Investigating differences in understanding of vocabulary in secondary science
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One of the main elements to the crisis in science education in Australia today is the evidence that students’ attitude to science decreases as they progress through secondary school, leading to a decrease in participation in post-compulsory science subjects (Tytler, 2007). This reduction in participation ultimately leads to a decrease in Australian science teachers and science-qualified workers.There are many factors which influence students’ attitudes to science, including interpersonal teacher behaviour and the science learning environment. The aim of this study is to investigate differences in Year 7 and 8 students’ understanding of different types of science vocabulary: concrete, instructional and conceptual; and students’ attitude to science. A diagnostic reading test and two surveys are used to collect quantitative data to investigate correlations between understanding of different types of vocabulary; vocabulary understanding and attitude to science; and group membership. It also investigates whether or not the presence of a language learning disability has an impact.The study incorporates an overview of the literature, including vocabulary acquisition, the relationship between vocabulary and reading comprehension, the language of science, the academic impact of language learning disabilities and issues relating to attitude to science.The study concludes there were no significant year-level or gender differences for understanding of science specific vocabulary. Male participants had a more positive attitude to science although female participants’ attitudes were still positive. Students who performed well on instructional and conceptual vocabulary tasks were likely to have a more positive attitude to science. Finally, the presence of a language learning disability (diagnosed or undiagnosed) has a clear academic impact. Membership of this group of students had a medium effect size on understanding of concrete and instructional vocabulary and a large effect size on understanding of conceptual vocabulary and attitude to science. The study found that students with a language learning disability, and students experiencing difficulties with instructional and conceptual language, are more likely to have a less positive attitude to science than their peers.
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