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Investigating the Use of Dialogue in the Construction of Scientific Understanding in the Junior Primary Classroom

posted on 14.03.2017 by Ann Rebecca France
There has been increased recognition of the importance of dialogue in science learning over the past decades, linked with a greater use of dialogue as a pedagogical tool in teaching science (Mercer & Dawes, 2014). Arguments centre on a predictive prevalence in students developing higher level thinking when dialogue is used effectively. However, evidence suggests that many primary school teachers lack the knowledge and skills to promote effective dialogue that produces higher level thinking in their students. To investigate this problem, this case study examined the use of dialogue in the development of scientific thinking and understanding in the junior primary classroom of an inner city, Catholic, primary school in Melbourne, Australia. The specific purpose of the study was to identify how four junior primary teachers’ perceived dialogue when implementing deep-level learning in their science classrooms and to record their dialogic patterns with their students. The study utilised a purposive sampling technique to invite teachers who had participated in professional development on scientific literacy to take part in the study. In-depth interviews were conducted with four teachers and three classroom observations of up to six students were recorded in each class, resulting in 12 observations altogether. A talk analysis framework using existing literature on effective classroom talk was developed and applied to classroom observations to identify dialogic patterns. The data analysis identified three key findings. The first relates to teachers’ beliefs about dialogue and the development of scientific understanding; the second relates to dialogue as a process that supports deep thinking, and the last relates to the central role of the teacher as a dialogue facilitator. These findings suggest the need to increase teachers’ professional development and awareness of the importance of dialogue in deep-level teaching and learning in science lessons.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Janet Scull

Additional supervisor 1

Joseph Agbenyea

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Faculty of Education