The research team of Melanie A. Link-Perez, Vanessa H. Dollo, Kirk M. Weber and Elisabeth E. Schussler continue their analysis of nationally-distributed textbooks in What’s in a Name: Differential Labelling of Plant and Animal Photographs in Two Nationally Syndicated Elementary Science Textbook Series. Last month we learned how their evaluation of the life science units in these textbooks revealed that more text was dedicated to non-human animals than to plants and that the number of animal examples used in textbooks exceeded the number of plant examples used in textbooks.
Today we look at their analysis of the photographs used in Macmillan McGraw-Hill’s Science (2005) series and Harcourt’s Science series (2006). Both textbook series were versions specific to the state of Ohio (Link-Perez, et al., 2010).
Once again, Link-Perez et al. (2010) studied only the life science section of the textbooks in each series. This time the research team wanted to know:
- Are there different numbers of plant and animal photographs in the textbooks?
- Are plant and animal photographs labelled differently?
To answer their first question, Link-Perez et al. (2010) considered photographs where plants and animals were shown at the organism level. They excluded from their analysis, photographs of plants and animals shown at the cellular level. They also excluded diagrams and drawings because these depicted concepts or processes and not only images of whole organisms. Photographs were grouped into the following categories: Plant Subject, Animal Subject, Landscape as Subject, and Dual Subject. In the dual subject photos, the featured plant and animal were represented equally (e.g., a photo showing a bee and a flower) (Link-Perez, et al., 2010).
To answer their second question, Link-Perez et al. (2010) looked to see if a label was associated with an image. Labels were categorized according to how it described the subject of the photograph. For example, a label’s “level of specificity” (Link-Perez et al. (2010) was considered to be broad if it contained general terms like plant or animal. Intermediate labels were those containing terms “corresponding to a phylum, class or order” such as gymnosperm or mammal (Link-Perez et al. (2010). Specific labels were those containing an organism’s common or species name. The research team considered photos to be labelled if they had a caption (not just referred to in the text). Two coders were trained to code the images. The coders worked independently of each other.
Link-Perez et al. (2010) found that of the 1,288 images they evaluated, 59.6% were of an animal subject, 25.6% were of a plant subject, 7.1% were of a landscape scene, and 7.6% were of a dual subject. They also discovered that animals shown in animal subject photos had more specific labels than plants shown in plant subject photos. The research team also discovered that plants were often identified by the name of a plant part or a plant life-form (i.e., “tree”, “flower”, etc.) instead of a more detailed description. In fact, intermediate-level labels were not used with plant photographs in textbooks for grades K-2; these labels only appeared in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade textbooks (Link-Perez et al., 2010). In contrast, intermediate-level labels were observed with animal photographs in textbooks for all grade levels (Link-Perez et al., 2010).
Of the 92 landscape images identified, most had labels that did not name the organisms in the image, but instead described a habitat or biome (Link-Perez et al., 2010). Ninety-eight dual subject images were identified and even though the featured plant and animal were weighted equally, 75% of the images had labels where the animal was identified more specifically than the plant (Link-Perez et al., 2010). Only 6% of the dual subject images featured captions in which the plant in the image received a more specific description than the animal in the image (Link-Perez et al., 2010).
Link-Perez et al. (2010) also observed that a more diverse selection of animal images were featured in both textbook series.
Because animal photographs outnumber plant photographs and because they have more specific labels than the plant photographs do, Link-Perez et al. (2010) recommend educators speak about plants using their specific names and by referring to them as whole organisms instead of as merely plant parts. They cite research studies demonstrating that student interest in plants can be encouraged if students are exposed to a diverse selection and if students are provided with the actual names of plants.
Link-Perez et al. (2010) include in their paper interesting discussion about how photographs improve student learning and information about the importance of naming plants properly. You can buy a copy of their article from Taylor & Francis Online ($36) or get a copy by visiting the reference section at your local college library.
Link-Perez, Melanie A., Vanessa H. Dollo, Kirk M. Weber, and ElisabethE. Schussler. 2010. What’s in a name: differential labeling of plant and animal photographs in two nationally syndicated elementary science textbook series. International Journal of Science Education. 32(9): 1227-1242.