Science Students Classroom Discourse: Tashas Umwelt
Published online: 28 September 2010# Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
Abstract Over the past twenty-five years researchers have been concerned withunderstanding the science student. The need for such research is still grounded incontemporary issues including providing opportunities for all students to developscientific literacy and the failure of school science to connect with students lives,interests and personal identities. The research reported here is unusual in its use ofdiscourse analysis in social psychology to contribute to an understanding of the waystudents make meaning in secondary school science. Data constructed for the study wasdrawn from videotapes of nine consecutive lessons in a year-seven science classroom inMelbourne, post-lesson video-stimulated interviews with students and the teacher,classroom observation and the students written work. The classroom videotapes wererecorded using four cameras and seven audio tracks by the International Centre forClassroom Research at the University of Melbourne. Student talk within and about theirscience lessons was analysed from a discursive perspective. Classroom episodes inwhich students expressed their sense of personal identity and agency, knowledge,attitude or emotion in relation to science were identified for detailed analysis of thefunction of the discourse used by students, and in particular the way students werepositioned by others or positioned themselves. This article presents the discursiveUmwelt or life-space of one middle years science student, Tasha. Her case is used hereto highlight the complex social process of meaning making in science classrooms andthe need to attend to local moral orders of rights and duties in research on studentlanguage use, identity and learning in science.
Keywords Positioning . Social psychology . Discourse analysis . Girls in science . Scienceclassroom practice . Video study . Classroom research
Res Sci Educ (2012) 42:233259DOI 10.1007/s11165-010-9195-0
J. Arnold (*)International Centre for Classroom Research, Melbourne Graduate School of Education,The University of Melbourne, 109 Barry St, Carlton 3053, Australiae-mail: email@example.com
I dont pay attention the whole time. Seriously! I havent heard about theArchimedes in the bathtub thing (Tasha, lesson 2).
Tasha is a year seven student who participated in the video study at the focus of thisreport. Her statement above was made during class time. In analyzing the content of thisstatement from a cognitive perspective (Costa 1995; Harr 2006), we may find a clearexpression of Tashas own lack of knowledge. Her unfamiliarity with the legend ofArchimedes could reflect a lack of scientific cultural knowledge, suggesting some disparitybetween her life world and the world of science. Tashas portrayal of herself as someonewho doesnt pay attention in science class the whole time, could be explained in terms ofthe implied difficulty of cultural disparity when crossing borders into the world of science.However, when the function of Tashas talk is taken into consideration it will becomeevident that the content of an utterance is not sufficient for an analysis of meaning. Tashasconstruction of herself here as not paying attention, as with any language use, is part of adiscursive practice used for a particular local purpose in conversation. We will return toTashas utterance later in the paper.
From an anthropological perspective, research based upon interviews with students andtheir relative success in school science has shown that the life-worlds of students can beincompatible with the culture of science. Such a perspective has been used to explain thevarying dispositions of students in relation to school science. Learning science has beenlikened to border crossing, and teaching to the enculturation of a diverse range of studentsinto the world of science (Costa 1995; Aikenhead 2001). Sensitivity to students culturalorientations outside school has prompted calls for humanistic approaches to sciencecurriculum (Roth and Barton 2004; Aikenhead 2005) and the re-casting of the role of theteacher (Aikenhead 2001, p. 1867). From a sociocultural determinist perspective, studentsuse of language in science classrooms has been studied in order to classify studentsaccording to their discursive identity (Brown 2004). Student use of everyday language hasbeen interpreted as a sign of resistance to the scientific practice of using scientific terms andas the maintenance of cultural identities (Brown 2004; 2006; Brown and Ryoo 2008;Brown and Spang 2008; Brown et al. 2009). From a social constructionist viewpoint,students life experiences and resulting nave explanations for phenomena have been shownto be underlying barriers to the learning of science, which in many instances can becounter-intuitive (Osborne and Freyberg 1985; Talanquer 2009). Teaching and learningscience from this perspective has been conceived in several studies as the exposure,interrogation and (re)construction of students cognitive schema. From the perspective ofsituated cognition, learning in science has been conceived as a process of identity formation(Brickhouse 2001; Lemke 2001; Kozoll and Osborne 2004). This perspective has beenutilised to interrogate the role of gender and economic status in science learning. In recentstudies focused on girls and students from communities with limited socio-economicresources engagement in science has been fostered in a variety of ways that are notnecessarily in alignment with conventional school science practice (Barton 1998; Bartonand Osborne 2001; Brickhouse and Potter 2001; Brickhouse et al. 2000). In instances wherenon-traditional ways of engaging with science have been supported in learning environ-ments the outcome has been significant in terms of the transformation of classroompractices and student participation in school science (Barton 2001; Barton and Tan 2009;Barton et al. 2008; Tan and Barton 2008).
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The research reported here is unusual in its use of discourse analysis in socialpsychology (Wood and Kroger 2000) to contribute to an understanding of the way studentsmake meaning in secondary school science. Discursive psychology was drawn upon for thestudy because there has been convincing theoretical and empirical work in the socialsciences related to what has become known as the discursive turn (Kroger and Wood1998) or the second cognitive revolution (Harr 1992b) that calls into question many ofthe assumptions underlying some of this previous research, including:
1. Presupposing the existence of a culture of science as an attitudinal object.
From a discursive perspective, the variability in the construction of science and theculture of science for different social purposes in different contexts is acknowledged andthis variability becomes of central interest (Wood and Kroger 2000).
2. Assuming that student utterances are indicators of the presence of enduring, underlyingattitudes.
From the discursive perspective, attitudes are performatively constituted through actionfor specific local purposes. Instead of an underlying attitude, the function of attitudinaldisplays as a discursive practice in various contexts becomes the focus for research (Potterand Wetherell 2001).
3. Making translations from un-explicated student discourse to un-explicated researchersdiscourse, for example the translation of language used by students to thecategorization of students according to cultural affiliation.
From a discursive perspective, language has a social function entailing a shift in focusfrom the content of utterances to utterances as speech-acts. Utterances have a locutionary orreferential sense, but also an illocutionary and perlocutionary force (Harr and vanLangenhove 1999a; Potter 2001; Cornejo 2004). In discourse analysis, the relevantcategories are those used by participants (Wood and Kroger 2000; Potter and Wetherell2001).
4. Ignoring student agency to treat students as passive entities in the culture of the scienceclassroom and holding the teacher as individually responsible for science classroompractices.
From the discursive psychological perspective, science classroom practices aremaintained or transformed relationally through interaction (Linehan and McCarthy 2000;Wood and Kroger 2000; O'Connor 2001; Harvey 2002). The focus from the discursiveperspective shifts from the role of students as passive receivers of curriculum imperativesand pedagogical moves to the discursive practices of students as they make meaning incontext, including the way they position themselves and are positioned by others (Daviesand Harr 1999).
The shifts to a discursive perspective: from a concern with what people are talking aboutto a concern with what they are doing in and with their talk; and from a concern with whathappened to a concern with how events are discursively constructed, require major shifts inthe specific kinds of research questions that are asked (Wood and Kroger 2000, p. 17).Through the study of discourse as social action, the focus of this study was how studentspositioned themselves as participants in science. Rather than seeking to apply predeter-mined categories to student discourse, this research identified the ways in which
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participating students actively constructed and employed categories in their discourse whilstparticipating in and talking about science. The questions addressed by the research reportedhere include: How can discursive practices employed by students in their science classroombe described? How do students use psychological categories in their talk in and about theirscience classroom? How are students positioned, and how do they position themselveswithin science classroom discourses?
The rich fabric of social life is woven not by physical beings whose actions arecaused by mental entities harbored under their skulls, but rather by social beings who,by virtue of their capacity for language, are engaged in an endless conversation andso create and maintain their relations with each other (Harr & Gillet 1994). It is inthis realm that discourse analysis finds its home (Wood and Kroger 2000, pxii).
Discourse is used here to refer to human meaning making using semiotic systems, bothverbal and non-verbal, spoken and written. The focus of the study is on student discourse inand about their science classroom and I have used the terms discourse and conversationbroadly to include all communication modes and talk more specifically in reference tospoken language use, although in the use of each term I am referring to situated, relationalmeaning making or language use as social practice.
Discourse analysis in social psychology was developed from various movements in thesocial sciences including: the influence of Wittgensteins claims about the practicality andheterogeneity of language; Austins theory of speech-acts; Bahktins writings on themultivoicedness of discourse and the concurrent centripetal and centrifugal forces onlanguage; Goffmans work related to the orderly production of discourse in interaction; andGarfinkels research on shared methods of practical reasoning for interpreting and acting inthe common-sense world of everyday life (Potter and Wetherell 1987; Wood and Kroger2000; Herritage 2001; Maybin 2001; Potter 2001). It draws upon the foundations laid byconversational analysts (Schegloff and Sacks 1973; Atkinson and Heritage 1984) and issimilar in that both offer qualitative analyses of the functional and sense-making propertiesof language (Wooffitt 2005, p. 71). However, discourse analysis is broader in its researchfocus and unlike conversational analysis is grounded in social constructionist ontology(Harr 1992a; Wood and Kroger 2000). Cartesian separations of inner mind spaces andouter social spaces are called into question because of the insight that persons and societycannot be separated but are always dialectically related (Vygotsky 1978; Harr 1984;Quigley 2001). A consequence of this is that rather than the inner mechanisms of individualminds or determining structures, discursive psychology is concerned with the intentionaluse of symbolic systems by active, skilled human beings in public and private contexts, forthe accomplishment of various tasks and projects, jointly with others (Harr and vanLangenhove 1999a, p. 3; Harr and Tissaw 2005).
The discourse analytic perspective emphasizes the need to work with recordings andrecords (not reports) of verbal and nonverbal aspects of discourse (Wood and Kroger2000, p. 64). Words, grammar and phrases contribute to the locutionary meaning of anutterance. However the illocutionary force of the utterance (what the speaker does with it)also depends upon the standing of the speaker and the way in which the speaker ispositioned within the ongoing interaction (Harre 1997, p. 188). Consideration of the
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speakers relative positioning also affects an utterances perlocutionary force (its effectson the hearer). Therefore in order to interpret the social meaning, the analyst needs toextend his or her gaze beyond the single utterance to at least those preceding andfollowing it, and perhaps to a social episode (Harr and Secord 1972; Wood and Kroger2000). In summary, social meaning is made relatively determinate using three inter-dependent features of discourse: the conversational storyline; actors conversationallocations, or positions; and the content of the act/action. These three constructs arereferred to as the positioning triad (Harr and van Langenhove 1999a). Discourseaccomplishes social acts including the relative positioning of speakers and interlocutorsand the context for further action (the ongoing storyline). Woods and Kroger refer tothis as the scaffolding effect of speech acts; utterances both reflect and construct context(2000, p. 96).
A position denotes a persons psychological location in a conversation (Harr and vanLangenhove 1999a, 2000), and certain positions imbue speakers with a sense ofresponsibility or duty. The linguistic device used for indexing responsibility for action inthe social world and speech-acts is pronoun use. Muhlhusler and Harr (1990, p. 94) referto an indexical progression in reference to the varying degree that a speaker can takeresponsibility for utterances, ranging from statements not explicitly indexed to the speakerby way of the unmarked first person where there is only weak speaker commitment to thereliability of the remark, to the use of the first person and epistemic verbs such as believe,think, know and understand, which can also index the degree of commitment to thecontent that the speaker is prepared to make.
Use of the first person pronoun is an indexical feature of our language that locatespersonal responsibility for the content of the utterance to the speaker or marks the speakerssense of personal responsibility for the utterance itself. Use of the first person is a culturallyembedded practice, performatively realizing the speakers location amongst others as anindividual imbued with personal agency. Mead (1934, cited in Harr 2006, p. 234) made adistinction between I and me aspects of locating oneself in relation to others inconversation. The use of I can be in reference to oneself as a process, a constant becomingand for indexing personal agency as true innovation. The use of me can be reflexive andrefer to oneself as a product of the social context; the way the speaker sees themselvesthrough the eyes of others. In this way the I is aware of the social me and the self isessentially a social process going on with these two distinguishable phases (Mead 1934,cited in Harr 2006). Collective first person pronoun use can be used to diffuseresponsibility and signal a shared sense of responsibility with members of a group orcollective agency (Muhlhasler and Harr 1990). The use of the second person can often beused to deflect personal responsibility from the speaker and index it to public personae(Muhlhasler and Harr 1990). For example, you have to listen to the teacher, is an actionindexed to the public persona of the good student and indicates what the speaker views as acompetent public performance. Modal verbs, such as must, can also be used to deflect thespeakers responsibility for an action or obscure agency.
Other linguistic devices used for analyses of positioning include speakers use oftense. Biographical narratives are usually indexed using tenses other than the present, inwhich actions reported or imagined are indexed to the speaker as a character in past orfuture episodes (Harr and van Langenhove 1999b). It is important to note that theillocutionary and perlocutionary force of reported action cannot be reliably gauged.However, reported speech is also important as a device for positioning within ongoinginteractions, as is the use of emotive verbs and other psychological categories employedby speakers.
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In speaking and acting from a position, people are bringing to the particular situationtheir history as they themselves conceive it, that is, the history of one who has been inmultiple positions and engaged in different forms of discursive practice (Davies and Harr1999, p. 37). This history is referred to as the persons Umwelt (Harr 1990). Discursivepractices and the associated positions are seen to make up the human social Umwelt, thesocial world or life-space of the actor. The use of language or other techniques forpositioning are often so well rehearsed that conscious thought is no longer required on thepart of the actor in the context of moment-to-moment interaction, much like thedevelopment of a skill. Learning under this scheme is the expansion of an individualsUmwelt to include new discursive practices.
Any action in the social world is intentional, used by the actor for a purpose and presupposinga response from an other (Coulter 1999, after Bahktin). The actor draws upon his or herUmwelt at the moment of participation and exercises choice. This gives rise to the possibilityof novel action in institutional contexts resulting in the transformation of practice. Novel actionin any situation risks unintelligibility but could result in new storylines and changes in relativepositioning if taken up by others at the site (Harr 1984). In institutional settings it is rare thatnovel positioning is recognized because of the matrix of practices that make up the way wedo things around here or teaching as usual (Schatzki 2002; Davies 2008).
In secondary school many students become disengaged with science (Goodrum et al. 2001;Tytler et al. 2008). Year seven is the first year of secondary schooling in Victoria. A year-seven class taught by an experienced middle school science teacher who had beenrecommended by his peers as a highly competent teacher of science and who agreed toparticipate was chosen for the study. For most students year seven is the first time they havebeen taught science by a teacher trained in the discipline, and for many it is the first timethey have had a science lesson. However the research was conducted in term four; the lastterm of the school year, by which time students would have developed familiarity withsecondary schooling practices and practices specific to their science classroom.
Videotaped student discourse in and about their science classroom was the main datasource used in this study. The generation of suitable data was achieved with support fromthe International Centre for Classroom Research at the University of Melbourne. A team ofresearchers, including the author, contributed to the data generation and a large data set wasproduced with the purpose of satisfying the research aims of an encompassing researchprogram (Clarke 2009) and three PhD projects including the one reported upon here. Theteamwork required and the inclusive research design developed, as well as the level ofequipment imported into the classroom setting and its inevitable impact upon the site is notthe focus of this paper. However the use of one data set by different researchers for differentpurposes and using different theoretical frameworks constituted the primary rationale of theencompassing research program. Preliminary findings related to consequences andimplications of the multi-theoretic analyses have been presented elsewhere (Arnold 2009;Clarke 2009; Seah 2009; Xu 2009).
Filming was conducted over a four-week period. During this time, nine lessonscomprising a complete unit of work were recorded using four video cameras and sevenaudio tracks. The students in the classroom, with their parents approval, had agreed toparticipate. The research design was modeled upon the Learners Perspective Project(Clarke 2006), an international video study of mathematics classrooms that included the
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videotaping of lessons using multiple cameras and audio tracks, and separate post-lesson,video-stimulated interviews with the teacher and selected students. Two groups of studentswere selected to participate in post-lesson interviews. Both groups were chosen inconsultation with the teacher after two familiarization lessons. These groups werecomprised of students who habitually worked together and who were identified asrelatively engaged in classroom conversations about science because of their contributionsto whole-class conversations or on-track conversations with their peers, and as articulate inthe interview setting. Tasha was a member of one of these groups. One member from eachgroup participated in a post-lesson interview after each lesson on a rotating basis. Therewere three girls in Tashas group. Therefore Tasha participated in three post-lessoninterviews.
Immediately following each lesson, each interviewee (the teacher and two students) inseparate, concurrent interviews was asked to play sections from the lesson video that werepersonally important, and to explain their choice to the researcher. The interviews were semi-structured in much the same way as an ethnographic interview (Spradley 1979). Watchingsections of the video together with a researcher prompted conversational interviews in whichthe interviewee elaborated upon the chosen segments of the lesson from their point of view.Documents were also collected, including the teachers unit and lesson plan material andphotocopies of every students written work including practical reports, note taking and theend of unit test. The author, herself an experienced science teacher in secondary governmentand non-government schools, primary schools and in teacher education made writtenobservations of each lesson. The unit of work was The States of Matter, a unit that coincidedwith the usual curriculum at this school and which was being taught at the time of filming.
The audio tracks from classroom and interview videos were fully transcribed usingorthographic conventions. These transcripts were used for an initial reading (Wood andKroger 2000), the result of which were colour-coded transcripts showing conversationalcontexts and all episodes in which topics of conversation were identified as relevant to thestudy. Three contexts for student talk in the classroom were identified: public whole-classconversations, private small-group student conversations and private conversations betweenstudents and the teacher. Content of interest that was identified included student talk aboutscience and talk students engaged in whist doing science. In addition, episodes in whichstudents used first person pronouns, emotive or epistemic verbs were highlighted.
It became evident in the initial reading that Tasha often positioned herself as lessknowledgeable than her peers, yet she asked scientifically pertinent questions that were notconsistently taken up by others in the social episodes. I decided to focus on Tashas self-positioning to describe the way she was positioned or positioned herself in scienceclassroom conversations, explain why her positioning was taken up differently on differentoccasions and describe the discursive practices in which she participated.
The episodes identified in the initial reading were coded using pronominal coding. Utterancesin these episodes were analysed for their function, beginning with more detailed, phonographictranscription (Wood and Kroger 2000). The conventions used for phonographic transcription areincluded in Appendix A. Repeated viewing of the videos was necessary at this stage. Throughthe repeated viewing, consideration of what was said, the audience addressed, the responsesfrom interlocutors, voice intonation, gestures and any tool use, utterances were analysed fortheir force as social acts, including positioning and evolving storylines.
Private small-group conversations were chosen as the focus of the study to provide awindow into science classroom practices from the meaning-making perspective of thestudents. The following three conversational episodes have been chosen as representationalof the breadth of Tashas discursive practices. They have not been presented in
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chronological order but have been arranged in progression of Tashas location withrespect to normative classroom practice, from positioning herself as an outsider to theculture of science, to becoming recognized as a competent participant in classroompractices.
The following three episodes illustrate the science classroom practices negotiated betweenTasha and her friends in small-group conversations. Each episode is presented in a table,which includes the transcript in the left hand column and an analysis using discursivepsychology in the right hand column. Contextual information to help the reader make senseof the conversational content in the episodes is provided in separate introductions.Following each episode is a discussion of the function of the discourse, including thepositions available to Tasha. The time frame of each episode is included at the beginning ofthe transcripts in square parenthesis. These times correspond to the amount of time elapsedin the lesson in minutes. The analysis has been placed intentionally to the right of thetranscript to visually maintain a readers focus on what was said and done by the students,reflecting the theoretical grounding of the study that talk is action, and to assist the reader inviewing the transcripts through the eyes of the researcher (Donmoyer 1990). The transcriptuses phonographic conventions (Appendix A) to represent the sound of the students talk,which is considered important in the analysis of meaning. In the analysis, pronoun use andother cues are highlighted as an index to the students psychological location in theconversation.
The three episodes include conversation between Tasha and her two friends, Kesar andAngie. The episodes span two lessons during which the students conducted a practicalactivity in small groups and wrote their practical reports. The practical activity was tomeasure the density of a candle and a marble. In order to measure the volume of theseobjects, students were required to place them into a measuring cylinder of water anddetermine the volume of water displaced. The instructions for the practical activity and thequestions used in their practical reports were provided to the students on the handoutincluded here as Appendix B. The first episode returns to Tashas statement quoted at thebeginning of the paper.
Episode 1I dont Pay Attention the Whole Time
During a whole-class conversation in lesson 2 the teacher made an aside concerning thelegend of Archimedes. Tasha participated as a listener only, but other students displayedknowledge of the legend including her friend Kesar. Later in the lesson, Tasha tookpersonal responsibility for not knowing the Legend of Archimedes and positioned herself asexcluded from the community in which the Legend of Archimedes was shared knowledge.
The girls had returned to their desks after completing a practical activity. Their bookswere open and they had begun orientating themselves to writing up the practical report.Each had a copy of the handout (Appendix B), which they refer to in the conversation.Under the heading Discussion, the instructions included: In your Practical Book, explainyour results using the particle model. The transcript and analysis of this episode areincluded as Table 1.
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Table 1 Classroom episode lesson 2
Lesson 2 [44:2545:41] Analysis
Kesar [Finishes trimming the handout with a pair ofscissors, ready to stick it into her book. Turnstowards Tasha] So do we do a prac report? ...Were using discussions as questions isnt there(.) [looks at the handout] oh yeah its here.
Kesar addresses Tasha and Angie and positionsthem alongside herself as members of a groupusing the collective first person, we, and ascollectively responsible for following theinstructions on the handout. Her purpose in thisturn is to clarify what is expected of students bythe teacher in writing up the practical report.Kesars question positions Angie and Tasha ascapable of confirming her interpretation of theseinstructions, and in particular what was requiredin the discussion section. Practical reportswere required to be written under the headings:Aim, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusionand Evaluation. Kesar appeals for confirmationthat answers to the questions on the handoutwas all that was required under the headingDiscussion.
Angie Huh? Angie responds to Kesars question and beginslooking through her workbook.
Tasha Yeah those questions.What is the particletheory?
Tasha responds to Kesars question andconfirms what is required.Tasha stresses theword theory. She freely articulates herperceived gap in knowledge. She is looking atthe handout whilst trimming it with a pair ofscissors and her question is most likelyaddressed to Kesar although she doesnt look atKesar during the utterance.
Angie [Looks at the handout] (So the aim andmaterials and method is he:re.1
Angie clarifies what is required in response toKesars question.
Kesar [Looks at Tasha] )(If you look in the back it willsay the meaning)2
Kesar responds to Tashas question by deferingto the authority of the information they havebeen given, perhaps notes from the board or aglossary.
Tasha But what is the theory? Tasha again stresses the word theory. It islikely that she is differentiating particle (aword she is familiar with) and the particletheory. The particle theory is a reference tothe particular wording of the question on thehandout (Appendix B). Tasha is positioningherself as lacking the scientific knowledgeneeded to respond to the question.
Kesar [Looks at Tasha, smiling.] Kesar signals her engagement with Tashasquery but she does not provide an answer.
Angie But Kesar isnt- does that mean we have (.)doesnt that mean you have to just draw thatagain? [Points to handout].
Angie calls for Kesars attention and appeals toher to confirm their obligations in completingthe practical report correctly. Her sense ofobligation is revealed in her use of we haveand you have to; we indexed to herself as amember of the group of students, and youindexed to the public persona of the studentdoing what is expected.
Tasha Yeah (.) but what is the theory Kesar? Tasha appeals to Kesar to respond personally toher question, positioning Kesar asknowledgeable.
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In this episode, Tasha published a biographical story in which she portrayed herself asexcluded from the classroom community of practice due to her lack of knowledge. She tookpersonal responsibility for her perceived lack of knowledge by positioning herself assomeone who does not always pay attention in class.
The biographical story was offered as justification for positioning Kesar as knowledge-able, and in particular more knowledgeable than Tasha. The need for an account arosebecause Kesar reflexively repositioned herself as not knowledgeable and not expected toknow. The function of the biographical story was face-saving for Tasha. Tashaacknowledged Kesars repositioning through a series of shifts to adjust Kesars standingin the conversation from one who knows to one Tasha had expected to know(erroneously). After Kesars repositioning, it became inappropriate for Tasha to continueasking Kesar for information.
Kesars repositioning resulted in a shift in storyline, including Tashas sense ofresponsibility in relation to the pursuit of scientific knowledge. At the beginning of the
Table 1 (continued)
Lesson 2 [44:2545:41] Analysis
Tasha What is the theory?
Kesar Youre ser(h)iously asking me that Repositioning: In her use of the first person hereand laughter, Kesar repositions herself. Thisreduces her standing in the immediateconversation from one positioned as knowing toone who does not know and who is notpersonally responsible for knowing.
Tasha Ye:s Tasha tentatively maintains her original
positioning of Kesar.
Tasha >Yeah (.) you should know- ah shouldnt youknow the particle theory? I thought you did
episode, Tasha pursued the knowledge she perceived herself as lacking by persistentlyquestioning Kesar. However, after Kesar repositioned herself alongside Tasha as notknowing the particle theory and not being expected to know, Tasha accepted this poisoning,aligned herself in relation to it and did not continue to pursue the knowledge she lacked. Inaddition to this, Kesar did not share her own knowledge on the legend of Archimedes inresponse to Tashas expressed lack of knowledge. A storyline in which Tasha and Kesarwere not expected to know was established in this way. Subsequent action on the part ofboth girls maintained this storyline. They did not pursue the question, What is the particletheory? further.
Episode 2Yeah, but the Wire Might Add Some Water
During the practical activity in lesson 2 Tasha worked in a small group with Kesar andAngie to measure the volume of a candle according to instructions on the handout(Appendix B). During this episode Angie, Kesar and Tasha developed a shared purpose andpositioned themselves as collectively responsible for carrying out the practical instructionswithin the time-frame set by the teacher. Finishing practical work on time was a theme oftenalluded to in the classroom discourse by both the teacher and the focus students, forexample during the teachers instructions to the students in a whole-class conversation theteacher said, If you finish quickly enough, you can spend the rest of the lessoncommencing your report.
Of particular interest in this episode are Tashas utterances that are in alignmentwith the scientific practices of evaluating ones experimental methods and beingsensitive to appropriate degrees of accuracy in experimental work. The episode beginswith Tasha, Angie and Kesar at their workbench following the instructions on thehandout. The equipment they needed for the practical activity was already on thebench. The transcript and analysis of this episode are included as Table 2.
In this episode, Tasha positioned herself in many different and occasionally contradictoryways, and her positioning was variously taken up. Contrary to positioning herself initiallyas less capable of interpreting the instructions than Angie, she provided an accurateinterpretation in stressing >we have to make it
Table 2 Classroom episode lesson 2
Lesson 2 [31:1133:50] Analysis
Angie [Picks up the measuring cylinder.] >Okay weneed to fill this with water.< (15) [Fills themeasuring cylinder at the tap at their bench].Okay thats good enough hh
Using the collective first person, we, Angiepositions herself as a member of the small groupand displays a sense of shared responsibility.
She authoritatively decides on the water level,but her pronouncement thats good enoughcoupled with an expression of mirth suggests alaissez-faire approach to the scientific practice ofaccuracy in measurement.
Kesar Hah Kesar laughs in response to Angies lastcomment and expression of mirth.
Angie It says weve gotta (.) it says it weve gottagen- (.) carefully slide in the object.
Angies use of weve gotta , as in we have gotto, sets the immediate shared purpose for thesmall group of following the instructions. Shepositions herself as an interpreter of theinstructions and a performer of these instructions.
Angies use of it is indexed to the handout.Drawing on the authority of the handout shepositions herself as collectively obligated toperform certain actions.
Tasha Carefully (.) so whats object? Tasha accepts Angies positioning and takes upthe storyline of collective responsibility forfollowing the instructions on the handout. Shedoes this by reading the instructions andsignaling endorsement by repeating Angie(carefully). Tashas question, Whatsobject? positions Angie as a capableinterpreter of the instructions.
Angie Oh isnt it volume of water (.) dont wehave to what the water level isnow? And then put the marble in and see whatthe level is now?
Angie does not take up Tashas positioning.Instead, Angie asks questions to confirm her ownunderstanding of the instructions. Here Angieappeals to Tasha and Kesar to confirm that beforeputting the object in, they are required (we haveto) to read the initial volume in the measuringcylinder.
Tasha >How do you know this stuff!< Tasha repositions Angie as individually capableof following the instructions, as though she hasknowledge beyond Tashas own knowledge orunderstanding. She also appeals to Angie toaccount for her greater knowledge
Kesar Is that sixty (.) one? Kesar takes up Angies suggestion that the initialvolume needs to be read. In doing this, sheconfirms Angies positioning within the group asthe interpreter of instructions and contributes tothe developing group purpose. Kesar tentativelyreads the initial volume as 61 ml by expressingher reading as a question.
Angie Really? I have- Ive gotta put it back then. [Pourswater out of measuring cylinder].
Angie responds to Kesars reading of the waterlevel as though Kesar is questioning her accuracyin filling the measuring cylinder (rather thanstating her tentative reading of the initialvolume). She adjusts it so that it is 60 ml. In thisway Angie reveals her unspoken intention to fillthe cylinder to 60 ml. Here she takes personalresponsibility for interpretation of the
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Table 2 (continued)
Lesson 2 [31:1133:50] Analysis
instructions, 60 ml being an arbitrary volume.She acts contrary to her lassiez-faire displayabove (thats good enough) in adjusting thevolume to 60 ml more accurately.
Angie >Okay that's sixty
Table 2 (continued)
Lesson 2 [31:1133:50] Analysis
Angie You got to slide it in. (.) And if it floats (.) wehave to push it in with a- (.) damn it! We have topush it in with a (.) [picks up paper clip] >pieceof wire< (.) [straightens out paper clip].
In restating the instructions beginning with, if itfloats, she maintains the storyline of collectiveresponsibility using we have to and herpositioning within the group as the interpreter ofinstructions.
Angie, unlike Tasha, does not seek approval fromother group members before picking up the paperclip to perform the next instruction.
Kesar Do we check if the water has risen? >or rose orwhateverwe have to make it< ((.) down1 In saying, we have to make it down, meaning,we have to submerge the candle, Tasha showsunderstanding of the procedure to advise Kesarthat the candle needs to be fully submergedbefore the volume is measured.
Repositioning: Tasha repositions herself as aninterpreter of the instructions.
In her use of the collective first person shepositions herself as a member of the group withshared duties, maintaining the storyline offollowing the instructions correctly.
Angie )Hey, it has!2 Despite Tashas referral to the correct procedure,Angie responds to Kesars question by checkingthe water level. She expresses surprise andinterest in the observation that the water level hasrisen. Angie positions herself uniquely within thegroup as having the capacity to make personalobservations.
Kesar Coz it's (.) sixty (.) three. Kesar confirms Angies observation by readingthat the volume has increased and in doing soendorses Angies capacity to perform acts that donot comply with the instructions. The actsachieved by Angie and Kesar here reduce theillocutionary force of Tashas referral to thecorrect procedure. Tasha is repositioned as afollower of instructions, rather than an interpreter.Angies positioning as interpreter isperformatively maintained.
Angie I can't push it down >I have I have ah< (.) Ohgod (.) this is=
The conversation is orientated to the practicaltask of submerging the candle using the wire,which Angie performs.
Tasha =>Hey hold on no< pick it up again (.) and we'llput it down and we'll just dunk it in (.) dunk it
Tashas suggestion here is not taken up.
Kesar Oh right.
Tasha Hook it! Ho:ok it!
Angie I ca:n't!
Kesar It's (hard.1
Tasha )Here2 (.) can I try?
Kesar It's like a(h) game now hah
Tasha Can I try hooking it? Tasha appeals to the group to endorse an
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Table 2 (continued)
Lesson 2 [31:1133:50] Analysis
opportunity for her to attempt to submerge thecandle.
Angie [Holds candle down with the looped end of thewire]. Oka:y
Tashas request is not taken up as Angiecontinues performing the task and eventuallysucceeds.
Kesar >Okayoh no< (.) yeah (.)sixty three (.)
Kesar continues with her reading of the finalvolume as per the instructions. In this way shecompletes Angies social act, maintaining thestoryline in which they are positioned asobligated to follow instructions.
Tasha )Tsk (.) imbeciles2 Tasha speaks light-heartedly in response toAngies admonishment and laughter to accusethose choosing not to engage with her question ofbeing imbeciles.
Angie (Five.1 Angie completes the measurement begun byKesar.
Kesar )Five.2 Kesar and Angie read the volume together andspeak in unison.
Tasha (Sixty-three point five1. Tasha accepts Angie and Kesars reading.
Kesar )Oh well (.) does(h)n't2 look like a point so(h) it's Kesar expressed doubt over their accuracy and
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competing, actions that did not contribute to the realization or maintenance of thesestorylines lacked illocutionary force. Tashas evaluation of the experimental method and hercritique of the degree of accuracy in the groups measurements would have been consideredlegitimate actions within scientific discursive practices. It is therefore marked that theseactions lacked illocutionary force in this situation.
The discursive practices collectively realized by the students established a context foraction that did not support Tasha in positioning herself or being positioned as scientificallycompetent. The imperative to follow the instructions can be viewed as a centrifugal forceoperating throughout the episode. Its function was the maintenance of normative order,realized in conversation between the students through such phrases as we have to. In thiscontext, Tashas actions critiquing the method and calling the students degree of accuracyinto question were innovative in the way Bahktin described centripetal forces (Maybin2001), pointing to the heterogeneity of discursive practices. In other words, the practice offollowing instructions was normative (intuitively accepted and acted upon as what-we-do-around-here) and reflected the wider context that the students conversation occurred in aclassroom with equipment provided by the teacher for a set amount of time to do an activitychosen by the teacher.
In further actions, Tasha did not raise the possible effect of the use of the wire on theirmeasurements again either in the small group setting or in other conversational contexts andshe did not include it in her practical report even though the students were required to writean evaluation. Also, despite Tashas scientifically valid critique, the final volume of waterfor the candle was recorded by each member of the group to two decimal points. Tasha alsorecorded the measurement to two decimal points in alignment with the negotiated practicesof her group. Rather than learning how to participate in scientific practices, defined in termsof a generalized scientific community, Tasha learnt how to act appropriately as a studentdoing a practical activity.
In her actions, Tasha displayed competency in scientific practices beyond what wasrequired of the students to follow instructions. Despite this, Tasha lacked the capacity(Burkitt 2002) to reposition herself as scientifically competent. Instead, she conformed tothe practices negotiated in conversation with her peers.
Table 2 (continued)
Lesson 2 [31:1133:50] Analysis
sixty three point (.) three (.) heh (.) >two fiveI dont want you toredo your report< (2) but obviously in the evaluation section, you might want tosuggest how you could improve so that you dont get results (.) that clearly dontseem to be right (.) okay- but remember its okay to get wrong results in science (.)as long as you can explain (1) why.
Later in the lesson the students were working individually on these practical reports whenTasha posed a question to her peers that correctly interpreted the teachers question in terms oftheir practical results. The students were sitting at their desk in a row. Kesar sat between Tashaand Angie. The episode includes Tashas question in the first turn. The transcript and analysisof this episode are included as Table 3.
Tasha identified the problem that their practical results did not conform to the rule thatfloating objects have a density of less than one. In questioning her peers, she positionedthem as capable of and obligated in accounting for their result. Both Kesar and Angie tookup this positioning. However their responses did not conform to the teachers storyline andinherent logic that their result was wrong. Their speech-acts in response to Tashasquestion reduced their standing in the conversation, signaled by Tashas lack of uptake oftheir suggestions and in Angies case also by Kesars response. Tasha did not offer anaccount and nor was she asked to by the others. Tasha questioned her peers as though theirideas were resources for a purpose that she had identified and for which she expressedpersonal responsibility (thats what I mean).
Kesar acknowledged Tasha as individually responsible for the thought or question.In enquiring, have you answered your thought Kesar appeared to be questioning Tasha asa resource for writing her own individual response. In replying to Kesar, Tasha offered anaccount that she qualified as adequate for her purposes using the phrase Im just going towrite. Phrasing her explanation in this way had the perlocutionary force of closingdiscussion. Indeed there was no further discussion about their erroneous result.
Both Kesar and Angie responded to Tashas question and in this way legitimized Tashasquestion as relevant to their current practice. Tashas capacity to position herself as
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Table 3 Classroom Episode Lesson 3
LESSON 3 [24:2628:52] ANALYSIS
Tasha Hey (.) why did our candle get mo:re? Tasha expresses realisation in her use of hey.Her use of our is indexed to her small group,reflecting her collective sense of responsibilityfor the experimental results. Here Tasha isidentifying a problem with their results for thedensity of the candle.
Kesar Our candle got less. Kesar interprets Tashas use of more aspertaining to the density of the candle in relationto the marble.
Tasha No more than one. Tasha clarifies her meaning. The girls hadcalculated the density of a candle using theirexperimental results to be more than one.
Kesar Kesar expresses her understanding of theproblem, but does not offer an explanation.
Tasha >Thats what I mean< (.) >more than one.< Self-as-process: Tashas use of the personalpronoun indexes personal responsibility for thequestion to herself.
Tasha Kesar Tasha gains Kesars attention.
Kesar Huh Kesar stops writing and looks at Tasha as sheutters huh, signalling for Tasha to continue.
Tasha Why hh why was it hah more than one Tasha again appeals to Kesar to comment on theproblem that their result for their candles densitywas more than one. Her laughter here expressesopenness to Kesars answer and perhaps somehumility in recognising that their results areerroneous.
Kesar hah Becausewe had a really small< (.) >we had a reallysmallNo we(h)We had a really< small candle. Angie continues, drawing upon the sharedobservation that their candle was smaller thansome of the candles used by other groups.
Kesar And it was greater than one? Hah (.) >I meanprobably I dont know< Tasha responds to tension in the conversationcaused by Kesars rejection of Angiessuggestion and positions herself alongside Angieand Kesar as not knowing. The illocutionaryforce of Tashas statement here is to alleviate anyobligation to answer the question i.e. to retractthe question, ending the discussion.
Angie I dont know. Angies quiet statement here expressesthoughtfulness. She repositions herself as alsonot knowing.
Did you answer your thought? Kesar attributes ownership of the question toTasha by referring to the question as yourthought. Indexing the question personally toTasha in this way is in contrast to the sense ofcollective responsibility indexed through the useof the collective first person displayed by thegirls earlier in this excerpt.
Tasha Wha:t? Tasha signals her attention to Kesar, but itappears that she does not know what Kesar isreferring to by your thought here.
Kesar Did you answer your thought (.) your (.)question.
Kesar appeals to Tasha to provide an explanation.
Tasha >Kind of< (.) hah Tasha interprets Kesars meaning of yourthought your question correctly and signalsthat she has thought of an answer, but flags it astentative or incomplete.
Kesar What did you put? Kesar explicitly requests for Tasha to tell herwhat she wrote to account for their erroneousresult.
>This is kind of tough< (.) [writing as shespeaks] said the >must have donesomething to it < hh (.)< the water> (.) >yeah Imjust gonna write the water did something to itthe water must have got into the hole
innovative in her thoughts was successful in this episode because she was able to act inalignment with the teachers discursive practices and, in particular, the logic of accountingfor results that do not conform to known scientific theory. Both Kesar and Angie displayedtheir sense of obligation to account for their results in responding to Tashas question.Indeed it was a requirement of the practical report that they complete an evaluation section.
The students practice in this episode was of an individually displayed sense of responsibilityto write a practical report for submission. Tasha questioned Angie and Kesar, and Kesarquestioned Tasha. In other words, the students practice included using each others ideas asresources, but writing the reports as individual projects. Tashas expression of just going towrite, and a lack of subsequent discussion suggest completion was a high priority in theirpractice. If the students had adopted scientific discursive practices, then argumentation or ajustification of reasoning would have been reasonably expected, or even the suggestion ofrepeating their measurements. In this episode Tashawas positioned as competent with respect tothe practice of independently writing up a practical report and as personally responsible foridentifying the criterion that erroneous results needed to be accounted for.
The focus of this paper was on particular students discursive practices in their science classroom.However, the findings are supported by discourse studies in social psychology and theoreticaltreaties related to the discursive turn in the social sciences. The findings provide insights intoresearch concerned with students in secondary science and are summarized as follows:
1. Student action in science classrooms cannot be explained in terms of individualattributes such as attitudes towards science or knowledge as an individual possession,but in terms of locally negotiated practices. The study of Tashas meaning makinglends empirical evidence to theories of agency as a cultural psychological phenomenon(Ratner 2000; Harvey 2002). Tasha positioned herself as collectively responsible foractions orientated towards doing the practical activity, and she conformed to locallynegotiated practices. In this way her recording of the volume measurement to twodecimal places, for example, does not reflect her personal knowledge but a localpractice, in which certain displays of knowledge were valued (by the studentsnegotiating the teachers rules) and others were not.
2. The view that learning in science classrooms is the enculturation of students into theculture of science, or a process of legitimate peripheral participation in the practices ofscience needs to be problematized. The mutually realized storylines in the episodespresented were displays of the students ongoing interpretation of what we do aroundhere or the local practices. Rather than viewing these practices as predetermined andin alignment with scientific practice, the analysis focused on the co-constructedmeaning made by the students. Other studies have shown that students employ avariety of discourses in the negotiation of their participation in science learningenvironments and that the discourses determining their negotiated practice are notnecessarily the official discourses (OConnor 2001). In some cases unofficial, orhybrid-space discourses have been shown to foster student engagement with scientificknowledge and practice (Barton and Osborne 1998; Barton 2001; Barton et al. 2008;Tan and Barton 2008; Barton and Tan 2009; Tang et al. 2010). This study shows that ina classroom where the official discourse was ostensibly the language and practices ofscience, not only were the students classroom practices and their concurrently
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developing identities in practice (Wenger 1998) not necessarily scientific, but neitherwas the official discourse. The students psychological location in the episodes wasrevealed through their expressed sense of responsibility and duty. In episode 2, thestudents sense of duty (we have to) during the practical activity was to correctlyfollow instructions in order to complete the activity within a limited time frame. Inepisode 3, Tasha displayed a personal obligation to construct an evaluation of theirpractical work (Im just going to write) in order to complete the practical report as arequired form of assessment. Tashas actions here reflected the official discourse of theteacher that practical results not conforming to known scientific rules were wrong andneeded to be accounted for as wrong. Students developing competency in thisdiscursive practice cannot be thought of as legitimately participating on the peripheryof scientific practice, but on the periphery of doing (or developing competency in) aparticular variety of school science (OConnor et al. 1998).
3. Students small stories (Bamberg 2004), such as Tashas construction of herself in, Idont pay attention the whole time. Seriously! I havent heard about the Archimedes inthe bathtub thing, are told because of their particular function in a conversation. Theydo not reveal an inner self, as has been argued from theoretical (Harr and vanLangenhove 1999c) and empirical (Bamberg 2008) perspectives. In episode 1, thepurpose of Tashas small story was for repair and to reestablish solidarity with herfriend as a student positioned as not knowing and not expected to know. Tellingautobiographical tales, expressing emotion, articulating a scientific theory (and so on)are situated discursive practices, constituted at the intersection of purposes andcontingencies, and in a space afforded by (and maintaining or transforming) individualumwelten and particular discursive contexts.
The knowledge that can be contributed by this research must be phrased discursively. Inorder to communicate the so what of this research, a shift in discursive practice needs tobe made. Discourse in science education research has been concerned with studentsconceptions, attitudes towards science, cultural sub-groups and use of scientific language.Therefore the expectation of many researchers and practitioners is that behind discourseanalysis a contribution to these traditional discourses must be made in order for the researchto be useful. The strength of the research can only be understood if we believe in thereality (Harr 1992a; Potter 2000) of discourse and the lack of a need to look behind it.The questions that are now possible to ask include: What do we now know about Tashasumwelt? What problems were identified? What suggestions can be made about addressingthese problems? What future actions are needed, either in researching our efforts totransform practice or in researching student agency in the future?
Tashas umwelt, illustrated here in three discursive episodes, is bound by a strongcontingency to satisfy official discourses. The moments where Tasha was able to positionherself successfully (i.e. in ways that were taken up by others) included actions whichcontributed to finishing practical activities expediently and according to the instructions,and to the completion of an individually produced assessment product (the practical reportin this instance). Those actions and related positionings that were ratified by others affectedaction in the future, and those that were not did not. For example, Tashas critique of thedegree of accuracy adopted was not acknowledged and did not contribute to ongoingstorylines. The students did not take responsibility for critiquing the experimental method.However, Tashas question in episode 3 (why was our candle more than one?) wasacknowledged because the students did take responsibility for evaluating their practicalresults in light of known scientific rules. Tasha was positioned as capable of providing a
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viable explanation in the unfolding conversational storyline, and in the post-lessoninterview she positioned herself as personally responsible for the question and personallyinvested in the logic of her explanation.
The problems identified include the lack of uptake of Tashas actions that could have beenconsidered scientific. The lack of uptake suggests discursive practice and related purposes thatwere not orientated towards participating in scientific practice. On the outset, one would expectparticipation in scientific practice to be a fundamental goal of science education, and indeedthis is reflected in many assumptions about school science classrooms (Aikenhead 2001;Brown 2004) and in science curricula. But the problem is complex (OConnor et al. 1998;Wenger 1998, pp. 264277; OConnor 2001) and the questions remain, were these studentsparticipating in valued science-learning practices? How reasonably can discourse in scienceclassrooms be compared to scientific discourse? Is it possible in science classrooms tofacilitate the expansion of students umwelten to include scientific discourses, including theirsense of purpose and responsibility (or are the desired discourses concerned with learning,reasoning or argumentation for example)? The answers to these questions affect how wemight choose to go about addressing the problem identified in Tashas classroom discourse.
This research highlights agency as a cultural psychological phenomenon. The possibilityfor transformation of practice and expansion of student umwelten has been shown todepend upon the way in which others respond to innovation. Therefore positioning and theethics of responsibility (Davies 2008) can be highlighted as an important research andteaching focus in the improvement of school science.
Table 4 Transcript notation
Extract headings refer to the segment of the lesson shown in the transcript. It includesthe lesson number and an interval corresponding to minutes from the start of the lesson.
some (talk1 Square brackets between lines bracketing two lines of talk indicate the onset and end ofoverlapping talk)overlap2
end of line= Equal signs indicate latching between utterances.
=start of line
(.) Untimed pause
(1.2) Times pause to the nearest tenth of a second
bu- A dash shows a sharp cut off of speech
Under; pie Underlining indicates emphasis
CAPITALS Capital letters indicate talk that is noticeably louder than surrounding talk
soft Degree signs indicate talk that is noticeably more quiet than surrounding talk
>fast< Less-than and greater-than signs indicate talk that is noticeably faster or slower than thesurrounding talk
ho:me A colon indicate an extension of the sound or syllable that it follows
rising falling Upward and downward pointing arrows indicate marked rising and falling shifts inintonation in the talk immediately following
. , ? ! Punctuation marks are used to mark speech delivery rather than grammar. A periodindicates a stopping fall in tone; a comma indicates a continuing intonation; a questionmark indicates a rising inflection; an exclamation mark indicates an animated oremphatic tone.
Wghord gh within a word indicates guttural pronunciation
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Table 4 (continued)
Extract headings refer to the segment of the lesson shown in the transcript. It includesthe lesson number and an interval corresponding to minutes from the start of the lesson.
heh or hah Indicate laughter
.hh Audible inbreath
Hh Audible outbreath (sometimes associated with laughter).
Rilly Modified spelling is used to suggest pronunciation
(word) Transcribers guess at unclear material
( ) Unclear speech or noise
Brackets enclose contextual information
Horizontal ellipses indicate talk omitted from the data segment
: Vertical ellipses indicate intervening turns omitted from the data segment
A horizontal arrow in the left margin points to an utterance discussed in the text
Repeated symbols indicate, for example:
::: greater elongation
Hhhh longer outbreath
Adapted from the system developed by Jefferson (Wood and Kroger 2000, p. 193)
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Science Students Classroom Discourse: Tashas UmweltAbstractIntroductionTheoretical FrameworkResearch DesignTashas UmweltSection26IntroductionDiscussion
Episode 2Yeah, but the Wire Might Add Some WaterIntroductionDiscussion
Episode 3Did You Answer Your Thought?IntroductionDiscussion
ConclusionAppendix AAppendix BReferences