Scaffolding scientific reasoning by co-constructive science teaching and learning in German primary classrooms

Year: 2012

Author: Ramseger, Joerg

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Recent debates on teaching and learning concepts of science education in primary schools have been strongly influenced by a paradigm which can be described with the term "moderate constructivist instruction". According to this paradigm, each and every learning individual constructs his or her own meaning of the world – whatever their teachers might offer them. According to this approach students need opportunities for independent thinking in the classroom. At the same time educational research emphasises the importance of the teacher's scaffolding functions which support the students' processes of seeking meaning in largely self-regulated interaction with the learning objects or content. "Quality teaching" requires the teachers to successfully balance the children's own constructions and the teacher's offers of hints, guidance and structures.

However, this balance is difficult to create. Primary teachers in many countries do not have a sufficient pre-service education in the sciences to simply “let the children go” on their own expeditions into the sciences. The teachers' lack of scientific content knowledge often induces them to lead the children rather tightly along pre-fabricated curriculum guidelines or commercially distributed lesson units with pre-fabricated findings and testable outcomes. The children very often get only limited opportunities for independent thinking. So we rarely see sequences of “high-order thinking” in primary science classrooms. If we do, they often occur in the context of school development or curriculum reform projects.

Video-ethnographical studies from German primary science classrooms show subtle and diligent ways in which teachers “make the children think independently” and how they give them opportunities to develop competencies of high order thinking and reasoning about natural phenomena and the rules or laws of nature.

Based on these analyses the author presents a categorisation of these ways of teaching and explores whether and in which ways they sustain independent thinking of children at school. Comparative data from science classes in Taiwan and Australia show that different communicative styles do result in different forms of reasoning and offer different possibilities to work with the children's thoughts and ideas and to develop their views of nature and the sciences. This paper focusses on teachers' practices as well as on theoretical questions concerning the possibility (and the limitations) of “scientific reasoning” in the primary years. Children are first of all children – and not at all scientists. Can teachers really make them “think like scientists?”