Discourse in Three

Have you ever been motivated, engaged, and thinking about something in a new or different way?

What was the conversation about that made it meaningful? In science classrooms, teachers are asked to engage students in scientific discourse and make it meaningful. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) lists eight Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They are essential for all students to know, helping them better communicate and understand scientific knowledge. In particular, I want to highlight Practice Seven, “Engaging in argument from evidence.”

Making sure students participate in active discourse about the science they are learning helps them to learn, know, and use the SEPs. One way to do this might be to change the classroom discourse parameters by requiring everyone to participate, support their claims from evidence, challenge other ideas respectfully, and revise. When was the last time you really got into a conversation this way? Think about that conversation, and how it helped you and rethink as you learned.

The parameters above may sound familiar because they are similar to parameters teachers set for the discourse that happens in mathematics and language arts. The Common Core State Standards (Math and ELA-Literacy) have practices in mathematics and student capacities in language arts, and discourse is a disciplinary skill students need for all math and language arts, as well as science.


An even better way to look at how using discourse in science, math, and language arts overlaps is to use the three-circle Venn diagram (as shown below), which was originally created by Tina Cheuk, a Stanford ELL educator. The Venn diagram shows the commonalities of the practices and student capacities in the three content areas. They intersect in discourse and its use. This diagram reveals an opportunity to share skills and goals in three different content areas, with communication as the focus.

It takes time and practice for students to learn good communication skills. Teachers in the three different content areas can use the practices and student capacities for an opportunity to collaborate and share in the development of making students better communicators. They can exchange and share ideas so students engage in discourse frequently. The languages of science, math, and language arts may be a bit different, but through discourse students will learn to share information about their developing understandings. The more discourse the better, and when that discourse can be had in three different content areas, that helps to create proficient conversationalists.


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