Language in Chemistry: The Effect of Some Aspects of Language on O Grade Chemistry Candidates

Cassels, James R. T (1976) Language in Chemistry: The Effect of Some Aspects of Language on O Grade Chemistry Candidates. MSc(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The thesis considers the function of language as a medium of communication in a very restricted area, namely multiple choice chemistry questions, and in the introduction some of the deeper issues are pointed out in order to insist that what is said later only scratches the surface of enormous problems. The literature indicating the connection between language and learning is reviewed and the comparison is made between the situation in primary schools, where there is recognition of the importance of language development and the situation in secondary schools where the subject specialist does not seem to be aware of the part language plays in learning. The factors e. g. social class, affecting language development and the problem of establishing a degree of difficulty of language are discussed in the introduction. The last part of the introduction is a review of language in science. Language is of fundamental importance to science: educational objectives assign knowledge of terminology to a position of primary importance; there is a large amount of specialised vocabulary and formalised writing is encouraged. The concern is for the lack of knowledge on language development of pupils, and the lack of structure in the presentation of language with the possible effect this may have on pupil performance. Experience with 'O' grade chemistry candidates in secondary schools seemed to indicate that language and words in particular may be a barrier to the understanding of chemistry. Three initial exercises are described 1) where pupils were asked to write the meaning of a word underlined in a sentence from an S.C.E. 'O' grade chemistry examination, (2) where pupils were asked to write a sentence, using similar words from similar sources, to show that they knew the meaning of the word, and (3) where pupils were presented with passages -from chemistry texts from which every seventh word had been deleted and they were asked to put in one word in each gap which they felt helped the passage to make sense. These initial exercises seemed to indicate that pupils had problems with words. The two major exorcises, which wore an attempt to show that in multiple choice chemistry questions language influences performance, are described. The organisation end design of the two exercises are basically the same, the second one being a more refined version than the first using larger samples. One thousand seven hundred and fifty six 'O' grade candidates in twenty four schools of varying catchment area were involved in the second major exercise. An outline of the organisation and the design of these exercises is: possible questions, which were written in two forms, were scrutinised by respected chemistry teachers to check that chemical content was the same; two tests were prepared ore in simplified language and one in original examination language; twenty eight multiple choice questions were used in each test - five were vocabulary questions, three were control chemistry questions identical in each test and twenty were in one of the two forms simplified or original: to try to achieve matched samples in the schools careful instructions were prepared which were in essence within each school the pupils were numbered and those who got an even number got one test while those with an odd number got the other test; and eventually the pupil answer cards were processed in appropriate batches by the computing department. The major exercises would seem to indicate that: (a) certain non-technical words cause pupils difficulties (b) certain pupils particularly those from a lower social class or with a low V.R.Q. have great difficulty with words (c) pupils' performance in multiple choice chemistry questions depends on V.R.Q., a measure of language development, and also on social class, a factor which influences language development. In multiple choice chemistry questions certain language factors have been identified as influencing performance namely (a) the presence of large numbers of unnecessary words (b) the words in key positions (c) the presence of negative expressions (d) expressions of qualification e.g. only (e) ambiguous expressions (f) the way in which clauses and sentences are put together.

Item Type: Thesis (MSc(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Science education, Curriculum development
Date of Award: 1976
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1976-78726
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2020 14:58
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2020 14:58

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