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A Multiple Perspective Analysis of the

Role of Language in Inquiry Science Learning:

To Build a Tower

Michael Kamen
Auburn University
Wolff-Michael Roth
University of Victoria
Lawrence B. Flick
Oregon State University
Bonnie Shapiro
University of Calgary
Laura Barden
Western Illinois University
Elizabeth Kean
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Stephen Marble
Southwest Educational Development Lab
Jay Lemke
City University of New York


    The role of language in science learning is coming into focus for science education researchers from a number of perspectives. With a constructivist paradigm dominating the field, language is being explored for its role in facilitating and assessing learning and in understanding complex interactions related to science teaching and learning. Science education standards at national and state levels have an increased emphasis on meaningful discussions between students. The National Science Education Standards (1996) includes a statement that teachers should "orchestrate discourse among students about scientific ideas."

    Discourse is a highly complex phenomenon that requires multiple perspectives to understand. Jay Lemke(1995c) discusses the variety of approaches that can be involved in trying to understand language.

    "To study the role of language in science learning, researchers need access to a variety of tools and conceptual perspectives on language itself. Language can be conceptualized as a purely formal system of syntactic and semantic units, or as a system of resources for making meaning in context, an aspect of human social behavior, a communicative code, a mediational means in activity, a form of cultural capital, a tool for social action, a semiotic system, etc. We can study it analytically, developmentally, historically, interactively, socially, psychologically, culturally, comparatively, dynamically, politically, philosophically, educationally, and even biologically and physically. Each of these perspectives produces tools and research methods that may be of use in analyzing and interpreting particular kinds of data on science learning." (p. 2)

    The role that language plays in the science classroom is not simple, and there are numerous ways in which the interaction between language and learning is important to the classroom teacher. Teachers encourage children to use language for both learning and assessment. Authentic assessment advocates make claims that these language-based assessment strategies help to give teachers a more complete picture of what children understand (Kamen, 1996), that linguistic demands of assessment can put some students at a disadvantage (Rudner, 1993), and there is a need to allow children to find a variety of ways to express their thoughts. (Hein & Price, 1994)

    In addition to exploring how language facilitates learning, it is important to understand ways in which language may be a barrier to understanding. Osborne and Freyberg (1985) discuss problems created by the different meanings that children and adults may have for specific words. Science teachers must be very careful with their assumptions about how students are understanding words. This is further complicated by the increasing linguistic diversity in classrooms.

    As children are given increasing opportunities to talk during science class, there is a corresponding increase in focus on the importance of the role of language in science learning and an on-going need to explore and understand it from a variety of perspectives. The issues that surround research on language and learning are complex.

    As researchers explore the role of language in science learning it is important to go beyond teacher-student discourse and to learn from the interactions between students.

    "In classrooms where science is effectively taught, important learning is often forged from verbal negotiations as well as from evidence and experience....The teacher has traditionally been the focus of research by focusing on the language of questioning and student responses. However, interest in the role of language in teaching has grown beyond teacher-directed discourse to include student discourse in small groups as well as teacher-student interactions in a wide variety of contexts." (Flick, 1995, p. 10)

    This paper, by opening a window onto a variety of techniques, methods, and approaches to the analysis of one short discussion between several elementary students, presents the opportunity to continue and enhance the dialogue about ways to research and understand children's discourse during science activities.

Background and Context

    The 1993 annual conference of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching included two scheduled times for participants interested in the role of language in science learning to meet for open discussions. A special interest group focusing on the role of language in science learning formed from those meetings. Several members of the group presented a session at the 1994 conference in which they each discussed the role of language in a videotaped 12-minute teaching episode. This paper is a continuation of the effort to bring a number of researchers together to analyze the role of language in a specific classroom learning segment.

    The purpose of this paper is to clarify issues relating to the interaction between language and science learning and to relate these issues to different theoretical perspectives. From this "discourse about discourse" the authors hope to identify and share avenues for further research, including methodological approaches and implications for the classroom teacher.

    The researchers examined a two-and-one-half minute videotape of three boys constructing a tower of plastic drinking straws as part of a unit called "Engineering for Children: Structures" which was presented in a mixed fourth- and fifth-grade class. The structure had to meet certain specifications, some of which were student determined, such as supporting a ball, having a moving elevator, and, in this case, being earthquake-proof. Students worked in small groups to complete the project during two 90-minute class periods each week. The students were in a French immersion class, although English, their native language, was used during these lessons. The unit was designed to engage the children in collaborative, open-ended, problem-solving engineering tasks while introducing science concepts and promoting positive attitudes toward science and technology (Roth, W-M, 1995).

    Each researcher analyzed the videotape (focus segment) from his or her own theoretical and methodological perspective. The videotape and a transcript were distributed to the researchers. The researchers were also provided with a rough, post-focus transcript which included about 50 additional statements that followed the videotaped segment (not included).

    Presenting eight theoretical perspectives in one paper runs the danger of being somewhat unwieldy. There is a natural desire to want more context as the transcript and analyses are read. More context would be required if the purpose of this paper was to understand the focus segment from one perspective or for a specific purpose. Except for what can be learned from watching a videotape rather than reading a transcript, most of the authors did not have any more context than is provided here. This was a frustration for some, as it limited what could be analyzed and concluded. However, this limitation helped to clarify differences in what is needed to explore the meaning of elementary students' discourse from different perspectives.

The Video Segment

    Three boys formed a group and decided to build an earthquake-proof building. Pseudonyms were assigned to each student in the video. "Simon" and "Andy" sit on opposite sides of a table with "Tim" at the far end between them. "Sam" visits the table for a short time. The following transcript is a composite of the original transcript and several researchers' additions and changes. The analysis techniques of some of the researchers required these additional details. For example, some of the researchers' procedures included tracking movements of students or describing students' tone and facial expressions. It is divided into a pre-focus segment and a focus segment. The focus segment is the center of each detailed analysis. The segment highlighted was not unique, but it contains a rich variety of interactions in a short period of time and therefore lends itself well to this project.

Composite Transcript

Pre-focus Segment
1. Simon: [Reaches across and gets some assembled straws and starts taking them apart to redo] 

2. Andy: [Works on the base] 

3. Tim: [working on the top piece (cone) reaches across table for a pin] 

4. Tim: Ouch! [pokes himself with the pin]

5. Tim: I'm making the....[reaches to try cone top on top of the base. Then drops a straw onto the floor and the gets down and picks it up] 

6. Simon: Why didn't you put supports here, Andy? 

7. Andy: What? 

8. Simon: You need to put supports here. 

9. Tim: I'm just about to finish the cone top. 

10. Simon: Ok but we still can't use it yet. 

11. Tim: We can use this cone top. 

12. Simon: Not yet though. 

13. Tim: I know. 

14. Simon: Okay, we have--almost finished the assembly [the piece he has been working on to attach to the base]. 

15. Simon: [Makes a devilish laugh] Here is Tim's thing now [holds up straws he has been disassembling--hanging down in pieces--Tim glances at Simon and continues working]. Okay. 

16. Simon: What are you doing, Andy? [as he has spoken, Andy has been placing braces on the base. Simon jumps up.] This won't work. 

17. Sam: [Walks over to table] 

18. Sam: What kind of a thing are you trying to build? 

19. Simon: This won't work [to Andy]. Andy this won't work [shaking his head]. 

20. Tim: An earthquake proof [to Sam]. 

21. Sam: Very Interesting [bends over and says this in false voice. Sam is ignored from here on] 

22. Andy: Why [to Simon]? 

23. Sam: An earthquake proof? 

24. Andy: Why [to Simon]? 

25. Simon [answers by showing that his second piece and the main pieces do not fit together]. 

26. Sam: It should be earthquake proof otherwise it will go bye-bye. 

27. Andy: [Watches, smiles] Oh, yeah [moves

his pieces and changes as Simon has suggested]. 

28. Sam: [Sam leaves] 

29. Simon: Okay, now, Unmungh--get off [takes apart piece he is working on], okay..now, I shall make it again, Tim's thing.

Focus Segment
30. Tim: See, here's the cone top. 

31. Andy: Well, there's a triangle at the bottom [points to Tim's cone top]. 

32. Tim: So? 

33. Andy: That's gonna be hard to put it on [putting hand on top of existing structure; Tim takes pin out of top joint]. 

34. Tim: Don't put it here. [talks simultaneously with Simon] 

35. Simon: Make a pyramid, make a pyramid out of it. A pyramid. 

36. Andy: [Faces and talks to Tim] Cause, look all these are squares--[touches and points around top of existing tower] now. 

37. Tim: Yeah, well then we can just put a few supports like that and put it on. 

38. Andy: No. 

39. Simon: Not really, that is too hard Tim. 

40. Andy: It's too hard. 

41. Tim: No it isn't. 

42. Simon: Yes it is. 

43. Tim: You only...need... 

44. Andy: It won't look good though. 

45. Tim: Yeah, it will. 

46. Andy: No, it won't 

47. Simon It won't work. 

48. Tim: What, you want me to cut it down? 

49. Simon: That would work. 

50. Andy: Just cut down the bottom... 

51. Simon: Just make a pyramid. 

52. Andy: Just cut down the bottom... 

53. Simon: All you have to do is make a pyramid [attempts to address Andy]. 

54. Andy: The top..eh..the bottom needs to be square [Speaking to Tim--pointing to Tim's cone top]. 

55. Tim: Square? 

56. Andy: Cause look, all these are squares [points to and touches the base]. 

57. Tim: I just need one thing to put on. 

58. Tim: It's gonna be a small square. [Simon is working on his own piece, away from the conversation]. 

59. Andy: So we'll make a lot of cubes and make them all smaller. 

60. Tim: Ok you guys get started on that, I'm making this. 

61. Andy: I'm making cubes. 

62. Simon: Make it three layers high, not...[still working on his piece] 

63. Tim: Let's make it sort of like the empire state building.

The following authors each analyzed the above transcript:

Michael Kamen: One Tower--Three Agendas
Wolf-Michael Roth: Emergent Character of Problem Framing and Solving
Lawrence B. Flick: Embedded and Displaced Speech in Learning Science
Bonnie Shapiro: "Cause look, all of these are squares:" Patterns of Language Use and Action
Laura Barden: Profile of Group Interactions using Grounded Theory
Elizabeth (Betsy) Kean: Ganging-up and Capitulation
Stephen Marble: Understanding and Negotiation--More Questions Than Answers
Jay Lemke: Talking Towers, Making Withs

The Analysis

Michael Kamen: One Tower--Three Agendas

    This slice of interaction between three students raises questions and invites inquiry in a number of areas. A first reaction is to want to know more. Who are the players? What are their goals? How was this activity introduced? Analyzing the videotape reminds me of gazing into a tide pool along a rocky shore. At first you don't see anything. Yet as you look and spend time getting to know the few square inches in front of you, you begin to realize that it is full of life. As I watch this video, the issues to explore present themselves. Examples include issues relating to leadership and power, negotiation of conflict, how ideas and actions are influenced by others, verbalization and understanding of concepts, and the authenticity of the task and related dialogue.

    Vygotsky's Thought and Language was published some 60 years ago. This book contains a convincing and insightful discussion on the interconnected roles of thought and language. Vygotsky identified cognitive levels of thought and argued that language plays an important role in the movement up this hierarchy. Brenda Lansdown described an instructional model she developed based on Vygotsky's ideas in Teaching Elementary Science through Investigation and Colloquium. This model, the investigation-colloquium method, required children to debate and discuss their investigations in an effort to generate consensus statements about the topic of inquiry. This instructional model promotes meaningful, or authentic, dialogue between children.

    I have previously defined "authentic dialogue" as children engaging in meaningful discussions about concepts. These discussions focus on consensus building, developing explanations, or completing a task that has meaning to the students. The children become evaluators of their own ideas and products (Kamen, 1994).

    The three children shown in this videotape were obviously engaged in the meaningful task of building a tower. They worked steadily through the segment with no discussion about anything except the tower construction. When Sam came over to the table (17-26), his intrusion was all but ignored, even though he was asking questions related to their work.

    Although the children were goal oriented as they progressed with the construction of the tower, there seemed to be a tension between the goal of completing the tower and the social/power interactions involved. Simon assumed a great deal of power in the decision-making process. The stance of each student was illustrated in part by the difference in the number of comments made about each student's work. All three boys talked about Tim's work the most.

    Simon commented about Tim's work 9 times (10,12,35,39,42,47,49,51,53), Andy's work 4 times (6,8,16,19), and gave a general direction once (62). He made progress reports about his own work three times (14,15,29). Andy responded to Simon's questions about Andy's work four times (7,22,24,27) and talked about Tim's work 11 times (31,33,36,38,40,44,46,50,52,54,56). He made one progress report about his own work (61): "I'm making cubes." Tim initiated a comment or responded to questions or statements about his own work 15 times (5,9,11,13,30,32,34,37,41,43,45,48,55,57,58) and made one statement in response to Sam's question (20). He also made two general comments about the work (60,63): "Ok you guys get started on that..." and "Lets make it sort of like the Empire State Building."

    The number of comments made about Tim's work can be explained by the fact that a large portion of the discussion focused on Simon and Andy attempting to convince Tim to change or adapt his work to fit with Simon's and perhaps Andy's ideas of how the tower should be built. The social dynamics between the three children cannot be adequately described from this short segment. However, the way Simon teased Tim while he dismantled Tim's work (15) indicated some negative feelings toward Tim. I suspect that if Simon had constructed a triangular top cone and if Tim was working on a square base, then Simon, with Andy's help, would have convinced Tim to change the base to match the triangle.

    Tim was trying to be included, understand Simon and Andy's image, or get his cone on top of the tower. Meanwhile Andy negotiated with Simon about a shared image and tried to get Tim to understand why the cone top needed to be changed.

    Simon and Andy's comments to Tim to convince him to modify his top cone were very interesting. Words like "pyramid," "triangle," and "square" flowed easily in their conversation. Simon repeatedly asked Tim to make it like a pyramid, but it is unclear if Tim understood what he meant. Andy explained, telling Tim that the "bottom needs to be a square" (54). Tim responded with a questioning word "Square?" (55). Andy explained, "Cause look, all these are squares" (56), and Tim then seemed clear on what to do and preceded to describe the size of the square (58), and a short time later described the tower as being "sort of like the Empire State Building" (63). This short verbal and non-verbal exchange finally helped Tim to understand what the other two boys wanted.

    It is very interesting that Tim's resistance to accepting the other boys' suggestions faded when it was clear that he understood what they meant. Tim must have had a sincere interest in finding out what the other two boys were saying. He was willing to engage in a discussion about his cone top until he knew how to modify it so that it could be part of the final tower. His persistence and desire to understand helped to facilitate this authentic dialogue.

    With the paucity of data one can only guess about the meaning of this activity for each student. However, one possibility was that Tim's primary agenda was to be included, while Simon's was to complete his image of the tower. Andy was somewhere between the two, working and debating with both of his classmates.

    This interaction meets many of the criteria of authentic dialogue. It was meaningful to the students, they were generating consensus, and they were the judges of both the ideas and the product. Yet the concepts being discussed were not science or engineering principles. They were images of what the final product should look like. This analysis is an example of the importance of the social/power relationship between children. Consideration needs to be given to the way such relationships may affect student discussions about science concepts.

Wolf-Michael Roth: Emergent Character of Problem Framing and Solving

    What struck me most in this short excerpt was its emergent character. The students did not appear to "put their heads together" to solve their tower problem; and yet, a close look at the transcript reveals that there were problems posed and resolutions achieved in the absence of a clear task master.

    The three students repeatedly posed problems and proposed resolutions. At first, Tim offered his "cone top" as resolution of a previously posed problem (the missing top). However, Andy turned Tim's tetrahedral cone top into a new problem: the cone top's triangular base did not fit the square ceiling of the current top. Tim rejected Andy's problem on the basis that their real problem was the lack of support beams which would hold up his top. Simon and Andy, rather than accepting Tim's resolution, posed two new problems. First, both suggested that Tim's solution was too difficult to implement (39,40). When Tim disagreed, Andy suggested that the problem as one of aesthetics ("It won't look good then"). They then began to consider various options. Tim proposed to take his top apart followed by Simon who suggested a pyramid which implied a square base corresponding to the existing square basis of all the other modules (53). Tim proposed a minor change to his "cone top" would resolve the problem of the mismatched shapes. However, because the new square base of his top would be mismatched in size to the existing square top, he envisioned a new problem which Andy thought could be resolved by adding several intermediate-sized "cubes." This would give their tower the shape of the Empire State Building.

    I repeatedly used this tape in my graduate research classes. While it was always remarkable how different groups focused on different aspects of the clip, I was struck by the consistency with which many observers considered the episode as an emergent phenomenon. The conversation and its achievements was a group product, a social phenomenon irreducible to individual characteristics. As the conversation evolved, problems and resolutions were posed, accepted, and rejected. In this, I saw a remarkable flexibility not usually associated with younger students; there appeared to be little ego orientation and much concern for producing the emergent tower. Such flexibility in proposing alternate problems and resolutions is an important element of creative engineering firms (Sorensen & Levold, 1992). Rather than accepting existing problem as framed by others, creative engineers try reframe situations until the problem can be envisioned in familiar terms, amenable to familiar resolutions (Schon, 1983).

    The emergent character of the students' work made specific outcomes of these conversations virtually impossible to predict. The students' contingent responses to the previous speaker's utterances led the final products of their collective work into uncharted water. I found that individual differences could not be used to predict the functioning of the group, the dynamics of their interactions, the specific solutions proposed, or the courses of actions which the group would take.

    Over the course of this study, I collected many episodes similar to the present one which led me to question the very ontology of "problems." There were situations which some consider problematic, but others judged entirely unproblematic. Thus, one and the situation had the status of "problem" and "non-problem." For example, Andy suggested that it was too difficult to fit the "cone top" to the lower part of the tower (square top). For Tim, there was no problem for an intermediate layer of straws could be used to connect cone top and existing tower. In this unit, problems where then not out there, but existed in the relationship between individuals or groups and the situation. Resolutions existed in a similar way in the relationship between individuals and groups and their setting. Problems in the present setting (as those in everyday life) were constructed in relation to and by interacting with the setting. Students themselves determined the appropriateness of solutions; they were in control both of problems and resolutions . Because objects, events, and the language used to describe them are inherently subject to interpretative flexibility (Roth, 1995, 1996), situations problematic to some are unproblematic to others. A change in perspective changes a problematic situation into an unproblematic one. Students work in and as a collectivity allowed such multiple perspective which led to conversations such as that discussed here. Problems did not have an ontological a priori status, but were dynamically constructed, deconstructed, resolved, and abandoned. (Interested readers can find elsewhere a detailed analysis and expositions of my perspective on this episode [Roth, 1995] and on the situated character of problem solving by students in this classroom in general [Roth, 1996].)

Lawrence B. Flick: Embedded and Displaced Speech in Learning Science

    In the episode analyzed for this panel, three boys were building components of their tower, the top "cone," the base, and middle units which they called "cubes." The goal appeared to be to construct a tall tower with a pointed top. The three group members, Tim, Andy, and Simon, were cooperating and each seemed to have their own portion of the project. Tim was working on the top cone, Andy had built the base, and Simon was working on the middle cubes. In the two minute episode, the boys were working out the problem of fitting the top cone made with a triangular base on to the base structure whose horizontal cross section was roughly a square.

    The discourse is composed almost entirely of embedded speech, that is speech that depends upon the immediate context for meaning. Britton (1970) distinguished between speech that is used to get things done from speech used for the sheer pleasure of telling. The former is called embedded speech while the latter is called displaced speech which has referents from some other context and some other time which the listener must be able to assume. Teachers or students use speech that is embedded in the classroom context for example to inform, instruct, persuade, argue, and explain. Displaced speech is used for example in make-believe, chatting, story-telling, and gossip.

    Embedded speech dominates most classroom discourse in math and science. Using embedded speech, teachers and students select their thoughts based on the external criteria of the situation, on observations that can be debated, or arguments that can be shown true or false. Displaced speech invites the listener to share like a spectator in the speaker's interest and enjoyment in what is expressed. Using displaced speech, the speaker selects ideas from internal criteria that the speaker finds pleasing or personally interesting.

    Instruction involving hands-on activities relies on embedded speech focused on the characteristics of objects and procedures used to manipulate those objects. Displaced speech in science tends to be theoretical and abstract using "What if'?" questions and conjectures about general cases.

    The discourse appears to be devoid of displaced speech of any kind and is therefore highly focused on the particulars of construction. Tim had made a triangular pyramid and Simon and Andy wanted a rectangular pyramid to fit the surface of the base. Tim offered the solution that "just a few supports" (37) would allow his top cone to fit on the base. His partners disagreed using the reasons "that is too hard," (38-42) "it won't look good then," (44) and "it won't work" (47).

    Tim offers a solution, "What, you want me to cut it down?" (48). His partners agree. Simon, "that would work" (49) and Andy, "cut down the bottom" (50). Simon continues to repeat "just make a pyramid" (51) and Andy repeats "just cut down the bottom" (52).

    A straight forward translation suggests that "cut down" means to "do over." Andy and Simon's reasons for their dissatisfaction with the original cone are never clearly articulated and are expressed with statements that simply say it won't work or it won't look good. One would prefer more discourse on the shapes involved and the effect of a close fit on stability and strength. All this seems to be understood at a non-verbal level. While the emerging structure appears to have a functional shape and purpose, there is little in the way of imaginative thinking beyond the parameters of the project. One could imagine more reflective conjectures "What if we made the base a triangle?" or "How could we fit a triangle and a square together?"

    The above statements are closer to the category of displaced speech (Britton, 1970). Displaced speech in science tends to be theoretical and abstract using "What if'?" questions and conjectures about general cases. Its abstractness often fails to capture the imagination of young people. The displaced speech of science and about science has led teachers to assume that the patterns of nature are easily constructed and always constructed in a particular way given appropriate experience. However, the problem is not in finding the right activity or question but in creating an atmosphere of argument and negotiation among teacher and students concerning what constitutes grounds for evaluating and changing one's understanding.

    The discourse among these boys constitutes negotiation within the specific constraints of an assigned problem. This group focused on the nature of shapes and their relationship to one another in the context of this design problem. Tim was conciliatory and offered at least three opportunities for negotiation, however the movement of ideas was highly constrained by what was perceived to be the one way to build this tower. Presumably later in the session teacher mediation, student sharing of structural designs, and simply taking time away from the project would lead to discourse that allows students to appreciate multiple approaches to building towers. From Britton's point of view, this will require the displaced speech not just of abstract science but of telling stories and chatting about towers where the goal of the discourse is more for the enjoyment of telling than to pursued agreement with or argue particular ideas.

Bonnie Shapiro: "Cause look, all of these are squares:" Patterns of Language Use and Action

    Although it is often agreed, particularly in the development of a constructivist approach to learning (Shapiro, 1994), that opportunities for the use of language in science learning is vital, we have little understanding about how children use language to communicate in small groups. Such insight can suggest ways that we might provide guidance in the development and use of language. The following analysis of a two and one half minute sequence of three boys working on the design and construction of a tower, is an attempt to clarify patterns of language use and action as each individual works to contribute to the success of the group task. Following the presentation of the language sequences and the analyses, I suggest ways that such insight might be helpful to teachers in the design of small group experiences.
Three Uses of Language Forms and Action in the Sequence
    In viewing and reviewing this brief small group interaction I was struck by the complexity of the interplay between the interpersonal and cognitive features of interaction. The three boys in the study attempted to put forward their own individual ideas about tower design while at the same time promoting the task of the group. The activity of building a tower requires both intensive thought and action. Most forms of analysis of language consider only aspects of verbal language as a resource. In the present study, non-verbal language and action forms are also noted as extremely important resources for communication. In this analysis I attempt identify pattern in the ways that each boy uses language and action in the complex interplay between the development of ideas and the social interaction within the group. The boys are challenged to communicate in three ways: 1) In constructing and developing their own ideas, 2) In putting forward personal ideas to other members of the group 3) In working with and taking into account other group members' ideas in the interest of accomplishing the task to be completed by the group.
The Value of A Descriptive System of Analysis
    In the analysis of verbalization and learning, Barnes and Todd (1977) put forward a system describing speech acts that have been useful in the consideration of talk in the sequence. Barnes and Todd analyze the social and cognitive functions of conversation. The entire classification system is too extensive to be completely presented here. There are two levels of functional components of the descriptive system that are useful to present as examples of the categories that the system offers. Level one consists of discourse moves (such as extending, eliciting and responding) and logical processes (such as proposing a cause, advances evidence, negates, evaluates, etc.). Level two is comprised of a) social skills (such as competition and conflict, supportive behavior, etc.); b) cognitive strategies, such as setting up hypotheses, constructing new questions, etc.; c) reflexivity, such as monitoring one's own speed, evaluating one's own and others' performance, etc.
The Presentation of the Transcript and the Analysis
    The transcript is broken up into 4 sequences (A-D) for analysis. A discussion of each sequence focuses upon the pattern of language and action use of one of each of the boys in the development of ideas about the tower, but which also takes into account the social interplay between the boys as they interpret and work with one another's approaches to the group effort. Throughout the video sequence work surrounds a structure that the boys have already built, which I refer to as the "main piece" in the analysis.
Characterizing Individual Pattern in the Use of Language Forms and Action
Sequence A. 1-22 (excluding Sam)
    In this exchange we see the beginning of patterns of verbal interaction and action that are also found elsewhere in the sequence for Simon. Here and elsewhere in the transcript we find that Simon frequently proposes solutions or directions, but less often follows the other boys' lead. Simon is quick and clear in the rejection of Andy's contribution to the construction. Andy asks for reasons for Simon's rejection of his additions. Simon's response is simply that the additions "will not work." Andy persists in asking for clarification, asking for reasons why the group should not proceed with his idea. Simon does not verbally clarify, but instead, shows Andy why he has rejected the idea by demonstrating to him that the pieces will not fit together. This non-verbal explanation is sufficient to convince Andy, who smiles and dismantles the pieces he has put together, an acknowledgment that he now agrees with Simon. In later sequences, we see Simon challenge Tim and Andy's suggestions again. In neither situation does Simon present reasons or offer evidence to help the others understand his assertions. He simple states, "It won't work." The arguments in these sequences then amount to repetitions of "yes it will," "no it won't" rather than clear arguments or positions designed to inform and convince his colleagues. Simon relies more on the strength of his feelings and the firmness of his determined "yes it will," in the attempt to convince his colleagues.

    Simultaneously, the following conversation occurred between Sam and Tim. Sam wandered over from another group occurred at the same time Andy and Simon were engaged in the above exchange. Andy and Simon were so engrossed in their conversation they completely ignored Sam's intrusion.

Sam: Very interesting. What kind of tower are you making?

Tim: Earthquake proof.

Sam: It should be earthquake proof or otherwise it will go bye-bye. (Sam runs off)

Sequence B: 29-36
    In the next sequence we continue to see Andy's pattern of using language extensively to put ideas forward in an attempt to influence the building of the group's tower. Andy notices that the bottom of Tim's cone shape, a triangle, does not match the top of the main piece that is exposed, a set of squares. He expresses this observation to Tim and answers his query as to why this is a problem by both explaining and demonstrating physically how the piece will not fit. Simon does not participate in the explanation, but states clearly to Andy that the group should make the tower into a pyramid. Through continued extensive talk and action Andy is working hard to convince Tim that he should change the shape of the bottom of the cone top. Andy's first appeal to Tim is that it will be too hard to put the two pieces together. He then tries to encourage Tim to see for himself that because his piece has a different shape on the bottom it will not fit on the main piece. Simon sits away from Tim and Andy, pursuing his own direction. Andy uses language extensively to encourage Tim to grasp the logic of the action he suggested.
Sequence C: 37-53
    In this sequence, Tim presents the others with an argument designed to convince his colleagues how they might use supports to make the triangular shape fit onto the square bottom. Simon responds that that would be too hard. Tim rebuts with "No it isn't," and a match of "yes it is, no it isn't" ensues with Simon and Andy arguing against Tim's position. Andy abandons his attempts to reason with Tim, but joins in with Simon and Tim's chanting that it cannot be done. Andy continues to abandon the rational approach by fitting into the to and fro dialogue pattern set by Simon when he argues simply that "it will not look good." Tim finally gives up, breaking the "yes it is, no it isn't" pattern chant that he had begun. Tim starts a new direction in the discussion by requesting permission to pursue a different line. Simon assents to the new direction by stating that it would work, then continues to try to convince Andy to make a pyramid. He does not explain to Tim why his approach is valuable, however, and simply firmly and repeatedly states that the group should make a pyramid.
Sequence D: 54-63
    Now that the chanting has stopped, Andy goes back to his own pattern of attempting to explain to Tim how his cone top needs to be altered in order to fit on the main piece. He both provides an explanation and demonstrates by touching and showing Tim what he means. Tim appears to be convinced to change his design and begins to speak about the squares that he will start making. Andy reinforces the change by reiterating the direction that the group will now take by stating, "So we'll make a lot of cubes..." Tim shows that he is complying with the direction of the group by restating the direction they should go in. Simon moved away to work on his own while Andy continued explaining the problem with the direction that Tim was taking.
The Unique Pattern of Contributions of Each Individual
    In reviewing the sequence and the contributions of each individual to the overall development of the task, I presented analyses of significant differences in the pattern of each person's attempts to put forward their own ideas while at the same time contributing to the formation of the tower.

    Each person has a unique style and pattern in his approach to using language and action to communicate their interest and intention. Each boy's attempt to put forward his ideas about how the structure should proceed had to be mediated through the complex interplay between the other boys' approaches to both the task and to working in the group.

    We see variation in each boy's approach to putting forward an idea or suggestion, supporting an idea with logical arguments or reasons, ways of making requests for information, approaches for persuading others to pursue a particular line of thought, all of which influence the direction and outcome of the activity. In varying degrees the boys worked within the group at times collaboratively, at other times individually. Each boy's way of working contributed not only to the ultimate design of the tower, but the ways that the boys worked to share ideas and interpretations with one another enhanced the experience and allowed the boys to learn through sharing and challenging ideas.

    Simon made frequent suggestions about the way that the task should proceed but did not follow up his ideas with arguments to support or clarify his ideas to the others. In disagreement with others he stood firmly for his position, but did not attempt to help others see his point of view by using language to explain his ideas. Andy spent a great deal of time using language to negotiate and explain his perspective, attempting to help others 'see for themselves' the logic of the action that he proposed. When logic and explanation failed, as in his attempt to persuade Tim that his piece would not fit on the main piece, he retreated to Simon's strategy of holding firmly to his position in the familiar "yes it is, no it isn't" chant pattern. Tim appeared eager to participate in the construction but did not check to see how the part of the tower he wanted to complete, the cone top, fit with the rest of the tower. He had to be brought into the larger process by Andy who asked him to look at how the pieces fit together. At first he was unwilling to collaborate with the group project, wanting the piece to be 'force-fitted' onto the main piece. His approach to resistance also became the 'yes it is, no it isn't' chant pattern. It is not clear if he became convinced of the logic of changing the cone bottom or if he simply felt outnumbered in the resistance to his idea in the end. But he checked with his colleagues at times asking permission to move in a different direction.

Value and Implications of the Analysis
    An important aspect of the value of this analysis is in the development of a deeper awareness for educators and learners of the relationship between the use of language, language forms, action and learning. Despite their distinctly different approaches to the tasks and use of language in the task of building the tower, this small group worked remarkably well together. A close look at what is happening in the small group can provide teachers with a deeper awareness of those features that are naturally effective and those that might be enhanced through the development of strategies for small group work. A review of examples of small group interaction demonstrates the complex interplay between the social and intellectual challenges of tasks such as building a tower. The following insights might help in the work of providing guidance in the development and use of language in small group work. Such analyses will help those who plan and use small group work by helping educators to:

1. Recognize the natural interest of learners in the successful completion of the task before them.

2. Recognize and build on learners' natural interest in group cohesiveness and in working together to achieve success.

3. Help learners value the unique contributions of each group member as well as their varying conceptions of what it means to work collaboratively. Sometimes it is worthwhile to step back from the group then come back for exchange and discussion. Some individuals are be very effective at bridging communication between members of the group.

4. Recognize the importance of helping learners develop language strategies that more clearly share ideas with others by learning to clarify the reasons and logical arguments for moving in one direction or another.

5. Help in the planning of strategies to help students learn to effectively take a position and present reasonable arguments to convince others of the value of their position.

6. Help learners recognize the important ways in which both verbal and non-verbal forms of communication can be used effectively to convey thoughts and feelings to others.

Laura Barden: Profile of Group Interactions using Grounded Theory

    Students' verbal and nonverbal interactions during group work provide a wealth of information concerning the interactions among cognitive, affective, social, and cultural development in learning. The interactions among Tim, Andy, and Simon as they worked together to construct a tower is no exception. The technique used for this analysis was the grounded theory technique. Grounded theory is a process in which data collection, data analysis, and theory building are intricately linked. Through this process, the initial data are analyzed to determine main categories into which the data fit; each category is then subdivided into properties; then each property is dimensionalized. The properties and dimensions describe different aspects of the categories and the range of their occurences (Strauss & Corbin,1990). For example, in the videotape of the three boys, tone of voice was an important property and varied dimensionally from sarcastic to supportive, from hurt to proud, and from confident to not confident depending upon the category of events being examined. Through the theory building process, the data analysis informs the data collection process which in turn may alter the developing theory through analysis of additional data--the process is cyclic. Through using the grounded theory technique, two main types of interactions were identified during the interactions among Tim, Andy, and Simon, both related to the task being completed: (a) task-related verbal interactions and (b) task-related nonverbal actions and interactions. The dimensionalized properties within these two broad interaction types can then be used to develop profiles of group dynamics and to show changes in those dynamics over time. In the final subsection of this section an example profile is developed for Tim based upon the properties described in the next two subsections..
Task-Related Verbal Interactions
    Four categories of verbal interactions were identified through the transcript review: critiquing others work, directing others actions, responding to others critiques, and commenting on one's own work (see Figure 1). For each of these, properties associated with the categories were developed as were dimensions of the different properties. One property shared by all four categories was tone of voice. For the first category, tone of voice varied dimensionally from sarcastic (e.g. Simon telling Tim he could not use his cone top yet) to supportive (e.g. Adam helping Tim recognize the shape of the other sections of the tower). For the second category tone of voice could be dimensionalized from nonsupportive to supportive. In this case, no sarcastic tones were used but some tones were more matter-of-fact while others more supportive. For the third category, tone varied across two dimensions: (a) accepting to argumentative and (b) proud to hurt. Finally, in the fourth category, tone of voice varied from confident to not confident.
Figure 1: Verbal Interactions
    The first three categories included the second property of "type" i.e. type of critique, type of direction, and type of verbal interaction. For the first category, critiquing others work, the property was type of critique and varied along three dimensions: (a) supportive to nonsupportive (i.e. will work to won't work), (b) indirect critique (e.g. Simon mentioning off-handedly that he was redoing Tim's previous work) to direct (e.g. Simon telling Adam his structure would not work), and (c) providing an explanation for the critique to providing no explanation. In the second verbal interaction category, directing someone else's actions, type varied from giving an order to suggesting a change and from providing an explanation to providing no explanation. Responding to other's critiques, the third category, varied by type of verbal reaction. The dimensions included: (a) disagree to agree, (b) explaining ones position (e.g. Tim justifying a triangular bottom to the cone top) to not explaining ones own position, and (c) retaining ones own position to changing position.

    The fourth verbal interaction category, commenting on ones own work, included two properties in addition to the property "tone of voice." The second property was status of task completion which included the dimension from incomplete to complete. The third property was stated plan which varied from having no plan to having a specific plan.

Nonverbal Actions and Interactions
    The focus of this paper is on language in science learning. At face value, nonverbal interactions may seem inappropriate. However, understanding language requires more than understanding the words that are used. Two categories of nonverbal actions and interactions were identified that provided insight into the group dynamics (see Figure 2). The first of these was physical actions. Two subcategories of this category, each having the same properties, were also identified. Those were actions while working alone and actions while working with others. The properties included proximity to partners, proximity to materials, and duration of activity. The first two included the dimension from close to far. The dimension of the third property was from short to long. This could also easily be changed to, say, from 0 seconds to 60 seconds.
Figure 2: Non-Verbal Interactions

    The second category of nonverbal actions and interactions was the subjects' physical reaction to verbal critiques and directions. The first of the two properties was physical movement in relation to the peer, either closer to or farther away. The second property was eye movement and included two dimensions: (a) from toward peer to away from peer and (b) from toward work to away from work.

Uses of Categories: Profile Development
    These categories could be used in a number of ways to extend the data collection and data analysis processes as well as to identify initial patterns that might lead to development of a theory (the limited data set does not provide for full development of a theory). One way the categories described above could be used is in building subject profiles. For example, a profile of Tim might look as follows:

    Tim completes his task and using a tone of confidence tells his peers so. His peers respond in one of two ways. The first is to ignore him. In such cases, Tim goes back to his work. The second response is a peer directly critiquing his work suggesting that it will not work (being nonsupportive), providing no explanation for why it will not work, and using a sarcastic or nonsupportive tone of voice. Tim reacts verbally by disagreeing with the critique, explaining how his work is useful, and retaining his position. The tone Tim uses tends to be somewhat argumentative but varies from being hurt by the comment to neutral. Tim's nonverbal response tends to be one in which he moves and looks away from the peer who made the comment. Sometimes he will look at his work during the interaction and sometimes just away.

    The above pattern occurred during Tim's first interaction with Simon and during his initial interaction with both Simon and Andy regarding the shape of the bottom of the cone top. When Tim's peers reactions differed, were more supportive, his reaction differed as well. Therefore the profile might continue as follows:

    In the case where Tim's peers use a supportive tone and provide an explanation about how the task needs to change, Tim's tone of voice changes to accepting and his reaction changes to that of changing his view, agreeing with the change, no longer trying to explain/defend his position.

    Similar profiles might be developed for Tim over a number of days of data collection, given a number of different types of tasks. From such profiles, a pattern might emerge to suggest the ways in which he is changing, the kinds of socio-cognitive and socio-cultural skills and strategies he is developing, and patterns for such change. Profiles of several subjects over time might not only yield patterns of change for the individuals, but might also suggest patterns of change over time in general (recognizing some individual variation may occur).

    A second, but similar, way that the data could be used is in building a group profile for each of a number of events for each group. Such profiles might be used in a manner similar to that discussed above for individual profiles. A group profile for this three minute session might look as follows:

    A subject comments about the status of his work, a peer critiques the work completed, a discussion ensues about the critique. If the critique is stated in a supportive way and an explanation is given, the subject responds positively and begins altering his work accordingly. If the critique is stated in a sarcastic or nonsupportive way, then the subject defends his work, does not change his work, and becomes hurt and removed from the group. In both cases, the subject goes back to working on his section of the tower by himself.

    A third way these categories and profiles could be used is in developing questions for future data collection and data analysis. For example, the profile of Tim might lead to a number of questions, including: why did Tim physically separate himself from the rest of the group, why were Tim's peers so nonsupportive of his work, what kinds of reactions have Simon and Andy had toward Tim's work in previous days, how do those reactions change as the group continues to work together, why was Tim so reluctant to accept the advice of his peers, what kinds of interactions does Tim have with Andy and Simon during other kinds of activities (e.g. on the playground), why did Tim continually make and take apart the same part of the tower, why did Tim have such a hard time realizing the difference between his section of the tower and the other sections, did Tim know what was meant by the term pyramid, what impact if any did speaking English instead of French in this french immersion school have on Tim's communication with his peers. These and similar questions about the group and the other individuals can be used to enhance the data collection process and to aid in eventually developing a theory for the growth of socio-cognitive and socio-cultural interactions over time.

    These results suggest that a small data set, one even as small as a three-minute videotape of three boys interacting during lab, provides a wealth of information. Using the grounded theory approach, the data can be systematically examined and eventually used to develop patterns and theoretical understandings of social interactions in a school learning environment.

Elizabeth (Betsy) Kean: Ganging-up and Capitulation

    In analyzing the video segment and script, I sought to answer the following questions: What does discourse analysis tell us about 1) how the boys worked to solve their problem, and 2) what are the interactions among the boys as they worked on the problem? To analyze the script, I adapted a scheme from Marshall (1989) originally designed to analyze classroom discussions about interpreting literature. This scheme involves analyzing "speaker turns," and "communication units." Communication units are classified as DIRECT (intending to move others toward an action or to shift the attention or the focus of discussion); INFORM (a statement of fact or opinion that represents what the speaker knows, believes, or thinks about a topic); QUESTION (verbal statement or nonverbal gesture that invites or requires a response); RESPOND (verbal statement or nonverbal gesture that reacts to the nature, quality, or substance of preceding remarks); and OTHER. The INFORM and QUESTION categories are further analyzed for their "knowledge source" (e.g., personal experience, reference to teacher or other external authority) and "kind of reasoning" (e.g., summary/description, generalization). These two sub-categories needed adaptation to the object-centered problem solving task (e.g., the source of information was often the object being created) and the children's concrete developmental level (e.g., adding a "none" to the "kind of reasoning" subcategory for instances when the statement or question was offered without explanation or rationalization). The RESPOND category contained subcategories (e.g., acknowledgment, positive evaluation) which were usable in their existing form. The DIRECT category was further subdivided to include the type of direction being given (positive or negative injunction).

    Analysis of the transcript yielded the following information (with questions that evolved during the analysis given in brackets):

1) All three boys contributed to the discourse (15, 13, and 11 communication units respectively for Tim, Andy, and Simon). [Do levels of discourse participation tell us anything about the power or status level of group participants or the effectiveness of the group in solving their problem?]

2) The distribution of units varied as follows: Tim had a high incidence of RESPOND (6) and INFORM (6); he was the only one to use a QUESTION. Andy's dominant category was INFORM (8). Simon provided a high number of DIRECTs (5). [Is it possible to use such patterns to determine the specific roles that students play within the group? For example, is a high respond/inform pattern a marker for one who is defending an idea or trying to convince others? Is a high incidence of DIRECTs coupled with a low incidence of INFORMs the mark of a student who has not yet developed the ability to use arguments to support problem solving directives?]

3) Most of the turns consisted of single elements (22 of 30). Tim's use of paired units (a more complex pattern) exceeded both of the others in number. The QUESTION he asked focused on a feature of the object under discussion (the Knowledge Source) based on an inference (Kind of Reasoning) from the prior comment. [Is this a developmental issue, with children this age typically interacting in such short bursts? Can the complexity of discourse be used as a probe for evolving developmental levels of thought? Are there gender issues here, with some patterns more typical of boys rather than girls?]

4) Conflict within the group was signaled by the high number of negative RESPONDs as the others sought to have Tim redesign his part of the tower. ("Yeah, but. . . ." was classified as a negative RESPOND). [What are the methods by which conflicts are resolved in the absence of external authorities? Again, are there gender differences and developmental/age differences? If so, what?]

5) Among the common patterns for the INFORM category "Knowledge Source/Kind of Reasoning" were: Object feature/property of object (6 occurrences); Personal experience/none (6 occurrences); and Object feature/none (3 occurrences). [Are these patterns typical for children of this age/developmental level engaged in a concrete problem solving task? How and when does the use of reasoning evolve?]

    This analysis provides features of a particular problem solving scenario: three upper elementary middle class (probably) boys engaged in the solving of an open-ended problem. The boys' task was to create a joint object with particular characteristics. However, the videotape showed each boy working independently much of the time. The segmentation of the problem into independent components seemed to allow for minimal interaction until a conflict arose around the validity/value of one boy's part. The specific episode coded here could be characterized as PRESENTATION OF PART by one boy, followed by GANGING-UP by the other two to convince him to change his part, followed by CAPITULATION, and then moving on to the next episode. Both reasoning about the properties of the objects being created and repeated statements without rationalization (e.g., "It won't work") were used to persuade.

    The nature of the problem solving task and the specific episode may itself be a major factor in the types of discourse that evolve for children of different ages, status, and gender groupings. Work by Cohen (1995) and Nielson (1995) may help to interpret problem solving behavior and discourse in differing circumstances.

Stephen Marble: Understanding and Negotiation--More Questions Than Answers

    Two distinct interactions occur during the video segment: the first takes place between Simon and Andy over the support Andy has built; the second begins when Tim introduces his "cone top." Three ingredients of these interactions struck me as significant while watching the tape, and I will explore them in more detail. The degree to which the three interrelate is difficult to determine due to the shortness of the segment, but I would be surprised to find they have no bearing on one another.

    First, the type and direction of verbal and nonverbal interaction between the three boys in the segment is noteworthy. In the first interaction, Simon rejects Andy's constructed solution to a support problem, visually demonstrating how the piece he has been working on will not fit the modified structure. There is no negotiation here; Andy's "Why?" is unanswered and he disassembles his contribution. In the second interaction, Tim announces the completion of the "cone top" only to be quickly admonished by the other boys that his contribution will not work. Tim suggests two ways to make it work, but both are rejected without very outwardly compelling reasons. Although Tim is more insistent than Andy had been, he too fails to successfully make a contribution to the structure and reconstructs his "cone top" with additional guidance from Andy. In both of these events, Simon continues to work on his construction with no input from either other boy.

    The result of these interactions differs for each of the participants. Simon's perspective on the construction's goals is never compromised. Andy moves away from the negative interaction with Simon and into a more positive (for Andy) interaction with Tim. Tim, despite his marginal self-defense, contributes little to the evolving construction of the tower during the segment. The direction of interaction within the segment appears to be from Simon through Andy and toward Tim.

    These interactions are further flavored by a second ingredient I observed during the segment: the type of language used to describe the construction. Simon employs the term "pyramid" to describe the shape of the top segment, urging Tim to "Just make a pyramid" several times. Although this language is not adopted specifically by the other two boys during their longer negotiation, Andy communicates the essence of Simon's meaning when he insists that the top segment needs to have a square bottom to fit on all the other squares. Tim requires a bit of convincing and then moves to comply.

    Stenhouse (1986) suggests that Wittgenstein's concept of "language-games" enables observers to distinguish between individuals' understandings of scientific concepts through analysis of their use of the concept in language interactions. In this case, Simon's use of the term "pyramid" in this segment represents a significantly more complex understanding of the concept of three-dimensional construction than Tim's use of "cone-top."

    Andy's conceptual perspective is much harder to identify in the segment, a point which brings us to consider the third ingredient I observed. Andy plays critical roles in both of the negotiations that take place, and it is largely through his positive efforts that construction can proceed. Though it is difficult to be sure, his understanding of Simon's visual clue appears to convince him of the validity of Simon's point in the first interaction. The second interaction is more dynamic and less productive until Andy asserts that, "all these are square." Andy then watches Tim to be sure he knows what to do before moving to a new task. Contrast this with Simon's lack of effort to modify his argument in response to Tim's assertions that a triangular base will do. While Simon appears to assert his leadership, it is Andy's mediation that provides important lubricant to the group process.

    Overall, the segment raises more questions than it answers. For example, how exactly do the three boys conceptualize their task? Are they working from a shared vision of what the task is and how to accomplish it? What support were they given in negotiating their roles and strategies? An even more important question is how might the understanding characterized by Simon be made more accessible to team-members like Tim? Perhaps through exploring the role of mediators like Andy we can begin to refine the ways that students can contribute to one another's conceptual development.

Jay Lemke: Talking Towers, Making Withs

Language in Group Activity
    The notion of a linguistic register (Gregory 1967, 1978; Halliday 1977, 1978) is useful in posing questions about how the ways we use language differ from one kind of human activity to another. Informal conversation, writing poetry or theoretical treatises, directing someone's movements, and getting work done in a group may all rely on language, but they tend to use different linguistic resources to different degrees for their different purposes. A functional analysis of the semantic and grammatical resources of language (e.g. Halliday 1978, 1985; Martin 1992; Hasan 1989, 1995) lends itself to identifying which kinds of resources are most in demand in different types of activity.

    Martin (1992) has made a useful distinction of this kind between activities in which our uses of language are ancillary or auxiliary to some other individual or more commonly social-interactive work, vs. those in which the use of language itself constitutes the work. In conversation for the sake of the talk itself (i.e. its social and informational content and effects), or in writing (solo or collaborative), we tend to use language constitutively. When we are trying to get something else done (playing a game, building a tower, or more generally coordinating people's nonverbal actions), we are using language more in its ancillary function.

    In the videotaped segment we are analyzing, what the students say may not make much sense apart from a viewing of the tape, or a description of the nonverbal action, because language by itself does not organize the total activity (as it does in reading, writing, lectures, sermons, and most conversations). Whether lexically explicit or not, most utterances in this bit of activity depend for the construal of their meaning, and their relations to one another, on a knowledge of, and perhaps a direct participation in, the nonverbal processes which accompany them (including relations to the nonverbal objects or participants in these processes).

    Under these conditions, there is an especially intimate interdependence between the social-interactional uses of language and the thematic-representational ones (cf. Lemke 1990). Interpreting either of these dimensions of the flow of activity requires reference to the immediate nonverbal context of situation. While it is analytically useful to separate language from nonverbal activity in order to foreground their relationships, and the social-interactional dimension from the thematic-representational one for the same reason, we need to be clear that this is an artificial division. The units of analysis most appropriate to this activity are units of social-semiotic action (cf. Lemke 1995a): they are simultaneously and inseparably material and ecological processes, social-interactional processes, and semiotic cultural meaning-making practices.

    A general hypothesis about such meaningful and meaning-making eco-social activities (Lemke 1994, 1995a, in press-a) is that their semiotic side necessarily integrates a presentational function (constructing meanings about participants engaged in processes under circumstances), an orientational one (constructing social relationships and evaluative attitudes), and an organizational one (constructing relations of wholes and parts, structurally and textually). None of these can be properly analyzed apart from the other two, because each contributes indirectly, through the conventions of grammar, semantics, and discourse formations such as genres, narrative forms, etc., to the others. The unit under analysis in each case belongs to a hierarchy of levels in the structure of human action; at each level we are analyzing whole actions, not just linguistic forms. Indeed many of the constituent actions may have no linguistic form at all (e.g. pulling straws off part of the tower).

The Analysis
    I propose here just to make some general observations about the kinds of phenomena in this episode which would be of interest to me. I will try to highlight the points at which language and other modes of action are important for interpreting the whole flow of activity, and also to connect the thematic and social-interactional dimensions of the whole activity. (The organizational dimension is necessary to enable the other two functions to span from unit to unit and so is always in play.)

    It is interesting in this episode, I think, to make a very simple thematic analysis at the level of cohesion chains (Halliday & Hasan 1976, 1989; Hasan 1984; Lemke 1983, Lemke 1995b, 1997). Cohesion chains are sequences of words or phrases (in different clauses or sentences spread out through a text) that have a close semantic kinship. The members of a chain may all refer back to the same referent (e.g. pronouns), or they may all be close synonyms, or various special cases of the same abstraction or different parts of the same whole. Various criteria for identifying chains are given in the citations above. I will refer to this aspect of the analysis as 'Talking Towers', though obviously all aspects of the talk contribute to getting the tower built. I will focus on the use of key words (really thematic items, since close synonyms or even an implied use count as instances of the same item for analytical purposes): cone, pyramid, square, cube. It is also interesting to consider the social-interaction patterns among the three students. I will refer to this as 'Making Withs' (after Goffman's notion of a 'with' as an interactional engagement which we accomplish by deploying the meaningful social resources of everyday behavior). I will focus on the rhetorical level of verbal interaction (questions and answers, statements and rejoinders, etc.), and on the proxemic aspects of the nonverbal interaction.

    While there is not quite enough data available here to ground a fully convincing analysis, I will also try to make some suggestions about the 'situated cognition' which is going on (cf. Lave 1988, Lave & Wenger 1991, Lemke in press-b). The three students are not the only linguistic or actional participants (cf. actants in the usage of Greimas & Cortes 1982 or Latour 1987, 1988) which are materially interacting in the event, or which are being represented verbally in it. The architectural constructions, and a pair of scissors, also seem to play key roles in this episode.

Thematics and Social Interactions
    In my analysis I visually separated the three participants' contributions into separate columns. Thematically, the most interesting feature of the transcript for me is that particular thematic items are closely associated with particular participants, and some of them then 'migrate' to one or both of the others. The patterns of who is using 'whose' words are very interesting in relation to Bakhtin's notions of dialogicity in discourse (1935, 1953), as well as providing an initial take on the thematic aspects of the interaction among the students. What does the discourse tell us about how key thematic terms, and the concepts whose use they represent, pass back and forth, or don't?

CONE or CONE-TOP is associated with Tim. No one else uses this term but Tim until well after the end of the focal episode, when suddenly, after being reintroduced by Tim after a long absence from the dialogue, it is taken up by both Andy and Simon.

PYRAMID is associated with Simon. Andy echoes it after Simon first introduces it (35,36), but otherwise no one else uses it again except Simon.

SQUARE is introduced by Andy as a follow-up to his single echoing of PYRAMID (36). He reintroduces it in line 54, when it gets taken up at first tentatively (55) and then substantively (58) by Tim.

CUBES is also introduced by Andy, and 'adopted' by him (59,61). After the focal episode, it is reintroduced by Tim, and then used by all three. Soon after, exactly the same thing happens to CONE.

    It is striking how these words become associated with a particular speaker and then are either immediately or only long after taken up by others. Thematically, we can pose the question of how well these chains of words indicate the use or non-use by each individual of the corresponding concepts, and also what the thematic and conceptual progressions are by which the actual thematic sequence develops.

    So, for example, how is SQUARE in line 36 conceptually linked to PYRAMID? Do Simon and Andy share the same concept, differently expressed? Does Andy extract from Simon's use of PYRAMID a key feature, the SQUARE base? Is his later use of SQUARE (54) also cued by Andy's PYRAMID in lines 51, 53? The term and concept SQUARE are used in relation to different visual-tactile objects in line 54 from lines 36 and 56, and a key link is made by way of this thematic item from the meaning in line 54 to that in 56 (SQUARE bottom for the CONE-TOP vs. SQUARE top of the base of the tower).

    What is the conceptual relation of SQUARE to CUBES in lines 54-59? How does this get constructed in the activity itself? We will come back to these questions later, but first I want to consider the social-interactional dimension, the making of 'withs' that is going on simultaneously with making these thematic chains and exchanges. Looking just at the transcript, we have an episodic subdivision that is based on both thematic and social-interactional criteria. Major activity boundaries normally correspond to discontinuities by both kinds of criteria; units are integrated across minor boundaries by continuity in one or both (Lemke 1995b). The pre-focal section highlights a little exchange between Tim and Simon. Tim claims a kind of status and glory for his part of the project and is taken down a peg by Simon. The focal episode is subdivided into four main sections and a coda. Each of these sections begins with a contribution by Tim, followed by the responses of the others and some interaction. In the first of these (30-36), Tim proudly announces that he's made his CONE-TOP. This time it's Andy who deflates him. Simon supports Andy in his claim that the triangular bottom of the CONE-TOP won't match the square base of the tower, a pyramid shape would be better.

    In the second (37-47), Tim offers a solution: just attach it with support straws. This gets two objections, one from Simon (too hard) and one from Andy (won't look good). Simon and Andy support each other's objections. Tim denies them. Finally Simon says the support straws solution won't work.

    Now (48-56), Tim offers another solution: cut it down. This meets agreement from the others, but it is not clear thematically what it means. Andy offers 'cut the bottom' but Simon reintroduces PYRAMID (53), and Andy adopts this in the form of saying the 'bottom needs to be SQUARE'. He now has a dialogue with Tim, from which Andy withdraws, in which he first explains why and what he means Tim should do, and then responds to a new initiative from Tim.

    In this last section (58-61), Tim offers a difficulty, that the SQUARE bottom of the CONE-TOP would be a lot smaller than the SQUARE top of the tower's base, and Andy provides a solution (gradually smaller CUBES from base to CONE-TOP). Tim agrees to this plan.

    In the Coda, Simon initiates a brief consideration of further details (how many cubes, the basic shape of the tower).

    In the post-focal section it becomes clear that they all accept the basic BASE-CUBES-CONETOP plan.

The Non-Verbal Dimension
    The social-interaction aspects of the episode are signaled not just verbally, but also by the proxemic and kinesic patterns of the students' activity.

    In the pre-focal section, Tim was partway up on the table, leaning into the dyad of Simon and Andy, who were facing each other across the bottom of the table. They were a fairly tight group, and this unity was defended against Sam who briefly intruded, even sticking his head into the center of the group. Tim and Simon orient to each other in the section in the transcript.

    In the focal episode, however, Tim gets down to pick something up and then stands, facing into the camera, more distant from the Simon-Andy dyad, as he announces his creation of the CONE-TOP. During the three sections in which he is at verbally at odds with Simon and Andy, they are proxemically close and very cohesive with one another, excluding Tim.

    This changes at about line 54-56, when Tim comes around next to Simon and facing Andy. Their interaction changes from argumentative to collaborative at this point, as Andy explains to Tim about the SQUARE match-up. As their exchange continues into the fourth section, they orient more and more to each other, get closer across the table, and Simon withdraws, moving back from the table, doing his own thing. The structure of interaction has now changed completely from Tim vs. Simon and Andy to Tim and Andy vs. Simon (not in the sense of opposition, but of proxemic grouping and spatial-attentional orientation).

    In the Coda, Simon rejoins the discussion, but by this time Tim and Andy have both retreated somewhat from their close-knit 'with' to their separate division of labor.

    The post-focal proxemics was not available on the section of the video sent for analysis.

    What we see here is the very close synchronization of the changing verbal relationships, both social-interactional (i.e. rhetorical, as in agreements and disagreements) and thematic (in terms of taking up the thematic items of others), with the changing nonverbal (proxemic and orientational) relationships. Each is clearly abetting the others, and the optimal unit of analysis here is clearly the whole action-stream.

Problem-Solving: Semiotics and Situated Cognition
    With all these pieces in place, let's go back now to the central interest of the episode in terms of scientific and engineering inquiry: the formulation and solution of the problem of how to connect the CONE-TOP to the SQUARE base of the tower.

    I want to describe the action in relation to this emergent agenda in terms of the semiotic resources available and their situated deployment. I want to argue, in effect, that the immediate material situation itself: the co-presence of the three students, the visual-tactile constructions of the tower-base, cone-top, etc., and even the presence on the table of a scissors, as well as the linguistic resources of thematic items/relations and in- teractional speech-act types/rhetorical genres, abets and facilitates, enables and shapes the actional sequence which we interpret as problem-solving.

    This is a 'situated cognition' (cf. Lave 1988, Lemke in press-b) model, but one in which we are not talking in terms of folk theories of 'minds' or interior 'mental' operations, but in terms of meaning-making as material activity deploying objects-that-are-also-signs (including words) according to the generative semiotic codes of a community. This is an 'ecological' view of social cognition, or, to cut out the middle-man, an ecosocial view of collaborative semiosis.

    I will only sketch the overall synthesis in these terms of the analyses I have already made; a complete discussion would become very long and complex, and we would lose the forest among the trees.

    When Tim announces (30) he has made the CONE-TOP, he is holding it. He says he has made it, having in fact just made it by attaching the last parts to each other. It is 'made' in the sense that it holds together as a single coherent object, and it is just when it has been made to do so that Tim presents it as an object, a named entity (semantically a Thing, a count-noun), a thematic-conceptual item, the CONE-TOP. It is a complex material object, a linguistically named entity, an 'idea' in the sense of a thematic element, and when 'presented' to the group, it becomes a sort of participant (an actant in Greimas' or Latour's semiotic usage).

    The cone-top is visible, foregrounded, visually prominent now, and seeing it, having just been seeing and touching and manipulating the base of the tower, for Andy the juxtaposition in time, space, and immediate experience of the tower-base and the cone-top makes possible a contrast. One has a TRIANGLE (31), the other is all SQUARES (36). Andy foregrounds this contrast and turns it into a 'problem' (33) at the same moment he constructs the contrast itself verbally. Simon weighs in with something now that is not visible, a purely theoretical-imaginary, and possibly visualized PYRAMID (35). I do not know if this word had recently been used before this episode. One would have to trace its intertextual provenience. But both word and visualization are themselves semiotic operations; they depend for their meaning on verbal-semantic and visual-representational systems of semiotic relations across texts and images in a community.

    Tim makes two proposals to save his cone-top. First he proposes to attach it by 'supports' a term we can be sure had been recently used, and associated no doubt with the building straws. It is a generic sort of solution, and it is very likely enhanced by (a) the presence of loose straws around, and (b) the habit, just enacted, of attaching straws together to build what is wanted. It is a small extension of what he has just been doing. The second proposal is made just as he sees and reaches for a pair of scissors on the table between him and the his opponents, between the cone-top and the tower-base (the two items which need to be connected). It is to 'cut it down', though it is not clear what that means or how it would solve the problem. It arises as a proposal at least in part from the co-presence of the scissors and their coming into attention in connection with the formulation of the problem as a CONE-TOP / TOWER-BASE relation and a TIM / SIMON-ANDY relation.

    There was no 'problem' to be solved, no agenda of problem- solving, until a problem was created by the joint 'actions' of the participants -- all the participants, including the inanimate ones. Andy's initial comment about the triangular base of the cone-top elicits a 'So?' from Tim. It takes work to make a perceived and declared contrast, a difference (triangle vs square) into a 'problem', i.e. 'a difference that makes a difference' (cf. Bateson 1972), and a negative difference at that, relative to the Building-the-Tower agenda. The problem-solving agenda is emergent in the sense that both the existence of a problem, and the perceived need to solve it, and the actions that can retrospectively be seen as contributing to its solution, are all contingent: they all happen as sequents to previous actions that might have been different.

    There is no very clearly articulated solution to the problem from those who pose it (Andy and Simon). Their proposals, like Tim's, are oriented to the immediate visual-tactile object of the cone-top, to do something to it to repair the triangle-square mismatch. It is in fact another problem that leads to a solution in the larger context of the agenda of building the tower, the agenda in relation to which the mismatch was construed as a prob- lem ('gonna be hard to put on' line 33). It is Tim's visualization, cone-top in hand, scissors in hand, building straws at hand, building experience so immediately in memory, the SQUAREness of the tower-base so salient, the work actually begun, of what his cone-top might look like with a square bottom, that leads him to enunciate a forecast (58): 'its gonna be a small square'. This forecast is taken up by Andy as another problem. Tim has made another contrast: small vs. the large square top of the tower-base. In the foregoing context of how to put it on, this contrast becomes another problem. Andy, in line 59, acknowledges it as a problem ('So') by offering a solution: '... we'll make a lot of cubes and make them all smaller'. Like Simon's earlier use of PYRAMID, we don't immediately know the local intertextual provenience of CUBE here. Is this the work of visual imagination alone? Does it echo some earlier theme in their work? We do know that Andy is the one of the three who has just been intimately engaged both with the tower-base (working on it with Simon) and with the cone-top (analyzing it with Tim). He is the one who has most fully articulated verbally the nature of the mismatch problem, whose domain is the CONE-TOP/TOWER-BASE relationship. The tower-base itself is vaguely cubical; I don't know just what Simon has been working on ('Tyler's thing'), which was salient for Andy during their preceding 'with'. In any case line 59 is a thematic nexus, a point where, at least implicitly, in terms of the thematic formations needed to interpret its meaning intertextually (cf. Lemke, 1990; 1995b), all the thematic relations of the dialogue become interconnected. It is a sort of 'synthesis' point. My interpretation of it is that CUBES carries forward the theme of SQUARE (base, bottom, tower) in the context of the three-dimensional constructions they are working with, and that SMALLER picks up Tim's previous 'small square' in relation to the implied LARGE/SMALL mismatch Tim has projected. What is new is the PLURAL: that there can be more than one CUBE, each smaller than the last, with the largest matching the LARGE-SQUARE of the tower-base, and the last smallest one matching the SMALL-SQUARE of the cone-top. It is in fact the issue of PLURALITY that is taken up by Simon in the Coda, and which is very prominent in the post-focal section ('last cube' 'two cubes instead of three' 'just do one cube' etc.).

    I do not see them drawing any pictures. It is not clear just how well they have formulated a visual model of the finished tower. I believe that at the end of the focal episode, the tower-to-be is still somewhat contingent, not fully specified semiotically. Tim's view of it as like the 'Empire State' (a classic step-back design built around rectangular prisms in a sort of 'wedding cake' style) is as close as they come verbally at this point. But the Empire State model does not quite accommodate a 'cone-top' even a pyramidal one (like the Transamerica building) and Tim later seems to conflate Empire State with something that does taper in this way, the Eiffel Tower. There are culturally relevant semiotic resources, such as drawing images of the planned tower, which are not yet being used.

    But in all that is being done, semiotic resources are being deployed in ways that are highly situation-specific. What is said and done, verbally and nonverbally, at each point, seems to be simultaneously meaningful in relation to the social-interactional relationships of the participants (human-to-human, human-to- inanimate, human to human mediated by inanimate actants), a sort of larger ecological world-building, and to the thematic development of verbal-visual means useful for this activity. The verbal-visual thematics are not here an end in themselves; they contingently contribute to the larger activity of building towers and making withs, which are themselves only two culturally separable aspects of a single activity.

    The role of language here is both ancillary and constitutive. The verbal thematics is ancillary to the tower-building and the with-making in the sense that the organizing agendas of the total activity are better understood in relation to these than to the production of any coherent verbal text. These students are not trying to write an essay, state a principle, or even verbalize a solution to a problem. But the thematics is still constitutive in the sense that the activity could not happen without it, follows pathways contingent on what gets said, what its thematics mean- ings are, what thematic formations the items used belong to intertextually, etc. The verbal resources for social interaction (conversational genres, question-answer and proposition- challenge, challenge-response rhetorical patterns, moods and modalities and evaluative orienting forms -- not much discussed in this analysis, but important nonetheless), are certainly coconstitutive of the changing 'withs' of the group's social dynamics, just as are the proxemic and kinesic resources described. The thematic sequence depends on what is done social- interactionally, just as much as the other way around.

    Human behavior, collaborative activity, is a whole; but we apprehend that wholeness mainly by analytically dividing it into the various semiotic strands from which it is woven, and then discerning the subtle warp and woof of meaning and material action which constitutes that wholeness.


    These analyses highlight the range of interpretations and analytical orientations of the authors. The interactions between the researchers' analytical frames and the data are particularly interesting. For most of the researchers, with the exception of Roth and to some degree Lemke, the data described above was all the information they had. Roth provided the videotape and Lemke had access to additional videotapes. The paucity of data was perceived as a limitation by some but not others. The issue of grain size dominated a portion of the debate. A fine-grain analysis such as used by Lemke with a semiotics frame worked well. Those applying a socio-linguistic model struggled with making sense of the social interactions and were likely misled by the short segment. Roth reported a very different role for Tim than was perceived by the other researchers. The questions remains: What does this mean for researchers interested in examining discourse, and is there something to be learned by the practitioner? The answer to this question is contextual and different for each researcher. As Roth pointed out during the presentation, a researcher never has all the data possible. One must be explicit about "grain size," the questions being investigated, the researcher's perspective, and applications to practice. It seems clear that many ways of knowing about the role of language in science learning, including social-linguistics and phenomenological analyses, require more context and data than was available. However, the purpose of this research exercise is to bring light to a range of approaches of analysis that can help researchers explore and gain understanding about the role of children's talk in the elementary science classroom. One is tempted to compare and contrast each of the analyses. But a limitation of this study--a tradeoff in presenting eight perspectives--is that the nature of the data does support some research approaches better than others. In this light, it is inherently problematic to compare the approaches and perspectives presented here. Yet in keeping true with the assumption that learning is intimately connected with discourse, it is expected that insight would emerge from cross-analyses. At this point we have what insight can be gained from each analysis. A second paper could continue the dialogue, perhaps starting with the transcript of the discussion that followed these presentations at NARST.


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About the authors. . .

    This is truly an electronic manuscript.  The group of authors formed as a result conversations on a listserv set up at Auburn University for the National Association for Research in Science Teaching's (NARST) special interest group on the role of language in science learning.  Michael Roth provided the videotape segment to all the authors and the initial contributions for the paper were e-mailed to me and put togther for our presentation at NARST.  After our presentation I edited the manuscript and added an introduction and discussion.  The manuscript was further enhanced with suggestions, corrections, and revisions by the authors after reading it electronically.  After the reviewers' comments were returned they were also made available to the authors via the web and the manuscript was revised with multiple author input by e-mail.    Michael Kamen

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