Melbourne Graduate School of Education - Theses

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    Addressing the balance of agency in science classrooms
    Arnold, Jennifer Lynne ( 2012)
    This thesis is concerned with understanding and promoting student agency in science classrooms. The study was conducted in 2007 when science education, like education in many other traditional domains of knowledge, faced the problem of student disengagement and the challenges of providing meaningful learning experiences for diverse student populations and preparing students for success within globalised, knowledge economies. A case study was constructed from videotapes of middle-years science classrooms in Melbourne that were filmed going about their lessons as usual for an entire unit of work using four video cameras and seven audio tracks. The focus of the enquiry was the exploration of social episodes in the lives of three female students, who were successful in science according to local assessment practices. Discursive psychology framed the analysis of the students’ negotiation of meaning in their science classroom conversations in relation to the teacher, other students in the classroom and each other, and the “positioning triad” (Harré & van Langenhove, 1999b) was used as a tool in the analysis. A grammatical coding system based on pronominal coding (Muhlhäusler & Harré, 1990) was developed to mark the girls’ psychological location in the lived conversational storylines. Student agency was defined as student positioning in these conversations as responsible for social action. Opportunities afforded to the students for agentic positioning was the focus of the discursive psychological analysis. This analysis revealed significant disparity between the ontologies of these students’, who took collective responsibility for their observations and opinions, those of their teacher, who positioned them as personally responsible, and those of science education researchers, who have provided cognitive psychological accounts of student agency based upon an individual’s intentions or knowledge schemas. The thesis offers a framework for learning design in science for the development of student’s personal and collective agency and an instrumental case for the use of positioning theory for psychological studies that attend to the social meaning of action. The implications of the study contribute to educational reform towards transformative education and to the elaboration of a research agenda for addressing the balance of agency in science classrooms.