Poor literacy skills hold poorer pupils back in science

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James Curran
Posts: 123
Joined: Sun Oct 09, 2016 10:24 am

Poor literacy skills hold poorer pupils back in science

Post by James Curran » Fri Nov 03, 2017 10:28 pm

Poor literacy skills hold poorer pupils back in science

A report, published by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Royal Society, has reviewed existing studies to identify interventions and teaching approaches that have a positive impact on pupil learning in science, particularly for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The researchers from the University of Oxford analysed data in the National Pupil Database in England to measure the extent of the gap in the performance between economically disadvantaged pupils and pupils from higher socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds on national science tests. This analysis confirmed that disadvantaged pupils (pupils who have been entitled to free school meals at least once in the last six years) had much lower scores and made poorer progress in science, at every stage of their school career, than pupils from higher SES backgrounds. The gap, they suggest, first becomes apparent at Key Stage 1 (ages 5–7) and only gets wider throughout primary and secondary school. The gap for science is as wide as it is in English and maths, and grows particularly strongly between the ages of 5–7 and 11–16.

The study also found that the strongest factor affecting pupils’ science scores was how well they understood written texts. According to the report, poor literacy skills affect how well a pupil is able to understand scientific vocabulary and to prepare scientific reports. This suggests that strategies to boost disadvantaged pupils’ reading comprehension could have a positive impact on their achievement in science too. The authors write: “In correlational studies of science learning, the strongest and most consistent predictor of pupils’ scientific attainment has undoubtedly been how literate they are”. They add that there is a “strong relationship” between pupils’ socioeconomic status and their literacy.

A study, which we covered in a previous edition of Best Evidence in Brief, found a similar relationship between literacy and science achievement gaps for pupils in US elementary and middle schools.

Source: Review of SES and science learning in formal educational settings: A report prepared for the EEF and the Royal Society (September 2017), Education Endowment Foundation and Royal Society
Author IEE
Posted on October 31, 2017
Categories Education Endowment Foundation, literacy, Royal Society, science, socio-economic status

chew8
Posts: 4162
Joined: Sun Nov 02, 2003 6:26 pm

Re: Poor literacy skills hold poorer pupils back in science

Post by chew8 » Sat Nov 04, 2017 11:42 am

Thanks for this, Jim Here's a link to the full report:

https://educationendowmentfoundation.or ... ttings.pdf

I've read only the executive summary so far, and found this on p. 10:

'Literacy: in correlational studies of science learning, the strongest and most consistent predictor of pupils’ scientific attainment has undoubtedly been how literate they are. Some of the possible reasons that have been given for this connection are the importance of reading scientific texts and preparing written scientific reports; the effects of reading on pupils’ scientific vocabulary; the usefulness of understanding the morphemic structure of words in learning scientific terms. There is a strong relationship between pupils’ SES and their literacy. The analyses of the ALSPAC data showed that a standardised measure of reading comprehension is a longitudinal predictor of science attainment and reduces the amount of variance explained by SES in science attainment. The analyses also showed that the mediating role of reading comprehension between SES and science attainment is independent of measured intelligence.'

I well remember something that happened about 30 years ago when I was teaching students aged 16+. A boy whom I was helping with his English (he was a very weak reader and speller) turned up for his one-to-one session with me without any English work, so I asked him if he had anything else with him that I could help him with. He had just come from a maths lesson and said he'd had problems there. He showed me what they had been working on - it looked pretty simple to me, so I asked him which items he had found difficult. He pointed to a problem stated in words rather than just in figures, and what he said has stuck in my mind ever since: 'It's all them ones with lots of words in them'. He could cope with figures, but couldn't read words and sentences well enough to see what to do with the figures.

Jenny C.

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