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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Supporting English an additional language students in science: integrating content and language

Volume 59 Number 2, June 2013; Pages 37–42
Miranda McCallum, Jenny Miller

Students with English as an Additional Language face particular difficulties in the science classroom. Often they lack knowledge assumed for their age group, due to interrupted schooling and limited print literacy. As a result, they struggle to grasp scientific abstractions and the way that scientific terminology alters the meanings of everyday words and ideas. Research-based tasks tend to be particularly difficult for them. To overcome these hurdles EAL students need scaffolded supports adapted to their levels of background knowledge and literacy. Such supports include visual images to explain key terms and concepts, tasks to develop their comprehension skills and vocabulary, and teaching that links lesson content to the students’ background experiences and existing knowledge. EAL students also need the opportunity to learn independently, at their own pace, retracing their steps as necessary. However, meeting the needs of these students places heavy demands on teachers of mainstream mixed-ability classrooms. The authors designed a resource intended to help these students and teachers in science classes. The resource contained five individual booklets, each covering a topic on the theme of ecosystems, as set out in a prominent year 9 text book designed for the Australian Curriculum. Each booklet contained key terms related to the topic, language and comprehension activities, and a test to help students and their teachers measure the students’ understanding of the topic. The activities repeatedly exposed students to the same scientific terminology in new contexts. Some of the activities called for students to work in pairs, to develop their oral proficiency when using scientific terms. With each activity the level of scaffolding was progressively reduced. The booklets were also designed to introduce higher order thinking skills progressively through the activities. Once completed, the booklets were designed to serve as ‘key concept summaries’. They also included the student’s own writing on these topics, which could later be ‘incorporated into assessment tasks’. One of the booklets was trialled in a year 9 EAL class taught by one of the article authors. The class consisted of ten mixed ability students, including two low-literacy students and one recently arrived student. These three students initially struggled with vocabulary tasks but improved ‘as language was recycled in the comprehension tasks’. Over the whole class the booklet succeeded in lifting students’ level of activity and participation. Feedback from students included the observation that such language-focused support material should always be based on the mainstream content they are expected to learn. The trial suggests that such booklets would serve EAL students well as companion guides to mainstream textbooks.

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
Science teaching
Science literacy
English as an additional language
Middle schooling

Geography education and citizenship education in Portugal: a challenge for the 21st century

October 2012
Maria Helena Esteves

Globalisation and the global movement of populations have increased the ethnic diversity of many classrooms around the world. This trend raises issues for citizenship education in schools, which embraces the need for social cohesion and harmony, intercultural understanding, justice, human rights and equality, awareness of the impact of one’s own lifestyle on others, and one’s existence as part of a world community. The subject of geography offers a distinctive way to approach citizenship education, and in particular the links between citizenship education and issues surrounding ethnic diversity. A study in Portugal has examined the views of 200 geography teachers on how they believed their subject related to citizenship education. They described how geography education helps to develop understanding of world around us, and how individuals integrate into different communities. It develops respect for others and for the environment, cultivates knowledge of rights and duties, and helps students develop awareness of how they can simultaneously be part of particular communities at local, national and global levels. In 2002 the geography curriculum in Portugal was reorganised into six themes, one of which was particularly relevant to citizenship education: ‘population and its patterns’, which examined population distribution, evolution of demographic variables, migration and social mobility, ‘factors of identity and differentiation’ in populations, and the nature of urban and rural life. Geography teachers can help with the citizenship education of students from diverse backgrounds by giving them opportunities to generalise from their own immediate life experiences or to gain an understanding of how global issues can impact at the level of the individual and the local community.


Subject Headings

Ethnic groups

Is U a word or do you spell it with a Z? English spelling in Australian schools - are we getting it write?

Volume 21 Number 2, June 2013; Pages 41–51
Louise Zedda-Sampson

Australian spelling conventions are currently under challenge due to young people’s intensive exposure to texting and social media, which has popularised acronyms such as LOL for ‘laughing out loud’ as substitutes for full words. At the same time, young people have been familiarised with the spelling conventions of the USA: this takes place through varied channels, including preschool television programs; word processing programs set to US forms of spelling; US books used in schools, including teachers’ print and online professional resources; and public libraries that index books using US Library of Congress subject headings (eg ‘airplane’ rather than ‘aeroplane’). These challenges occur in the context of more general concern about Australian’s literacy levels. Figures published this year by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that 44 per cent of Australians have a level of literacy at which ‘they could be expected to experience some difficulties in using many of the printed materials encountered in daily life’. A recent case study has examined late primary students’ awareness and use of spelling conventions, texting and social media. The study also sought teachers’ opinions of how these issues manifested in the classroom. The study involved 138 students aged eight to twelve, in grades 3 to 6, at a Victorian primary school. About ten per cent of the students came from non-English speaking backgrounds. The study found that students’ reading levels were unrelated to their awareness of the distinctions between US and Australian spellings; they were also unrelated to students’ awareness and use of texting conventions. One of the teachers observed that the students weakest at spelling were also least likely to grasp when it was or was not appropriate to use texting-related spelling conventions. The teacher's view is consistent with the view of the president of Britain’s National Literacy Association. The Australian Curriculum: English includes a strand on language variation and change. In the curriculum there is ‘no clear mention of modern language being taught or discussed at primary school’; however, primary students’ understanding of spelling is likely to be clearer if they have a chance to explore ‘language variations as a sub-strand of the English language’.


Subject Headings

Social media
Primary education

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