27 SES 12 A, Feadbacks and Perceptions in Teaching and Learning
Part of today’s school debate centres upon developing an early interest for science and technology, not only in primary but also in preschool education. Traditionally, children in Swedish preschools meet scientific concepts with a point of departure in everyday situations or in theme-based activities. When introducing new concepts in emergent science education explanatory, multimodal illustrations are frequently used in addition to verbal information. However, this is a domain that still lacks research. The present study deals with a group of 4–5-year-olds interacting with the concept of stability illustrated in a drama play and hands-on activities conducted during a visit to a science centre and follow-up sessions at the preschool. These activities were based on the story of The Swedish Royal ShipVasa: a warship that foundered on her maiden voyage in August 1628 after sailing about 13 hundred meters due to her being too narrow, top-heavy and dangerously instable.
Aim and Research Questions
Our overall aim has been to study how centre of gravity, presented as an issue of stability, was multi-modally illustrated and explained to a group of pre-schoolers and how these children dealt with the representations. More precisely, we asked:
- What persons, actions, objects, places, and events are referred to in the multimodal illustrations?
- How do these elements relate to the concept of stability, the Vasa theme, and to one another?
- How do the multimodal illustrations seem to affect children’s explanations and meaning-making of stability?
Our concerns are how a scientific concept was presented in situ in emergent science education and whether the presentation was successfully guiding or perhaps instead hindering the intended meaning-making.
The study builds on empirically generated questions that are theoretically grounded in a cultural-historical perspective leaning on Vygotskian theory (e.g., Vygotsky, 1987, 1978) and a multimodal socio-semiotic approach. From a multimodal perspective in general, verbal language is but one resource in meaning making processes (Kress, 2010). There is also a number of non-verbal modes (gestural expressions and demonstrations, actions with objects, images, writing, sounds, colours, layout, etc.) that can be orchestrated in different combinations and used to facilitate communication and sense making (Jewitt, 2005; Kress & Selander, 2012; Price & Jewitt, 2013).
Engebretsen (2012), leaning on multimodal theories and on Halliday’s socio-linguistics has suggested an interdisciplinary approach to the study of semiotic complexity. Posing questions as to what characterizes the most successful texts for learning, he argues for a balance between multimodalcohesion and tension in the interplay between semiotic modes. Engebretsen advocates that this cohesion should be balanced with conscious shaping of gaps for the reader to bridge. These “gaps and tensions between the parts must be deep and sharp enough to be challenging, though not deeper and sharper than what is possible to bridge” (p. 150). According to Engebretsen (2012) multimodal cohesion, which he states is based upon similarity, proximity, and continuity, has long been in focus for analysts of instructional texts. Cohesion is a necessary prerequisite for the readers to be able to relate between textual elements and to relate to their previous knowledge of the world – that is to say, to learn. However, even though Engebretsen thus admits that cohesion is necessary and supports comprehension, he also states that there is another important issue that has hitherto been less focused and elaborated upon, namely that of textual tension. Multimodal tension is based upon contrast, distance, and discontinuity. It forces the reader to react, engage, and draw conclusions, which is central for a fruitful meaning making process. Engebretsen’s proposal is that all texts need booth cohesion and tension to make them understandable and engaging.
Data were collected when a preschool group of 4–5-year-olds (8 girls and 6 boys) and their two teachers visited a science centre in a middle-sized city in Sweden to attend a theme-work about the Vasa ship. This theme involved activities relating to stability and density. The visit involved two parts. First, two guides from the centre invited the group to a dramatized story about Vasa. Thereafter, the children were guided through hands-on experiments and activities. In these, they were testing floating capacity of different materials and which combination of small boat parts put together may result in the most stable boat. In addition, the group was provided with a box with experimental material and instructions to follow up and continue the exploration of stability and density by constructing boats back at the preschools. Two pairs of children were studied during this latter activity. During the studied sessions the first author took detailed field notes in addition to video documentations. In total there are 2.5 hours of video-recordings. As soon as possible after the observed sessions transcriptions were made, including both verbal and non-verbal communication. Based on suggestions of how to conduct video analyses made by Fleer (2006), we watched the recorded episodes over and over again with and without sound or picture, with increased speed or slow motion, as well as with different perspectives or foci. This was crucial when moving between different parts of the Vasa theme, not only for discovering subtle details in children’s communication but also, in some cases, for tracing utterances and actions back to what had previously taken place. In line with the aim and the research questions of the present study, the analytical interest has been directed towards situations in which the participants’ ways of multi-modally illustrating scientific concepts or phenomena seemed essential. Inspired by Engebretsen’s (2012) concepts of multimodal cohesion and tension, we have been taking a closer look at the orchestration of modes and the balance between cohesion and tension in the semantic dimension. In addition, we have analysed the gaps created in the sematic dimension and to what extent these gaps were ‘bridgeable’ for the children, that is to say if they seemed to help or hinder their making of meaning.
Some results and reflections Engebretsen (2012) stresses that all modes in use need to work together to shape a “universe where all elements fit in” (p. 146). Certainly, there were such patterns of cohesions in the Vasa theme and modes used in the multimodal illustrations seemed, at first sight, to “tell the same story”. However, our results show that instances of lack of sufficient cohesion were numerous and modes were frequently combined in such ways that unfortunate tensions were generated. The disrupted story line in the drama play constitutes one clear example, where tensions hindered the shaping of a cohesive “universe” for meaning making. Another tension that came to be of considerable importance for the children’s meaning making was the one between the stability test that the children simulated and the actual cause of the foundering of Vasa. It is evident from our analysis that the children thought that the ship sank because people ran on deck and not because she was not stably built. There are in our data numerous other instances when it may be assumed that the tensions were too strong, and the bridging thus turned out to be problematic. This appears to have been the case particularly when the children’s previous everyday experiences contradicted the scientific ideas illustrated in the activities. The Vasa-theme designers seem to have taken for granted that, without guiding, the children were able keep track of time and places in the moves between past and present time, as well as between the historic event and everyday life. It is remarkable that the children were not at any point explicitly assisted in coming to grips with the, for the present ages, very advanced concept of stability. There were, no doubt, several occasions when a few probing questions would have been very helpful.
Engebretsen, M. (2012). Balancing cohesion and tension in multimodal rhetoric: An interdisciplinary approach to the study of semiotic complexity. Learning, Media and Technology, 37(2), 145–162. Jewitt, C. (2005). Technology, literacy and learning: A multimodal approach. London: Routledge. Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality: A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. London: Routledge. Kress, G., & Selander, S. (2012). Multimodal design, learning and cultures of recognition. Internet and Higher Education 15, 265–268. Price, S., & Jewitt, C. (2013). Interview approaches to researching embodiment. In CHI '13 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, (pp. 2907-2910). New York: ACM. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). Thinking and speech (N. Minick, Trans.). In R. W. Rieber (Ed.), The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky. (Vol 1). New York: Plenum Press.
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