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Wednesday, July 3 • 3:30pm - 4:10pm
Pedagogic functions of synonyms in assessment contexts: A perspective from Semantics

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Significant progress has been made on the knowledge building potentials of synonyms in teaching and learning contexts (Maton, 2013; Matruglio et al, 2013; Kamai, 2018). Regrettably, little is known of their pedagogic functions in assessment contexts. Against this background, this study examines the pedagogic functions of synonyms in an assessment context and to determine whether the use of synonyms (e.g. Nitrogen fixing bacteria in test question and Azotobacter in reference text) would foster or impede learner achievement. Thirty Grade 12 learners from Nigeria and South Africa were grouped into ten groups across the two study sites. A ten-item comprehension test and reference texts on Life Sciences were given to the learners to consult. The tests were administered to learners during prep classes to avoid interfering with teaching and learning. The participants were expected to work collaboratively and to provide answers to the test questions and a rationale for each answer given. The test questions and the reference texts deal with the same subject matter but the wordings were substituted. This entailed using synonyms in the questions that were at times more (SD+) or less (SD-) concentrated in meaning. The dialogue Think Aloud Protocols or the verbalisations of the learners were recorded and later transcribed. A qualitative analysis of the cognitive processes of the learners or their verbalisations revealed that the practice of weakening the semantic density (SD-) of a term (e.g. solvent) by the use of a variant (e.g. water or liquid) by participants facilitated the choice of correct answer by other learners. This finding is consistent with a theoretical prediction in LCT that shifts in the strengths of semantic density and gravity are “crucial to cumulative knowledge building and key to academic literacy” (Maton, 2014:1). The results further indicated that the use of abstract, meaning-concentrated terms (SD+ or SG-) in the test question and the reference text impeded learning. The study concluded that the use of synonyms in assessment context is beneficial to tuition and that the meta-linguistic awareness that knowledge is not static but is structured as waves of information can be leveraged to foster learner achievement.


Wednesday July 3, 2019 3:30pm - 4:10pm SAST
Room B45

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