Cultural Studies of Science Education

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 361–381 | Cite as

Equity in groupwork: the social process of creating justice in a science classroom

  • Alexis D. PattersonEmail author
Original Paper


Over the last few decades, there has been an international focus on productive talk in science classrooms, requiring teachers to use more dialogic practices with their students. Studies promoting a dialogic approach propose that students have conversations in small, student-led groups. However, the literature in education and science education regarding groupwork has highlighted that students can struggle to work collaboratively without the proper supports and scaffolds–particularly with regards to equity (Webb, in Hmelo-Silver (ed) The international handbook of collaborative learning, Routledge, Abingdon, 2013). Equitable interactions during groupwork are linked to increased learning among all members during a group task (Cohen in Phi Delta Kappan 72(2):134–138, 1990). Thus, equity in quality and quantity of talk becomes the goal for groupwork. I argue that equity in group interactions requires justice that is socially constructed, including the flattening of social hierarchy. As such equitable groupwork has three key features: student voice, visibility (of all students), and student authority. Group interactions between middle and high school students from a suburban California city are used to highlight these features. Images from video-recorded data, event maps from student dialogue, and data from student interviews are used to examine the role of visibility, voice, and authority in creating equitable interactions in groupwork. Implications from this study point to equity as a process—a transformative social process where students use their words (reflection + action; Freire in Pedagogy of the oppressed, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2000) to shift inequities and increase communication in science. Equity as a process does not mean the absence of inequity but that students use their words to address inequity when it arises to transform the space. What, then, is the role of the teacher in allowing for this transformative work to take place among the students? What does it look like to organize this kind of classroom? What do students need to know in order to engage in such equitable practice or transformative work? I engage with questions such as these and conclude with a discussion of how teachers can create the classroom conditions necessary to cultivate productive and equitable talk in science classrooms.


Groupwork Equity Agency Visibility Voice 



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of EducationUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA

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