Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Erin Marie Furtak

Second Advisor

Margaret Eisenhart

Third Advisor

Victoria Hand

Fourth Advisor

Christina Sue

Fifth Advisor

Jennifer Whitcomb


Educational inequity can be seen in both student participation and achievement outcomes. In science education, as in many other areas of education, disparities in equity of achievement (NCES, 2011) and equity of participation in science learning environments (Brown & Ryoo, 2008; Calabrese Barton, 2003) have been well documented. Some of these studies highlight the need to understand the components of effective science classroom talk as a way to bridge everyday and scientific discourse practices, to engage students in the intellectual work of sense-making in science. The National Research Council ([NRC]; 2012) specifically named the everyday to scientific connections of science classroom discourse as a focus for work on science learning equity. Formative assessment practices in science classrooms may provide an entrée for teachers to improve their connections between everyday and science classroom discourses (Black & Wiliam, 1998b).

In this study I examined science classroom conversations during formative assessment discussions in 10th grade biology contexts to determine where opportunities might exist to improve science learning. I engaged a theoretical framework focused on discourse (Gee, 2012) and classroom talk (Michaels, O’Connor, & Resnick, 2008) to socially situate student-teacher interactions in a community of learners (Rogoff, 1994). I used qualitative analysis (Gee, 2011; Carspecken, 1996) to locate patterns of talk during whole class and small group discussions of two science teachers, Robyn and Lisa, as they engaged in a two-year professional development focused on formative assessment.

Both teachers’ classroom conversation practices showed a number of opportunities to promote equity. Robyn and Lisa used common formative assessment tools to reorganize the way that students participated in their classroom conversations, allowing students individual thinking time prior to classroom talk. While Robyn often expanded reasoning herself, Lisa tended to press students for reasoning instead. Robyn and Lisa linked everyday to scientific language in their classrooms. Additionally, Lisa built on students’ everyday experiences in her talk with students. Both teachers framed students’ science ideas as misconceptions, however, Robyn did this more often than Lisa. Finally, this study suggested ways in which teachers may be further supported to increase these practices.