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Tang, K.-S., Tan, A.-L., & Mortimer, E. F. (2021). The multi-timescale, multi-modal and multi-perspectival aspects of classroom discourse analysis in science education. Research in Science Education, 51, 1–11.
Classroom discourse is an indispensable process through which the teaching and learning of any discipline, including science, takes place. In classroom discourse studies, many researchers use a variety of approaches under the umbrella term of “discourse analysis” to understand the dynamic of interaction and sometimes how learning happens in the classroom. Discourse analysis is recognised and frequently discussed as a methodology in applied linguistics (Rex et al. 2010). Researchers in science education typically borrow several analytical tools from discourse analysis and apply them to study the teaching and learning process in the science classroom (broadly defined as a space of learning in and out of school).

For many years, the adoption of methods from discourse analysis developed outside science education was not a major issue. However, in light of the increasing emphasis and contextualisation on the disciplinary nature of science, some unique features of science discourse become more evident: the first characteristic that is overwhelming in this issue is multi-modality. Science discourse in general, and science classroom discourse in particular, is multi-modal in the sense that it needs more than verbal language to make sense. Another feature which appears in several papers in this special issue is that science is related not only to its content but also to the epistemic process of creating scientific knowledge. Science is an inquiry-based enterprise, it values more questions than answers, and it has an empirical base. The language of science itself has some particular features, such as the use of nominalisations, which goes beyond technicality (Fang 2005). Accordingly, it is time to review the methods that were historically adopted from other disciplines and evaluate how they have evolved to take into consideration the unique multi-modal and empirical character of science.

There has been little discussion thus far within the science education community on the overarching methodology of discourse analysis, such as its underpinning paradigm and the relative advantages and limitations of various approaches. This special issue dedicated to discourse analysis is therefore the first of its kind within science education. Compilations focusing on discourse analysis have appeared in applied linguistics and language education (e.g. Gee and Handford 2012; Zuengler and Mori 2002). What is different in this special issue is the attention to the conditions, settings and peculiarities of science classrooms. It is also written mainly by science education researchers who use discourse analysis to address issues that are more unique to science education.

Through an open call, we initially received 59 abstracts for this special issue from 24 countries across 6 continents. We were encouraged by this overwhelming response, which affirms the central role analytical methods play in science classroom research. As our focus is on the methodology of discourse studies, we asked the authors to highlight the rationale, application, and affordances of their methods, rather than reporting the full results from their study. After an initial selection by the guest editors and double-blind peer review process by the reviewers of Research in Science Education, we are pleased to present 11 original articles and a commentary for this special issue. The 11 papers highlighted similar yet different interpretations and applications of discourse analysis in science classrooms. In this editorial, we offer our perspectives of discourse analysis distilled from the collective ideas in all the papers.
This is the final draft, after peer-review, of a manuscript published in Research in Science Education. The published version is available online at
0157-244X (print)
1573-1898 (online)
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