Development of Language and Learning in mechanics lessons


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The empirical study describes the interplay of the way pupils talk about mechanics (using the term force) and their understanding of this term. It considers both the linguistic and cognitive development of the pupils. For this purpose a teaching sequence had been developped with special emphasis on explaining how scientists use the term “force” an how it is used in everyday life communication. The teaching sequence is based upon recommendations and results from several fields of research: linguistics, psychology, language learning and science education.

Pupils were given to types of tasks: Within tasks of the first type pupils were asked to use the term force in a way like scientists do, for example to describe the motion of a train. Tasks of the second type asked pupils to classify short texts whether they belong to common speech or scientist's style of explanation or description. This type of task led to a metadiscourse about formal and content related aspects of language. While discussing about those aspects pupils brought to light their understanding of force. In addition, the metadiscourse shows whether pupils pay more attention to formal or content related features of language.

For purposes of data collection all lessons were videotaped and transliterated. Together with written tasks and tests a large amount of data for the evaluation was provided. This evaluation was done by means of a content analysis. It shows that in some respects the learning of physics shows similarity with the learning of a foreign language: Beeing asked to use the term force like scientists do, pupils often only have two alternative choices: Either they try to fulfill formal demands paying little attention to the content. Or they pay much attention to the content, using common speech and expressing typical preconcepts about force far away from physical concepts. Similar observations can be made when pupils are introduced to a new grammatical rule: Either they pay attention to the rule or to the content of what they are talking about while breaking the rule. As well in this study as in grammar lessons in most cases pupils decide to pay more attention to the content. The crucial point is, that in physics education pupils are not only asked to use a virtual new language but also to accept new perspectives in terms of the underlying concept. This means that they have to overcome more than one difficulty at the same time. The detailed anaysis of the metadiscourse shows that it helps to resolve this problem: While discussing about different respects of language, pupils are able to pay attention both to formal aspects of language and to content related aspects. The text refers some more relations between physics education and language learning, so language education may serve as a source for new ideas for improving science education.

Here the whole dissertation text can be downloaded:


Karsten Rincke

Heinrich-Plett-Str. 40

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