: Why do Words Matter in Science? Laura Spence explores how we can teach our pupils to make meaning of scientific vocabulary

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Why do Words Matter in Science?

Laura Spence explores how we can teach our pupils to make meaning of scientific vocabulary

by Gloucestershire Research School at the Gloucestershire Learning Alliance
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Me

Laura Spence

Director, Gloucestershire Research School

Read more aboutLaura Spence

There are many things that excite me regarding the opportunities directing a new Research School in Gloucestershire brings but one of the biggest is being able to promote and write about EEF guidance that I know will make a real difference to colleagues and pupils in the classroom. The new EEF Guidance Report, Improving Primary Science’ will do just that. This guide is fresh, relevant and easy to digest and does just what the best guides and educational publications do, bring the evidence to life for teachers and leaders through the vehicle of six concrete recommendations broken down into tangible models, worked examples and scenarios.

So, how can schools and leaders use this guidance to enhance science teaching and ensure we are building the best possible science curriculum for our most disadvantage pupils?


In answer to this question, I want to draw your attention to the recommendations below. These recommendations bring together in perfect sync, all we know about effective and good quality teaching and learning and relate this specifically to the teaching of science. They pull on our knowledge of how pupils learn and invite us to further explore the use of metacognitive strategies such as retrieval practice, modelling and scaffolding. These are referred to in both the EEFMetacognition and Self-Regulated Learning Guidance Report as well as the EEF Cognitive Science Approaches in the Classroom: A Review of the Evidence report (2021).

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Having worked in a variety of school settings in both London and Gloucestershire with high numbers of disadvantage and EAL pupils, perhaps for me the most thrilling recommendation is the first, Develop pupils’ scientific vocabulary. Although presented simply in just four words, when done effectively, the development of vocabulary for our most disadvantaged pupils can carry the biggest weight in knocking down the barriers of social disadvantage.


In his book, Closing the Vocabulary Gap, Alex Quigley asks,

Are we missing the seemingly small, but potent solutions to the issue of accessing an academic curriculum?

Alex Quigley

in reference to the explicit teaching of vocabulary. He then goes on to explain that, By closing the vocabulary gap for children in our classrooms with their peers, we can offer them the vital academic tools for school success.” (Quigley A, 2018, Closing the Vocabulary Gap, page 2)

This is hugely powerful for all our pupils but particularly those from disadvantage backgrounds.

So how do we implement scientific vocabulary teaching successfully in our schools?

Within the new guide, there are helpful steps to support the planning and teaching of vocabulary starting right at the beginning with identifying a method to categorise scientific vocabulary into 3 tiers, making it crystal clear the words that need to be explicitly taught and revisited.

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These methods of teaching vocabulary are supported by the work of Isobel Beck, A robust approach to vocabulary involves directly explaining the meanings of words along with thought-provoking, playful and interactive follow-up.’ (Beck, I, 2002, Bringing Words to Life, page 2). Further information in the report on modelling and context provide useful tips as well as scenarios that can be easily lifted and adopted in classrooms.

If you are as excited as me by this new guidance and want to know how get cracking in your school with implementing the recommendations, the EEF Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation is a great guide to support you in getting started. If you’re looking for a quote to inspire your staff to read this report and get some momentum, you need look no further than the foreword of the report which simply states why we should all be talking about the new EEF Primary Science Guidance report and within it, why words really do matter in science,

It is crucial that early science teaching empowers all pupils, regardless of their background, to engage fully with science learning, equipping them with science learning, equipping them with the knowledge and basic skills they need to access opportunities in later life.

(EEF, Primary Science Guidance Report, 2023)

So go ahead and make this new guidance report the hot topic of your school by sharing far and wide!


References

EEF Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning Guidance Report

EEF Cognitive Science Approaches in the Classroom: A Review of the Evidence report (2021)

Quigley A, 2018, Closing the Vocabulary Gap, Oxon: Routledge

Beck, I, 2002, Bringing Words to Life, New York: The Guilford Press

EEF Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation

EEF, Primary Science Guidance Report, 2023

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