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Teaching genetics - a linguistic challenge: A classroom study of secondary teachers' talk about genes, traits and proteins
Karlstad University, Faculty of Social and Life Sciences, Department of Biology.
2012 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The overall aim of this thesis is to investigate how teachers talk about genetics in actual classroom situations. An understanding of how language is used in action can give detailed information about how the subject matter is presented to the students as well as insights in linguistic challenges. From the viewpoint of seeing language to be at the very core of teaching and learning, this study investigates teachers’ spoken language in the classroom in topics within genetics that are known to be both crucial and problematic. Four lower secondary school teachers in compulsory school grade 9 (15-16 years old) were observed and recorded through a whole sequence of genetic teaching. The empirical data consisted of 45 recorded lessons. The teachers’ verbal communication was analyzed using thematic pattern analysis, which is based on the framework of systemic functional linguistics (SFL). The focus of the thesis is to determine how teachers talk about the relationships between the concepts of gene, protein and trait, i.e. the functional aspects of genetics. Prior research suggests that this is a central aspect of genetics education, but at the same time it is problematic for students to understand because the concepts belong to different organizational levels. In the first study I investigated how the concepts of gene and trait were related in the context of Mendelian genetics. My results revealed that the teachers’ way of talking resulted in different meanings regarding the relationship between gene and trait: 1) the gene as an active entity causing the trait 2) the gene as a passive entity identified by the trait 3) the gene as having the trait, and 4) the gene as being the trait. Moreover it was found that the old term anlag was regularly used by the teachers as synonym for both gene and trait. In the second study I examined how teachers included proteins in their lessons, and if and how they discussed proteins as a link between different organizational levels. This study showed that teachers commonly did not emphasize the many functions of proteins in our body. The main message of all teachers was that proteins are built. Two of the teachers used proteins as a link between gene and trait, whereas two of them did not. None of the teachers talked explicitly about genes as exclusively coding for proteins, which implies that the gene codes for both proteins and traits. The linguistic analysis of teachers’ talk in action revealed that small nuances in language used by the teachers resulted in different meanings of the spoken language. Thus, my work identifies several linguistic challenges in the teaching of genetics.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Karlstad: Karlstads universitet, 2012. , 52 p.
Series
Karlstad University Studies, ISSN 1403-8099 ; 2012:50
Keyword [en]
Science education, teaching genetics, teachers' talk, mendelian genetics, gene function, systemic functional linguistics, compulsory school
National Category
Educational Sciences Biological Sciences
Research subject
Biology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-15311ISBN: 978-91-7063-461-1 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kau-15311DiVA: diva2:562258
Presentation
2012-12-07, Frödingsalen, 1 B364, Karlstads universitet, Universitetsgatan 2, Karlstad, 15:35 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Funder
Hasselblad Foundation
Note

This thesis is written within the framework of the Hasselblad Foundation Graduate School, a four-year programme financed by the Hasselblad Foundation.

Available from: 2012-11-19 Created: 2012-10-23 Last updated: 2012-12-18Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Linguistic challenges in Mendelian genetics: teachers' talk in action
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Linguistic challenges in Mendelian genetics: teachers' talk in action
2013 (English)In: Science Education, ISSN 0036-8326, E-ISSN 1098-237X, Vol. 97, no 5, 695-722 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This study investigates Swedish teachers’ use of language when teaching genetics in grade nine (students 15-16 years old). Mendelian genetics comprises a substantial part of the genetics taught in many classrooms, including the central relation between the gene and trait concepts. This relation has been identified as a significant problem in teaching and learning genetics, but few satisfactory explanations of its difficulty have been suggested. Thus, the primary objective of the study is to reveal how teachers explain and relate gene and trait (i.e. gene function) while teaching Mendelian genetics, in order to shed light on this problem. Four teachers were observed and recorded through a whole sequence of genetic teaching. The empirical data consist of records of their communications during 45 lessons. Their verbal communications were analyzed using a linguistic framework called thematic pattern analysis. The linguistic analysis of teachers’ talk in action revealed that nuances in their spoken language conveyed four major categories of meanings regarding the gene-to-trait relationship: genes control traits, are identified by traits, have traits or are traits.  The results also reveal a common use of an old word, anlag (from the German word Anlage), in the teachers’ references to the meaning of both gene and trait. This study thus highlights several linguistic challenges in the teaching of Mendelian genetics that might affect students’ learning. Moreover, the study exemplifies how a linguistics methodology can be used to investigate science teaching, an approach heavily called for, but rarely used in published empirical studies.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Wiley-Blackwell, 2013
Keyword
science education, teaching genetics, systemic functional linguistics, compulsory school, mendelian genetics, gene function, anlage, biologididaktik, genetikundervisning, systemisk funktionell lingvistik, grundskolan, mendelsk genetik, genfunktion, anlag
National Category
Didactics Biological Sciences
Research subject
Biology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-15223 (URN)10.1002/sce.21075 (DOI)000323109900003 ()
Funder
Hasselblad Foundation
Note

Artikeln publicerades som manuskript i avhandlingen.

Available from: 2012-10-18 Created: 2012-10-18 Last updated: 2017-12-07Bibliographically approved
2. Teaching genetics in secondary classrooms: a linguistic analysis of teachers’ talk about proteins
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Teaching genetics in secondary classrooms: a linguistic analysis of teachers’ talk about proteins
2014 (English)In: Research in science education, ISSN 0157-244X, E-ISSN 1573-1898, Vol. 44, no 1, 81-108 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This study investigates Swedish biology teachers’ inclusion of proteins when teaching genetics in grade nine (students 15-16 years old). For some years there has been a call for the attention of proteins in teaching genetics as a mean of linking the concepts gene and trait. Students are known to have problems with this relation because the concepts belong to different organizational levels. However, we know little about how the topic is taught in the classroom and therefore this case study focus on how four teachers talk about proteins while teaching genetics, and if they use protein as a link between micro and macro level. The four teachers were observed and audio recorded during entire genetics teaching sequences, 45 lessons in total. The teachers’ verbal communication was then analyzed using thematic pattern analysis, which is based in systemic functional linguistics (SFL). The linguistic analysis of teachers’ talk in action revealed great variations in both the extent to which they used proteins in explanations of genetics and the ways they included proteins in the linkage between genes and traits. Two of the teachers used protein as a link between gene and trait, while two did not. Three of the four teachers included instruction about protein synthesis. The common message for all teachers was that proteins are built, but none of the teachers talked about genes as exclusively encoding proteins. Our results show some possible examples of how proteins could be used in teaching genetics at this age level. However, they also suggest that students’ common lack of understanding of proteins as an intermediate link between gene and trait could be explained by shortcomings in the way the subject is taught.

Keyword
science education, teaching genetics, systemic functional linguistics, compulsory school, proteins, micro-macro, biologididaktik, genetikundervisning, systemisk funktionell lingvistik, grundskolan, proteiner, mikro-makro
National Category
Didactics Biological Sciences
Research subject
Biology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-15226 (URN)10.1007/s11165-013-9375-9 (DOI)000330984400004 ()
Funder
Hasselblad Foundation
Note

I den ena författarens licentiatuppsats ingår denna artikel i manuskriptform.

Available from: 2012-10-18 Created: 2012-10-18 Last updated: 2017-12-07Bibliographically approved

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