Listening to the Language of Constructing Science Knowledge

  • Hui-Ju HuangEmail author


The study explores students' use of language in the process of making sense of genetics concepts. It aims to analyze primary and secondary discourses, and examine the relationship between social practices and discourses. Sixth-grade students were interviewed before and during four weeks instruction on genetics. General trends were detected regarding border crossing between discourse communities and the difficulties and ease of moving among informal experience, social practices, primary discourse of family, friends and community, and secondary discourse of science and school instruction. Two comprehensive case summaries – Debbie and Sam – are presented in the paper. Debbie took what she experienced in her social life as criteria to discuss how people resembled one another. However, the language practiced in the classroom was different from Debbie's familiar language. Debbie thus experienced a conflict between primary and secondary discourses. Sam's school education and home environment provided an aligned social context with rich scientific ties that nurtured his use of secondary discourse practices in thinking and learning science. We recommend that science instruction needs to build a learning community where students' discourses will be recognized and border crossings between discourses facilitated in the process of learning science.

Key Words

discourse genetics social constructivism social practice 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, S.S. & Farnsworth, V. (2000). High school students “do” and learn science through scientific modeling. National Center for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science In Brief, 1(1), 1–6.Google Scholar
  3. Bakhtin, M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  4. Ballenger, C. (1997). Social identities, moral narratives, scientific argumentation: science talk in a bilingual classroom. Language and Education, 11, 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Banet, E. & Ayuso, E. (2000). Teaching genetics at secondary school: a strategy for teaching about the location of inheritance information. Science Education, 84, 313–351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Browning, M.E. & Lehman, J. (1988). Identification of student misconceptions in genetics problem solving via computer program. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 25, 747–761.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carey, S. (1985). Conceptual change in childhood. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  8. Cartier, J. (2000). Assessment of explanatory models in genetics: Insight into students' conceptions of scientific models (Research Report 99-1). Madison, Wisconsin: National Center for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science.Google Scholar
  9. Cavallo, A.M.L. & Schafer, L.E. (1994). Relationships between students' meaningful learning orientation and their understanding of genetics topics. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31, 393–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cazden, C. (1988). Classroom discourse. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  11. Collins, A. & Stewart, J.H. (1989). The knowledge structure of Mendelian genetics. The American Biology Teacher, 51, 143–149.Google Scholar
  12. Finkel, E.A. (1996). Making sense of genetics: Students' knowledge use during problem solving in a high school genetics class. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 26, 345–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gee, J.P. (1996). Social linguistics and literacy: Ideology in discourse, 2nd edn. London: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  14. Gee, J.P. (2004). Language in the science classroom: Academic social languages as the heart of school-based literacy. In E.W. Saul (Ed.), Crossing borders in literacy and science instruction: Perspectives on theory and practice (pp. 13–47). Newark, DE: International Reading Association and the National Science Teachers Association.Google Scholar
  15. Green, J.L. (1983). Research on teaching as a linguistic process: a state of the art. Review of Research in Education, 10, 151–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Green, J.L., Weade, R. & Graham, K. (1988). Lesson construction and student participation: A sociolinguistic analysis. In J.L. Green & J.O. Harker (Eds.), Multiple perspective analysis of classroom discourse (pp. 11–47). Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex.Google Scholar
  17. Hicks, D. (1995). Discourse, learning, and teaching. Review of Research in Education, 21, 49–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Johnson, S.K. & Stewart, J. (2002). Revising and assessing explanatory models in a high school genetics class: A comparison of unsuccessful and successful performance, Science Education, 86, 463–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kargbo, D.B., Hobbs, E.D. & Erickson, G.L. (1980). Children's beliefs about inherited characteristics. Journal of Biological Education, 14, 137–146.Google Scholar
  20. Kelly, G.J. & Chen, C. (1999). The sound of music: Constructing science as sociocultural practices through oral and written discourse. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 883–915.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kelly, G.J. & Green, J. (1998). The social nature of knowing: Toward a sociocultural perspective on conceptual change and knowledge construction. In B. Guzzetti & C. Hynd (Eds.), Perspective on conceptual change: Multiple ways to understand knowing and learning in a complex world (pp. 145–181). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  22. Kinnear, J. (1991). Using a historical perspective to enrich the teaching of linkage in genetics. Science Education, 75, 69–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kittleson, J.M. & Southerland, S. (2004). The role of discourse in group knowledge construction: A case study of engineering students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41, 267–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lee, O. (2001). Culture and language in science education: What do we know and what do we need to know? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38, 499–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lemke, J.L. (1990). Talking science: Language, learning and values. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  26. Lewis, J. & Wood-Robinson, C. (2000). Genes, chromosomes, cell division and inheritance – do students see any relationship? International Journal of Science Education, 22, 177–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Longden, B. (1982). Genetics: Are there inherent learning difficulties? Journal of Biological Education, 16, 135–140.Google Scholar
  28. Mertens, T.R. (1990). Using human pedigrees to teach Mendelian genetics. The American Biology Teacher, 52, 288–290.Google Scholar
  29. Mintzes, J.J., Trowbridge, J.E., Arnaudin, M.W. & Wandersee, J.H. (1991). Children's biology: Studies on conceptual development in the life sciences. In S.M. Glynn, R.H. Yeany & B.K. Britton (Eds.), The psychology of learning science (pp. 179–202). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  30. Moje, E.B., Collazo, T., Carrillo, R. & Marx, R.W. (2001). “Maestro, what is ‘quality’?” Language, literacy and discourse in project-based science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38, 469–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mustafa, C. & Crawford, B. (2001, January 18–21). Prospective biology teachers' understanding of genetics concepts. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science, Costa Mesa, California.Google Scholar
  32. National Research Council (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  33. Norris, S.P. & Phillips, L.M. (2003). How literacy in its fundamental sense is central to scientific literacy. Science Education, 87, 224–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Reveles, J.M., Cordova, R. & Kelly, G.J. (2004). Science literacy and academic identity formulation. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41, 1111–1144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Roth, W.-M. (2005). Telling in purposeful activity and emergence of scientific language. In R. Yerrick & W.-M. Roth (Eds.), Establishing scientific classroom discourse communities: Multiple voices of teaching and learning research (pp. 45–71). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  36. Saul, E.W. (2004). Crossing borders in literacy and science instruction: Perspectives on theory and practice. Newark DE: International Reading Association/National Science Teachers Association.Google Scholar
  37. Slack, S. & Stewart, J. (1990). High school students' problem solving on realistic genetics problems. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 27, 55–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Solomon, J. (1987). Social influences on the construction of pupil's understanding of science. Studies in Science Education, 14, 63–82.Google Scholar
  39. Tsui, C.-Y. & Treagust, D.F. (2003, March 23–26). Learning genetics with multiple representations: A three dimensional analysis of conceptual change. Paper presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.Google Scholar
  40. Vygotsky, L.S. (1987). Thinking and speech. In R.W. Rieber & A.S. Carton (Eds.), The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky (N. Minick, Trans.) (pp. 243–288). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  41. Warren, B., Ballenger, C., Ogonowski, M., Rosebery, A.S. & Hudicourt-Barnes, J. (2001). Rethinking diversity in learning science: The logic of everyday sense-making. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38, 529–552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wood-Robinson, C. (1994). Young people's ideas about inheritance and evolution. Studies in Science Education, 24, 29–47.Google Scholar
  43. Wynne, C., Stewart, J. & Passmore, C. (2001). High school students' use of meiosis when solving realistic genetics problems. International Journal of Science Education, 23, 501–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Yore, L.D. (2001). What is meant by constructivist science teaching and will the science education community stay the course for meaningful reform? Electronic Journal of Science Education, 5(4), Online journal:
  45. Yore, L.D. (2004). Why do future scientists need to study the language arts? In E.W. Saul (Ed.), Crossing borders in literacy and science instruction: Perspectives on theory and practice (pp. 71–94). Newark, DE: International Reading Association/National Science Teachers Association.Google Scholar
  46. Yore, L.D. & Treagust, D.F. (in press). Current realities and future possibilities: Language and science literacy – empowering research and informing instruction. International Journal of Science Education. Google Scholar
  47. Yore, L.D., Bisanz, G.L. & Hand, B.M. (2003). Examining the literacy component of science literacy: 25 years of language arts and science research. International Journal of Science Education, 25, 689–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Teacher EducationCalifornia State UniversitySacramentoUSA

Personalised recommendations