Lali DeRosier returned to the show on episode 059 Studying UDL and Science Discourse to discuss a new review of research on science discourse in urban classrooms and what it means for teachers seeking to promote more equitable science talk with and among students.
Michael Ralph: For our second segment, we read a systematic review of science discourse in K-12 urban classrooms in the United States, accounting for individual collective and contextual factors.
Laurence Woodruff: [00:31:55] This was written by Christine Bay, Daphne mills, Foz Jong Martinique, Seeley, Lauren Cabrera. And Markita Sea.
Michael Ralph: [00:32:03] This was published in the review of educational research in 2021.
And this paper was brought to our attention by a friend of the show.
Laurence Woodruff: [00:32:11] We have with us today, uh, Lali DeRosier . Thank you for joining us. Uh, we’re happy to have you.
Lali DeRosier: [00:32:17] Thank you so much for having me guys. It’s really, really good to be back.
Michael Ralph: [00:32:20] Lali Derosier is a K-12 science teacher and education advocate. She has been teaching biological sciences for over 20 years and is currently a doctoral student at the university of central Florida studying curriculum and educational psychology.
Lali is particularly interested in the intersection of science and visual art, and previously appeared on episode 38. Welcome.
Lali DeRosier: [00:32:42] My advisor passed this on to me. Uh, she is wonderful, um, and really, really good about keeping in constant dialogue with me and, and passing on things that are current in the literature.
And she thought that the framework for this paper would be good for me because this paper is looking is a complex framework. It’s looking at. Multiple levels of a problem and how those levels interact. And that, uh, has some similarities to what I currently study, which is, um, inquiry in science education.
Michael Ralph: [00:33:17] So can I ask you a question that is actually taken out of our last segment that we just recorded? What is a framework and where does it sit relative to other sizes of ideas?
Lali DeRosier: [00:33:29] So if we think of a framework literally, when you frame a picture, uh, when you, uh, create a frame for a painting, you are literally hanging this representation onto a structure.
So when we think about intellectual philosophical academic frameworks, we can think about it the same way. We have an underlying structure that is composed of theoretical concepts, practical applications, and evidence from the field. And we use that to construct an underpinning for the concept that we want to add.
Michael Ralph: [00:34:13] My first note. And my first note in what came out of here is like, why does science talk matter? Because science discourse as specifically science discourse in urban education, they brought in a lot of different ideas, connecting science, literacy, uh, mechanisms of building, understanding and sense-making, and all of those things were individual ideas that we’ve referenced in other papers in the.
How does discourse sit in a place that draws from socio-cultural context and draws from sense-making and epistemological agency draws from science literacy, like all these big ideas that have relevance to science discourse.
Lali DeRosier: [00:34:47] So in the paper they talk about… Yeah, I’m going to quote from the paper. So in the paper, they have this operational definition of science discourse, which is quote “the representation of phenomena in the natural world through language, including texts in various modes of spoken and figural representation,” unquote.
So really what we’re talking about is the main way in which teachers and students interact in the classroom. You know, we have textbooks, we have websites, we have labs, we have activities. We have icebreakers and bell ringers and all that stuff. But throughout all of that underlying, all of that is the way that students talk to one another, the way that teachers talk to students, the way that students talk to teachers, science talk is the primary currency
of learning in a science classroom. And so it’s really important to understand why talk develops the way that it does. What are the influences as the paper says in, at the micro level of why students engage in science talk the way they do. And then at the mezzo level and at the macro level, what are the environmental influences in the classroom?
What are their cultural influences of the school? What are the societal influences? What are the factors that are being brought in from home, from society historical? Right. All of those things affect what happens when students open their mouth to talk about science?
Laurence Woodruff: [00:36:32] So to me, I really resonated with the, like in the opening paragraph of this paper.
Uh, one of my favorite psychological, uh, educator figures, Vygotsky quoted argued that, um, uh, Turning thoughts into speech does is not merely a mode of expression, but it takes the thought, uh, and gives it reality and form. And so the should of this paper is very clear from the very beginning. We gotta find ways to get your kids productively talking about science.
That’s what you got. And that was so clear from the beginning. Uh, and then as I started reading it, I got overwhelmed because so many things mattered. So many things mattered. It was difficult for me to say, oh my gosh, everything is so important.
Lali DeRosier: [00:37:28] Okay. So I think, I think in the paper, when we’re talking about students in urban context, when we’re talking about black and brown students, particularly students who come from poverty or lower SES contexts, the part in the paper that discusses funds of knowledge and the prior knowledge that students bring to contexts, that there was some emphasis on how.
The teacher’s choices in presenting information, directing information and acknowledging which information is valid is really, really important for establishing a culture in which students feel like they can contribute. Right. There’s some mentions about how students’ self-efficacy, uh, contributes to their likelihood to participate in the discussion students.
Um, Like visualizing themselves as experts, uh, contributes to the likelihood of their participating in the discussion. And I, I personally think, and they didn’t talk about it very much except kind of towards the end, kind of in passing. I think it’s important to acknowledge the top-down pressures that exist in classrooms.
As long as we in this country have a high stakes testing environment that emphasizes. Canonical scientific knowledge. We’re always going to have teachers who are reluctant to relinquish control, who are fearful. I mean, the word is fearful to. Let students really take over and have agency in the conversation.
There was a lot of discussion in the paper about student agency and the factors that contribute to student agency, but there was not a lot of discussion about teacher training in order to give teachers the tools to give up the kind of control that’s necessary for student agency to become a real thing in the classroom.
It’s not enough to just create a space where students feel like they can participate in authentic ways. Teachers need to be conscious of how their scaffolding and questioning shapes students’ responses and interactions, and that involves, uh, unlearning what they have tacitly learned in their previous schooling, which is to give correct answers in the expected way.
Michael Ralph: [00:40:09] And that framing can be hard, especially for teachers who maybe didn’t have that training in college, how it was framed for us during our science training, you mentioned unlearning, like that’s a big bite of unlearning within ourselves to be able to provide those kinds of environments to students.
Laurence Woodruff: [00:40:32] Not only that, but it misrepresents.
Scientific knowledge, because those are not crystallized facts. They improve over time as our resolution and observations and explanatory power improves. So the crystallized facts from 50 years ago are not the crystallized facts from today, and won’t be the crystallized facts 50 years from now. So it’s not great on a lot of levels
Lali DeRosier: [00:40:59] and not just longitudinally, not just over time as we learn about things.
Contextually the way that we understand facts, facts, in quotes today. You know, when like we’ve seen this in the last 18 months, we’ve seen this with the struggle to get people vaccinated and the lower rates at which black and brown communities are being vaccinated. And we see, uh, efforts to bridge that gap with science knowledge.
About vaccine efficacy without much acknowledgement of historically problematic racist interactions with black and brown communities around vaccines and medicine.
Michael Ralph: [00:41:46] You know, you talk about what could be termed as politeness or appropriate or professional discourse that is in fact, just colonialism in a classroom.
And I think we have to recognize, especially for white teachers. What’s the role of what I am used to seeing and the ways of being that I am used to engaging in. And what does that mean for marginalizing students who don’t look like me? Because that conception of science is also, there is a conception of discourse that is also should be pluralistic in our classrooms.
And that’s what, but we also have to interrogate in ourselves.
Lali DeRosier: [00:42:29] What were your takeaways about the framework for, um, for discourse that is being proposed by these authors
other than it’s complicated?
Laurence Woodruff: [00:42:47] Yeah. Yeah. Well, that was what I was mostly feeling. Um, I was feeling to, to throw some buzzwords out. I was. I was feeling a lot of student centered discourse. Uh, although that term has some kind, sometimes been ground to obsolete, not obsolescence, but like meaninglessness
Michael Ralph: [00:43:10] expanded to
Laurence Woodruff: [00:43:11] Yeah. That’s
it expanded to in, in applicability, but get the kids talking. To, to each other. And you, uh, about the science experience. So provide experiences for them to talk about, provide avenues for them to ask and answer questions with and amongst each other, and you, and also consider the value of their language in the response.
As more than just formative assessment, um,
Lali DeRosier: [00:43:53] to what? Okay, so this is an idea that’s not fully fleshed out. So bear with me. To what extent do you think it’s possible to propose a framework for, for discourse in a classroom, whether it’s a science classroom or any. That accounts for all the myriad possible student experiences that are represented in a classroom or put another way.
If we look at it from the critic’s perspective, at what point do you say this is too big for any one teacher?
Laurence Woodruff: [00:44:32] Well, gosh, you know, um, communication is really. About humanization. So when we have humanizing pedagogy and the ideas about human humanizing pedagogy,
I think that’s really what we have to promote in terms of the interactions with each other. And I like when you flipped it and said that, what is this too big for one teacher? I think that’s great because it’s always going to be too big for one teacher. They need con they need humanizing. They, our students need humanizing pedagogy experiences from all of their instructors, um, because we’re all humans and we’re all different humans and having the ability to recognize the humanity in each other.
Which is an intrinsically different humanity is important.
Lali DeRosier: [00:45:43] Right, right, right. I, so for me, if I can, so you were talking about like, what are the linguistic norms that my students bring to the classroom? Like for me, what really jumped out through all of this? Cause, you know, as we said, it’s a very dense paper.
The one kind of central nugget was student agency. And if there’s, if I had to pick one direction for future research, it would really be, and, and it’s something that’s feasible for any single teacher is to really identify what are the obstacles to student agency at the different levels that were described at the individual level?
What are the students obstacles to agency? What are the preconceived notions about the agency they have. And what they think they’re allowed to do in a classroom, what they think they’re allowed to do in a discussion. What are the obstacles that the teacher brings to their interactions with the students?
What is the, what are the obstacles at the cultural level of the school? What are the obstacles in terms of societal norms? And if, if an individual teacher who knows their students can identify those obstacles and mitigate them, then I think. This kind of approach to student led discourse becomes very possible
Michael Ralph: [00:47:02] well, and each teacher has limited control over the world, right?
Like there are only so many obstacles I can remove. So even if you can’t mitigate the obstacles, if you can recognize. And we can build unity around navigating them together, even though that’s an obstacle, that’s terrible. I’m sorry. That’s there. I can’t remove it, but I can help. Like we can work together to chart the best course through the world.
Recognize that article, just that obstacle does exist. I think the act of honoring what students see, builds trust that you’re not going to surprise them with other obstacles. Right? Like if I, if I pretend that that is not there, then students have no reason to trust me. When I say there’s no obstacle over there either.
Like, well, you’re not even, you’re not even acknowledging that one. So I don’t trust you. Like, no, I’m going to just try to be safe and navigate this colonized environment. But if you’re like, yeah, that’s a real obstacle, then you can build more trust. That as students strike out and exercise their autonomy and, and travel new paths that you and they both know the teacher has not seen before, they can do that with a confidence that the teacher is going to not suddenly punish them or marginalize them, or de- humanize them?
And that is empowered.
Lali DeRosier: [00:48:33] That does it. It does, but it feels like, uh, like this is the part where I started to get kind of mad. Right. When I think about what’s actually happening in classrooms, because I think that, like, I think a lot of teachers would buy into that until it’s time to give a test. I kind of feel like that’s the point where it all falls apart.
The point of assessing.
Michael Ralph: [00:48:59] Acknowledge plus one validate. Yeah. Assessments. Assessments is a time where, where things fall apart. So I’m wondering, do you think that it would be enough? Like let’s imagine tomorrow I could wave a magic wand and say standardized assessments do not exist?
Lali DeRosier: [00:49:18] No, I don’t think it would be enough to remove standardized testing because I don’t think that,
that pluralistic discourse is the norm in teacher training. I mean, I, I don’t think that, um, I, I think this, for this to become a widespread method of science instruction, there needs to be a fundamental shift in what we think of as the goals of science instruction.
Michael Ralph: [00:49:47] There’s a, there’s a section in the collective section, which was by far my favorite section.
Talking about the importance of teachers facilitating ambiguity or uncertainty in their instruction. And I think that that actually connects back to this, this conversation, but I think rather than peppering around lots of different little bitty unconnected, you know, nuggets of, you know, nascent schema building one gives you the opportunity to identify opportunities where there are
moments of uncertainty where our students have the most robust background knowledge to engage in debate. Like if I’ve, if we’ve only built an itty bitty little scheme around this idea, and then I point out a thing they don’t know, they’re like, yeah, we don’t know all sorts of things. So what, but if you’ve spent time building a really robust schema, and then you looked for the perimeters of that schema to identify how
this question around heritability informs our fundamental understanding of climate change. They have a lot more information to bring to bear on that question, both in understanding the uncertainty, but then also to address it through discourse. And so I think back to your comments, 100% agree like the, so yes, define where you’re going to build schema.
Build a robust schema and then lean into your opportunities on the edges to leverage where there’s uncertainty, because that’s where the good discourse happens. And that’s what was in the paper.
Laurence Woodruff: [00:51:20] I like identifying the student uncertainty as sort of like the valuable seed of discourse. Like you gotta be tuned in with your kids, listening to what they’re saying.
You gotta let them express it in the way they want to express it and where they are uncertain, that’s where you’re like, that’s a Fertilest soil for growth and then respond to that uncertainty and build their schema in that direction.
Lali DeRosier: [00:51:46] And those are some of the most exciting classroom moments to, you know, after 23 years knowing, and being able to anticipate which questions my students will have or which objections they will raise, uh, leads to some of the most incredible epiphanies.
Uh, that, that you can facilitate for them. Right? You can have it for them, but you can facilitate it for them. I think that this has been interesting to think about, like where would I start if I had to pick one thing, probably evolution. I don’t know. I think like, you know, within, within evolution, Because when I’m talking about evolution, I’m not just talking about natural selection.
I’m talking about understanding bacterial resistance to antibiotics. I’m talking about understanding symbiotic relationships in ecosystems. I’m talking about understanding succession and sustainable farming practices. I’m talking about, uh, you know, understanding, uh, ecological responses to changes in the invite.
Uh, like that, you know, genetically modified organisms, uh, like all of that ties back to a fundamental understanding of what evolutionary theory has to say, looking at this study as a whole, looking at this literature review as a whole. Um, I really appreciate the authors nod to the complexity of the subject.
And the multiple levels at which the effects of science discourse are felt, and the factors that complicate the implementation of science discourse in the classroom. Um, the thing that jumps out to me at the end of it all is the importance of agency. On the part of the student and the role that the teacher plays in facilitating student agency and removing obstacles to agency, whether those obstacles come from within the student, as far as their, um, their cultural influences or their prior experience that may inhibit them from participating and also the environmental factors that.
Come into play. When you have students from different cultural and ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, it’s an incredibly complex subject. I think that it’s something that has to be addressed in teacher training. Pre-service in professional development. Once teachers are in practice, I think that involves reflection on the part of the teacher as a practitioner that maybe is not addressed in the article in the.
That I would like to see, I think that our own biases as instructors about what we think is important and relevant and true, um, true with a capital T uh, that heavily influences what we do in our day to day. And, um, and it’s something that teachers and I include myself with that are maybe not comfortable deconstructing, you know, we don’t like to think about.
How our own practices and beliefs may be inhibiting our students’ learning. And when it comes to really authentically giving agency to students in science classrooms, that’s something that has to be confronted head on. So I would love to see that in future.
Laurence Woodruff: [00:55:28] If our audiences enjoyed your voice and your, uh, message, where could they get more?
Lali DeRosier: [00:55:36] You can find me on Twitter @labcoatteacher