Discourse in Science Classrooms
Educational events occur through communication. Science learning can be conceptualized as students coming to know how to use specialized language, given the constraints of particular social configurations and cultural practices. Across different theoretical traditions, from the sociology and rhetoric of science to studies of classroom interaction, the importance of spoken and written discourse in the production and learning of disciplinary knowledge is becoming increasingly recognized as a salient research focus. The study of discourse, broadly defined, allows researchers to examine what counts as science in given contexts, how science is interactionally accomplished, who participates in the construction of science, and how situated definitions of science imply epistemological orientations. In this chapter, I provide a conceptual overview of the field of discourse studies in science education. My aim is not to present a comprehensive review of all studies, but rather to focus on some of the theoretical approaches, methodological orientations, and substantive findings. Through this selected review, I argue that a discourse analytic perspective provides insight into how the events that make up science education are constructed through language and social processes. The importance of viewing education through this lens of language and social processes is justified by three primary observations. First, teaching and learning occur through processes constructed through discourse and interaction. An empirical focus on the ways language contributes to learning is essential for developing theories of practice for science education. Second, student access to science is accomplished through engagement in the social and symbolic worlds comprising the knowledge and practices of specialized communities. Issues of understanding, appropriating, affiliating, and developing identities for participation in the knowledge and practices of the sciences can be understood through the study of discourse processes. Third, disciplinary knowledge is constructed, framed, portrayed, communicated, and assessed through language, and thus understanding the epistemological base of science and inquiry requires attention to the uses of language. I conclude this review with implications
about how the current body of knowledge suggests future directions for research in discourse processes in science education settings.