for making thinking public. Science provides unique opportunities for students to adopt and use new forms of argument and new representational tools. Because so much of what happens in classrooms is communicated and processed through speaking and writing, language plays a particularly important role in teaching and learning science. It is one of the most important ways for the teacher to understand and assess how students are thinking.
Language also provides students with a way to reflect on and develop their own scientific thinking, alone or with others. Teachers play a critical role in supporting students’ use of language, guiding them toward a greater understanding of the language of science.
In order to process, make sense of, and learn from their ideas, observations, and experiences, students must talk about them. Talk, in general, is an important and integral part of learning, and students should have regular opportunities to talk through their ideas, collectively, in all subject areas. Talk forces students to think about and articulate their ideas. Talk can also provide an impetus for students to reflect on what they do—and do not—understand. This is why many seasoned teachers commonly ask students to describe terms, concepts, and observations in their own words.
Two additional ways to think about talk in learning have specific applications in science. First, the language of science can be very particular. Certain words have precise, specialized definitions. It is quite common, however, for children and adults alike to confuse specialized science definitions with the more familiar definitions commonly associated with those words. An example of this, as mentioned earlier, relates to the word “theory,” which in science is understood to mean “a well-elaborated body of scientific knowledge that explains a large group of phenomena.” In common parlance, the word “theory” is often used to refer to a guess or a hunch. By having students read and discuss instances in which different definitions of a word are used and then explain how they’ve come to understand it, teachers can help students distinguish between science-specific and more common meanings of a word.
Another form of talk that has unique applications in science is argumentation. Like the language of science, it too needs to be distinguished from nonscientific interpretations in both definition and practice.