Science Vocabulary Instruction

CJ Thompson | Published  July 29, 2015


Reliance on standardized tests has increased dramatically over the past few decades, as witnessed by sales that grew from $7 million in 1955 to more than $267 million in 1997 ( More than ever, there is pressure on schools and teachers to demonstrate success based on the ability of their students to score well on these assessments. Critics point out that standardized tests are only one way to evaluate the academic and intellectual skills of students. They further complain that there is too often a mismatch between the stated goals for student skills and skills tested. 



It makes sense to evaluate a child's reading ability with a test consisting of information that must be read. The connection between science skills and the current method of testing, however, is not so simple. Certainly there is a connection between proficiency in reading and success in science, but there are many other important skills in science that are difficult or impossible to test on a standard, multiple-choice test. Language skills may be one component of a successful scientist, but trying to assess a student's mastery of science with a test of language ability is like trying to assess the cooking skills of a pastry chef by determining whether or not he can break eggs. 


The unfortunate outcome is that many schools and teachers ignore fostering the development of important science process skills in favor of tryint to teach students science vocabulary. Worse yet, the approach taken in many classrooms does not reflect best practices. Two problems I see are first, the words we choose to teach, and second, the way we choose to teach them.


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