Literacy in Learning Science: A Vygotskian Approach

Project Number
OER 07/09 HS

Project Duration
October 2009 - February 2012


The purpose of this research project is to study literacy in learning science from a Vygotskian, holistic perspective. Literacy in science is often treated as the problem of texts, numbers, and other forms of scientific representations that are separated from a cultural activity that generates, interprets, and transforms them. However, previous studies from sociocultural and cultural-historical perspectives point out the central role of the performative (practice) dimension to human knowing, the dynamic development of communication, and therefore the development of scientific thinking. This research project studies the development of science literacy and the intertwined development of scientific thinking in different settings of learning science. The following three aspects articulate the advantages of a Vygotskian, holistic perspective in theorizing literacy. First, a Vygotskian, holistic approach takes as its unit of analysis the practical literacy that real human beings perform in concrete situations (i.e., praxis). Second, this praxis-centred approach leads to the central dynamic of literacy development in the cultural nature of talking (communicating) science—i.e., the mutually constitutive (dialectic) relation between individual and collective. Third, the praxis-centred framework, because of its concern with Vygotskian “word meaning,” allows theorizing literacy in unity of cognition and emotion. Scientific practice is distinguished from others because of the use of different types of scientific representations and the competency required for interacting with them. Therefore, the main phenomenon of interest for this research project comprises concrete instances of literacy, for example, those at which some artifacts (e.g., lab equipments, computer interfaces, materials, and scientific representations such as graph) are mobilized and become known to a group of participants. As part of this project, a science curriculum unit is designed to increase the collaborative social/linguistic interaction among students and teachers in various school and out-of-school settings. The principal investigator and the research team members collaborates with schoolteachers who want to improve classroom practice and student achievement in science literacy, scientific thinking. Data sources are created and analyzed through qualitative methods, particularly with the methods of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis. The results of this research project are expected to articulate the generative, real dynamic by which literacy develops in learning science. Therefore, this research projects contributes to develop resources (theories, exemplars) that students and teachers can depend on to improve teaching and learning in the real settings.

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