Classrooms That Promote Productive Participation

Findings from research on motivation, attitudes, and identity converge with findings from research on engagement with science to highlight the importance of the classroom in fostering productive participation. Engle and Conant argue that the preconditions for productive disciplinary engagement involve providing appropriately challenging activities, allowing students to take authority over their learning but making sure that their work can be scrutinized by others (teachers and students), and using criteria acceptable to scientific disciplines (e.g., logical consistency, explanatory power). In addition, students need to have access to the resources they need (texts, laboratory equipment, recording devices) to evaluate their claims and communicate them to others.

One study (Cornelius and Herrenkohl, 2004) explicitly employed the notion of productive disciplinary engagement and connected it to analyses of participant structures and discourse. In their study of a pair of sixth grade girls investigating sinking and floating, the researchers found evidence that the students took an active role in generating ideas, engaging in scientific argumentation with their peers, and learning how to use persuasive discourse to convince others of the validity of those ideas.

Other studies have demonstrated that K-8 students in both urban and suburban public schools can engage in such scientific activities as investigating floating and sinking (Herrenkohl et al., 1999; Lee and Fradd, 1996; Palincsar et al., 2001; Varelas, Luster, and Wenzel, 1999); ecology (Hogan and Corey, 2001; Rosebery, Warren, and Conant, 1992); the classification and growth of plants and animals (Brown, Reveles, and Kelly, 2005; Lehrer and Schauble, 2004; Lehrer et al., 2000; Warren and Rosebery, 1996); motion down inclined planes (Lehrer et al., 2000); and density functions of material kind (Lehrer et al., 2001).

Most of the above studies employed ethnographic case analyses of a small number of classrooms or groups of students. A few studies employed a mixture of quantitative and qualitative analyses (Herrenkohl and Guerra, 1998; Lee and Fradd, 1996; Palincsar et al., 2001). The smallest number of studies focused on students in grades K-2 (e.g., Lehrer, Schauble, and Petrosino, 2001); the largest number of studies examined students in grades 5 or 6.

These studies tend to define disciplinary engagement differently and tend to employ different tasks or focus on different participant populations, making it difficult to easily summarize results across studies (other than to show that young children, poor students, and students with mild disabilities are capable—under the right conditions—of high-level disciplinary engagement with scientific concepts and procedures in formal educational settings). Most of the studies reviewed demonstrate that disciplinary engagement can

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