A case study of an elementary science teacher's efforts to transform students' scientific communication from “informal science talk” to “formal science talk”
This investigation examines how Ms. Jones scaffolds students' science language development. The study closely investigates the instructional strategies she used to help her students move from “informal Science talk” to “formal Science talk,” and looks at the strategies she implemented under the scope of the anticipated themes of verbal cues, nonverbal cues, and praise. “Informal science talk” is defined in this study as a limited domain of discourse with little or no science vocabulary, while “formal science talk” is defined as an extended discourse that included the appropriate uses of science-specific vocabulary.
In Ms. Jones' classroom the goal is to teach for understanding and lifelong learning, in accordance with the book How People Learn (National Research Council 2000), which contains implications for the teaching of Science. According to the standards of that book, Ms. Jones has the required subject knowledge, and an understanding of how students learn and the short- and long-term outcomes of such learning. She has created a classroom environment that fosters student thinking through participation in high-quality lessons and laboratory experiments. Through an iterative process of questioning and answering, students are given the opportunity to think about what they are learning and to also self-assess and be able to understand what they do not know.
The research method used was a case study, that allowed the researcher to study, interpret and present an in-depth investigation of one teacher and how she scaffolded her students' language of school Science (LSS) development with technical vocabulary as an integral part of that process. The method of analysis was developed from a sociocultural perspective of learning. Classroom observations were conducted, and recorded via fieldnotes and videotaping of lessons for five weeks during the Spring of 2005 and four weeks during the Spring of 2006. The themes that emerged showed that the teacher's instructional designs were embedded in the Inquiry Model (Data Set I—Spring 2005) and the Science Process Skills Model (Data Set II—Spring 2006).
The findings of the study reveal the characteristics of a superior type of learning environment organized around the instructional designs that Ms. Jones used. Her technique promoted the development of rich science language integrated with the vocabulary of the domain. Ms. Jones' medium of instruction was “talk.” She overtly used verbal cues to promote her students science language development, which was the language of school science and reflected the different domains of the subject at the elementary grades (the Nature of Science, Life, Earth, and Physical Sciences). This study shows that a knowledgeable teacher not only knows the subject matter; she also knows how to give the right feedback, what demonstrations or analogies to use, and how to engage students in scientific investigations while providing appropriate support (scaffolding).