An investigation into the influence of classroom discourse patterns on conceptual understanding

Year: 2017

Author: Jar Heng Poon, Kevin, Yip, Valerie, Harfitt, Gary

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

According to Vygotsky (1978), cognitive development stems from social interactions between children as they attempt to co-construct knowledge predominately through the process of internalizing their partner's expression of knowledge. Therefore, language can be considered an essential component in the formation of thought. While the relationship between language and thought has been widely accepted, there are still many questions as to the specifics in the influence of language on thought.

In a recent study, Ghazali (2014) has found that there are significant relationships between receptive vocabulary, explicit language, and conceptual understanding across a range of science concepts amongst 4 to 11 years old. While language has been recognized as a driver to explicit understanding, the full impact of language is still uncertain as the relationships between tacit and explicit understanding with language can vary between individuals (Howe et al., 2014). It is, therefore, crucial to systematically investigate the influence of discourse by identifying reoccurring patterns that have shown to provoke or transforms student's level of implicit and explicit understanding.

This paper reports on one aspect of a case study situated within a larger study that investigates the role of language in the teaching and learning processes in Hong Kong's junior secondary science classrooms. The data being reported by this study were collected in three local secondary schools with a total of five grade 7 classes. This data includes 100 hours of classroom observations over the five classes as well as teacher's interview to determine teaching objectives and learning expectations. Then the Scheme of Educational Dialogue Analysis (Hennessy & Rojas-Drummond, 2015) is used to analyze the classroom discourse through a system of hierarchical and nested levels of interactions from a sociocultural perspective. Transcriptions of the semi-structured focus group, as well as individual student interviews (10 students per class) and student artifacts, were analyzed to investigate student's implicit and explicit understanding of content materials, and their ability to establish cross-domain conceptual understanding. This study constitutes an attempt to advance our understanding of the possible impact of classroom discourse patterns on conceptual changes in the context of junior secondary science students learning about the properties of matter. We endeavour to shed light on teachers' pedagogical and discourse strategies to inform future professional development initiatives. The study also seeks to inform practices and relevant educational policies.