Writing biology, assessing biology: The nature and effects of variation in terminology
Antia, Bassey E.
Kamai, Richard A.
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There has been substantial research into terminology as an issue in learning science, especially against the backdrop of concerns over school literacy in science and as sometimes reflected in the poor performance of high school students in assessment tasks. Relevant research has emphasized issues such as lexical load, complexity and metaphor. Variation in the use of terminology has, however, been relatively under researched, although there is evidence that terminology use does vary within and across high school textbooks of science. Drawing on an eclectic theoretical framework comprising transitivity analysis (Halliday 1994), legitimation code theory semantics (Maton 2013a), and the context-specific term model (Gerzymisch-Arbogast 2008), this article identifies and classifies variations in the terminology employed in three high school textbooks of biology in Nigeria. It then determines what impact assessment tasks which use terms that differ from those employed in students’ study materials have on students. Examples are found of variant terminology impeding science literacy and task performance, even though there is reason to suspect such variation might in fact have been leveraged to enhance cognition.