Author: He, Qiuping
Title: Towards multisemiotic literacy : constructing explanations in secondary science classrooms
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2019
Subject: Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Science -- Study and teaching (Secondary)
Observation (Scientific method) -- Evaluation
Evidence -- Evaluation
Department: Department of English
Pages: xvi, 343 pages : color illustrations
Language: English
Abstract: Constructing explanations in science classrooms is a complex science practice (Braaten & Windschitl, 2011) and can be challenging for both students and teachers (Zangori, Forbes, & Biggers, 2013). Part of this complexity lies in how scientific knowledge is made accessible to students with multimodal resources, which is an area that is under-researched. This study examines how explanations are discursively constructed in science classrooms through different modes of communication (i.e., spoken language, written language and images) adopting a systemic functional multimodal discourse analysis (SFMDA) approach. The data comprised 162-minute video recordings of two science classrooms on the topic "applications of air pressure". Three types of data were analyzed due to their central role in constructing scientific explanations: (1) written texts (i.e., the explanations produced by the teachers and the students in writing), (2) spoken texts (i.e., the verbal interactions between teachers and their students), and (3) images (i.e., the images shown on the PowerPoint slides to represent the phenomenon of air pressure). The data were analyzed within the framework of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) which consists of three interrelated components to trace the way meaning is represented, developed and multiplied through the use of different modes. The development of meaning in the written and spoken texts was examined through Theme analysis (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014). The representations of scientific entities and their relations in the images were examined through representational analysis (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006) and visual linking analysis (van Leeuwen, 2005). The multiplication of meaning between visual and verbal modes was investigated via the analysis of image-text relations (Martinec & Salway, 2005).
The findings show that the development of meaning in the written texts can be schematized as three stages: Experiment Condition, Phenomena Perception and Phenomena Interpretation. The stage of Phenomena Condition explicates the condition for the phenomena to occur; the stage of Phenomena Perception describes the perceivable features of the phenomena in question; and the stage of Phenomena Interpretation articulates the causal mechanism to account for the phenomena under investigation. While the patterns of Themes in the stages of experiment condition and phenomena perception are oriented to commonsense knowledge, those in the stage of phenomena interpretation focus on the construction of causal mechanisms, which is the vital component of a scientific explanation. To construct the written explanations, the spoken texts develop meaning around the demonstration of an experiment and the construction of an explanation. In both cases, the choices of Themes show that meaning-making in the spoken texts constantly shunts between commonsense knowledge (e.g. the topical Themes of people) and abstract scientific knowledge (e.g. the topical Themes of scientific entities). The findings highlight the important role of Themes in the spoken texts in marking a shift or a continuation in discourse. The scientific entities are represented in the images through the co-presentation of multiple visual structures that are linked through relations such as elaboration, temporal, spatial and logical ones. To fully appreciate meaning-making in the images, students need to be able to identify their visual structures and complex interrelations, which is one crucial step towards being multisemiotically literate. In addition to appreciating the meaning in the images, being multisemiotically literate also requires the ability to connect meanings across modes. The findings about the image-text relations suggest that visual meanings are activated through cues such as pointing gestures to multiply meanings in the spoken texts, which collectively contribute to the construction of the written explanations. Overall, multisemiotic literacy includes but is not limited to the mastering of language and scientific knowledge, the skillful tracing of the development of discourse, and a holistic appreciation of relationships (i.e., elaboration, temporal, spatial and logical relations) in images. The case studies of the two science classrooms demonstrate how scientific knowledge, such as that about air pressure, is constantly shaped and reshaped through the integration of visual and verbal meanings. The main value of the thesis lies in its multisemiotic perspective on scientific literacy and the explication of the complexity of constructing scientific explanations in classrooms. Theoretically, this thesis provides a comprehensive account of scientific literacy, integrating Norris and Phillips's (2003, 2009) two senses of scientific literacy, Bernstein's (1999, 2000, 2001) sociological view of knowledge and a systemic functional view of language as social semiotics (Halliday, 1978; Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006). This thesis is one of the first attempts to further develop the scale of theme markedness proposed in Halliday and Matthiessen (2014), through two dimensions: topical markedness (topical Themes), and inherent/characteristic markedness (interpersonal and textual Themes). Pedagogically, this study highlights the role of multisemiotic literacy in science education and the possibilities as well as challenges that teachers may encounter when selecting, organizing and communicating visual and verbal meanings.
Access: open access

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