The tension between authoritative and dialogic discourse: A fundamental characteristic of meaning making interactions in high school science lessons

Citation Scott, P. H., Mortimer, E. F., & Aguiar, O. G. (2006). The tension between authoritative and dialogic discourse: A fundamental characteristic of meaning making interactions in high school science lessons. Science Education, 90(4), 605-631. Wiley Online Library. Sidewiki
BibDesk PDF




author = {Scott, P.H. and Mortimer, E.F. and Aguiar, O.G.},
date-added = {2012-03-12 01:10:33 -0400},
date-modified = {2012-05-05 17:32:27 -0400},
date-read = {2012-05-05 17:32:27 -0400},
journal = {Science Education},
keywords = {Discourse; D&L in M&S -Science application},
number = {4},
pages = {605-631},
publisher = {Wiley Online Library},
read = {1},
title = {The tension between authoritative and dialogic discourse: A fundamental characteristic of meaning making interactions in high school science lessons},
volume = {90},
year = {2006},


My Summary and Insights

Extending the analyses in their book Meaning Making in Secondary Science Classrooms (Mortimer & Scott, 2003) the authors see a tension between authoritative and dialogic interactions, and note that both are necessary in teaching for meaningful learning. Furthermore, there needs to be a “progressive shifting between authoritative and dialogic passages, with each giving rise to the other” (p. 19). They see a necessary tension between authoritative interactions and dialogic interactions in the science classroom, leading to what Engle & Conant (2002) call “productive disciplinary engagement”.

Engle and Conant's 4 principles for fostering productive disciplinary engagement are:

  1. problematizing content (teacher encourages student questions/proposals/challenges)
  2. giving students authority (teacher encourages students to be “authors and producers of knowledge”, to have more agency over their learning)
  3. holding students accountable to others and to disciplinary norms (students need to consider others' points of view and be responsive to them)
  4. providing relevant resources (i.e. time, access to relevant information sources)

The central goal to the dialogic/authoritative tension underpinning meaningful learning is to engage students in disciplinary thinking and doing while acknowledging their everyday ways of thinking.

Scott et al. have developed a framework for analyzing speech genres of science classrooms, specifically to investigate the ways a teacher acts to guide meaning making interactions in secondary science classrooms. There are 5 linked aspects, grouped in terms of teaching focus, approach, and action (see Table 1):

  1. Teaching Purpose
  2. Content
  3. Communicative Approach* (central to the framework; how the teacher works with students to develop ideas)
  4. Teacher Interventions
  5. Patterns of Interaction

This paper only focuses on 3 of the 5 aspects: communicative approach, teaching purposes, patterns of interaction.

I am considering using this framework to analyze my own spoken data, but I'm not sure how this framework would could be used with the Common Knowledge note data. Perhaps it can't be used with textual data, in which case, I will need to figure out how I can connect oral discourse with CK discourse and what analytical framework to used for all this. I may need more than 1 analytical framework.

COMMUNICATIVE APPROACH Does the teacher interact with the students? Are students' ideas taken into account as the lesson proceeds? There 4 classes of communicative approach, defined by the teacher-student talk along 2 dimensions:

  1. dialogic-authoritative
  2. interactive-noninteractive

Dialogic Discourse (see Wertsch). Accordign to Lotman, “dialogic functions” of generate new meanings and are used as “thinking devices”. Bakhtin uses “dialogism” in 2 ways - on a macro level, it's the universal property of language because every utterance is a response to a previous utterance and anticipates responses. Further, any true meaning making is dialogic because we have our own response utterances for utterance we are trying to understand (i.e. the receiving voice is never passive - Bakhtin). On a micro level, Bakhtin distinguishes between authoritative and internally persuasive discourse. Scott et al. depart from Bakhtin (and the underlying dialogic nature of interaction) here and define authoritative discourse as the teacher focusing students' full attention on just one meaning. The authors extend Bakhtin's definition of dialogic to include recognizing others' points of view. Since dialogic discourse is open to different perspectives, there's always an attempt by the teacher to recognize students' points of view and the school science view. Dialogic discourse may have high levels of interanimation (i.e. more than 1 participant) or low levels of interanimation (i.e. no other participants) (see Table 2).

Authoritative Discourse Doesn't allow the synthesis/integration and exploration of ideas. The teacher focuses on the school science view, and either reshapes or ignores student ideas/questions which don't align with the school science point of view. If a student idea/question does align with the school science view, the teacher seizes and uses it.

4 Classes of Communicative Approach (can be used to characterize student-student classroom interactions)

  • interactive/dialogic:
    • high interanimation: teacher and students explore and work on different points of view
    • low interanimation: teacher makes different ideas are available to students
  • noninteractive/dialogic:
    • high interanimation: teacher revisits and summarizes different points of view by exploring similarities and differences
    • low interanimation: teacher revisits and summarizes different points of view by simply listing them
  • interactive/authoritative: teacher focuses on 1 point of view, leads students through Q & A routine with the goal of establishing and consolidating that point of view
  • noninteractive/authoritative: teacher presents a specific point of view


  1. Triadic IRE patterns
  2. Chains of interaction

IRF (Sinclair & Coulthard, 1975) and IRE (Mehan, 1979) 3-part interaction patterns are examples of what Lemke (1990) calls “triadic dialogue”.

  1. Initiation (question from teacher)
  2. Response (from student)
  3. Follow-up/Evaluation (from teacher)

Wells (1999) showed that triadic dialogue is neither good or bad - its merits depending on its purpose. The third move (teacher) may evaluate or extend the student's response (i.e. by drawing out its significance, or making connections). Most authoritative interactions are played out through an I-R-E pattern.

In “Open” and “Closed” Chain Patterns, the teacher feeds the student's response back, to prompt further elaboration and sustain the interaction. Hence the student is supported in elaborating and making their ideas explicit. So the teacher's 'prompt' [P] move is followed by further student 'response' [R], and so on:

  • I-R-P-R-P-R-E: chain of interaction closed by teacher's final evaluation
  • I-R-P-R-P-R-: chain of interaction remains open without a final evaluation
  • I-Rs1-Rs2-Rs3-: an example of a student-initiated sequence that starts with a question, or different students answer the same question from the teacher.

TEACHING PURPOSES Scott et al. developed 6 teaching purposes from their observations of science lessons and Vygotskyian perspectives on teaching and learning.

  1. Opening up the problem
  2. Exploring and probing students’ views
  3. Introducing and developing the scientific story
  4. Guiding students to work with scientific ideas and supporting internalization
  5. Guiding students to apply, and expand on the use of, the scientific view and handingover responsibility for its use
  6. Maintaining the development of the scientific story

The authors then discuss 4 teaching “episodes” (from 1 teacher's science classroom) as a way to illustrate their analytical process using 3 aspects of their framework (communicative approach, interaction patterns, teaching purposes). Interestingly, the authors state that a teacher's communicative approach can't always be planned ahead since the students' interests drive the direction of lesson development (much like the teachers in our own research studies).

The “tension” between dialogic and authoritative discourse that the authors refer to is the dialogic exploration of the corresponding everyday and scientific views, which require a teacher's authoritative guidance. Hence this tension grows stronger as a teacher's authoritative statements demand student dialogic exploration. There is a “tensioned dialectic” (Scott et al., 2006; p. 19) that exists between the 2. It follows that teaching for meaningful learning necessitates a “progressive shifting between authoritative and dialogic passages, with each giving rise to the other” (Scott et al., 2006; p. 19). This makes me think of my 4R's cycle of orchestration, but I'm not representing this progression well enough presently.

Scott et al. note that teachers often confuse dialogic teaching with interactive/authoritative approaches, but are quick to point out that “the crucial first step is to provide the tools which allow teachers to reflect upon and then modify their classroom practices” (Scott et al., 2006; p. 20). The authors also recognize that time fo dialogic discourse is a scarce resource, and so they suggest that dialogic discourse would be most valuable for learning in curriculum in which there are “big conceptual gaps between everyday and scientific points of view” (p.20).

The authors then proceed to describe how Engle and Conant's 4 principles for fostering disciplinary engagement were manifested in the teaching sequence presented in this paper.

In terms of methodological issues, they offer a few helpful tips:

  1. take an overview of the discourse; move forwards and backwards in time to consider how the discourse fits with the episodes/lessons/unit
  2. consider all contextualization cues (not just verbal utterances) when deciding the nature of the discursive interactions
  3. to identify episodes, look for changes in teaching purpose, and set the episode boundaries at these changes

The authors have a very helpful and concrete table (Table 4) comparing characteristics of authoritative and dialogic discourse. This could be a very helpful tool for practicing teachers.

Links here



framework for analyzing the discursive interactions of science classrooms p. 1

to probe the movement between authoritative and dialogic discourse p. 1

we argue the point that such shifts between communicative approaches are an inevitable part of teaching whose purpose is to support meaningful learning of scientific knowledge p. 1

We suggest that a necessary tension therefore exists between authoritative and dialogic approaches as dialogic exchanges are followed by authoritative interventions (to develop the canonical scientific view) p. 1

the authoritative introduction of new ideas is followed by the opportunity for dialogic application and exploration of those ideas p. 1

authoritativeness acting as a seed for dialogicity and vice versa. p. 1

We discuss how this analysis, in terms of shifts in communicative approach, offers a new and complementary perspective on supporting “productive disciplinary engagement” p. 1

“productive disciplinary engagement” p. 1

productive disciplinary engagement p. 1

p. 1

importance of investigating classroom discourse and other rhetorical devices in science education p. 2

signals a move away from studies focusing on individual student understandings of specific phenomena toward research into the ways in which understandings are developed in the social context of the science classroom. p. 2

importance of language for learning p. 2

in the UK, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA, 2003) strongly identifies “dialogic teaching” with effective whole-class instructional approaches, drawing on the comparative, cross-cultural research of Alexander (2001) as a basis for doing so p. 2

North America, there is a powerful movement toward “inquiry-based” science lessons, in which the students work collaboratively on open-ended activities and are encouraged to talk their way to solving problems p. 2

On both sides of the Atlantic, moves are being made to engage students in the patterns of talk, or modes of “argumentation,” which are characteristic of science p. 2

notion of dialogic discourse seems to be a central part of all of these initiatives. p. 2

Kelly, Crawford and Green (2001) show the potential importance of dissenting voices in the discursive construction of physics explanations by students working in small groups p. 2

Ritchie and Tobin (2001, p. 295) suggest that genuine consensus in science can only be achieved through dialogic discourse. p. 2

dialogic interactions are notably absent from science classrooms around the world p. 2

In the book Meaning Making in Secondary Science Classrooms, we (Mortimer & Scott, 2003) developed a framework for characterizing different kinds of discursive classroom interactions and present examples (rare as they may be) of dialogic discourse, as played out in real classrooms, contrasting these with more authoritative passages. p. 2

purpose of this paper is to extend those kinds of analyses and to develop the argument, with exemplification, that any sequence of science lessons, which has as its learning goal the meaningful understanding of scientific conceptual knowledge, must entail both authoritative and dialogic passages of interaction. p. 2

we see a tension between authoritative and dialogic approaches as being an inevitable characteristic of meaning making interactions in science classrooms p. 2

A common issue in these studies is that the participant structures (Phillips, 1972) of science classrooms should change so as to “overcome the barriers of traditional classroom participant structures wherein the teacher does most of the talking and students participate by responding to teacher questions and receiving evaluation of their responses” (Cornelius & Herrenkohl, 2004). p. 3

The aim of the proposed new participant structures is to produce what Engle and Conant (2002) call “productive disciplinary engagement.” p. 3

Engle and Conant give a list of features of students’ discourse that can be considered as evidence of their greater disciplinary engagement: more students make substantive contributions to the topic under discussion; these contributions are in coordination with each other; few students are involved in “off-task” activities; students express passionate involvement and they re-engage and continue to be engaged in the topic over a long period of time (Engle & Conant, 2002, p. 402) p. 3

productive disciplinary engagement. p. 3

By disciplinary engagement, the authors mean “that there is some contact between what students are doing and the issues and practices of a discipline’s discourse” (p. 402). p. 3

Productive disciplinary engagement sees the students making intellectual progress that can be inferred by, amongst other things, an improvement in the quality and sophistication of arguments and the development of new ideas and disciplinary understandings. p. 3

Engle and Conant advance four principles for fostering productive disciplinary engagement: problematizing content, giving students authority, holding students accountable to others and to disciplinary norms, and providing relevant resources p. 3

Problematizing content involves the teacher in encouraging student questions, proposals, and challenges rather than just expecting answers and assimilation of facts and procedures p. 3

Giving students authority means encouraging students “to be authors and producers of knowledge, with ownership over it, rather than mere consumers of it” (Engle & Conant, 2002, p. 404) p. 3

Holding students accountable to others and to disciplinary norms involves students in considering the points of view of others, not necessarily to accept them but to be responsive to them p. 3

All of these points resonate with Resnick’s (1999) notion of “accountable talk” in the classroom. p. 3

authors situate the fourth principle at a different level in that it supports the embodiment of the other principles. “Resources supporting productive disciplinary engagement may be as fundamental as having sufficient time to pursue a problem in depth or having access to sources of information relevant to it” (Engle & Conant, 2002, p. 405). These resources might include books and Internet sites but also things such as students’ questions and their familiar ways of discussing them p. 3

Van Zee and Minstrell’s (1997) notion of “reflective discourse” is highly relevant to the achievement of productive disciplinary engagement p. 3

define reflective discourse as classroom discussions in which three conditions are frequently met. These conditions are that (i) students express their own thoughts, comments, and questions; (ii) the teacher and individual students engage in an extended series of questioning exchanges that help students better articulate their beliefs and conceptions; (iii) student/student exchanges involve one student trying to understand the thinking of another (Van Zee & Minstrell, 1997, p. 209). p. 3

Central to all of these studies is the goal of engaging students with disciplinary ways of thinking and doing so without ignoring their existing or everyday ways of thinking which are considered to be a fundamental resource in this enterprise p. 4

This goal is also central to the dialogic/authoritative tension that we see underpinning meaningful learning p. 4

Van Zee and Minstrell’s conceptualization of “reflective discourse” maps directly onto what Bakhtin refers to as “internally persuasive” discourse, which we redefined as dialogic discourse p. 4

Cornelius and Herrenkohl (2004) explicitly consider the Bakhtinian notion of persuasive discourse as one of the fundamental tools for empowering students and fostering their productive disciplinary engagement in science classrooms. p. 4

dialogic discourse p. 4

persuasive discourse p. 4

In suggesting that an effective balance between authority and accountability should be maintained in science classrooms, Engle and Conant (2002) get very close to our intention of exploring how a suitable balance between authoritative and dialogic discourse can contribute to students’ meaning making of scientific concepts. p. 4


Following Vygotskian principles, we consider that science teaching entails a kind of “public performance” on the social plane of the classroom. This performance is directed by the teacher who has planned the “script” for the performance and takes the lead in “staging” (Leach & Scott, 2002) the various activities of the science lessons p. 4

The analytical framework (Mortimer & Scott, 2003) is based on five linked aspects, which focus on the role of the teacher, and are grouped in terms of teaching focus, approach, and action (see Table 1). p. 4

Central to the framework is the concept of “communicative approach” which was first developed by Mortimer and Scott (2003), and provides a perspective on how the teacher p. 4

works with students to develop ideas in the classroom p. 5

different classes of communicative approach (see next section) are defined in terms of whether the classroom discourse is authoritative or dialogic in nature and whether it is interactive or noninteractive (Mortimer & Scott, 2003, p. 33). p. 5

different communicative approaches are put into action through specific patterns of interaction and teacher interventions. p. 5

The different communicative approaches are also linked to specific teaching purposes (p. 28), such as developing the scientific story, and to the nature of the thematic content (p. 28) which is the focus of the teaching. p. 5

In this paper, we shall focus our attention on just three aspects of the framework. These are the communicative approach, teaching purposes, and patterns of interaction p. 5


The communicative approach focuses on questions such as whether or not the teacher interacts with students (either taking turns in the discourse or simply presenting material), and whether the students’ ideas are taken into account as the lessons proceed p. 5

we have identified four fundamental classes of communicative approach, which are defined by characterizing the talk between teacher and students along each of two dimensions, dialogic–authoritative and interactive–noninteractive p. 5

The Dialogic -- Authoritative Dimension p. 5

distinction between authoritative and dialogic functions has been discussed by Wertsch (1991) p. 5

It is based on the notions of authoritative and internally persuasive discourse, as outlined by Bakhtin (1981), and on the functional dualism of texts introduced by Lotman (1988) (quoted by Wertsch, 1991, pp. 73–74). p. 5

According to Vice (1997), Bakhtin uses “dialogism” in two different senses. In a broader sense, dialogism is a universal property of language where any discourse is dialogic because every word or utterance responds to previous utterances and anticipates the responses of others p. 5

In addition, any true understanding, or meaning making, is dialogic in nature because we lay down a set of our own answering words for each word of the utterance we are in process of understanding (Voloshinov, 1929/1973, p. 102) p. 5

This aligns with the notion that a receiving voice is never passive (Bakhtin) p. 5

The other sense of dialogism in Bakhtin’s work is a more restricted concept, related to the historical and cultural environments in which language is shaped. In this case, the author makes a distinction between authoritative and internally persuasive discourse (Bakhtin, p. 5

1981) and it is this distinction which we draw upon in defining the concept of communicative approach. p. 6

We certainly agree that when a teacher makes an authoritative presentation, then the meaning making process must be dialogic in nature as the students try to make sense of what is being said by laying down a set of their “own answering words” to the words of the teacher. p. 6

At the same time, and according to our own definition, we are clear that in authoritative discourse the teacher’s purpose is to focus the students’ full attention on just one meaning. It is in this sense that we have chosen to use the word “authoritative” (whilst acknowledging the underlying dialogic nature of the interaction). p. 6

Additionally, we have chosen the word “dialogic” to contrast with an authoritative communicative approach, in order that we can draw upon the dialogic meaning of recognizing others’ points of view. p. 6

according to our definition, we are clear that in dialogic discourse the teacher recognizes and attempts to take into account a range of students’, and others’, ideas. p. 6

we define dialogic discourse as being that which is open to different points of view. p. 6

A fundamentally important point here is that this kind of dialogic interaction can be played out with different levels of interanimation of ideas (Bakhtin, 1981). At one extreme the teacher might simply ask for the students’ points of view and list them on the board. Here the discourse is open to different points of view, but there is no attempt to work on those views through comparing and contrasting. The teacher’s approach involves a low level of interanimation of ideas. p. 6

On the other hand, the teacher might adopt an approach which involves trying to establish how the ideas relate to one another (John thinks that this might be the case, but Susan seems to be suggesting something different. Nancy what do you think?). Both of these approaches are dialogic in the sense of allowing the space for different ideas to be represented, but the second approach clearly involves a higher level of interanimation of ideas. p. 6

It might be the case that the teacher simply collects ideas at the start of a teaching sequence (low interanimation) and then, later in the sequence, compares and contrasts these ideas with the school science point of view (high interanimation). p. 6

In general terms we can say that dialogic discourse is open to different perspectives. There is always the attempt to acknowledge the views of others, and through dialogic discourse the teacher attends to the students’ points of view as well as to the school science view. Within dialogic discourse, there is the possibility of different levels of interanimation of ideas, as in Table 2. p. 6

authoritative discourse does not allow the bringing together and exploration of ideas. Here the teacher focuses attention on the school science point of view. If ideas or questions, which do not contribute to the development of the school science story, are raised by students, they are likely to be reshaped or ignored by the teacher. Alternatively, if a student idea is perceived by the teacher as being helpful to the development of the scientific story, it is likely to be seized upon and used p. 6

authoritative discourse p. 6

is closed to the points of view of others, with its direction having been set in advance by the teacher p. 7

no exploration of different perspectives, and no explicit interanimation of ideas, p. 7

The Interactive -- Noninteractive Dimension p. 7

What makes talk functionally dialogic is the fact that different ideas are acknowledged, rather than whether it is produced by a group of people or by a solitary individual. p. 7

the talk can be interactive in the sense of allowing for the participation of more than one person, or noninteractive in the sense of excluding the participation of other people. p. 7

Four Classes of Communicative Approach p. 7

any episode of classroom talk can be identified as being either interactive or noninteractive on the one hand, and dialogic or authoritative on the other. p. 7

Interactive/dialogic: Teacher and students consider a range of ideas. If the level of interanimation is high, they pose genuine questions as they explore and work on different points of view. If the level of interanimation is low, the different ideas are simply made available. p. 7

Noninteractive/dialogic: Teacher revisits and summarizes different points of view, either simply listing them (low interanimation) or exploring similarities and differences (high interanimation). p. 7

Interactive/authoritative: Teacher focuses on one specific point of view and leads students through a question and answer routine with the aim of establishing and consolidating that point of view. p. 8

Noninteractive/authoritative: Teacher presents a specific point of view. p. 8

lthough these aspects were developed in relation to the teacher’s role and actions, they can also be used to characterize student–student interactions in the classroom p. 8


The most distinctive pattern of interaction reported in the literature is the three-part exchange structure which Lemke (1990) refers to as triadic dialogue. This pattern was first described as IRF (Sinclair & Coulthard, 1975) or as IRE (Mehan, 1979). p. 8

I stands for “Initiation” (normally through a question from the teacher) and R stands for “Response” (normally from the student). In relation to the third move, Sinclair and Coulthard (1975) refer to “Follow-up,” while Mehan (1979) and others refer to “Evaluation.” p. 8

IRE p. 8

Wells (1999) stresses the point that the third move from the teacher can serve different functions. In some contexts, it has a dominant evaluative function, in others “the third move functions much more as an opportunity to extend the student’s answer, to draw out its significance, or to make connections with other parts of the students’ total experience during the unit” (Wells, 1999, p. 200) p. 8

An important contribution of Wells is to show that triadic dialogue is neither intrinsically good nor bad. “Its merits—or demerits—depend upon the purpose it is used to serve on particular occasions and upon the larger goals by which those purposes are informed” (p. 169). p. 8

we take an approach similar to that of Wells, by distinguishing between triadic IRE patterns and chains of interaction which are generated when the third move of the interaction is made to prompt elaboration of the student’s point of view. p. 8

The I-R-E Pattern p. 8

this pattern of interaction is played out in “patterns of three” with utterances from teacher–student–teacher and is referred to here as a triadic “I-R-E” interaction (Mehan, 1979). This pattern of initiation–response–evaluation is distinctive and very common in high school classrooms. As we shall see, most authoritative interactions are played out through an I-R-E pattern. p. 8

The Open and Closed Chain Patterns p. 8

instead of making an evaluation of a student’s response, the teacher feeds-back the response to the student, in order to prompt further elaboration of their point of view (that’s interesting, tell me a little more…) and thereby to sustain the interaction. In this way the student is supported in elaborating and making explicit their ideas. p. 8

Here the prompt move by the teacher is followed by a further response from the student [R] and so on. Some chains of interaction are closed by a final evaluation from the teacher (I-R-P-R-P-R-E), whilst others remain open without any final evaluation (I-R-P-R-P-R-). p. 8

There are other ways in which nontriadic patterns might appear in the classroom. For example, students (rather than the teacher) can initiate a sequence by posing a question. Alternatively, different students can answer the same question from the teacher, generating an I-Rs1-Rs2-Rs3− form, where Rsn indicates a response from a particular student. In this latter pattern, the response from student 3 (for example) might not necessarily address the initial question posed by the teacher; it might be a comment on a previous student’s response. In such cases, the pattern of interactions can become relatively complex. p. 9


The teaching purposes which we have identified (Mortimer & Scott, 2003) are as follows: 1. Opening up the problem; 2. Exploring and probing students’ views; 3. Introducing and developing the scientific story; 4. Guiding students to work with scientific ideas and supporting internalization; 5. Guiding students to apply, and expand on the use of, the scientific view and handingover responsibility for its use; 6. Maintaining the development of the scientific story. p. 9

The authors have only discussed 3 of their 5 dimensions/aspects of their analytical framework (communicative approach, interaction patterns, teaching purposes). ****Consider using this analytical framework to look at WallCology data?***** Might be a good idea to get their book... p. 9

This list of purposes was developed both from our observations of science lessons in which there were significant and substantive interactions between teacher and students, and from the basic tenets of the Vygotskyan perspective on teaching and learning (see Mortimer & Scott, 2003). p. 9


the aim of the analysis presented in this paper is to explore how shifts between authoritative and dialogic approaches might evolve as a teaching sequence proceeds. p. 9

we therefore present four teaching and learning episodes taken from a teaching sequence in a Brazilian school with students aged 14 – 15 years, along with an analysis of each in terms of communicative approach, patterns of interaction, and teaching purposes. p. 9

In presenting the episodes, we decided to refine the original transcripts by leaving out the technical marks and adding punctuation for the pauses and interrogative intonations. We have also left out some turns of speech which were not relevant to the theme under discussion, since they referred to issues of classroom organization and maintenance of discipline. p. 10

Episode 1----You Must Justify Your Ideas p. 10

This episode took place during the first lesson of the teaching sequence. An initial activity involved students immersing one hand in cold water and the other in warm water before plunging them both into a tank of water at room temperature. p. 10

purpose of the activity was to show the limitations of the senses in monitoring temperature p. 10

During the group work the teacher noticed that students were talking about what was happening in various different ways. p. 10

subsequent whole-class discussion the teacher encouraged the students to explain what they meant by “heat” and “temperature” in the context of this activity. p. 10

Throughout this episode, the teacher adopts a neutral stance in not offering evaluative comments. She prompts the students to present their ideas and asks for elaboration and justification of points of view. She also helps the students to recognize the existence of different possible interpretations of the phenomenon. p. 11

Communicative Approach and Teaching Purpose. p. 11

neutral stance p. 11

In this way an interactive/dialogic communicative approach is developed by the teacher and the “two kinds of heat” idea, is foregrounded as a theme to be returned to. p. 11

With regard to teaching purpose, the interactive–dialogic approach is consistent with the purpose of exploring and probing students’ views of heat and temperature, prior to any teaching on this topic. p. 11

The teacher starts with a question: “How do you explain this? What happens when we feel hot and cold?” [Initiation] Student 2’s reply “Maybe the temperature of water passes to the hand when we put in the water” [Response] is followed by a request for elaboration by the teacher, “What passes to your hand?” [Prompt]. Student 2 restates her idea, and the teacher foregrounds the answer by repeating it, “The temperature?” and opens up debate by asking the whole class “Do you agree with that?” p. 11

Pattern of Interaction. p. 11

his questioning was to prompt students’ elaboration and justification of their ideas rather than to evaluate those ideas. p. 11

Since the students do not modify their p. 11

answers when the teacher responds with these questions, we can assume that they have also interpreted the teacher’s questioning as a prompt rather than an evaluation. p. 12

In fact the teacher makes successive prompt moves, with requests for elaboration (turns 7, 12, 15, 33 and 36), and without (turns 17 and 30), to encourage the students to engage in the debate. In some of these interventions the teacher simply “bounces-back” the student’s words: “Heat change. What’s that? Can you explain please?” (turn 7). In this way he encourages the student to continue and thereby acts to sustain the interaction. At other points, the teacher stresses the existence of different accounts for the same phenomenon and the consequent need to justify personal ideas: “Please Student 7, explain again, because when you were saying hot and cold heat I saw someone looking surprised” (turn 36) p. 12

At the beginning of this episode, the contributions from the students are relatively short and strongly connected to the teacher’s feedback, but then become longer after turn 14. This change provides evidence of the increasing engagement of the students in the construction of the arguments as the lesson proceeds. p. 12

We also observe the I-Rs1-Rs2-Rs3- pattern, referred to earlier, in this episode. p. 12

In this way the teacher uses open chains of interaction (generally with no evaluative feedback) to support an interactive – dialogic communicative approach, with a clear purpose of exploring and probing students’ views. By adopting an interactive – dialogic communicative approach, the teacher sets an appropriate climate for “productive disciplinary engagement” (Engle & Conant, 2002), which becomes apparent as a significant proportion of the class become involved in making substantive (and passionate!) contributions to the discussion (thereby addressing the teaching purpose of opening up the problem). Such is the level of involvement that the teacher is eventually forced to intervene and to call the discussion to a close. p. 12

Episode 2: Examining Ideas of Cold and Hot Heat p. 12

This episode took place during the next lesson of the teaching sequence. In this lesson the teacher had organized a small-group activity to address explicitly the idea, from the first lesson, that there are two kinds of heat. The activity entitled “Can cold be hot?” involved preparing a system (ice chips with salt) which is colder than melting ice and observing what happens to the reading of a thermometer when it is moved from a beaker containing ice and salt to one with melting ice. The reading of the thermometer actually goes up as it is placed in the melting ice. The episode starts (on completion of the activity) with a whole-class review of the question that had arisen in the previous discussions: p. 12

Here the teacher returns to the idea, introduced by Student 7 in Episode 1, that it is possible to have two kinds of heat, both hot and cold. The teacher starts by referring to the historical origins of this idea and makes the link to the students’ commonsense ideas. She then refers to the findings of the earlier practical activity and challenges the “two kinds of heat view,” giving support to the scientific perspective that “cold and hot are relative ideas.” p. 13

Communicative Approach and Teaching Purpose. p. 13

Hence, initially, the teacher adopts a noninteractive/dialogic communicative approach as she reminds the class of the ideas from the first lesson, comparing and contrasting points of view. The teacher’s discourse takes the form of a rhetorical presentation (Billig, 1996), as she brings together different sides of an issue to be debated and thereby reminds the students of the “state of play” of the ongoing classroom talk. p. 13

once the teacher acknowledges and positively appraises the “two kinds of heat” point of view (by making a link to historical perspectives and to the physical sensations of hot and cold) she introduces the scientific perspective. In other words, there is a clear movement toward the authoritative pole of the dialogic/authoritative dimension. p. 13

Episode 2 thus constitutes one turning point in the flow of discourse of this lesson sequence as the teacher brings together everyday and scientific views and makes an authoritative case for the scientific view that there are not two kinds of heat p. 13

the noninteractive/authoritative argument that the teacher develops is based on the shared outcomes of this activity. At this point, the teacher is doing all of the talking and it would certainly be wrong to assume that all of the students in the class have taken on the scientific view. Nevertheless, in subsequent small group and whole-class discussions, there are many opportunities for students to articulate their developing ideas about heat, and the two kinds of heat idea is not raised again, by teacher or students. p. 13

the sequencing of approaches taken in Episodes 1 and 2 enabled the direct juxtaposition of everyday and scientific views, and we believe that this is of fundamental importance in supporting meaningful learning by students. Thus the students have the opportunity to position the authoritative discourse of the disciplinary knowledge in relation to their everyday views and in so-doing we believe that they are better placed to appropriate this discourse and to make it their own. In simple terms, the students are better placed to see how the different ideas fit together p. 13

Drawing on the ideas of Engle and Conant (2002), the teaching approach taken here requires that the students are accountable to the views of others and to disciplinary norms and encourages students to take ownership of the scientific point of view, thereby encouraging productive disciplinary engagement. p. 13

Episode 3: What’s Going on Between the Ice and Thermometer? p. 14

This episode took place during the same whole-class review of Episode 2, staged after the small-group activity “Can cold be hot?” During the activity, the teacher had talked with the groups of students, emphasizing amongst other things that a process of “heat transfer’ (one way) rather than “heat exchange” (two ways) was taking place. The students had already been introduced to the particulate theory of matter, but not in the context of thermal phenomena. In the whole-class discussion, the teacher starts by asking the different groups to explain why the thermometer reading goes up when it is moved from one beaker to the other. p. 14

The purpose of this whole-class review was for the teacher to guide the students to work with scientific ideas and to support internalization as they considered the process of heat transfer from the ice – water mix to the thermometer, after the thermometer was switched between beakers. p. 14

Communicative Approach and Teaching Purpose. p. 14

Consistent with the teaching purpose for this phase of the lesson, the students were not being asked to present their own ideas or beliefs about a phenomenon but to articulate the p. 14

scientific point of view with support and guidance from the teacher. Furthermore it is clear from the students’ responses that they understood what was being asked of them. In this way the episode sees the teacher checking student understandings and the discourse is firmly (and authoritatively) centered on the school science point of view. There is no interanimation of ideas here as the one contrary view (expressed by Student 1) is ignored. This episode is thereby played out through an interactive/authoritative communicative approach as the teacher addresses her purpose of guiding students to work with scientific ideas and supporting internalization, by probing the students’ understandings of the taught school science point of view. There is clear evidence that the students are in process of making the authoritative scientific point of view their own, as they offer complete utterances in explaining that there is heat transfer between the melting ice and the thermometer (Student 2 in turn 6, Student 3 in turn 12, and Student 4 in turn 16). p. 15

Short, closed chains of interaction I-R-P-R-(E ) are repeated strikingly throughout the episode within turns 1–5, 5–8, 9–12, and 13–16. The interesting point here is that within these chains the final evaluation (E) from the teacher appears to be missing. p. 15

Pattern of Interaction. p. 15

Although there was no direct evaluation from the teacher throughout the episode, we can infer from a set of contextualization cues visible in the video that evaluation and confirmation of the science point of view were taking place. These contextualization cues include kinesic shifts (related to body movement), proxemic shifts (related to the interpersonal distance between speakers), prosodic shifts (changes in voice, intonation and pitch), and register shifts (Green & Wallat, 1979; Gumperz, 1992). It is also evident, from the video, that the students were absolutely clear that the responses from Students 2–4 were being positively evaluated by the teacher. p. 15

The teacher’s intention was to check the students’ understandings of the school science point of view. The “understated” evaluation responses from the teacher are consistent with the students providing acceptable responses. p. 15

The interactions of this episode are therefore not to be mistaken for an interactive – dialogic communicative approach where the absence of evaluation by the teacher points toward a teaching purpose of exploring the students’ own ideas. p. 15

Episode 4----What’s Happening in the Thermometer? p. 15

This episode took place in a whole-class format, in the same sequence of talk as Episode 3, and illustrates how authoritative discourse can develop into dialogic discourse whilst still focusing on school science content. p. 15

numbering of turns follows on from Episode 3, thus between the end of Episode 3 and the beginning of Episode 4, 21 turns of speech are not presented. p. 15

In turn 43, the teacher takes back control and checks the students’ understandings by posing the question, p. 16

A student responds correctly (turn 44), and the teacher follows up with a further question. At this point, it looks as though the interactions are returning to an authoritative pattern driven by the teacher. p. 16

So we see an interesting transition from Episode 3 to Episode 4 as the teacher slackens his control and the students (in turns 39, 40, 42, 46, 47) independently offer po p. 16

and there is a genuine interanimation of ideas. p. 17

Whilst Episode 3 involves an interactive– authoritative communicative approach where the students simply respond to the teacher’s questions, Episode 4 sees the development of a dialogic pattern of communication in which the students begin to pose their own questions, problematizing the scientific themes of the teaching sequence for themselves p. 17

There is an important difference between the dialogic communicative approaches of Episodes 1 and 4, in that in Episode 1 the students were making their everyday views explicit whilst here the students are trying to use their newly learned scientific ideas to deal with problems posed by themselves. p. 17

the movement in Episode 4 is from an authoritative to a dialogic communicative approach, which is in a reverse direction to that of Episode 2. This demonstrates that the tension between dialogic and authoritative discourse can occur in either direction (generating a move from dialogic to authoritative discourse or vice versa). p. 17

Pattern of Interaction. p. 17

Overall for this episode, the pattern of interaction follows the kind of chains of interactions, with students independently making contributions, which is consistent with an interactive/dialogic communicative approach. p. 17

Here we see students assuming the role of “knower” (Candela, 1999), as they support their knowledge claims and generate fresh interactions. An interesting point here is that the direction of development of the content of the discourse is not only influenced by the teacher but also by the contributions of the students. In this way, Episode 4 shows evidence of the productive disciplinary engagement (Engle & Conant, 2002) of students. They are able to present substantial arguments not only in answering the teacher’s question but also in posing their own questions and their own hypotheses. p. 17


central theme of the paper which is the tension between authoritative and dialogic interactions in the science classroom. p. 17

links to the existing literature on “productive disciplinary engagement” (Engle & Conant, 2002) in science lessons. p. 17

we explore some general methodological implications for the use of the analytical framework and specify criteria to be used in identifying authoritative and dialogic communicative approaches. p. 17

The Tension Between Authoritative and Dialogic Interactions in Science Teaching p. 17

The analysis which we have presented in this paper shows a series of shifts in communicative approach from an interactive/dialogic approach p. 17

Shifts in Communicative Approach. p. 17

in Episode 1, to a noninteractive/dialogic approach in the first half of Episode 2 and to a noninteractive/authoritative approach in the second half of Episode 2. Thus in Episode 1 the teacher provided the opportunity for students to talk through their existing ideas about “what happens when we feel hot and cold.” In Episode 2, the teacher first drew attention to the “two kinds of heat” idea before moving on to state authoritatively that cold and hot are relative ideas and that there is only one kind of heat. As the teacher worked with the class to consolidate the scientific idea of heat transfer in Episode 3 the communicative approach was predominantly interactive/authoritative, but in the same sequence of talk we identified a shift to an interactive/dialogic approach (Episode 4), as the teacher followed the lead of the students in discussing the sensitivity of thermometers. p. 18

Through this form of analysis we begin to see the ways in which dialogic and authoritative approaches are intimately connected and how a tension thereby exists between the two. p. 18

The fact of the matter is that science is an authoritative discourse which offers a structured view of the world and it is not possible to appropriate the tools of scientific reasoning without guidance and assistance p. 18

Learning science, as well as training professional scientists, inevitably involves acquiring the tools of “normal science” (Kuhn, 1962), and the canonical ways of reasoning in science (Anderson, Holland, & Palinscar, 1997) p. 18

For the teacher in this lesson sequence (and any other science teacher), it is not sufficient to engage students in dialogue about their everyday views of phenomena; there is the additional and central responsibility of introducing the science perspective. p. 18

“why bother with the initial dialogic approaches if the teacher is bound ultimately to introduce the authoritative science view?” p. 18

fundamental idea here is that meaningful learning involves making connections between ways of thinking and talking, in this case between everyday and scientific views of basic thermal phenomena. p. 18

The initial dialogic approaches offer the opportunity for students to express their everyday views and then later to see how these views relate to the science perspective p. 18

dialogic engagement is potentially motivating of students (as seen in Episode 1), drawing them into the problem at hand, and legitimizing their expression of whatever ways of talking and thinking they possess. p. 18

the initial dialogic approaches address the teaching purposes of “opening up the problem” for the students and allowing the teacher to “explore and probe students’ views.” p. 18

It is important that students have the opportunity both to make explicit their everyday ideas at the start of a teaching sequence (as in Episode 1) and to apply and explore newly learned scientific ideas through talk and other action for themselves (as in Episode 4) p. 18

We would argue strongly that if we expect students to engage in meaningful learning in the science classroom, they should be allowed to play with the “sharply demarcated” (Bakhtin, 1981) authoritative discourse of science in new situations, expanding its possibilities for application, making links to other areas of science, and constructing meanings that are new for them. Students need to engage in the dialogic process of exploring and working on ideas, with a high level of interanimation, within the context of the scientific point of view. p. 18

In these ways, we see transitions between dialogic and authoritative interactions as being fundamental to supporting meaningful learning of disciplinary knowledge as different teaching purposes are addressed (Aguiar & Mortimer, 2003). Thus, now the teacher encourages dialogic discourse to probe students’ everyday views; later she adopts an authoritative approach to introduce the scientific point of view; then she prompts dialogic discourse as she encourages students to explore and apply the scientific view, and so the shifts in communicative approach continue throughout the sequence of lessons. p. 19

The analysis developed here puts special emphasis on the teacher’s role in orchestrating the classroom discourse, but we also consider the students’ perspectives, as individuals socially engaged in specific cultural settings, with all their inherent diversity and conflict (Caravita & Hallen, 1994). p. 19

Thus, the communicative approach cannot always be mapped out in advance by the teacher, since the direction of development of lessons must be consequent upon (for the responsive teacher at least) the interests and concerns of the students. p. 19

This is how our teachers "plan" as well! p. 19

The tension which we refer to in this article develops as dialogic exploration of both everyday and scientific views requires resolution through authoritative guidance by the teacher. Conversely the tension develops as authoritative statements by the teacher demand dialogic exploration by students. p. 19

So, both dialogicity and authoritativeness contain the seed of their opposite pole in the dimension, and in this way we see the dimension as tensioned and dialectic, rather than as being an exclusive dichotomy. p. 19

This is what my 4R's cycle of orchestration is about as well, but I'm not representing this well enough presently. p. 19

Following these ideas, we see teaching for meaningful learning in terms of a progressive shifting between authoritative and dialogic passages, with each giving rise to the other. p. 19

The Challenge for the Teacher. p. 19

A further point concerns the knowledge bases which need to be drawn upon to engage fluently in dialogic interactions with students. Here, it is not just a question of knowing and understanding some science, but the teacher also needs to have insights into the kinds of everyday ways of talking which students are likely to bring to their lesson and, crucially, know how to respond to those everyday ideas in attempting to move along the students’ ways of talking and thinking. p. 19

There is also the “know-how” of being able to engage students in dialogic interactions and to see how these differ from authoritative interactions. Our experiences of using the communicative approach framework with teachers, in both preservice and inservice professional development contexts, is that very often they confuse dialogic teaching with interactive/authoritative approaches. Thus the teacher engages students in lots of interaction and turn taking but these are authoritative in nature as the teacher focuses attention on the scientific point of view, ignoring contributions from students which are not consistent with that view. p. 20

Our experience has been that teachers, once provided with the theoretical tools, are quick to see the links between an authoritative communicative approach and triadic patterns of discourse and furthermore recognize the possibilities of an alternative dialogic approach based on chains of discourse. p. 20

The crucial first step is to provide the tools which allow teachers to reflect upon and then modify their classroom practices. p. 20

A common, and absolutely understandable point of view, is that the teacher cannot afford to spend lots of time in listening to what their students have to say. We believe that the key to dealing with this issue is to identify those parts of the curriculum where dialogic discourse will be important, simply because there are big conceptual gaps between everyday and scientific points of view. The fact is that some parts of the science curriculum make bigger learning demands (Leach & Scott, 2002) than others, and it is in the areas of big demand where time needs to be spent in comparing and contrasting points of view. p. 20

teaching decisions to open-up or close-down instruction in a dialogic or authoritative way must relate to the content matter being taught, and in particular to the degree of difference between everyday and scientific views. p. 20

At present, there is a limited body of evidence to suggest that shifts in communicative approach can have a positive impact on measured student-learning outcomes in relation to science concepts (see Leach, Ametller, Lewis, & Scott, 2005). A more significant body of evidence is provided by the kinds of transcripts which are presented in this paper and which illustrate the quality of engagement of the students and their ability to talk the scientific discourse in the classroom p. 20

relating to the theme of productive disciplinary engagement. p. 20

Shifts in Communicative Approach and Productive Disciplinary Engagement. p. 20

In the teaching sequence, the lessons were designed to encourage student involvement by engaging them in tasks that were mediated by classroom talk with their peers and the teacher. In this sense, the lessons exhibit a participant structure that was intended to assure “productive disciplinary engagement” of the students, although the four principles advanced by Engle and Conant (2002) were articulated in a particular way that resembles more the Japanese hypothesis–experiment–instruction method (Hatano & Inagaki, 1991, quoted in Engle & Conant, 2002) than the American learning through inquiry projects (e.g., the Fostering Communities of Learners (FCL), Brown & Compione, 1994). p. 21

Engle and Conant suggest four principles for fostering productive disciplinary engagement: problematizing content, giving students authority, holding students accountable to others and to disciplinary norms, and providing relevant resources. How are these principles manifested in the teaching sequence presented here? p. 21

In relation to problematizing content, the teacher acted during the dialogic phases to encourage student questions, proposals, and challenges rather than just expecting answers and assimilation of facts and procedures p. 21

Right from the start of the lesson sequence, the students were given the authority to develop their own hypotheses in the context of working in small groups and to report their ideas back to the whole class. p. 21

Throughout the lessons there is the expectation that students should take account of the views of others and also provide reasons and evidence for their claims (attending to disciplinary norms) p. 21

for these lessons relevant resources include the well-designed activities and texts used to facilitate the emergence of the students’ ways of thinking about heat and temperature and their subsequent evolution. Time is another important resource, as the students are invited to engage with and talk through several activities developing explanations for the phenomena they observed. p. 21

we believe that the notion of shifting between communicative approaches provides a useful and complementary way of thinking through and identifying what might be involved in productive disciplinary engagement in science classes. p. 21

An Approach to Discourse Analysis: Methodological Issues p. 21

we, first of all, try to get a sense of the overall flow of discourse through a sequence of lessons p. 21

Taking an Overview. p. 21

if we want to develop an understanding of the way in which the discourse develops through a specific teaching sequence then it is essential to have an overview of how the constituent events fit together moving forwards and backwards in time. p. 22

In this way, our analysis of the discourse of science lessons involves an iterative process of moving backwards and forwards through time, trying to make sense of the episodes as a linked chain of interactions. p. 22

the need to consider a whole set of contextualization cues, and not only verbal language, in deciding on the nature of the discursive interactions p. 22

sometimes we must look beyond verbal interactions to identify patterns of discourse, taking the discursive act as a whole and including all contextualization cues. p. 22

Gee (1999) makes the distinction between analyses of interactions which focus exclusively upon talk (referring to these as “discourse analyses”) and those which also take into account other modes of communication (referring to these as “Discourse analyses”). In Episode 3 the importance of considering the “whole act” (the Discourse with the capital D) is clearly apparent. p. 22

Units of Analysis. p. 22

these lessons are part of sequences that correspond to larger units of the school science curriculum. If we move down, the lessons (at least in the data presented here) are divided into a set of interlinking activities, which is normally planned in advance. These activities themselves are divided into a set of episodes which mark out different phases of the lesson. p. 22

How do we identify episodes? The central idea here is that each episode addresses a specific teaching purpose and, as argued earlier, the teaching purpose is played out with one particular, or a related set of, communicative approaches and underlying patterns of interaction. p. 22

Thus we identify the boundary between episodes by looking for changes in teaching purpose. p. 22

we cannot classify a single utterance as being dialogic or authoritative. This is a criterion that applies to a number of utterances that constitute an episode of meaning making. p. 23

classification of an episode involves examining the broader picture that is being constructed in a sequence of lessons, as different teaching purposes are addressed. p. 23

Operationalizing the Concepts of Authoritative and Dialogic Discourse. p. 23

we have developed the following comparison (see Table 4) of the key features of authoritative and dialogic discourse, in the context of school science teaching p. 23

we see the two forms of discourse not in terms of a dichotomy but as a tensioned and dialectic dimension such that one form of discourse gives rise to the other in supporting meaningful learning. p. 23

Contexts for Applying the Framework. p. 23

our focus has been on science concept learning and the evolution in students’ reasoning from everyday to scientific views. Furthermore, all four episodes involved teacher-led lessons. This was not by chance. p. 23

the analytical framework (Mortimer & Scott, 2003) was developed to analyze the speech genre (Bakhtin, 1986) of science classrooms and, in particular, the ways in which the teacher acts to guide meaning making interactions on the social plane of high school science classrooms. The five linked aspects of the framework were created mainly by focusing on the teacher’s performance. p. 23

the framework can also be applied to analyze student – student interactions as the students can take on different roles in the classroom, including that of “teacher.” p. 23

We have also used the framework to analyze students’ questions (Aguiar, Mortimer, & Scott, 2005) and students’ engagement in practical activities. p. 23

we can conclude that the framework can be applied to analyze both teacher-led lessons and student–student interactions, albeit it in lessons in which the participant structure is open enough to allow students to have a real role in the development of the teaching sequence. p. 23

Related to content, our emphasis in the use of the framework continues to be on teaching scientific concepts p. 23

Although we recognize the importance of the epistemic dimensions of classroom talk and also of more open participant structure classrooms that emerge in p. 23

inquiry-based learning environments where authentic controversy and opened problem solving take place, we believe that there is still work to be done in developing tools to help us understand more clearly how conceptual understandings develop through language and other modes of communication. p. 24


In reflecting, in more general terms, upon the value of this approach to discourse analysis we are reminded of the criteria which Gee (1999) lists to establish the validity of such analyses. These criteria include the notions of agreement, coverage, and linguistic details. p. 25

In relation to “coverage,” Gee (1999, p. 95) argues that “the analysis is more valid, the more it can be applied to related sorts of data” and “this includes being able to make sense of what has come before and after the situation being analyzed.” We believe that our approach to discourse analysis meets this criterion of coverage p. 25

In respect to “linguistic details,” Gee (1999, p. 95) states that “the analysis is more valid the more it is tightly tied to details of linguistic structure.” He further suggests that part of what makes a discourse analysis valid is that “the analyst is able to argue that the communicative functions being uncovered in the analysis are linked to grammatical devices that manifestly can and do serve these functions.” We believe that our approach to discourse analysis meets this criterion of validity insofar as we are able to make the link from patterns of interaction to classes of communicative approach and then to teaching purposes. p. 25

according to the concept of “agreement,” Gee (1999, p. 95) maintains that the analysis is more valid or convincing, “the more native speakers of the social languages in the data and the members of the Discourses implicated in the data agree that the analysis reflects how such social languages actually can function in such settings.” Once again, we believe that our analysis meets this criterion and have evidence of this through our widespread professional development work (preservice and in-service) with science teachers. In particular, we believe that our analyses are pitched at a level of detail which resonates strongly with the practices and activities of real teachers and students in real classrooms. p. 25