Towards an interlanguage of biological evolution: Exploring students´ talk and writing as an arena for sense-making

by Olander, Clas, PhD

Abstract (Summary)
The aim of this thesis is to explore what is involved when learning science, by focusing on students’ appropriation of the school science language. The aspiration is to explore relations between, on the one hand, content-oriented aspects of making sense of a specific area in school biology, and on the other hand, more generic patterns that are linked to learning in general: the influence of different social languages, and also the conceptual, epistemological, and ontological constituents of learning something. The strategy for empirically exploring what is involved when students make sense of biological evolution from a language perspective includes examination of instances in the classroom where meaning and sense of terms as well as semantic patterns are articulated in writing and talking. The analytic attention is on, on the one hand, students’ individual writing, and on the other, students’ talk in peer group discussions. The latter has guided the main part of the work, and one conclusion is that the students frequently shift between different social languages, mainly a colloquial and a scientific language. Both languages are a productive resource in students’ appropriation of the school science language. This is understood to rely on the establishment of an arena, an interlanguage discourse, where scientific terms and theories may be introduced, negotiated, and made sense of, in particular in relation to colloquial language and everyday experiences. In that way, this interlanguage discourse is an arena for sense-making. The students most frequently start their talk as a negotiation concerning conceptual notions that is linked to a discussion about epistemological pattern and sometimes the talk also is linked to ontological framing. The students negotiate the meaning of conceptual notions, which has both colloquial and scientific origins, for example variation, randomness, need, and development. Irrespective of the origin of the notions they are an asset in the students’ sense-making process. Epistemologically the students make their argumentation plausible by referring to resources, for example names or theories. Furthermore, they structure their explanations both with internal logic, for example causality or teleological reasoning, and external linking between specific examples and general ideas. In each of these dimensions, the argumentation can have different quality. Links between the general and specific can be systematic rather than sporadic, explanations can be causal rather than teleological, and resources can be theories rather than names. Ontological framing is mainly done as negotiations about what is allowed to talk about or whether agency matters in a school science discourse.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Göteborgs universitet

School Location:Sweden

Source Type:Doctoral Dissertation

Keywords:SOCIAL SCIENCES; Social sciences; Education; Science education; social language; interlanguage; biological evolution; epistemology; group discussion; secondary school


Date of Publication:01/01/2010

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