CSTA Classroom Science

Hear Their Brilliance: Reflections from Region 4 - San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE)

By Chelsea Cochrane

Talk provides context and opportunity for knowledge building. Talk helps students develop critical thinking skills. Talk leads to collective sensemaking. Talk is a high-leverage practice and instructional shift that we have supported throughout the rollout of the Next Generation Science Standards. Classroom discourse is so essential to learning that it is the focus of one of our SDCOE C&I Components of Student Learning; Component 3: Students use literacy and language to communicate in disciplinary ways. Earlier this year the SDCOE science team focused on creating Evidence-Based Practice tools to support classroom science instruction and NGSS implementation. Our Science Talk tool was the first to be developed. Using talk moves and discussion protocols can help teachers move from the traditional talk structure of Initiation-Response-Evaluation (IRE) and helps students use literacy and language. The prompts included in our Using the Crosscutting Concepts to Build Student Sense-Making and Reasoning in Science tool further supports Component 3 and provides opportunities for students to communicate in disciplinary ways.

I recently attended the SDCOE Equity Conference. I also just finished reading Science in the City by Bryan A. Brown, part of the Race and Education series (2019). These experiences have provided space and permission to think deeply about race and identity in science classrooms. A renewed focus on equity and cultural relevance has me thinking about how we are supporting students in developing their sense of identity through the use of discourse in the science classroom. I wonder, do ALL students feel at home in science classrooms or are we unintentionally continuing to perpetuate exclusionary practices? In Science in the City, Brown reminds us that, “The price that many young people pay to be heard is that they must arrive in class sounding like the type of person their teacher wants them to be.”

As we rethink what learning environments should look and sound like, are aspects of language, race, identity, and culture being considered? As we restructure classrooms, are we creating spaces that allow all students to benefit from the true power of talking to learn? Or, are we simply creating more aesthetically modern spaces where a dominant discourse norm still prevails and students are expected to assimilate and conform to the norm in order to experience success?

The nuances of classroom discourse and the complexity of language often interfere with our ability to know what students really understand. Do we hear the brilliance that ALL students bring to the classroom?  If a student speaks with an accent, do we hear their brilliance? If a student uses slang, do we hear their brilliance? If a student is speaking in a language other than English, do we hear their brilliance? If a student stutters, do we hear their brilliance? If a student uses assistance technology to speak, do we hear their brilliance? If a student’s dialect is different than ours, do we hear their brilliance? Brown challenges us to think, “When students speak eloquently about scientific information in language that reflects the culture they are from, do teachers hear their brilliance?”

Our SDCOE Science Theory of Action calls for our work to result in All students having an appreciation for the beauty and wonder of science and engineering and possessing the skills and knowledge to think and act scientifically. As we all continue on our NGSS journey - let’s be sure to hear their brilliance.

Chelsea Cochrane is the Science Coordinator for the San Diego County Office of Education.  


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