Orchestration of semiotic resources to support co-construction of explanation and student reasoning in primary science: An Australian case study

Year: 2012

Author: Hackling, Mark, Murcia, Karen, Ibrahim-Didi, Khadeeja

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Chair: Professor David Clarke

There is an increasing recognition of the importance of multimodal resources that are used to support the construction of meaning in primary science classrooms (Lemke, 1990). This study is framed from a socio-cultural perspective that recognises the importance of the broader societal culture and the culture of science with its particular forms of language, reasoning and representation for shaping effective teaching that supports the social construction of understandings. Gunther Kress' (2010) social-semiotic multimodal theory acknowledges the importance of discourse, objects and gestures as semiotic resources from which meaning can be constructed and represented in ways that are meaningful in particular social and cultural settings.

This ARC funded EQUALPRIME study investigated how one teacher provided rich opportunities for quality learning by orchestrating a range of semiotic resources to support the co-construction of an explanation of how the spinning of the Earth creates day and night in an introductory astronomy topic taught to Year 4 students.

Data were gathered using two video cameras with external FM transmitter microphones, teacher interviews, student focus groups and the collection of classroom artefacts. The power of video relates to its ability to capture multiple interactions and diverse modes of representation including discursive, graphical and embodied forms. Multimodal transcriptions captured classroom discourse, object manipulation, role-play and gesture. A form of ethnographic microanalysis (watching a video sequence and multimodal transcripts, identifying major events, looking at the links between event segments, transcribing interactions, and comparing segments across the video data set) was used to identify themes, patterns and relationships within the data (Erickson, 1992).  

The manipulation of objects, gestures and other embodied representations, images and discourse were skillfully sequenced and combined by this Year 4 teacher to support the development of an explanation. These semiotic resources were used in particular combinations to maximise their informational weights (Kress, 2009) and representational affordances in supporting learning and to maximize the degree of intertextuality (Lemke, 1990) of the disparate semiotic resources. Two commonly used combinations of semiotic resources were (1) discourse, object manipulation, role-play and gesture; and, (2) discourse, images and gesture. In the first combination, role play appeared to carry greatest informational weight, and in the second, images appeared to carry greatest semiotic functional load. This paper provides insights into exemplary practice in the coordination of semiotic resources to support meaning making in an Australian primary science context.