Haneda, Mari and Gordon Wells
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
University of Toronto

Mari Haneda
Modern Language Centre
252 Bloor St. West,
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1V6


Strand: educational / semiosis in language and other modalities

Title: Beyond mere words: Negotiating the meaning of a science experiment

Working within a social constructivist framework, we have been attempting to understand how schooled knowledge is co-constructed in the discourse that organizes, interprets and reflects on the activities through which the curriculum is enacted, and have developed and applied an analytic approach that articulates systemic linguistics (Halliday, 1978; Martin, 1992) with activity theory (Leont'ev, 1981). Until recently, we have worked with transcripts of videorecorded observations of classroom interaction that are largely limited to a lexico-grammatical representation of the participants' speech, with no systematic representation of other dimensions of meaning. Recent research on face- to-face interaction, however, has established that negotiation of meaning involves the interplay of additional dimensions of semiosis, including facial expression, gaze, gesture, spatial orientation, tone of voice, and intonation (Brazil, 1985; Kendon, 1990; Lemke, 1996; McNeill, 1992). It seems clear, therefore, that to understand precisely how discourse mediates the construction of knowledge, it will be necessary to undertake a much more comprehensive analysis of the interactional data.

In this paper, we report an attempt to address this multidimensionality of collaborative meaning making through the analysis of episodes from a grade 4 science unit. First, from the sequence of recorded lessons, we extracted episodes that were judged to contain significant instances of individual and collective knowledge construction. These episodes were then analyzed with particular attention to the ways in which non-verbal and paralinguistic dimensions interacted with the lexico-grammatical in negotiating the conduct of the experiment. Clear evidence was found that all these dimensions significantly contributed to the ways in which problems of action and interpretation were resolved.