Polytechnic University of Valencia Congress, Sixth International Conference on Higher Education Advances

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Scientific Discourse: Can Our First-Year Students Express Themselves in Science?
Marnel Mouton, Ilse Rootman-Le Grange

Last modified: 28-04-2020


Scientific discourse is a specialized, semantically dense language used to formulate clear, objective arguments around experimental results. However, science classrooms are practically void of scientific argumentation and this important skill is rarely modelled or developed in these spaces. Yet, students are expected to engage with complex disciplinary texts and then demonstrate their mastery of scientific subject matter using appropriate scientific discourse. Students find this extremely challenging and many are implicitly excluded from successful engagement with the subject.

The aim of our study was the assessment and development of first-year biology students’ scientific discourse skills through collaborative pedagogy, to make aspects of biology discourse explicit to all students. We drew on Legitimation Code Theory’s concept of semantic density, which considers complexity of meaning, to design a learning opportunity and then analyzed selections of students’ summative assessments.

Results showed profound variation in the proficiency of the students’ scientific vocabulary and language functions, and the discourse of the school and first-year biology textbooks. We therefore argue for science pedagogy that would allow students time and opportunities to mindfully engage with complex disciplinary text and then demonstrate their mastery of their learning using appropriate scientific discourse.

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