development of a rich knowledge base, vocabulary, and cognitive skills for hundreds of preschoolers.

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