Exploring Science Teachers' Perceptions of Teaching and Learning

Education Line

What the resource is:
This is a preliminary research report, presented at BERA 2009, on one component of the ESRC-funded Talking to Learn, Learning to Talk in Science project. The focus of this resource is on research methodology and results. The researchers adopted a narrative approach to interviews where the teachers were asked to tell the story of their own experience of a lesson which they regarded as 'good'. The report also documents the findings from initial interviews with eight teachers revealing their views on: the nature of science; how to teach/how students learn (with an emphasis on finding out if pupil 'argumentation' was used); and how they can develop professionally.

Of particular value is the introduction which contains a forceful rationale for the use of more 'argumentation' in science lessons - getting students to talk things over and try to make verbal sense of scientific ideas and the very nature of science itself (How Science Works). This second, introductory, section The Project - Aims and Rationale makes essential reading for busy teachers and ITE students. However, the main sections describing the interview technique and the preliminary findings are more relevant for research students and their tutors.

The preliminary findings suggest that the role of pupil talk (talking to learn) in science is still not well understood or used by (this group of experienced) secondary science teachers. The project is with nine London schools (four intervention and five control).


The aims of the resource: 
The project, when completed, aims to help and prepare pupils in school make better moral and ethical decisions on scientific issues - the implicit aim of a science education for all. Evaluating such issues is not straightforward, requiring the ability to assess whether the evidence is valid and reliable, to distinguish correlations from causes, and to assess the degree of risk. Current approaches to the teaching of science need to pay considerably more attention to the evidence and arguments for scientific ideas, and to developing an understanding of the nature of science. A growing body of research suggests that the traditional approach of much secondary school science education is a significant factor in student disenchantment and disengagement with science. There is a need for pupils in school to engage in critical exploration of ideas as a vital component that assists the construction of new understanding. The authors draw on their previous research to develop their rationale:


  • Currently teaching (in secondary science) places too much emphasis on transmission of knowledge.
  • Learning to argue and reason is vital in helping students learn to think. This involves students talking with each other, giving them a sense that they have more autonomy and more opportunities for self-expression, and so become intrinsically motivated and engage more readily with their learning.


The research will use four London school science departments over a period of two years (2009-11) to investigate whether:


1. a cycle of reflective professional development based on the use of argumentation can transform science teachers' pedagogic practice to one that is more dialogic;

2. engaging in 'argumentation' can lead to any observed improvement of students' conceptual learning;

3. engaging in ‘argumentation' affects students' understanding of the nature of science;

4. a more discursive pedagogy affects students' engagement with science.


The aim of this preliminary report is to introduce the rationale and method of narrative interviewing, and to report the results of the initial (pre-intervention) views of the eight teachers.


Key findings or focus: 
There are three different outcomes or values of this paper:


1. Their rationale relating to the role of pupil talk - important reading for everyone involved with teaching science (summarised above under ‘aims')

2. A description of research methods, especially the use of narrative interviews, useful for science education researchers 

3.   Analysis of initial interviews of the eight teachers' beliefs about the nature of science, of teaching and learning and about teachers' own professional development.


These are summarised in the six page appendix and form the main focus of this paper. In outline they are beliefs about:


  • the nature of science and science education: science is abstract thinking; science education 'corrects' misconceptions; science is a practical subject with facts and theories; that the practical nature helps understanding and motivation to learn.
  • the concept of 'argumentation': only two teachers expressed a clear conception of 'argumentation' - used mainly for discussion/debate on controversial topics.
  • teaching and learning: most expressed a view that it was teacher-led and controlled, but many contrasted this with their view that pupils learned through personal enquiry and peer learning. On the whole, teachers spoke about how they taught rather than how their pupils learnt.
  • professional development: all valued peer observation to help reflect on and improve professional practice.


The quality, authority and credibility of the resource in relation to ITE:
This report is part of the ESRC-funded Talking to Learn, Learning to Talk in Science project undertaken by two of the leading science education research establishments of Kings and IoE, London. In relation to ITE, the full report is most useful for those engaged in full-time research themselves - it describes the interview procedure and research design carefully and authoritatively and presents some preliminary results.


The implications for ITE tutors/mentors - when and how it could have best impact: 
The introduction sets a clear rationale for the need to introduce more pupil talk (argumentation) into lessons, and should be essential reading for ITE tutors. The main body of the report contains a complex explanation of their research methods and some preliminary results - useful for those doing research using interviews.


The relevance to ITE students - how and why it has importance:
The language of the report is necessarily rather 'theoretical' and would make heavy reading for students, however the introduction is worth reading - it sets out a clear rationale for getting pupils to talk to each other - to argue - in order to develop their understanding of how science works and its applications to everyday life. They can also look in theme 2 appendix for a summary of how only three of the eight teachers in the study mentioned the importance of pupil talk. We need to wait for the final paper relating to this research to find out if they were successful in developing teaching approaches, in the four target schools, allowing students to 'argue'.


Reviewed by:

Dr Keith Ross



Related Resources:
The following might be useful to read in conjunction with this resource: 

See section on ‘Learning through talking' in the ‘Active Learning' section of the Sci-tutors website

See also this question about pupil talk in science answered by the e-librarian


Chapter 8 Children learning through talking (pp 70-76) of Ross, K., Lakin, E. and McKechnie J. (2010) Teaching Secondary Science. (Third edition) London: Routledge


Pupil talk, Argumentation, Narrative interview, How Science Works, Peer observation, Science lesson analysis, Teachers’ perceptions

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