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5 Making Thinking Visible: Talk and Argument As we noted in Chapter 1, science requires careful communication and representa- tion of ideas. Scientists frequently share formulas, theories, laboratory techniques, and scientific instruments, and require effective means by which to understand and disseminate these types of information. They share their ideas and observa- tions in myriad ways, including the use of text, drawings, diagrams, formulas, and photographs. They communicate via PowerPoint slides, e-mail exchanges, peer- reviewed research articles, books, lectures, and TV programs or documentaries. They participate in research groups, academic departments, scientific societies, and interdisciplinary collaborations. Often, scientific collaboration takes the form of disagreement and argument about evidence. In this way, communities of scientists challenge and validate one anotherâs ideas in order to advance knowledge. These practices have analogues in science classrooms.1 Effective science teaching can employ some of the same methods of communication and representa- tion that are used by scientists in the real world. This chapter and the subsequent one focus, respectively, on the ways in which students can use language and argu- ment, as well as other forms of representation, to communicate and further devel- op their ideas. As the case studies in previous chapters make clear, science teaching and learning involve more than just conducting interesting demonstrations in the hope that students will somehow, on their own, discover the underlying concepts behind the outcomes. Effective science teaching and learning must also include communication and collaboration, which require both spoken and written repre- sentations of the world. In this chapter, we explore how talk and argument work in science and the role they play in good science teaching. We focus on language, both oral and writ- ten, as the primary tool for communication in science and the primary mechanism 87
for making thinking public. Science provides unique opportunities for students to adopt and use new forms of argument and new representational tools. Because so much of what happens in classrooms is communicated and processed through speaking and writing, language plays a particularly important role in teaching and learning science. It is one of the most important ways for the teacher to under- stand and assess how students are thinking. Language also provides students with a way to reflect on and develop their own scientific thinking, alone or with others. Teachers play a critical role in sup- porting studentsâ use of language, guiding them toward a greater understanding of the language of science. Learning Through Talk and Argument In order to process, make sense of, and learn from their ideas, observations, and experiences, students must talk about them. Talk, in general, is an important and integral part of learning, and students should have regular opportunities to talk through their ideas, collectively, in all subject areas. Talk forces students to think about and articulate their ideas. Talk can also provide an impetus for students to reflect on what they doâand do notâunderstand. This is why many seasoned teachers commonly ask students to describe terms, concepts, and observations in their own words. Two additional ways to think about talk in learning have specific applica- tions in science. First, the language of science can be very particular. Certain words have precise, specialized definitions. It is quite common, however, for children and adults alike to confuse specialized science definitions with the more familiar definitions commonly associated with those words. An example of this, as mentioned earlier, relates to the word âtheory,â which in science is understood to mean âa well-elaborated body of scientific knowledge that explains a large group of phenomena.â In common parlance, the word âtheoryâ is often used to refer to a guess or a hunch. By having students read and discuss instances in which differ- ent definitions of a word are used and then explain how theyâve come to under- stand it, teachers can help students distinguish between science-specific and more common meanings of a word. Another form of talk that has unique applications in science is argumenta- tion. Like the language of science, it too needs to be distinguished from nonscien- tific interpretations in both definition and practice. 88 Ready, Set, SCIENCE!
Argumentation can take several different forms. It is important that educa- tors and students recognize and understand the science-specific forms of argumen- tation and how they differ from the common forms of argumentation in which people engage in daily life. For example, the kinds of arguments in which a person may participate with family members, friends, or acquaintances are often acrimo- nious or focused on the desire to make oneâs point and âwinâ the argument. Or in the case of more formal debate, such as the kind politicians engage in, contestants are scored on their ability to âsellâ an argument that favors a particular position. Both of these forms of argumentation differ from scientific argumentation in important ways. In science, the goals of argumentation are to promote as much understanding of a situation as possible and to persuade colleagues of the validity of a specific idea. Rather than trying to win an argument, as people often do in nonscience contexts, scientific argumentation is ideally about sharing, processing, and learning about ideas. Scientific argumentation is also governed by shared norms of participation. Scientific argumentation focuses on ideas, and any resulting criticism targets those ideas and observations, not the individuals who express them. Scientists under- stand that, ultimately, building scientific knowledge requires building theories that incorporate the largest number of valid observations possible. Thus, while scien- tists may strongly defend a particular theory, when presented with a persuasive claim that does not support their position, they know they must try to integrate it into their thinking. Encouraging Talk and Argument in the Classroom In spite of the importance of talk and argument in science and in the learning process in general, K-8 science classrooms are typically not rich with opportuni- ties for students to engage in these more productive forms of communication. Analysis of typical classroom practice suggests that patterns of discourse in class- rooms typically adhere to a turn-taking format, often characterized as ârecita- tion.â A teacher asks a question with a known answer and a student is called on and responds. The teacher then follows up with a comment that evaluates the studentâs response. This talk format is sometimes referred to as the I-R-E sequence, for teacher Initiation, student Response, and teacher Evaluation. Researchers have found it Making Thinking Visible 89
to be the dominant, or at least the default, pattern of discourse in classrooms. As such, students come to expect and accept it, and after a few years of using the I-R-E sequence, itâs often difficult to get them to use a different pattern. While I-R-E recitation can be helpful in reviewing prior knowledge or assessing what students know, it does not work well to support complex reason- ing, to elicit claims with evidence, to get students to justify or debate a point, or to offer a novel interpretation. I-R-E patterns are likely to support only some of the strands of science learning (e.g., Strand 1) but not others (Strands 2-4). The I-R-E discourse pattern is not a particularly good one if the goal is to encourage and support argumentation. But changing long-standing discourse patterns in the classroom is not a simple undertaking. Students and teachers will require extensive modeling and ongoing support to become comfortable and competent with more effective talk formats. The kind of discourse that encourages scientific talk and argument is differ- entâin subtle and not so subtle waysâfrom the I-R-E pattern of discourse. To begin with, teachers ask questions that do not have ârightâ or âwrongâ answers or to which they themselves donât know the answers. For example, a teacher might ask, âWhat outcome do you predict?â and follow up the initial question with comments such as, âSay more about that.â They may ask other students to respond, saying, âDoes anyone agree or disagree with what Janine just said?â or âDoes anyone want to add or build on to the idea Jamal is developing?â Teachers may also ask students to use visual representations, such as post- ers or charts, to make their thinking more accessible to the rest of the class. They may follow questions with âthinkingâ or âwaitâ time, so that students have a chance to develop more complex ideas and so that a greater number of students have a chance to contribute, not just those who raise their hands first. Teacher-initiated questions might also ask for clarification, for example, âDoes anyone think they understand Sarahâs idea? Can you put it into your own words?â They might pose alternate examples or theories, or ârevoiceâ a studentâs contribution, saying, for example, âLet me see if Iâve got your idea right. Are you saying that our measurements will be less accurate with shoes on?â This strategy helps make the studentâs idea, restated by the teacher, more understandable to the rest of the class. These âtalk movesâ implicitly communicate that it takes effort, time, and patience to explicate oneâs reasoning and that building arguments with evidence is challenging intellectual work. The table on the next page shows six productive classroom talk moves2 and examples of each, which teachers can use to help students clarify and 90 Ready, Set, SCIENCE!
Talk Move Example Revoicing âSo let me see if Iâve got your think- ing right. Youâre saying _________?â (with space for student to follow up) Asking students to restate âCan you repeat what he just said in someone elseâs reasoning your own words?â Asking students to apply their âDo you agree or disagree and own reasoning to someone elseâs why?â reasoning Prompting students for further âWould someone like to add on?â participation Asking students to explicate âWhy do you think that?â or âWhat their reasoning evidence helped you arrive at that answer?â or âSay more about that.â Using wait time âTake your time. . . . Weâll wait.â expand their reasoning and arguments. These talk moves are illustrated throughout this book in the different case studies. In addition to talk moves, teachers can engage students in a number of talk formats, each of which has a particular norm for participation and taking turns. Examples include partner talk, whole-group discussion, student presentations, and small-group work. A number of studies have suggested that productive classroom talk has many benefits in the classroom. It can lead to a deeper engagement with the content under discussion, eliciting surprisingly complex and subject matterâ specific reasoning by students who might not ordinarily be considered academi- cally successful. Some of the reasons why productive classroom talk is so important, and why it may be effective, include the following: Making Thinking Visible 91
â¢ It allows studentsâ prior ideas to surface, which in turn helps the teacher assess their understanding. â¢ Discourse formats such as extended-group discussion might play a part in helping students improve their ability to build scientific arguments and rea- son logically. â¢ Allowing students to talk about their thinking gives them more opportunities to reflect on, participate in, and build on scientific thinking. â¢ It may make students more aware of discrepancies between their own thinking and that of others (including the scientific community). â¢ It provides a context in which students can develop mature scientific reasoning. â¢ It may provide motivation by enabling students to become affiliated with their peersâ claims and positions. Many educators reading the classroom case studies in this book might doubt whether this kind of productive talk can really take place in science classrooms. They might think, âIt looks easy for them, but the students in our district couldnât do this.â Or, âMaybe my students would like this, but I donât know if I can bring it off successfully. What if no one talks? What if I canât understand what theyâre trying to say? What if they make fun of each other?â These are reasonable concerns. Instruction that supports productive scientif- ic discussion is difficult to enact, even for seasoned veterans. The kinds of discus- sions described in the case studies are largely improvisational, and studentsâ con- tributions can be unpredictable. The improvisational and unpredictable nature of these discussions can be intimidating for teachers, school administrators, science specialists, and teacher educators who share responsibility for creating safe, order- ly, and productive science learning environments. In addition, some educators are uncomfortable encouraging or condoning any kind of argument in the classroom. Thatâs understandable, given how much time is spent in schools mediating conflict and persuading students of the value of civil exchange. Teachers need support, skill, and persistence to help students grasp the dif- ference between respectful scientific argument and the kind of confrontational, competitive argument they may be used to. The success of the former is depend- ent on students having the shared understanding that the goal of the argument is to reach a point of mutual understanding or consensus. The latter relies on the assumption that the goal of an argument is winning. Students of any age, from 92 Ready, Set, SCIENCE!
kindergarten through middle school, will need help to recognize the distinction between disagreeing with an idea and disagreeing with a person. Mediating effective scientific argument also requires the teacher to have sufficient knowledge to perceiveâon the flyâwhat is scientifically productive in studentsâ talk and what is not. Younger students, English language learners, or students exploring a new topic will tend to use language that is ambiguous, fragmentary, or even contradictoryâespecially in a heated conversation. In these moments, the content and structure of studentsâ arguments can be difficult to fol- low. Yet if the educational goal is to help students understand not only scientific outcomes and the concepts that support them but also how one knows and why one believes, then students need to talk about evidence, models, and theories. Position-Driven Discussion In Chapter 4, we saw a class engage in a collective discussion about whether add- ing air to a volleyball would increase its measured weight. This discussion and the ensuing activity involved all of the students in a teacher-guided, whole-group discussion. This was a discussion of a very specific kindâwhat might be called a âposition-drivenâ discussion. It involved a demonstration that was poised to run but was not run until after students exchanged predictions, arguments, and evidence. The proposed problem had more than one imaginable outcome, so the students could predict and argue for different outcomes. In addition, it featured materials and scenarios familiar to the students, so that each student believed that they could anticipate the outcome. By using familiar materials and phenomena, students can more readily conjure up their own ideas and experiences and tap into these as they build explanations. This makes it possible for every student to par- ticipate in a more meaningful way. A position-driven discussion generally forces the student to choose from two or three different but reasonable answers. In the case of the students in Mr. Figueroaâs class in Chapter 4, the students had to decide whether the volleyball with 15 extra pumps of air would be (1) heavier, (2) lighter, or (3) weigh the same. This kind of discussion generates productive and lively talk. It also calls on students to actively participate in reasoning, theorizing, and predicting. Students take positions and attempt to formulate the best arguments and evidence they can in support of their position. Sometimes, informal votes are taken to see where the students stand with respect to one another, followed by more opportunities Making Thinking Visible 93
for students to change their minds, argue, and revote. In position-driven discus- sions, everyone is focused on the same phenomenon but is required to commit to one position or another and to argue for their respective predictions or theories. Everyone is also free to change positions on the basis of another personâs evidence or argumentsâtypically with the proviso that one says, as specifically as possible, what it is in the otherâs position that one finds useful or persuasive. Position-driven discussions are designed to push for divergence in predic- tions and theories. They also capitalize on the wide variety of life experiences and resources inherent in an ethnically and linguistically diverse group of students. Such discussions are a powerful form of âshared inquiryâ that mirror the dis- course and discipline of scientific investigation. In position-driven discussions, as in most effective classroom talk and argu- ment formats, the teacherâs role is to help students explicate their positions as clearly and cogently as possible, not indicating, even subtly, how close to the ârightâ answer they may be. The teacher does not evaluate student contributions as correct or incorrect, as is often common in traditional teacher-guided discussion or recitation. Instead, the teacher typically supports students by revoicing their contributions and pushing for clarification. This helps both the speaker and the rest of the class move toward a greater understanding of their own and everyone elseâs reasoning. This emphasis on having a clearly explained theory or position over having a correct theory or position continues until the demonstration is run and students see the actual outcome. This focuses students on finding explanations or answers in the outcomes of evidence, not merely in authoritative sources like textbooks and teachers. One important aspect of a position-driven discussion is the framing of the question with which the discussion is launched. This is not always an easy task. It requires that the teacher produce a clear, easily understood question that will provoke a range of reasonable responses and positions, none of which can appear obviously correct. In addition, the question must be carefully selected and sequenced among other science-related tasks so as to advance the thinking of the group as a whole. It is unreasonable to expect a teacher to develop such framing questions without the support of a rigorous, coherent curriculum, colleagues, or an instructional coach. 94 Ready, Set, SCIENCE!
Science Class ESTABLISHING CLASSROOM NORMS FOR DISCUSSION3 It takes time to get students to understand that more than one explanation for a scientific event is possible and that alternative explanations should always be examined. One way to encourage this thinking is for teachers to frequently introduce and discuss alternative beliefs and explanations or describe the ways scientists disagree and resolve their disagreements. Some researchers, in collaboration with science teachers, have found that argumentation in classrooms is more likely to occur when students are permitted and encouraged to talk directly with each other, rather than having their discussions mediated by the teacher. Other researchers have found that teacher-mediated whole-group discus- sion is more productive. Most successful teachers use a combination of talk formats to provide opportunities for both of these types of discourse. No matter what the format, teachers need to work actively to support classroom norms that emphasize responsibility, respect, and the construction of arguments based on theory and evidence. As we described earlier, the most productive classroom environments, in all subject areas, are those that are enriched by talk and argument. But many students and teachers are not accustomed to or comfortable with exten- sive student talk in the classroom, so it is important to understand how to define and establish effective, accept- able classroom norms for discussion. Following is a case study that illustrates some methods for establishing and using norms for discussion. Gretchen Carterâs 28 sixth-grade students are a diverse The students and Ms. Carter refer to these rights and and challenging group, with over 70 percent of them obligations as the âGreen Sheet.â The Green Sheet eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Among her outlines the rules for talk in Ms. Carterâs class. She students are six children who recently immigrated to developed the rules over a number of years, so she the United States and who leave the room each day no longer negotiates them with her students at the for intensive English language instruction. In addi- beginning of each year. Instead, she hands out the tion, she has four students using individualized educa- Green Sheet and discusses it with her students, ask- tion plans (IEPs), including one student, Lucy, who has ing them to describe the rules in their own words been diagnosed with autism. Lucy rarely speaks in and to give reasons why the rules are appropriate class but is treated by her teacher and peers as a full and effective. The Green Sheet rights and obliga- participant in classroom activities. tions are as follows: Ms. Carter works hard to establish an environ- Student Rights: ment of cooperation and respect in her classroom. Her mottos are âNo single student is as smart as 1. You have the right to make a contribution to an all of us put togetherâ and âYou have the right to attentive, responsive audience. ask for help, and the duty to provide it to others.â She has also established norms for her students for 2. You have the right to ask questions. respectful participation in small-group work and 3. You have the right to be treated civilly. whole-group discussion. Each student has a set of rights and obligations printed on green paper and 4. You have the right to have your ideas discussed, pasted into the first page of their science notebooks. not you, personally. Making Thinking Visible 95
Student Obligations: 1. You are obligated to speak loudly enough for others to hear. 2. You are obligated to listen for understanding. 3. You are obligated to agree or disagree (and explain why) in response to other peopleâs ideas. Once the rules have been discussed, Ms. Carter consistently reminds her students of them, pointing out any infractions. Ms. Carter uses a color-coded discipline system in conjunction with these rights and obligations. Each student starts the day on green. A warning is given for misbehavior, and a further infraction results in a change to yellow. After one more warning, another infraction puts a student on red and the parent is called after school. If there is a serious infraction, she stops the class and has everyone turn to their Green Sheets to find the right or obligation that relates to that particular infraction. She then discusses that right or obligation at length with her students. Disrespectful comments get a warning. Repeat offenses get the offender a color change. Over a period of weeks, the rules become thoroughly addition, her students appear to be willing to ask internalized by her students and Ms. Carter rarely questions, put forward their ideas, and respond fully needs to refer to the Green Sheet. It remains a and respectfully to each otherâs questions. These are resource, however, available for review if discus- all signs that Ms. Carter has succeeded in making her sions get off track. classroom a safe place for students to engage in chal- Students know that she will keep enforcing the lenging academic thinking, problem posing, theoriz- norms consistently, week in and week out. As a result, ing, and problem solvingâby making their thinking Ms. Carterâs class is known for its good behavior. In visible to one another and to themselves. 96 Ready, Set, SCIENCE!
Appreciating Cultural, Linguistic, and Experiential Differences4 In efforts to support effective use of talk and argument in the classroom, it is important to remember that scientific language is, to some extent, foreign for all students. There are no native speakers of science. In addition, all students are shaped by their cultural backgrounds, and those backgrounds affect how they learn science and communicate in the science classroom. Todayâs students come from a variety of cultural backgrounds and have different ways of behaving, thinking, and interpreting the world, and they interact differently with the com- munities and institutions that they encounter in their everyday lives. Children both shape and are shaped by their cultural practices and traditions, so that the relationships between culture and personal belief are fluid and complex. In addition, peopleâs experiences and histories vary, and a personâs ability to negotiate change across cultures and settings may be affected by their history. Thus, teachersâ and studentsâ personal cultural experiences have implications for how they learn to talk and act in classrooms generally, and this will have implica- tions for how they experience scientific talk and argumentation. Cultural diversity is important to recognize, because classrooms are not neutral settings. They too are imbued with social and cultural norms and expectations. These norms and expectations are often unstated, which can make it difficult for some students to understand what those norms and expectations are. This observation will become even more relevant over time, as the demographics of the United States continue to shift, and classrooms become even more diverse than they are today. How does a teacher create the conditions that allow all childrenâdespite their cultural, linguistic, or experiential differencesâthe same access to classroom conversations and to be held accountable to the same high levels of academic rigor in their talk, reasoning, and representations? A good place to start is with some important principles and ideas that research in a variety of fields has shown to be true. Regardless of their race, culture, or socioeconomic status, all children, unless they have severe mental dis- abilities, have well-developed ways of telling stories, giving accounts, providing reasons, making arguments, and providing evidence. Similarly, all children have the capability to think abstractly about situations, concepts, and even about lan- guage itself. With very few exceptions, children come to school as adept language learn- ers and language users. Linguists have shown definitively that all such children Making Thinking Visible 97
are grammatical speakers of their home languageâthat is, they use language in consistent and rule-governed ways. While their dialects may be different from standard English, all children speak their home dialects with fluency and accuracy. Some children even bring a second language to the classroom at a level of sophisti- cation and fluency that few of their teachers are able to match. If all children have linguistic abilities, why does it sometimes seem that cer- tain students are not adept language users? Why does it seem that some students donât bring much, if any, language from home or arenât able to speak about aca- demic subjects? Why does it seem that certain students are good at talking about science and others are not? The primary reason for this is that speakers of all languages have a tendency to perceive differences in the way other people speak and identify these differences as âinadequaciesâ or âdeficits.â For teachers, this tendency can create problems in the classroom. A focus on deficits in studentsâ language makes it harder for the teacher to connect with students, harder to build on their strengths, and harder to create the conditions for rigorous and productive discussion, reasoning, and pre- sentations in science. Every child in this society learns culturally appropriate ways of using lan- guage and of taking meaning from written texts in the early years at home. Every cultural group in this society has sophisticated ways of integrating the oral and written language around them into daily life. However, ways of using oral and written language are closely tied to culture and the different ways members of a culture have of interacting with others. In some cultures, the use of language in the home is closely related to the ways in which language is typically used in schools, while in other cultures it is not as closely related. For example, Yupâik children in Alaska typically learn by observing expe- rienced adults and participating as helpers in adult work and other activities. Verbal interaction is not central to their learning process; observation and par- ticipation are considered more important.5 Because of this, a reliance on explicit verbal instruction may be less effective or even disconcerting to children from this cultural background. As another example, researchers in Hawaii, part of the Kamehameha Early Education Project, have shown that part-Polynesian children perform much bet- ter in small-group reading instruction if they are allowed to talk without waiting to be called on. Effective teachers allow these students to âoverlapâ their talk with one another in much the same way they do when talking or storytelling outside of school.6 98 Ready, Set, SCIENCE!
Carol Lee has found, in her research with predominantly African American high school students in Chicago, that at times in a lesson, students would break into animated discussion, all seeming to talk at once, speaking over or interrupt- ing one another.7 On the surface, the discussion might have appeared chaotic. However, Lee showed that this kind of discussion could be highly productive in advancing the academic purpose of a lesson. She found that the studentsâ talk, when analyzed closely, showed evidence of rigorous thinking and of students hear- ing and building on one anotherâs contributions. In addition to coming to school with different discourse experiences and styles, some children have had far less exposure than others to many of the kinds of practices that form the basis of scientific activities and investigations, including providing explanations, analyzing data, making arguments, providing evidence for their claims, and interpreting texts. An extensive body of research suggests that such cultural differences often lead to negative judgments about a studentâs intel- ligence or the quality of their thinking. These judgments can affect a teacherâs expectations of how a student should contribute or participate in classroom dis- cussion. Research also shows that it is hard for teachers to recognize and build on the reasoning of a student whose methods of communication may not be the same as their own. These subtle and not so subtle miscommunications with respect to language and culture in the classroom can lead to serious problems of equity and access, creating barriers to communication, student-teacher trust, and the condi- tions that nurture active participation and effort. This, in the end, can result in significant decreases in student motivation, participation, and learning, which can have far-reaching, real-life consequences in regard to knowledge and performance. One way for teachers to overcome cultural and linguistic differences in stu- dents is to treat them as if they were highly intelligent foreign diplomats. This simple strategy is reliant on common sense. People recognize that foreign diplo- mats think and communicate in ways that they cannot always immediately under- stand or relate to, but they assume, nonetheless, that foreign diplomats are intel- ligent and possess unique talents and skills. Similarly, in a fast-paced classroom conversation, it may be difficult to immediately understand a studentâs unique intelligence, wit, insight, and analytic skills. But the teacher can assume that they have an innate capacity to think deeply, to reason abstractly, to coordinate theory and evidence, and to develop sound arguments. An assumption of competence makes it easier to build on and promote studentsâ contributions, even if those con- tributions are incomplete, not entirely explicit, or are expressed in a nonstandard dialect. Once students are invited into the conversation, are given opportunities to Making Thinking Visible 99
engage in coherent instructional tasks, are able to hear and build on the contribu- tions of their peers, and have scientific reasoning modeled for them by teachers and peers, they gradually take on the language and forms of competence that are valued in science. Strategies for Inclusiveness But how does one listen through cultural differences? How does one ensure that every student participates in the conversation and is held to the same rigorous standards in providing evidence, justifying claims, and representing ideas in ways that others can understand? How does one promote equity and access in the face of tremendous sociolinguistic diversity? How can teachers create the conditions for rigorous science talk simultaneously with children from many different cul- tures and language backgrounds? According to researchers, there are two effective strategies that teachers can use. First, they need to make the rules of participation visible in the science classroom, instead of assuming that students implicitly know what the rules are. When engaging in new or unfamiliar scientific activities, teachers may need to pro- vide explicit, detailed accounts of expectations, including, if necessary, structured or scripted roles to play in discussions. The goal should be to establish and maintain what Okhee Lee has described as instructional congruence.8 With instructional congruence, the nature of an academic discipline is meshed with studentsâ language and cultural experiences to make science accessible, meaningful, and relevant. Students are given opportuni- ties to master new ways of thinking and participating, while teachers ensure that students know that their existing norms and practices are valued. The work of establishing, understanding, and modifying classroom norms for scientific thinking must be ongoing. Students themselves can help create these norms by proposing, debating, and establishing criteria for what counts as a good scientific question or what counts as persuasive evidence. For example, in one particular classroom, criteria for judging good questions and persuasive evidence were adopted by the students as the norm. Then, midyear, new ideas about questions and evidence surfaced as students evaluated their work. Some students argued that they should amend their criteria of what qualified as a good question by adding that a good question should encourage âpiggybackingâ (good questions are inspired by the findings of others and in turn inspire related 100 Ready, Set, SCIENCE!
additional questions). They changed their criteria to reflect their new under- standing that knowledge in the scientific community depends on the sharing of information and evidence, and that new knowledge is often built on the contri- butions of fellow scientists. Research shows that children are adept at learning how to participate in public speaking activities in the classroom. They quickly learn what the implicit norms, rights, and obligations for speaking are. When students resist taking on the roles or norms of classroom activities, it is not because theyâre not smart enough to know what the norms are. Rather, it often means that students resist assuming these roles because it means taking on a social or academic identity with which they feel uncomfortable. Students must feel that they belong, and they must want to belong. When classroom discourse is successful, every student is treated as a full member of the group, with all of the rights and status of member- ship, even before they have fully mastered the discourse. The second strategy for effectively promoting equality in discourse is mak- ing evident the connections between studentsâ everyday thinking, knowledge, and resources and those of practicing scientists. In the ChÃ¨che Konnen research program, researchers conducted studies with Haitian Creole students and their teachers over 15 years to identify key points of contact between studentsâ ways of knowing and scientific ways of knowing. For example, they observed that the stu- dents visualized themselves in problems, regularly evoking analogies, arguments, and narratives as a means of making sense of phenomenaâall common strategies among scientists. One student who was investigating animal behaviorâin this case, the prefer- ence of ants for different kinds of habitatsâimagined himself in the different habi- tats. His original intention had been to set up an experiment to establish whether ants prefer an environment that is dark to one that is brightly lit. But as this student imagined himself as an ant crawling through the soil, he began to wonder how either side of the chamberâlit or unlitâcould possibly appear light to an ant underground.9 The ChÃ¨che Konnen research program demonstrates how the cul- tural practices of urban, language-minority students can be drawn on to support high-level scientific reasoning and problem solving.10 Some of the strategies discussed earlier in this chapter, such as student and teacher revoicing, the modeling of scientific argument, and the use of wait time, are especially helpful in classrooms in which there is great linguistic diversity among students. These strategies help slow the pace of the discussion, allow- ing time for complex ideas to be expressed, listened to, repeated, revoiced, and Making Thinking Visible 101
responded to at length. This facilitates the acquisition and use of scientific lan- guage and of discourse structures. It exposes students to complex scientific rea- soning, allows them to practice it with support and guidance from their teacher and peers, and gives them opportunities to become confident and competent in presenting their claims, models, and explanations as well as at challenging evi- dence and asking questions. In establishing norms for inclusion so that students of different cultural backgrounds and experience can understand and build on one anotherâs ideas, teachers must also find ways to ensure equitable access for all students to par- ticipate in the talk that surrounds scientific investigations. Equitable participa- tion does not mean that every student must participate in every conversa- tion. Rather, it means that access to every conversation must be equal. In discussing equitable participa- tion, one must assume that there is a structured, robust scientific conversa- tion being held, not merely a turn- taking event in which the goal is for everyone to offer an opinion or idea. Assuming this to be the case, equita- ble participation requires that every- one hear what is being said and that everyone have equal time to develop their ideas and be heard, respectfully, by all. Participation is not equitable if some students routinely dominate the conversation while others are routinely excluded. Again, the goal is not to allow every student to say something. The goal is to ensure that the conversation stays focused, that each student can hear what is being said, and that each student has opportunities to contribute relevant ideas if they so choose. In order to develop their ideas and arguments, students must be able to think aloud, practicing what some teachers and researchers call âfirst draft think- ingâ or âexploratory talk.â During this sort of initial exploratory talk, studentsâ communication is sometimes halting, with pauses, repetitions, hesitations, and 102 Ready, Set, SCIENCE!
false starts. It can be difficult to follow. Their ideas may be flawed in some way. But the goal is for students to have an opportunity to clarify their initial ideas and for others to listen, attempt to build on those ideas, and adjust or improve on them. For students there is often much at stake beyond their success or failure at learning science, so getting them to express thoughts about which they are not cer- tain can be particularly challenging. Some students may fear being seen as book- ish and may shy away from expressing their thoughts. Others may worry about expressing ideas that are not fully formed. Still others may take every opportunity to insert their voice and dominate classroom discussions. This makes for a com- plex social dynamic that is critical for teachers and students to learn to monitor. In creating an environment that supports equitable participation in class- room discourse, it is critical to pay special attention to English language learners. In science, in which vocabulary and discourse are so important, limited proficien- cy in English can make it difficult for teachers to recognize or gauge the depth of a studentâs understanding of scientific concepts, which in turn makes it difficult to build on what the student already knows. Many teachers assume that English language learners must become fairly proficient in English before they can learn much about science. This is not the case. Research suggests that the science classroom is a good environment in which to teach diverse language populations, because talk in the science classroom is often about materials and events that all of the students see and experience togeth- er. This provides a basis for the development of vocabulary and discourse prac- tice. It also motivates the reading of associated texts. There is evidence that with good instruction children from all cultural and language backgrounds can learn science. However, research is not yet clear as to which methods work best under which circumstances. One clear objective for the future must be to build on the unique strengths and needs that students of diverse backgrounds bring to the classroom. This should be a central focus of teacher preparation courses and of ongoing professional development in regard to making science teaching and learning equitable and accessible to all students. The following case study demonstrates how studentsâ culturally diverse ways of speaking and thinking interact with school tasks and curricula. Making Thinking Visible 103
Science Class SUCCESSFULLY SUPPORTING DIVERSITY11 Jocelyn Wright taught a combined third- and Sabrina, a fourth grader, argued that the con- fourth-grade multiethnic class in a large city in figuration shown below would balance (see Figure Massachusetts. There were a large number of 5-1). She demonstrated her reasoning to the group Haitian Creoleâspeaking children in her school, by writing on the small whiteboard easel: as well as a transitional Haitian Creole bilingual 2 x 5 = 10 1x1=1 3x3=9 program. Ms. Wright spoke quite a bit of Haitian Creole herself, and she valued the linguistic and cul- 1 + 9 = 10 tural resources her diverse group of children brought Sabrina said, âThree weights on the âthree from home. pointâ equal nine, the single weight on the âone The class was doing a science activity on the topic pointâ equals one, so the total force on the right of balance, using a balance scale with small metal side of the scale is ten. Then, on the other side, weights placed at different points of the scale on two times five equals ten, so since both sides equal both sides. In this science unit, over the course of ten, it will balance.â several weeks, the students worked on a series of Josianne asked to report next. Josianne, a balance problems. native speaker of Haitian Creole, had moved to Ms. After a particular problem was posed, students Wrightâs class two months earlier from a transitional were asked to predict, by a class vote, whether the Haitian bilingual classroom. weights would balance or whether they would tip to Ms. Wright used a âhanding offâ procedure the right or to the left. Once the students voted for for turn-taking during science discussions, which their choice, they debated or discussed their predic- tions and their reasons for those predictions with each other as a group. After the discussion, they had Left Right a chance to vote again in case they had changed their Balance Experiment minds on the basis of someone elseâs explanation or argument. Finally, the teacher performed the dem- 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 onstration, and the students went to their seats to fill out a worksheet explaining their reasoning. Approximately four weeks into the unit, the students had progressed through a series of bal- ance problems, predicting, debating, and changing their minds. At this point, the students had been introduced to the formula âmultiply weight times distance,â to help them figure out how the balance would behave. They had already practiced solving balance problems of this type, but there was still some confusion among the students as to when to FIGURE 5-1 multiply and when to add. Balance with weights. 104 Ready, Set, SCIENCE!
required that the current speaker nominate the next asked a colleague to work one on one with Josianne speaker, so Sabrina called on Josianne. to try to determine whether she could explain her reasoning. All of Josianneâs answers were given first Josianne: âI agree with you [referring to in Creole and then in English. Sabrina] because I was thinking it will bal- ance.â Teacher: âCan you tell me why you thought it would balance or why you now think it would Ms. Wright: âAnd what made you think balance?â that?â Josianne: âI say because I was thinking in my Josianne: âBecause, I think it will be bal- brain. And my brain think it will be balance.â anced, because, I was thinking. I think it will be balanced.â Teacher: âOkay. Can you say more about why?â Ms. Wright probed further to try to get Josianne to reveal some of the reasoning behind her conclusion. Josianne: [puzzled] âSay more about why?â Ms. Wright: âSo, do you remember what Teacher: âWhy do you think it will be bal- made you think that? Were you just persuad- anced? What did your brain think to get you ed by what other children were able to say?â to think it would be balanced?â Josianne: [shaking her head no] âUh-uh.â Josianne: [grinning] âI donât know because I didnât ask my brain.â Ms. Wright: âCan you give us some words for your thinking?â Teacher: âAsk your brain about the weights and where they are and why you think it Again, Ms. Wright tried to encourage Josianne would be balanced or why you think it did to explain her reasoning, but Josianne seemed to balance. Why does it have to balance? Why struggle. doesnât it tip to the right or to the left?â At this point, Ms. Wright asked Josianne if she would like to bring the next speaker into the conver- Josianne: [impatient] âBecause I make multi- sation. After more students explained their math- plication in my head! I say, here itâs two, and ematical reasoning, the class held a second vote. Ms. this five, two times five here and three time Wright performed the demonstration, which showed three is nine plus the one point is ten.â that the scale did, in fact, balance. She then asked Josianne had clearly known the reasoning the students to return to their seats and put down in behind her answer all along but had not under- writing their reasoning for why it balanced. Josianne stood what the teacher was asking her to explain. returned to her seat and wrote the following: When Ms. Wrightâs colleague asked her why she âBecause I was thinking it have to be balance, didnât explain âall that multiplication stuffâ in the and I vote for balance.â first place, Josianne responded, âI didnât under- Ms. Wright thought that Josianneâs answer might stand your question.â reflect her limited proficiency with English. She Making Thinking Visible 105
Josianne knew her multiplication facts and how to apply them to the prob- lem. But she did not understand the discourse of school science. She interpreted Ms. Wrightâs questions and those of her colleagues as asking her about the status of her knowledge and how she came by it. Did she guess? Was she persuaded by her classmates? Or did she figure it out for herself? In as many different ways as she could, Josianne was trying to explain that she had figured it out for herself. However, in the discourse of school science, reasoning the proof, the theory, the model, or the mathematical reasoning has to be made explicit. This might have been obvious to the other students in the class who participated in the discussion. But as this example illustrates, âwhyâ ques- tions can be interpreted by students in many different ways. They can be inter- preted as asking for an explanation, a demonstration of oneâs reasoning, a motive, evidence, and so on, depending on the discourse conventions particular to a given domain. Whatâs instructive in this example is that Ms. Wright did not give up on Josianne. During the group discussion, she tried asking the same question of Josianne in several different ways, and eventually she moved on to another student so Josianne wouldnât feel uncomfortable. Ms. Wright sensed that the problem lay in her own inability to tap into Josianneâs understanding. In the end, it wasnât specifically language that made the difference for Josianne. It more likely was the reframing of the âwhyâ question that helped Josianne to understand. The newly framed question did not ask how Josianne knew, but what about the configura- tion of the weights made the balance arm tip. In the fast pace of classroom life, it takes a careful eye (or just as likely, ear) and a stock of good questions and tasks to successfully gauge studentsâ under- standing. It helps if teachers presume that their students have ability, reasons, and complex ideas, even if this is not at first apparent, and then work hard to help them demonstrate these abilities. Representing ideas through talk and argument plays an essential role in learning in general and a more specialized role in the learning and practicing of science. In the science classroom, students need opportunities to talk through their own ideas and hear and respond to those of their peers. When discussion is conducted only through the filter of the teacher or the textbook, students have fewer opportunities to formulate and develop their own understanding 106 Ready, Set, SCIENCE!
and ideas or to practice listening to peers and building arguments collectively. In many classrooms, students are given scant opportunities to think aloud, let alone engage in argumentation that is uniquely scientific. In order to engage in effective scientific argumentation, students must embrace norms and habits that focus on data, analysis, and the building of ideas in a collective, cumula- tive fashion. Building classroom environments like those of Mr. Figueroa, Ms. Carter, and Ms. Wright can be challenging. The ways in which these teachers structure and elicit student talk and argumentation is an ongoing and often complex process. The methods described in this chapter can serve as entry points for improving the practice of classroom discourse and for adjusting the ways teachers may structure student interactions related to science. In order to do this, teachers will need opportunities to observe science classrooms like the ones described in this chapter. Theyâll need to experience firsthand what it is like to be members of a community governed by scientific norms for talk and argumentation. And theyâll need help reflecting on those experiences and planning appropriate ways to create scientific talk and argu- mentation structures in their own classrooms. Theyâll need access to resources that illustrate these practices and provide additional explanations for how to implement them. In asking teachers to move away from the well-established patterns of class- room interaction to embrace student talk and argumentation as a central feature of the science classroom, we must recognize that they will require support. Typical patterns of discourse in schools, such as the I-R-E pattern described earlier, are so pervasive in U.S. culture that they can even be observed in young children as they play school. School system administrators, curriculum developers, and science teachers and educators will all need to understand and participate in the challenge of moving to more effective methods of promoting talk and argumentation in the science classroom. Making Thinking Visible 107
For Further Reading Bell, P., and Linn, M.C. (2000). Scientific arguments as learning artifacts: Designing for learn- ing from the web with KIE. International Journal of Science Education, 22, 797-817. Herrenkohl, L.R., and Guerra, M.R. (1998). Participant structures, scientific discourse, and student engagement in fourth grade. Cognition and Instruction, 16(4), 431-473. National Research Council. (2007). Participation and scientific practices and discourse. Chapter 7 in Committee on Science Learning, Kindergarten Through Eighth Grade, Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8 (pp. 186-210). R.A. Duschl, H.A. Schweingruber, and A.W. Shouse (Eds.). Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. National Research Council. (2007). Teaching science as practice. Chapter 9 in Committee on Science Learning, Kindergarten Through Eighth Grade, Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8 (pp. 251-295). R.A. Duschl, H.A. Schweingruber, and A.W. Shouse (Eds.). Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 108 Ready, Set, SCIENCE!