Students build science understanding of concepts through processing of hands on investigations and activities. Students first mode of processing is talk. As a result the most critical factor of teaching science in a sense-making fashion is engaging students in discourse. Discourse can transpire as whole-class discussions, partner sharing, or small group work, but a key factor for each mode is teacher guidance and facilitation of powerful discourse questions. Often teachers will plan for these key questions in light of feedback from formative assessment opportunities and observations of class processing tools such as Class Question Boards, Summary Tables, Competing Hypothoses, or class consensus models - all of which also generate whole-class discourse.
Another important aspect of science discourse is the opportunity it presents to uncover student ideas, thinking, and naive conceptions which is vital to building student understanding. (NAP, 2011) These can become stepping stones if skillfully built upon with key discourse questions, further investigations, and examining other sources of evidence. As stated in What We Call Misconceptions May Be Necessary Stepping-Stones Toward Making Sense of the World
“If students have the guidance and space to reason aloud with one another, they can fill the classroom with ideas about how to solve problems and why the ideas make sense in the particular context being examined (Cohen and Ball 1990). As students identify the strengths and weakness of their ideas, they position themselves to better understand the problems at hand, the extent to which the ideas may offer solutions (Bransford and Schwartz 1999), and how these ideas might help in similar contexts later. It’s helpful for us as teachers to think less about correcting misconceptions and more about helping students engage in science reasoning to try out, evaluate, and refine their resources (ideas, ways of thinking about the world) to explain real-world phenomena or solve problems.” (Campbell, Schwartz & Windschitl, 2016)
The type of talk used in classrooms is a result of different things. First it is indicative of a teacher’s beliefs about students and learning. (Bevan, 2011) Secondly, it is affected by the teacher’s own history as a student and years of modeling of classroom talk. So, often what happens is that teachers may hope to conduct classroom discourse in such a way that supports student sense-making, but still find themselves slipping into a more traditional or IRE (Inquiry, Response, Evaluation as explained here and also by BACOLOR, COOK-ENDRES, LEE & ALLEN, 2014) mode. The mode Phenomenal Science teachers strive to work in with students is dubbed “Exploratory” by Atwood, Turnbull and Carpendale (2010) and is characterised by “characterized by reciprocal interactions in which students justify their statements, are open to questioning or expansion of assumptions and assertions, and work with each other's ideas, including the particulars of ideas, to co-construct and refine a shared understanding. Studies have shown that exploratory conversation is linked to enhanced learning outcomes at the elementary and secondary level.” (Bevan, 2011) One great recommendation for teachers working toward making this shift in their classrooms is to videotape your lessons and reflect on the performance. This is seconded by Oliviria suggesting “opportunities for structured reflection on teaching practice can allow educators to improve their questioning strategies, leading to deeper scientific thinking for their audiences.” (Stromholt, 2011)
Having collaborative norms in place and using sentence frames to help guide the discussions are critical. Planning for the key questions a teacher will need to guide the meaning-making discussions is also critical. An excellent collection of resources for science talk can be found here. Also this section from Tools and Traits for Highly Effective Science Teaching is valuable, “Ok, I’m Teaching Science, but How Do I Know They are Learning?” (p. 44-46)
Further Resources Why: