Talking our language

27th April 2001 at 01:00
LANGUAGE AND LITERACY IN SCIENCE EDUCATION. By Jerry Wellington and Jonathan Osborne. pound;14.99 pb, pound;45 hb. Open University Press.

The authors of this balanced and informative book have carried out research of international significance on language and literacy in science education. This book is firmly targeted at classroom teachers rather than at researchers and deserves to be widely read.

Unlike many researchers writing for teachers, the authors seem always to have kept the needs of their audience in mind. Research findings are discussed but always in non-technical language and succinctly. Such discussions soon lead to practical advice and suggestions.

There are occasional touches of humour and masses of valuable exercises for pupils. One, for example, looks at ways of getting students to ask good scientific questions.

The book assumes readers will be familiar with recent English and Welsh curriculum reforms and those who are not will occasionally falter.

More seriously, it seems to assume that teachers need take almost no account of pupil diversity. If you are interested in bilingual learners, for example, there is nothing for you here. Similarly, the book is silent on issues to do with gender, ethnicity, class, ability, preferred learning style and disabilities such as deafness or dyslexia - beyond the inclusion of four books on dyslexia in an appendix on resources. It is not clear whether the authors simply did not have space for such matters or did not consider them important.

A final point: the index is distinctly odd. For example, "language in science" gets 11 entries, while there are no entries for "literacy" (one of the words in the book's title) or "reading". Fortunately, the book is well organised with a clear contents page.

Michael Reiss Michael Reiss is professor of science education at the University of London Institute of Education and director of the Salters-Nuffield Advanced Biology Project

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