31 SES 07 B, Linguistic Aspects of Subject Learning
The aim of this paper is to explore how some characteristics of school physics knowledge are reproduced but also contested in student-teacher interaction, here exemplified through the teaching and learning of nuclear power in secondary physics.
The difficulty to recruit students (in particular women and minorities) in science and technology is an international concern throughout the Western world (cf. Sjøberg & Schreiner, 2010). Politicians, policy makers, and science education researchers all agree that a widened and increased student participation and engagement in the physical sciences and technology is pivotal both in order to secure a pool of future scientists and in order for individuals to function in an increasingly technologically advanced society (SOU 2010:28; House of Lords 2012). Research also shows that the last years of compulsory schooling is a key period for students’ engagement in science and technology; it is during these years that many students lose interest in the subjects (Archer et al., 2010; Lindahl, 2003). The difficulties to identify, and thereby engage, with science for many students have by critical science education researchers been connected to the sociohistorical legacy of science, how it is perceived as an objective, privileged way of knowing that is not accessible to everyone (Barton & Yang, 2000; Carlone, 2004; Lemke, 1990). Such descriptions of science’s sociohistorical legacy draws on the work by philosophers and historians of science who have argued that physics is constructed as a discipline that produce value-neutral, universal, and objective knowledge (Harding, 1986; Schiebinger, 1991). School science in particular tends to be characterised as fact-oriented with clear separations between facts and values (Gyberg & Lee, 2010). Barton and Yang (2000) describe how people and social contexts are often hidden in textbooks and other curricular materials, and summarise: ‘The result is often a fact-oriented science which appears decontextualized, objective, rational, and mechanistic.’ (p. 875). As a consequence, Lemke (2001) has argued for the inclusion of other components of science (such as aesthetic, intuitive and emotional) in order to challenge the too narrowly rationalistic and abstract school science.
In this paper we aim to further the exploration of how school physics is constructed in classroom practices by focusing on a module about a potentially politically and emotionally charged physics content area (nuclear power). More specifically the use of evaluative language resources is focused in order to discuss characteristics of school physics within this module. In other words, the research question investigated in this paper is:
How are characteristics of school physics constructed through evaluative language use?
The issue is thus analytically approached from a linguistic standpoint, and the theoretical framework for analyses found within a social semiotic perspective. According to Halliday (1978), the semiotic systems that we live by are considered to form a meaning resource. It is from this meaning resource that we choose when we articulate and structure meaning. By these choices, certain aspects are put in the background or completely excluded while others are foregrounded and thereby emphasized. In this respect, the selected language forms, and especially evaluative language resources, are highly significant and coloured with ideology.
In interpreting results from the linguistic analyses, an important theoretical point is also that any learning situation will involve socialisation (Roberts & Östman 1998). In other words, in teaching and learning activities much more than the content knowledge being taught is learnt, we learn about norms and values and who we can and want to be in relation to those norms and values (Brickhouse 2001). The characteristics of school physics are understood as interactively constituted by teacher and students, while also adhering to broader societal discourses about science and science learning.
Archer, L., DeWitt, J., Osborne, J., Dillon, J., Willis, B., & Wong, B. (2010). “Doing” science versus “being” a scientist: Examining 10/11‐year‐old schoolchildren's constructions of science through the lens of identity. Science Education, 94(4), 617-639. Barton, A. C., & Yang, K. (2000). The Culture of Power and Science Education: Learning from Miguel. Journal of Research in Science Education, 37(8), 871-889. Carlone, H. B. (2004). The cultural production of science in reform-based physics: girls' access, participation, and resistance. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(4), 392-414. Folkeryd, J. W. (2006). Writing with an attitude : appraisal and student texts in the school subject of Swedish. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis Gyberg, P., & Lee, F. (2010). The Construction of Facts: Preconditions for meaning in teaching energy in Swedish classrooms. International Journal of Science Education, 32(9), 1173-1189. doi:10.1080/09500690902984800 Halliday, M.A.K. (1978). Language as social semiotic. The social interpretation of language and meaning. London; Edward Arnold. Harding, S. (1986). The science question in feminism. Milton Keynes: Open university press. House of Lords (2012). Higher education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. London: The Stationery Office Limited. Lemke, J. L. (1990). Talking science: Language, learning, and values. Norwood, NJ: Ablex. Lemke, J. L. (2001). Articulating Communites: Sociocultural Perspectives on Science Education. Journal of Research in Science Education and Technology, 38(3), 296-316. Lindahl, B. (2003). Lust att lära naturvetenskap och teknik? En longitudinell studie om vägen till gymnasiet. Gothenburg: University of Gothenburg. Martin, J., & White, P. (2005). The language of evaluation: Appraisal in English: Palgrave Macmillan. Schiebinger, L. (1991). The mind has no sex? Women in the origins of modern science. United States of America: Harvard University Press. Sjøberg, S., & Schreiner, C. (2010). The ROSE project. An overview and key findings. SOU (2010:28). Vändpunkt Sverige – ett ökat intresse för matematik, naturvetenskap, teknik och IKT. (Teknikdelegationen). Stockholm: Fritzes.
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