Marina E. Balce
National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development
University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City 1110
(Presented at the 1st Philippine Conference-Workshop on Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education held at the Capitol University, Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines, on Feb. 18-20, 2010.)
ABSTRACT: One aspect of effective teaching that makes a significant difference to learning is the use of the mother tongue to communicate the nuances of any idea. To showcase this truism, fourteen selected Grade 5 pupils were taught a module about the respiratory system and the medium of instruction was Filipino. Five other science teaching aspects were also considered: (1) hands-on activities to foster concept development; (2) activities written in English with translations in Filipino; (3) activities with embedded assessment items to ensure assessment for learning; (4) inexpensive and common materials for improvising working models to explain the parts and functions of the respiratory system, the mechanism of breathing, and what happens to inhaled air; and (5) summative assessment items to test for factual information, conceptual understanding, and reasoning and analysis. The sample was chosen by the Science Coordinator of a public elementary school: four above average (AA) students, five average (A) students, and five below average (BA) students. This sample was taught the module The Breath of Life in five consecutive days, using a one-hour lesson per meeting. Post-test gain scores, including comparisons of pre-learning and post-learning drawings, posted satisfactory average gain scores, especially the Average (A) group and the Below Average (BA) group. The average gain score of the A students was highest among the three groups. And, the average gain score of the BA students was not far from that attained by the AA students. This study contributed to the stock of strong evidence that using the mother tongue increases science achievement of students with varying abilities, provided other aspects for good science teaching would also be considered.
Keywords: Lingua franca, mother tongue, multilingual education (MLE), medium of instruction, assessment for learning (AfL), concept development, embedded assessment, assessment of learning (or summative assessment), science cognitive domains, science process skills (or thinking skills)
The Department of Education, through its Basic Education Curriculum (BEC), requires the introduction of the basic concepts about the human body systems in grade school science; i. e., skeletal, muscular, and digestive systems in grade 4; reproductive, respiratory, and urinary systems in Grade 5; and circulatory and nervous systems in Grade 6. Teaching the basic concepts of these eight body systems is a big challenge to grade school teachers because science teaching materials are in English, a language difficult to read and understand, not only for students, but also for teachers. Thus, the usual science lessons are just choral reading classes, communication of factual knowledge, and memorization of scientific terms and definitions. Requiring Filipinos to speak English in class hinders their understanding of science concepts. Discussing the nuances of science concepts in English is really difficult for teachers and students.
To get some insights to the linguistic problem of science teaching , the Elementary School Science (ESS) Group of the University of the Philippines National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development (UP NISMED) conducted a research, Concept Development in Filipino Children: The Respiratory System from June 27-July 1, 2005 . The said research answered the question: What concepts can students of varying abilities learn when Filipino is the medium of instruction?
The researcher hopes that the findings of this study will give some insights regarding the fundamental requirements of teaching quality science education as it uses the mother tongue for the language of learning and instruction.
The flow of this paper presentation is as follows: importance of the study (instruments, the sample, methodology), review of related literature, discussion of findings, and recommendations.
1. THE STUDY
This study was based on the research Concept Development in Filipino Children: The Respiratory System. Specifically, it presents the findings to the question, What concepts about the respiratory system can students of varying abilities learn when Filipino is the medium of instruction?
The study was conducted by members of the Elementary School Science (ESS) Group of the University of the Philippines National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development (UP NISMED) from June 27-July 1, 2005. The Research Team was composed of Dr. Marina E. Balce (Coordinator and Documenter); Dr. Risa L. Reyes (Teacher); Ms. May R. Ronda and Ms. Pia C. Campo (Documenters).
Video documentation and film editing was provided by the Audio Visual (AV) Group of the UP NISMED: Ms. Ma. Lourdes S. Agad, Mr. Arnul Magdurulan, and Mr. Daniel A. Coquilla..
The consultants of the study were Dr. Sonia M. Perfecto, former Science Superintendent of the Division of Quezon City; and Dr. Rosanelia T. Yangco, Assistant Professor of the College of Education, University of the Philippines Diliman.
There were two instruments used in this study: The Breath of Life , a module on the respiratory system; and the pretest-post-test on the respiratory system. These instruments tested for the understanding of concepts about the respiratory system, as well as science process skills (or thinking skills) used to understand those concepts.
1.1.1 Teaching Module: The Breath of Life
The Breath of Life, the teaching module used by Dr. Risa L. Reyes, was written by Dr. Lourdes R. Carale, Former Chair of the ESS Group, UP NISMED. This module consists of a series of five hands-on activities written in English, with translations in Filipino: Activity 1: Solve the Jigsaw Puzzle; Activity 2: Breathing In and Breathing Out; Activity 3: Making and Using a Lung-Chest Model; Activity 4: Relating the Model to Breathing; and Activity 5: Where Does the Air Go?
The module is arranged in order of complexity, to facilitate concept development in young, grade school children; i. e., the presentation of a strand of five activities starts from a simple, concrete activity and ends in a complex, abstract activity. Each activity had embedded assessment questions which teachers can use for assessment for learning (AfL).
The development of the said module was based on the requirements of the Department of Education-Basic Education Curriculum (BEC 2002: Philippine Elementary Learning Competencies for Science and Health) :
3. Explain how the respiratory system works
3.1 Recall prior ideas regarding the path of air that is inhaled and exhaled
3.2 Identify the parts of the respiratory system where air passes during inhalation and exhalation and describe the function of each part
3.3 Use a model to demonstrate inhalation and exhalation
3.4 Infer relationship between changes in size of chest cavity and breathing in/out using a soft plastic bottle
3.5 Analyze a table of the composition of inhaled and exhaled gases
3.6 Infer the particular gas the body uses and produces
The pretest-post-test was developed by the ESS Group. Written in English, it tested for the concepts of the respiratory system, as well as the science process skills used to understand them. The pretest-post-test consisted of seven items: four multiple choice items (TABLE 1, #S 1-4) and three constructive response items (Table 1, #s 5A-C).
Table 1. Cognitive Domains* Tested in the Pretest-Post-test
|Test Item #||Points||Cognitive Domains|
|Factual Knowledge||Conceptual Understanding||Reasoning & Analysis|
*As classified by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 
1.2 The Sample
The sample consisted of fourteen (14) Grade 5 students (10 to 11-year old children) from a public elementary school in Quezon City. This sample was selected by the school’s Science Coordinator, a teacher who has known each pupil’s classroom performance since Grade 1. She grouped the students as to mental abilities: four in the above average (AA) or magaling group; five in the average (A) or katamtaman ang galing group; and five in the below average (BA) or may kakulangan sa galing group. At the time of the study, the students have not yet taken up the respiratory system.
The students were then regrouped into three heterogeneous groups; i. e., each group consisted of four to five members with different mental abilities. A researcher was assigned to each group to document each member’s group and class participation and output
Table 2. Heterogeneous Groups
|Group||Mental Abilities||Total # of Students per Group|
|Above Average (AA)||Average (A)||Below Average (BA)|
This section describes the methodology of this research: teaching schedule, medium of instruction, assessments teaching strategies, documentation, and processing of data. Thus, the study done included other components for teaching quality science education in Filipino: a strand of hands-on activities for concept development; activities with embedded assessment items to enable teachers to do assessment for learning as the lessons progressed; teaching/visual aids; and summative test (pretest-post-test). [8, Enclosure 1 for DepEd Order No. 74, s. 2009]
1.3.1 Teaching Schedule
The module Breath of Life was taught in five consecutive days (June 27-July 1, 2005), at one hour per teaching session every morning. This is in accordance with the length science period allotted by the by the Department of Education . All teaching sessions were done in the Elementary School Science Laboratory, Science Teacher Training Center, UP NISMED. Only one teacher taught all the five lessons about the respiratory system. One researcher was assigned per group to document each member’s and participation in group and class discussions.
The students were fetched by the Institute’s bus service before 8:00 A. M. and returned to their school immediately after an hour’s teaching session, so as not to disturb much of their morning school subjects.
1.3.2 Medium of Instruction
The language of learning and instruction was Filipino, the mother tongue of the teacher and the students. From the first to the fifth day of the study, the teacher and the documenters talked with the students in Filipino; i. e., during informal conversations, formal interviews, group and class discussions. Thus, the researchers were able to draw out the students’ observations and inferences, and made them give reasons and then explain or defend them.
Before each activity period, the teacher explained the procedure of each activity. During the activity period, she made it a point to go around for feedback (assessment for learning). After the activity period, the teacher started the post-activity discussion, acting as facilitator once students began discussing what they learned. Shortly before each science period ended, the teacher asked the students to summarize what they have learned.
All scientific terms in English were not translated in Filipino; e. g.: respiratory system, windpipe or trachea, bronchus (-i), bronchioles, diaphragm, ribs, air sacs or alveolus (-i), lung-chest model, oxygen, and carbon dioxide.
Formative assessment was done through assessment for learning (AfL) as the lessons progressed from the first to the fifth day: conversations with students during group activities; pre- and post-activity discussions; discussion and checking of accomplished activity sheets; group reports, and observing how an improvised lung-chest model works. Through all AfL interactions, the teacher made the students express their ideas so other students could comment on them.
Summative assessment was done by comparing the average gain scores from the post-test, across groups of students (AA, A, and BA). (See Section 1.2.2 Pretest-Post-test.)
1.3.4 Teaching Strategies
The teacher was constructivist in teaching the module The Breath of Life. To assess prior knowledge of students about the human respiratory system, the teacher made them draw their answers to the question, “When you breathe air, where does it go?” (“Kapag ikaw ay humihinga, saan napunta ang hangin?”) Then, students were asked to explain their drawings. Students’ ideas gave the teacher notable insights about what they already know about respiration, especially their misconceptions. Thus, the teacher used students’ ideas to start class discussions and to encourage students in connecting what they already know with their new learning experiences.
The teacher used the visual, hands-on way of teaching the mechanism of breathing (inhaling and exhaling), by using an improvised, working lung-chest model. Then, the teacher explained the abstract idea about what happens to inhaled air inside the body.
To teach science concepts, the teacher used the science process skills of observing, communicating (verbally, in written form, and through drawing), inferring, and making a model. All these processes were done to make the students think and express their ideas in Filipino.
Constant feedback (assessment for learning or AfL) was obtained as the teaching progressed because there were embedded assessment questions in the activity sheets. And these were answered by solving a jigsaw puzzle, writing sentences, making a lung-chest model and observing how it works, and interpreting illustrations. Through AfL, there was constant teacher-student interaction; thus, quick checkups of conceptual understanding was possible.
All events that occurred during the five-day study were documented: audiotape recording of student interviews, video recording of class sessions, taking photos during group and class activities, and note-taking through all teaching sessions.
1.3.7 Processing of Data
The processing of collected data were done as follows: (1) Audiotaped interviews and videotaped teaching sessions were transcribed; (2) Accomplished activity sheets were checked and recorded. (3) Lung-chest models were checked if they were functioning well. (4) Accomplished pretests and post-tests were checked and recorded.
2. REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE
This section presents three strong arguments which point out that the MLE Program can upgrade science teaching and learning in our elementary schools.
2.1 Language and Science Education
Table 3 shows the development of one’s mother tongue to functional literacy. It takes time, and it develops in three stages [1,9, 11]:
Table 3. Development of Language
|Stage||Age Range||Distinguishing Use of Language|
|1||3-5||-Using language intuitively|
|2||5-8||-Observing grammatical rules
-Using awkward sentences
|3||8-12||-Full competence: speaking, reading, and
writing in one’s language
As pointed out by education psychologists, the elementary school students are still in the third stage of language development. As such, they have not yet mastered reading and writing in their mother tongue. That is why introducing a foreign language in the elementary grades means blocking or slowing down the attainment of full competence in using one’s mother tongue.
2.2 Communication Problem in Science Education
In science education, the communication of science concepts demands linguistic and conceptual knowledge [6, 14]. Therefore, both teachers and students should communicate in their mother tongue, the language wherein they are comfortable and at ease in clearly expressing their ideas. Most of the science process skills (or thinking skills) are linguistic; for example: communicating, classifying, inferring, predicting, interpreting data, hypothesizing, defining operationally, and investigating . Most science concepts are understood, expressed, and discussed through them. These science process skills or thinking skills cannot be sharpened unless one uses his/her mother tongue. Likewise, science concepts cannot be fully understood unless one uses his/her mother tongue. If Filipino children will keep on using a foreign language to understand science concepts, then, they can only be at the low level of cognition (factual knowledge) in science—not at the high levels of cognition (conceptual understanding and reasoning and analysis).
At this point, it is good to be reminded once more about the 1983 (27 years ago) recommendation of Dr. Roman L. Kintanar for science educators. As stated in his paper, The State of Science in the Philippines :
“Only when we adopt as medium of instruction the language which our students can use naturally and with ease could we expect them to advance their knowledge to levels that could enable them to cope with the modern world.”
2.3 Status of Philippine Science Education
The repeated dismal performance of Filipino students in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) should be strong wake up calls for science educators to change the framework of the current Basic Education Curriculum for Science and Health. Science educators should bear in mind that top performers in Science and Math are Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong SAR, and Republic of Korea, countries which use their mother tongue in science teaching . At present, Science and Health, a school subject which calls for linguistic skills in communication (verbal, written, and graphic), is still taught in English. With this teaching strategy, young minds will not be trained and sharpened to think and express their ideas; more so to understand complex science ideas. (See Section 2.1 Language and Science Education.)
3. DISCUSSION OF RESULTS
Table 4 shows the comparison of average gain scores across the Low (L), Middle (M), and High (H) groups.
Table 4. Comparisons: Average Gain Scores
|Average Score: Mental Ability Groups|
|1. Parts of the respiratory system
|2. Breathing process: inhaling & exhaling
|3. Path of air inside the body (CU)||0.4||1.0||0.0||0.8||0.3||0.8|
|4. What happens to air inside the body
(CU and RA***)
*FK—Factual Knowledge; **CU—Conceptual Understanding;
***RA—Reasoning and Analysis (highest cognitive level)
3.1 Gain Scores Reflected in the Posttest
Average gain score was highest in the Average (A) group (2.7). This means that students who have been labeled as “just average” in class participation and/or achievements can improve their performance, given a quality academic environment. The average gain score posted by the Below Average (BA) group was notable, too. It was not far from that attained by the Above Average (AA) group. This means that students who have been labeled as “slow” in class participation and /or achievements can be motivated to do better.
Non-quantifiable but noteworthy was the fact that all students participated well in group and class discussions. They were confident in expressing their ideas with their classmates and teacher. This observation can be shown in the videotaped science classes.
3.2 Science Process Skills or Thinking Skills Learned
To teach the four main concepts of the respiratory system, the teacher used the following science process skills (Table 4): communicating, inferring, predicting, making a model, interpreting data, hypothesizing, and defining operationally . All these skills are linguistic, based on their definitions:
Table 5. Science Process Skills Used to Teach the
Concepts of the Human Respiratory System
|Science Process Skill||Description|
|Observing||Using one or more of the five senses|
|Communicating||Giving or exchanging information|
|Inferring||Developing ideas based on observations|
|Predicting||Forming an idea of an expected result|
|Making a Model||Developing a physical representation to explain an idea, object, or event|
|Interpreting Data||Reading tables, graphs, and diagrams: Explaining information presented in a table, a graph, or a diagram , and/or using it to answer questions|
|Stating specific information about an object or phenomena based on experiences with it|
As observed, it was possible for the teacher and the students to use the science process skills mentioned because they conversed in Filipino. That teacher-student interaction could not have been possible if they were required to express their ideas in English. If so, then, the students’ understanding of the concepts of the respiratory system could have been restricted.
Based on the review of related literature regarding MLE and the results of this study, the researcher recommends the following:
- Adopt the mother tongue (L1) as the language of learning and instruction (LOLI) for Science and Health at the elementary school level for two reasons: (1) The science process skills (or thinking skills) are linguistic: communicating, classifying, inferring, predicting, interpreting data, hypothesizing, defining operationally, and investigating. These skills are best developed and sharpened using the mother tongue. (2) Elementary school children are at a stage in which they are still mastering their mother tongue. They need time to focus and attain the full mastery of their mother tongue to understand complex science concepts.
- The MLE Program at the elementary school level should be given full financial support for the retraining of teachers; restructuring of the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) for Science and Health, as well as all existing curricula for elementary school teaching; and development of local science teaching materials for teaching in the mother tongue.
- The University of the Philippines National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development (UP NISMED) has developed quality elementary science teaching materials. These can be translated from English to any region’s mother tongue.
The researcher is in full support for the implementation of the MLE in the elementary school level. As this study proved, Filipino was capable of teaching the concepts of the human respiratory system beyond the primary level. Through the MLE Program, Filipinos can advance in the field of science education.
This paper is only a facet of the research Concept Development in Filipino Children: The Respiratory System. The 2005 members of the Elementary School Science (ESS) Group-UP NISMED appreciates the cooperation of the Audio Visual (AV) Group-UP NISMED: Ms. Ma. Lourdes S. Agad (Coordinator of Video Documentation), Mr. Arnul Magdurulan (Videographer), and Mr. Daniel A. Coquilla (Videographer and Film Editor). The Group also expresses their gratitude to their old friends, the staff of the Old Balara Elementary School (OBES)-Quezon City, who participated wholeheartedly during the research activities: Mr. Rodolfo B. Modelo (Principal), Ms. Rebecca B. de Guzman (Grade 5 Science Coordinator), Ms. Neri C. Escocio (Grade 5 Teacher) and Ms. Milagros L. Atanacio (Grade 5 Science Teacher), and the fourteen selected Grade 5 students of the OBES-QC, School Year 2005-’06 (Sample Students).
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