The accessibility of school science textbooks to bilingual students
Teachers may consider bilingual students to be linguistically disadvantaged. They may reason that making meaning of concepts in different languages leads to interference between the messages received and consequent confusion. However, bilingualism might help students to understand how languages work. This metalinguistic awareness would be a useful skill when students attempt to master the scientific language found in school science textbooks. Other aspects of textbooks such as the choice of contexts and figures, and the provision of glossaries may also affect the ability of bilingual students to make meaning of them. This research is an attempt to investigate the circumstances in which bilingual learners might be at an advantage or at a disadvantage in understanding secondary school science textbooks. The use of the Nuffield Co-ordinated Sciences Biology textbook was investigated in twelve schools. Background information about the schools studied was collected by interviewing teachers and reviewing school documents, policies and inspection reports. Data concerning students' and teachers' attitudes and opinions were collected through interviews and questionnaires. More detailed linguistic information was collected through cloze procedures, discussion tasks, interviews and analysis of the textbook studied. A wide literature was reviewed concerning the structure of scientific language and school science textbooks and many aspectso f the contextso f the use of theset exts. Cases tudy profiles were preparedf or each of the schools studied which provided the context for the consideration of a computer analysis of coded data from questionnaires and cloze procedures. The findings provided evidence for three main assertions which arose from the research. First, that all students should be treated as a resource within the classroom. Secondly, that depending on the extent of students' bilingualism, their use of their languages and the context provided by the school, bilingualism may confer an advantage or a disadvantage to students making meaning of school science textbooks. Thirdly, that bilingual students are best served by school science texts of varied language complexity.