Explicit academic vocabulary teaching of two Grade 4 Natural Science and Technology teachers in the North West Province
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Grade 4 learners in South African English medium primary schools face many challenges. They are confronted with various content-areas and the immense task to acquire the academic vocabulary of each content-area. Domain-specific textbooks and content-area lessons are filled with academic vocabulary crucial to the acquisition of conceptual knowledge and understanding (Antonacci & O’Callaghan, 2011). This is exacerbated by the fact that for many Grade 4 learners, English is also a Second Language (SL). Learners need strong academic vocabulary knowledge in order to make sense of academic texts, complete academic tasks or activities and achieve academic success (Antonacci & O’Callaghan, 2011; Gardner, 2013; Marzano & Pickering, 2005; Nation, 2001; Snow, 2010). Therefore, a need exists for the explicit teaching of academic vocabulary in the content-area classroom, which includes the effective use of a number of language learning strategies (Oxford, 2013). Research has continually established that the scope of learners’ vocabulary knowledge relates greatly to their reading comprehension, conceptual knowledge, school success and success beyond the classroom (Gardner, 2013). Vocabulary learning, as well as vocabulary teaching, is thus central to this study. Various components play a role in learning vocabulary, such as, comprehensible input, the negotiation of meaning, noticing and awareness, interaction, feedback and output (Mackey, Abbuhl & Gass, 2012). Research has found that the use of learning strategies is very important for optimal word acquisition, but that these strategies need to be explicitly taught (Oxford, 2013). There is an urgency to teach vocabulary explicitly and effective instruction must include the use of various teaching strategies. This study consequently looked at effective vocabulary teaching programmes and possible examples of teaching strategies that could be used in the Grade 4 Natural Sciences domain. A qualitative case study research design was used in this study. Two Grade 4 Natural Sciences and Technology teachers at two English medium primary schools in the North West province were used in this study. Their lessons were observed over a period of four weeks where the researcher made use of an observation matrix to establish whether the teachers focused on the development of the learners’ academic vocabulary knowledge of the Natural Sciences domain. Two sets of semi-structured interviews were conducted. The interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed. Various documents were also analysed to ascertain what the beliefs and national goals are in terms of academic vocabulary teaching. The data were analysed by means of content analysis and by following the steps in Creswell’s (2009) qualitative data analysis process. After analysing the data, it became clear that the policy document (South Africa. Department of Education, 2011b) and Teacher’s Guide (Adatia, Barker, Clitheroe, Cohen, De Villiers, Joannides, Van Zyl, Visagie, & Webb, 2013b) are not sufficient for teaching academic vocabulary. Other problems were also discovered: the Learner’s Book (Adatia, Barker, Clitheroe, Cohen, De Villiers, Joannides, Van Zyl, Visagie, & Webb, 2013a) does not focus on the development of academic vocabulary; the teachers do not plan for the teaching of academic vocabulary; there is a lack of explicit teaching of vocabulary; teachers lack the motivation and responsibility to teach academic vocabulary, they are unaware of the types of academic vocabulary and its importance for learning; they believe that the explicit teaching of academic vocabulary is time consuming in an already full curriculum; they are unaware of the national goals and guidelines as outlined in the policy document (SA. DoBE, 2013b); they are not trained in Intermediate Phase teaching methodology; they lack personal proficiency and struggle to effectively teach through the medium of English. Both teachers could benefit from an intervention programme on the learning of academic vocabulary and training in how to select academic vocabulary and how to teach vocabulary learning strategies.
- Education