Classroom Discussions in Science, Part 4

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This is the third of a four part series. Here is part 1. Here is part 2. Here is part 3.

I have been working to delineate and describe a typology of four types of conversations that could be powerful and effective in secondary science classrooms. They are:

  1. Conversations that gather, focus student experiences or insights
  2. Conversations that make real the processes of science and reflect science as a human (as opposed to received) activity.
  3. Conversations that deepen and expand observations made during classroom demonstrations or laboratory activities.
  4. Conversations that make visible the processing of learning itself.

This post is the fourth part of a series discussing each of these types of conversations.

Part 4: Conversations that make visible the processing of learning itself.

In many traditional science classrooms, the acquisition of science knowledge is assumed to be an additive function. First, I learn concept 1, then concept 2, then concept 3, on down to concept n, and at the end I know that topic.

And it’s certainly true that learning is cumulative, but there is little evidence from our daily lives to indicate that it is additive. Instead, learning happens iteratively, with multiple exposures in multiple types of representation until understanding is acquired.

We also know that the addition (all puns intended) of metacognition can support the acquisition and retention of knowledge as well as the development of understanding. And classroom discussions are ideal places to make present and deepen an understanding and familiarity with the process of learning itself.

These discussions can be guided by at first broad and then more narrow questions, like: “How do we know that?” “What evidence makes us feel comfortable that x is the case?” “Is that observation true for everyone or just some people (of a specific age or gender or cultural background or educational level)?”

If the teacher is really willing to have these kinds of discussions, not once, but throughout the school year, s/he can powerfully train their students to think about learning as a process, not as something given or transparent. And when that happens, students can start to think for themselves in very meaningful ways, especially in science classrooms.

This post brings to a close this series on discussions in the science classroom. I would love for you to join to the discussion by leaving a comment or reaching out on social media.