Creative Education, 2010, 2, 81-92
doi:10.4236/ce.2010.12013 Published Online September 2010 (
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
Communication Practices and the Construction
of Meaning: Science Activities in the Kindergarten
Maria Poimenidou, Vasilia Christidou
Department of Preschool Education; University of Thessaly, Volos, Greece
Received June 25th, 2010; revised July 28th, 2010; accepted August 10th, 2010.
The paper presents a comparative analysis of communication practices used in two kindergarten classes in Greece
during science activities related to magnets and magnetic attraction. Communication practices are classified as inter-
active / dialogic, interactive / authoritative, non-interactive / dialogic, or non-interactive / authoritative. Moreover, the
role of different communication practices in the construction of meaning is analyzed, at the ideational, interpersonal
and textual level. The analysis of characteristic episodes of the two activities reveals that different communication
practices produce significant discrepancies in the meanings constructed in each classroom.
Keywords: Communication practices, Construction of meaning, Dialogicity, Preschool education, Science teaching
1. Introduction
The transition from teacher-centered to pupil-centered
models of teaching has resulted in the formulation of
preschool curricula based on children’s experiences and
active participation in exploratory learning processes.
This approach is supported by the view that an environ-
ment rich in motivations can effortlessly ensure a child’s
development. However, this “natural development”
stance has been questioned. According to Vygotsky [1]
knowledge is socially acquired through communication
and the teachers’ role is crucial in this respect. Consider-
ing social interaction as vital in learning, the social or-
ganization of teaching activities becomes a key factor in
the achievement of the teaching objectives.
Consistent with this view, Bakthin [2] identifies two
factors determining the effectiveness of communication.
On the one hand the speaker forms an utterance taking
into account the previous experiences of the public s/he
is addressing. On the other, understanding, that is effec-
tive communication, has been accomplished only when
the addressee of the message takes up an active role in
communication. Consequently “the speaker himself is
oriented precisely toward such an actively responsive
understanding. He does not expect passive understanding
that, so to speak, only duplicates his own idea in some-
one else’s mind” [2:69]. Therefore, in every case partici-
pation in communication means differentiation [3]. Dif-
ferentiation first and foremost originates from the social
and cultural environment effecting different experiences
on individuals as well as different ways of processing
them. Especially in education, dialogue provides pupils
the opportunity to process their reserve of experiences,
while at the same time it engages children in a process of
cognitive challenge [4]. More particularly, in science
teaching this process is realized by means of the formu-
lation of hypotheses, explanations, conclusions, or the
formation of taxonomies. Cognitive challenge is there-
fore promoted by the establishment of learning environ-
ments which aim at and support the pupils’ active in-
volvement and within which learning is a cognitive and a
social process at the same time [5].
In this context the effectiveness of an instructional
procedure can be assessed in terms of analyzing commu-
nicative practices. Relevant research has suggested that
classroom communication is mostly developed in the
form of triadic dialogue [6,7]. However, the effectiveness
of this communicative practice is currently questioned,
since it is based on closed questions that do not encour-
age exploration, but ask for a unique correct answer [8].
Besides, triadic dialogue excludes some pupils from par-
ticipating in the instructional process and clearly does not
support children’s interaction and cooperation [9].
Teaching requires from the teacher to develop appro-
priate communicative practices corresponding to each
cognitive objective. Research outcomes [10] have con-
firmed the positive contribution of dialogicity in the con-
Communication Practices and the Construction of Meaning: Science Activities in the Kindergarten
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
text of reflective teaching, establishing the importance of
reflection and dialogicity in understanding and solving
problems as well as in reducing asymmetries between the
roles of teachers and pupils. Nevertheless, studies [11,12]
focusing on communication strategies employed in sci-
ence teaching reveal that these are in majority developed
on non-dialogic models. Other studies suggest that in
science teaching a combination of dialogic and authorita-
tive models of communication is essential [8,13].
Research focusing on preschool education indicates
that communication between teacher and pupils is pri-
marily based on children’s play and cooperation [14].
However, especially when teaching science, teachers
seem reluctant in organizing relevant activities [15],
feeling unprepared to teach complicated scientific con-
cepts, let alone encourage interactivity and dialogue. In-
deed, structured science activities tend to favor directed
learning and quantity of information [16], thus reducing
the opportunities for children to actively participate in
and contribute to the development of the activities.
Likewise, the evaluation of science activities mainly fo-
cuses on children’s ability to memorize and quote tech-
nical terminology and expressions previously presented
[17]. Nevertheless, it is currently acknowledged that the
attribution of meaning to experiences [18] is closely re-
lated with language development in children that is with
the process of ontogenesis.
The present study aims at extending the discussion on
the role of communication practices used in science ac-
tivities in preschool education. Science teaching is con-
sidered as a social activity based on a process of logoge-
nesis, which initiates the exploration of scientific topics
while at the same time determines the roles of the par-
ticipants in the process of knowledge acquisition. The
study focuses on the comparison of two science activities
to exemplify the role of different communication prac-
tices in the evolution of each activity.
2. Method
2.1. Research Setting
The study concentrates on two activities about magnets
and magnetic attraction implemented with two groups of
children in different kindergartens in Nea Ionia of Mag-
nesia, Greece, in May 2005. The groups consisted of
seven and five pupils of 4.6 to 6 years of age. The chil-
dren had similar socio-economic backgrounds. Also, the
teachers who implemented the two activities had similar
qualifications and no significant difference in profes-
sional experience.
The topic of magnets and magnetic attraction was se-
lected because it is commonly negotiated in the Greek
kindergarten. Furthermore, the topic was voluntarily se-
lected for negotiation by the two teachers, without any
kind of communication or cooperation between them.
Each teacher had full responsibility of the organization
and implementation of the activity in her classroom. Both
activities concentrated on magnets and their properties
and the children participated in hands-on explorations
using a variety of materials and magnets of different
shapes. The first author was present during the imple-
mentation of the activities as a non-participant observer.
The activities were video-taped and subsequently tran-
scribed in the form of a digital file.
2.2. The Framework of Data Analysis
For the purposes of the comparison of the two activities,
the analysis of characteristic episodes of each activity
involves two axes: a) The classes of communication
practices employed in the activities and b) The role of
communication practices in the construction of meaning.
These axes, along with their constituent dimensions will
be presented in the following paragraphs.
A) Classes of communication practices
In regards to the first axis of the analysis the model
proposed by Scott, Mortimer & Aguiar [13] was used,
according to which communication is determined by two
The first dimension concerns the way in which the
participants are involved in communication and is based
on the concept of dialogicity as described by Bakthin
[19]. In this respect communication can be either dialogic
or authoritative. This dimension reflects the teacher’s
attitude towards classroom communication and the way it
determines the participation –active or not- of pupils in
teaching and learning activities [20]. More particularly, a
teacher applying dialogic discourse takes into account a
range of different perspectives and attends equally to the
pupils’ (different) points of view and to the school sci-
ence view. On the other hand, authoritative discourse
reflects the teacher’s intention to concentrate exclusively
to the one and only acceptable viewpoint, that of school
science [13].
The second dimension concerns the organization of the
activity, that is the participation or non-participation in
communication, which is recorded as dialogue or mono-
logue and corresponds to interactive and non-interactive
communication practices respectively [13]. In science
activities addressing young children, communication is
mostly interactive. Monologic, non-interactive commu-
nication is rather fragmentarily and sporadically used in
instructional activities, when it is considered as essential
by the teacher. However, one should not confuse dia-
logue (that is interactive communication) with dialogic
discourse. As will become apparent below, interactive
communication (dialogue) can be authoritative (non-
Communication Practices and the Construction of Meaning: Science Activities in the Kindergarten
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
dialogic) when promoting a single point of view, ex-
cluding any alternative judgment expressed by an inter-
The combination of the different values of the two di-
mensions described above, results in four basic classes of
communication practices (see Table 1). Therefore, dia-
logue that is used to support the active, responsive un-
derstanding and is based on the expression of children’s
thoughts, observations and speculations, corresponds to
an interactive / dialogic communication practice. Interac-
tive / authoritative communication employs dialogue to
support a single viewpoint and in classroom settings is
mainly implemented by means of triadic dialogue [13,21],
that is a three-part pattern with utterances from the
teacher who initiates a discussion (e.g. by posing a ques-
tion), the students (responding to the teacher’s utterance)
and again the teacher (who evaluates the students’ re-
sponse). Furthermore, non-interactive / dialogic practice
corresponds to parts of classroom discourse that aim at
combining and recapitulating different ideas to come to a
conclusion, which often corresponds to the scientifically
accurate view. This practice is used when the teacher
introduces a functional definition, or summarizes the
outcomes of an activity, on condition that the children’s
observations and comments are taken into account. Last,
non-interactive / authoritative communication, involving
a single interlocutor (monologue) and reflecting a single
viewpoint, is typically adopted in lectures and does not
normally occur in the lower levels of education, and es-
pecially preschool.
B) The contribution of communication practices in the
construction of meaning
The second axis of the analysis framework allows a
more comprehensive account of the way in which class-
room communication contributes to the construction of
meaning. For this purpose the systemic theory proposed
by Halliday [22] will be adopted, according to which
each text and each human interaction form many differ-
ent meanings. Therefore, the analysis of different epi-
sodes of the teaching activities will illustrate the different
meanings which the communicative practices are ex-
pected to support, namely the negotiation of experience,
the roles of the participants and the textual organization
of the activity corresponding to Halliday’s ideational,
interpersonal and textual meanings respectfully [22].
These dimensions enable the comparative discussion
of the role of communicative practices in the constitution
and effectiveness of teaching activities. Table 2 presents
the aforementioned three levels of meaning [22] along
with their functions and the relevant teaching purposes.
More particularly, the negotiation of experience (idea-
tional meaning) relates to the elaboration and develop-
ment of the topic. The ideational meaning of an activity
reflects on the use of technical vocabulary by the teacher
-subsequently adopted by the children-, as well as on the
occurrence of incidents such as formulation of functional
definitions and conclusions, or the presentation of results,
typical in science activities.
The second dimension referring to the roles of the par-
ticipants (interpersonal meaning) relates to the way in
which communication practices promoted by the teacher
determine the role of the participants in communication
and their involvement in the activities.
The third dimension is related to the textual organiza-
tion of the activity and reflects on information flow. In
the context of the present study the activities’ expansion
is examined at the macro-level of textual structure [23].
Therefore, the way in which communicative practices
determine the presentation of the news and the unfolding
of the activity will be explored. Communicative practices
can either reflect a procedure predetermined by the
teacher, or shaped by the actions, observations, com-
ments and questions of the children. Moreover, the or-
ganization of information flow will be examined in re-
spect to time allocated to the evolution of the activities.
The aspect of time was considered as important because
in the context of preschool education it plays an impor-
tant role both in logogenesis and ontogenesis.
Table 1. Communication practices.
Activity organization
Interactive Non-interactive
Dialogic Interactive /
Non-interactive /
involvement Authori-
Interactive /
Non-interactive /
Table 2. The different meanings supported by classroom
communication practices, their functions and relevant
teaching purposes.
Meaning Functions Teaching purposes
Negotiation of
Elaboration and
development of
the topic
Initiation of technical
Formulation of func-
tional definitions
Presentation of experi-
mental results
Extraction of conclusions
Interpersonal Roles of partici-
Teacher and pupils’ roles
in communication
Teacher and pupils’ invo-
Textual Textual organi-
Evolution and expan-
sion of the activity
Information flow
Organization of time
Communication Practices and the Construction of Meaning: Science Activities in the Kindergarten
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
C) The data analysis procedure
The transcripts of the two video-taped activities were
analyzed focusing on the interactions between teachers
and children and particularly on the types of communi-
cation practices (first axis of the analysis) and on their
role in the construction of meaning (second axis of the
The selection of teaching episodes for analysis was
made on the basis of their functionality in the instructive
process and their consistency in respect to content. This
methodological choice regards teaching performance as
basically episodic and especially in nursery activities
where regulative interventions or other kind of interrup-
tions are very common. These criteria resulted in the
selection of episodes which varied in constitution and
structure, ranging from a single question of the teacher to
parts of dialogues that may not be successive, yet are
directly interrelated since they compose a distinctive and
unified conceptual sequence.
As already mentioned, the aim of this study is not to
describe the two activities in terms of the communicative
practice prevailing in each of them. By analyzing char-
acteristic episodes we rather aim at identifying the func-
tion of the alternative communicative options in the de-
velopment of each activity and in the construction of
meaning. The episodes analyzed in the subsequent para-
graphs will be referred to as Examples and their num-
bering will indicate the first or the second activity as well
as their sequence. For instance, Example 1.2 refers to the
second episode of the first activity.
3. Analysis of Teaching Episodes
3.1. Communication Practices
The two activities develop by means of different com-
munication models, using different communication prac-
tices. These two models apparently reflect the two teach-
ers’ divergent perceptions of their role as well as the role
of pupils in the classroom. Furthermore, a remarkable
feature of both activities, particularly apparent in the first
one, is that they consistently and unvaryingly follow a
single communication model throughout all stages of the
More particularly, in the first activity communication
between the teacher and the pupils is largely composed
according to the interactive / dialogic model. Thus, in
this activity the pupils’ participation is based on their free
and spontaneous engagement in hands-on experimenta-
tions, which results in a variety of actions evolving si-
multaneously. This communication model establishes an
environment of freedom and independence and this is
also reflected on the children’s interactions with the
teacher. They usually do not respond to the teacher’s
questions unanimously or as a group. Furthermore, the
teacher’s questions are generally open and ask for infor-
mation instead of demanding confirmation of the infor-
mation provided by her. Consequently the children tend
not to give one-word or elliptical sentences, but to for-
mulate complete and varying answers to the teacher’s
A typical example of the interactive-dialogic commu-
nication dominant in the first activity is the following
excerpt from an episode during which the children - en-
couraged by the teacher - look for objects that are at-
tracted by magnets. Three children, Demetra, Helias and
Georgia take on Zisis’ suggestion and verify his observa-
Example 1.1
Lines 194-204
Teacher 1: Therefore… Let’s see where it [the magnet] sticks and
where it doesn’t. Watch out!
Zisis: It sticks here, on the table. On the table…
Eleni: Yes, it sticks…
Georgia: This sticks very hard!
T1: Where else? Let’s see out here [the children start
moving around following the teacher].
Helias: Madam, I know, I know!
T1: Go on, try. Here, not outside in the yard.
Z: On the radiator?
Demetra: On the radiator, madam…
T1: Let me see…
H: Yes. [Georgia joins the group to try if her magnet will also be at-
tracted by the radiator].
In the cases where contradicting views are expressed,
these are used as opportunities for open and constructive
dialogue. Moreover, cooperative actions often develop in
the course of the activity. This suggests that the dialogic
model of communication initiated by the teacher is also
adopted by the children. The duration of the first activity
was 49 minutes.
In striking contrast, during the second activity com-
munication between teacher and pupils is largely imple-
mented by means of the interactive-authoritative model.
The children’s actions are firmly controlled by the teach-
er. A single action evolves each time, according to the
teacher’s instructions. Consequently the teacher’s ques-
tions usually address the whole class and the pupils an-
swer collectively, as a group. Moreover, the directed ac-
tions determine the teacher’s interlocutor each time.
Most of the teacher’s questions simply ask for verifica-
tion, hence the children are restricted to one-word an-
swers, typically a “yes” or a “no”. The authoritative dis-
course promoted by the teacher – reflecting her intention
to control the procedure totally – significantly limits the
Communication Practices and the Construction of Meaning: Science Activities in the Kindergarten
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
interactions between the children. Furthermore, the con-
trol wielded by the teacher in the course of the activity
and the type of interaction play a decisive role in its du-
ration, which does not exceed 22 minutes.
The following episode exemplifies the type of com-
munication prevailing in this classroom. The teacher not
only controls the organization of the activity but even the
position of the children, this time, Areti’s hands.
Example 2.1
Lines 141-155
Teacher 2: Yes. Let them down for a while. Just let them. Take, take
the magnet and magnetize one. Pull one of these objects for me.
Vana: Madam, can I take one, too?
T2: So bring that here. Guys, what is this [pointing to a paper clip]?
Dimitris: A hairclip.
T: Is it called hairclip?
Group: No.
T2: How is it called?
George: I told mum to buy me some [pointing to the paper clip].
T2: Well, those things that it [the magnet] pulls are called paper clips
[with an emphasis]. They are made of what?
Elli: Of iron.
Areti: Of wire.
T2: Of iron. Let it down for a while [to Areti]. It’s made of iron [she
takes Areti’s hands and puts them under the table]. You’ve already
done it. All right. Bring those paper clips [the teacher collects them].
The paper clips that we’ve pulled.
V: Me, madam?
T2: Wait.
Ε: Come, Vana, take it [the magnet].
This general image of the different communication
practices and their role in the construction of meaning
will be analyzed in the following paragraphs substanti-
ated by further episodes from the two activities.
3.2. The Role of Communication Practices in the
Construction of Meaning
A) The organization of the ideational meaning
The organization of the ideational meaning is deter-
mined by a) the way in which the procedures that will
enable pupils to understand magnetic attraction are real-
ized through communication and b) on the way this
process is achieved through the introduction of technical
terms and specifically through definition and nominali-
1) Procedures
Communication determines the way in which the chil-
dren engage in the elaboration of the theme of an activity.
Both of the analyzed activities involve experimentation,
which aims at assisting children to identify the properties,
characteristics and functions of magnets. However, this
objective is implemented by means of different commu-
nication practices in the two activities.
Thus, in interactive / dialogic communication system-
atically promoted by the teacher in the first activity, idea-
tional meaning is constructed by means of open ques-
tions and speculations uttered by her, which contribute to
the dialogic elaboration of the theme. The following ex-
cerpts involve such teacher utterances:
Example 1.2
Line 215
[After the children have observed that most objects attracted by the two
magnetic poles are attached to them, while the central area remains
clear, the teacher asks for justification]
Teacher 1: Why? Why? Let’s think about it. Why did most of them go
and stick here onto Christo’s and didn’t go to the middle? What do you
Line 308
[The teacher encourages the children to connect science activities with
every day life]
T1: Now tell me: Where do we use those magnets? Do we really need
The episodes presented above are indicative of the
teacher’s effort to motivate children and engage them in
dialogue. This communication practice provides children
with an active role in the elaboration of the activity
engaging them in incidents such as observation, descrip-
tion, classification and explanation, typical in science
lessons. The open questions in the above excerpts serve
different purposes, from recollection of experiences (line
308), to explanation of an observed phenomenon (line
However, this practice is not always functional or
effective. The following episode involves this teacher’s
unsuccessful effort to elicit a conclusion after relevant
Example 1.3
Lines 288
Teacher 1: Very well. See how he put it correctly. When we have a
magnet, Antonis says, and we put near the magnet something else that
is not a magnet, like this nail [the teacher attaches a nail to the magnet],
what does the magnet do? It [the nail] gets magnet from this magnet, so
it has magnet on it, itself. And so, what can it [the nail] do? What is it
about to do?
The dialogic / interactive character of this episode is
initially revealed by the teacher’s allusion to Antonis’
inference, but also by the fact that she uses a question to
elicit a conclusion. However, the question remains open
because the children continue their experimentation and
Communication Practices and the Construction of Meaning: Science Activities in the Kindergarten
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
neither them, nor the teacher conclude to a definitive
On the other hand, in the second activity experimenta-
tion is exclusively coordinated by the teacher who takes
full control of all procedures, while in several instances
the children are limited to mere observation of her ac-
tions, or the actions of a particular child, firmly pre-
scribed by her. The teacher adopts an interactive / au-
thoritative communication practice, which is embedded
in the use of closed questions, without giving children
the opportunity to express their views and speculations.
The following excerpt is an example of the teacher’s
pervading role in the elaboration of the theme.
Example 2.2
Lines 292-299
Teacher 2: Let’s see what will happen with iron [the teacher tries her-
self]. Dimitris, look. Does it [the magnet] pick up the wood?
Dimitris: No. Give it to me [he tries to take the wooden clothes-pin
from the teacher and explore the interaction himself].
T2: Let me do it here. Does it pick up the wood?
Group: No.
T2: These, what are these made of?
Group: Wood.
T2: Toothpicks are also made of wood. Does it pick them up?
Group: No.
The authoritative communication model applied in the
second activity affects the pupils’ participation signifi-
cantly. During experimentation, their answers are gener-
ally brief or one-word, since the teacher does not give
them the opportunity to reflect on their actions and use
technical words to describe the observed phenomena.
Moreover, as is apparent in the following episode, apart
from the topic of the activity, the teacher totally controls
and determines the way in which the children participate
in the experimental procedure.
Example 2.3
Lines 325-349
Teacher 2: Well, Giorgos will do it. Well, let’s see Giorgos. Bring the
two reds near [referring to similar poles of two magnets], Giorgos, to
see what happens. Bring them near [the children laugh].
Areti: I want to see [Giorgos continues and the children laugh].
T2: Giorgos, now bring the two greys near. The two greys. The grey
poles. Bring them near. With one hand bring it near [Giorgos executes,
the magnets rotate and the children laugh]. Bring the two grey poles
near once more [laughter]. Let Elli do it, too.
Elli: From the two greys.
T2: Yes, from the two greys. Do it with the two grays and see what will
happen? [Elli holds a magnet in each hand and slowly brings them
near]. Leave the one still and bring the other near slowly. Leave that
still, don’t touch it. Leave it still. And move this slowly, slowly. As if
the cat comes close to eat the mouse. Slowly. Let’s see what will hap-
pen. Will it eat the mouse? [On approaching, one of the magnets ro-
tates, Elli is surprised, and everybody bursts out laughing].
Α: The cat got scared.
T2: What does the other magnet do when the grey one approaches?
What does it do?
Vana: It turns.
T2: It turns [Dimitris tries to take something].
E: Leave me now!
T2: Leave her, now. Elli is doing it.
D: Look! [He shows the paper clips and Vana laughs].
Α: Slowly [Talking to Elli].
T2: Bring it near slowly.
D: Madam, here!
T2: Yes [to Dimitris]. [They burst out laughing when the magnet ro-
Α: Madam, can I do it, too?
T2: [To Elli] Let’s see what will happen if you bring the red near the
grey. Bring the red near the grey.
D: Madam, look! [Showing the objects he is exploring].
T2: Dimitris, you too look here to see what will happen now. Look at
what Elli is doing. She is slowly brining the red near the grey. The grey
pole. The red pole to the grey pole [the children laugh with the attrac-
tion between the poles]. What happened?
E: They got stuck [laughing].
The teacher’s authoritative role is apparent in this epi-
sode. She does not enhance, but quite the opposite re-
stricts the children’s range of experiences. Had she pro-
moted free experimentation in the context of dialogic
communication, she would have facilitated the children
to actively discover the properties of the magnetic poles.
For example, if the children had the opportunity to hold
two magnets -one in each hand, as Elli attempted to do-
they would have sensed the repulsion between similar
poles as a complement to visual observation. This ex-
perience would have resulted in a more evident and con-
crete perception of repulsion compared. However, the
teacher’s coordination of their actions deprives them of
this opportunity.
2) Technical language
An important issue in science lessons is the use of
technical language. The transition from everyday talk to
scientific discourse is achieved by the use of technical
terms through definition and nominalization [18]. During
the second activity a functional definition is composed
following an experimental procedure, by means of a dia-
logic / non-interactive communication.
Example 2.4
Lines 135-141
Teacher 2: So these little…
Elli: Little magnets.
Communication Practices and the Construction of Meaning: Science Activities in the Kindergarten
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
T2: How did we call them?
Ε: Magnets.
T2: They have a job. They can do something. Sit down [to Dimitris].
They can pull some objects [with an emphasis]. This is called ‘magnet-
ism’. They pull them, they can pull them, and this is called ‘magnetism’.
But they cannot pull them all.
In this case the teacher recurs to the children’s obser-
vations to introduce the concept of magnetism. Never-
theless, when attempting to introduce the concept of
magnetic poles and their properties, she abandons the
dialogic stance and selects an authoritative / interactive
mode of communication by giving a definition herself,
without pursuing the children’s engagement in any kind
of experimental procedure, or taking into account their
In contrast, the dialogic / interactive practice is
adopted in the first activity even during the introduction
of technical language.
Example 1.4
Line 255-259
Teacher 1: Well done, we put this one here, too. Very well, Eleni. Let’s
give a name now. Helias. Let’s give a name to the two edges of the
magnet. How can we call them here and there? The edges, we shouldn’t
call them ‘edges’ [with an expression of discontent]. How else should
we call them?
Dimitris: Angles.
Antonis: Superma…
T1: Superma... what?
Helias: Super magnets, because they are powerful.
The teacher invites children to participate in the activ-
ity trough brainstorming, a procedure that activates im-
agination and creativity. She is not concerned about un-
expected thoughts and responses of the pupils. Thus,
finding a name for the poles becomes a playful procedure
and also an opportunity for reflection. The children select
a ‘phrasal’ name (“super magnets”) that signifies the
poles’ quality. This practice is more likely to promote the
pupils’ skills of formulating functional definitions, than
the authoritative stance of inviting them to adopt and
replicate ready-made terms.
B) The organization of the interpersonal meaning
The interactive / dialogic mode of communication
characterizing the first activity is evident in the teacher’s
constant reference to the children’s actions, her avoid-
ance of evaluative comments and her encouragement of
the expression of their ideas. More importantly, the dia-
logic interactivity promoted by the teacher in the first
activity establishes the appropriate conditions for dia-
logic interactions among the children. In this context the
model of interaction between teacher and pupils supports
and at the same time is supported by spontaneous inves-
tigations, cooperative action, and exchange of ideas be-
tween the children, as illustrated in the following exam-
Example 1.5
Lines 112-119
Zisis: Hey, guys, this much, what is it?
Teacher 1: Which one?
Z: A magnet? What is it? [Antonis explores the interaction between the
unspecified object with a small magnet].
Αntonis: It sticks.
Helias: A big headphone? Ice cream?
T1: Does it look like ice cream?
A: It attaches here easily.
In the previous episode, as well as in the episode pre-
sented in Example 1.1, the children are encouraged by
the teacher to move and act freely. They are given the
opportunity to observe and the responsibility to reflect
upon the phenomena they choose to explore. In other
words, this context provides the necessary motivation for
the pupils’ active engagement in the activity, thus estab-
lishing interaction and dialogicity. The example pre-
sented above displays the dialogue between the children,
the spontaneous organization of common actions and the
adoption of suggestions. Therefore, dialogue and interac-
tion support the co-construction of meaning by the
members of the group.
The interactive-authoritative communication model
characterizing the second activity imposes the teacher’s
total control on the interpersonal relations developed
within the group. In this context the children execute
instructions and are expected to adapt their answers in
order to correspond to the predetermined objectives set
by the teacher. This stance is particularly obvious when
children spontaneously express their thoughts. Pupils’
unexpected statements are either ignored, or commented
upon in a way which discourages their spontaneous ex-
pression, as will be apparent in the following example.
Example 2.5
Lines 204-213
Teacher 2: What happened, Giorgos?
Giorgos: It doesn’t pull.
T2: It doesn’t pull. Why on earth, Giorgos, since this is a key and that is
a key, also [pointing]? Why doesn’t it pull this key while it pulls the
other one?
Elli: Because this is made of crystal.
T2: What is this made of?
E: Of crystal.
T2: What is this crystal?
E: I don’t know. I only know a word [meanwhile Giorgos explores the
Communication Practices and the Construction of Meaning: Science Activities in the Kindergarten
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
interaction of the magnet with other objects].
T2: Ah, Giorgos, give me your magnet for a while. Or you rather come
here, come here. Magnetize this key [Giorgos tries and pulls the key
from its ring]. Is it magnetized?
This example reveals the non-dialogic –albeit interac-
tive- character of the interaction. The teacher determines
who will participate and what their actions will be. Dur-
ing this episode the children try to explain why some
objects are not attracted by the magnet. Elli –trying to
justify why some materials are not attracted by the magnet-
identifies them as “crystal”. However, the teacher ques-
tions the appropriateness of Ellis’ idea. Elli perceives the
critical tone in her teacher’s question “What is this crys-
tal?” and adopts an apologetic attitude confessing her
ignorance “I only know a word”.
Another significant effect of the non-dialogic commu-
nication on the interpersonal meaning in the second
activity is related to the discouragement of interaction
between the children and their actions, or ideas. The
teacher, by addressing one child at a time, mainly directing
him/her towards specific operations, eliminates every
possibility of cooperation and estimation of different
viewpoints expressed by the children.
C) The organization of the textual meaning
The third stage for analyzing the meaning of the activity
concerns the managing of information flow. Therefore
the interactional context defines the way children’s ac-
tions and thoughts contribute to the presentation of the
activities’ news. The analysis of textual structure will
focus on information flow comprising two aspects,
namely the activities’ textual expansion and temporal
1) The expansion of the activity
The evolution of the first activity is mainly organized
by means of the teacher’s comments on the pupils’ ac-
tions. Those comments encourage the participation of all
children in similar actions and subsequently support their
attempts to explain what they have observed during their
experimentations. This practice creates cohesion between
the children’s experimentations and the unfolding of the
Example 1.6
Lines 209-213
Teacher 1: Ah! Look what Helias has done. Ah! Very very good!
Antonis: Look!
T1: Eh, Helias, why haven’t they been attached here, in the middle? But
look at the sides of this magnet. Everyone, look at Helias for a moment.
Look for a moment. Where have most of them gone and stuck? Here, at
the middle, or on the sides, on the edges?
Group: On the sides.
T1: Most of them are stuck on the edges, huh? There! And the one that
Georgia has, raise it up, Georgia, for us to see. See where they mostly
got stuck? Here, in the middle, or here on the edge [pointing]?
G: On the edge.
T1: Why? Why? Come on, think about it. Why most of them went and
got stuck here on Christos’ [magnet] and didn’t go to the middle? What
do you say now?
In the episode presented in Example 1.6 the teacher in-
itiates another stage of the activity by directing the chil-
dren to the observation of the magnetic poles by identi-
fying Helias’ action. Two children immediately corre-
spond to her incitement. Therefore, the dialogic / interac-
tive practice here contributes to the expansion of the ac-
tivity, by stimulating the children’s interest and ensuring
their involvement in a common action. This action is
aimed at advancing the activity, allowing for the pro-
spective explanation of the observed phenomenon. Con-
versely, every action and every stage in the course of the
second activity is determined by the teacher’s statements
and is not related to what has preceded.
Example 2.6
Lines 74-77
Teacher 2: Elli, put the rubber band down here. You too, leave the
clothes-pin, Dimitris. And now… Giorgos take the magnet. Take it in
your hands. And now Elli will approach the magnet to these objects that
we have up here. Let’s see, what happens? Will there be any magic?
[Elli experiments until an object is attracted and the children start
laughing]. What happens?
Group: It sticks.
The episode presented above reflects the communica-
tion’s non-dialogic character. The teacher has full re-
sponsibility of the organization and flow of the activity.
The pupils’ actions are supposed to execute her instruc-
tions in a definite time without self-acting, or expressing
personal views and queries. This only leaves a single
possibility for the evolution of the activity, namely the
one prescribed by the teacher.
On the other hand, the most extensive non-interactive
parts of the teacher’s discourse in the first activity in-
volve in majority instructions for the coordination of the
children’s actions. Similarly, the teacher’s utterances
loudly describing the pupils’ actions, or announcing a
personal teacher-pupil dialogue aiming at facilitating the
evolution of the activity, can also be classified in the
same context. Therefore, even when this teacher intro-
duces non-interactive communication, this remains dia-
logic, since its frame of reference is children’s actions
and viewpoints.
Example 1.7
Lines 181
Communication Practices and the Construction of Meaning: Science Activities in the Kindergarten
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
Teacher 1: Everybody, look. It got stuck. Vagelitsa stuck it there. Eh…
It remained up there. This, Dimitra said before, some have iron. But it
does not stick onto Dimitra’s bracelet. Look. On the bracelet, says
Dimitra, it doesn’t stick onto her bracelet. Where else can it stick? Go
on, try somewhere.
Example 1.7 documents the teacher’s attempt to con-
vey individual children’s experiences and thoughts to the
whole group. This contributes to the extension of the
activity, putting forward new problems. The teacher’s
statements establish a dialogic process aiming at inform-
ing the group, and at broadening the field of individual
2) The temporal organization of the activity
A particular component of the first activity, signifi-
cantly enhancing its interactive-dialogic character, con-
cerns the managing of time. The interaction between
teacher and pupils is not restricted temporally. This at-
tribute supports the dialogic nature of the activity in two
ways. First, the teacher does not rush to close the discus-
sion, but instead avoids providing answers to the pupils’
questions directly, inviting the children to further explore
Example 1.8
Lines 445-449
Teacher 1: But do you know why? Why these two hands do not hug
each other? There! There! There! Look at Zisis’ little hand. He is
trying. Why don’t they hug and push each other like this? Huh? Do you
know why? Why… Why… Yours goes like this, too [to Vaggelitsa]?
Mine also turns around. Look. Do you know, Vaggelitsa?
Vaggelitsa: I know! Because from the other side it doesn’t have any
magnetism, while from this it does.
T1: Look here, for a moment. Vaggelitsa says that these little mag-
nets… look here for a moment. Vaggelitsa says that these little magnets
push one another; they don’t want to hug because, she says, one of
them does not have magnetism. Anything else you might think about
this? Dimitra?
The second way in which the loose organization of
time supports dialogic communication in the first activity
involves the repetition of stages. Therefore, the activity
does not evolve serially, but the group is allowed to refer
to previous unresolved issues requiring further explora-
tion or a more elaborated explanation.
The loose organization of time in the first activity is
also evident in the teacher’s reactions at instances where
the pupils refer back to an unresolved issue. In the fol-
lowing episode Dimitra participates in the exploration of
a question and initially confronts Zisis’ view. The time
provided by the teacher for investigation gives Dimitra
the opportunity to develop her explanation about the
phenomenon under consideration and to demonstrate her
point of view through the experimental procedure. Dimi-
tra returns to the issue that troubles her and this offers the
teacher the opportunity to repeat the experiment inviting
all the children to observe and participate in the discus-
sion. Episodes like the one presented below support the
position that meanings flow, as dialogue expands. In
addition they reveal that children’s ideas, explorations
and pace contribute to the construction of meaning.
Example 1.9
Lines 215-224
Teacher 1: Why? Why? Let’s think about it. Why did most of them go
and stick here onto Christo’s and didn’t go to the middle? What do you
Zisis: Because it had no magnet.
T1: Why?
Ζ: It had no magnet.
T1: It had no magnet here, at the middle?
Dimitra: There’s magnet all over it.
T1: There’s magnet all over it, she says.
Helias: But it sticks [moving an object towards the magnet].
T1: Yes, but why did most of them go to the edges?
D: There’s magnet all over it. Because if we put it like this… can you
put it?
[Meanwhile Dimitra confirms through her experimentations that there
is magnetic attraction all over the magnet. Trying to explain why ob-
jects are mainly attached to the poles she proposes her teacher to leave
the magnet on the table instead of holding it vertically].
Lines 243-247
Dimitra: You know something, madam? There’s magnet all over it. If
we lie it down!
Teacher 1: You say if we lie it down it won’t go? Look, Dimitra.
Everyone, look at something! Let’s see what Dimitra says. Everyone,
come over here! Oops! Oh, they went away. Never mind. Leave them
there. Never mind, never mind, never mind. Let’s see what Dimitra
says. Let’s see what Dimitra says [She moves the magnet on the table].
As it moves on, its edges pull them, see?
D: Yes, its edges.
T1: So, could it be that its edges have more power?
D: No.
Lines 271-272
Dimitra: You know something, madam? As it’s lying down, if we put a
small nail here, it catches it.
Teacher 1: It catches it. But it only catches a small nail, while here it
catches a lot.
The dialogic aspect of the interaction is more explic-
itly revealed at the final part of the episode (lines
271-272), where the teacher takes advantage of Dimitra’s
Communication Practices and the Construction of Meaning: Science Activities in the Kindergarten
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
observation to refine the account of the observed phe-
nomenon. The improvement of Dimitra’s reasoning con-
sists in shifting the focus from mere observation of the
phenomenon to the exploration of properties which de-
termine it, providing the discussion with the conditions
necessary to shift from description to explanation (at the
level of discourse) and from perception to comprehen-
sion (at the level of conceptual representation).
This mode of time management – both at the mac-
rolevel of the activity and the microlevel of distinct epi-
sodes - gives pupils the possibility to organize their rea-
soning and their discourse. At the same time it gives the
teacher the opportunity to follow the children’s line of
thinking, reflect on their actions, advance the discussion,
and take the activity forward.
In the case of the second activity the teacher has the
total responsibility of time management without taking
into account pupil’s views and speculations (see, for in-
stance, Example 2.1). This total control significantly af-
fects the evolution and duration of the instruction.
It should be noted that under no circumstances the
discussion readdressed the same issue at different points
during the second activity. Furthermore, many actions
are implemented by the teacher herself, which grants her
with a particularly tight organization of time and contrib-
utes to the prompt textual unfolding of the activity.
4. Discussion
The preceding analysis indicates that the divergent
communication practices adopted in the course of the
two activities establish different conditions in the respec-
tive classes. Dialogicity turns out to be an effective
communicational practice that determines the construc-
tion of meaning by means of the children’s actions. On
the other hand, authoritative discourse facilitates the
presentation of the scientific aspect.
Each of the dialogic and authoritative communication
practices establishes a particular climate in the classroom,
which is determined by the way children participate and
the actions by means of which the activity is imple-
The first activity is apparently organized according to
a child-centered pedagogical philosophy, while at the
same time it adopts a socio-cultural view of learning
based on communication [1,2]. These two principles
grant the teacher the sensitivity to respect the children’s
views and the flexibility to avoid a predetermined course.
The teacher provides the children with the time necessary
for their spontaneous experimentation and takes advan-
tage of their observations. By encouraging dialogue she
enables the children to process their experiences and en-
gage in cognitive challenge [4], putting emphasis on the
cognitive and the social aspects of learning [5] at the
same time. Furthermore, by surpassing the linear tempo-
ral evolution of the stages of the activity, she revisits
previous stages. This non-linear organization of the ac-
tivity is either used to extend a problem (Examples 1.12
& 1.13), or to explore ideas and speculations put forward
by the children (Example 1.9 lines 243-247 & 271-272).
Therefore, the interactive / dialogic model promoted
by the first activity realizes the teacher’s intention to
facilitate the children’s actions and the development of
ideas. The teacher grants the children with an active role,
to which they correspond; they actively engage in ex-
perimentations, contributing to the evolution of the activity.
They participate in the activity -at times individually, at
others through collaboration in small groups (Example
1.5). They focus not only on their points of concern and
interest, but also contribute with their ideas to their
peers’ effort (Example 1.9). They announce their obser-
vations and share the pleasure of discovery with their
group (Example 1.1). They engage in cognitive conflict
(Examples 1.8 & 1.9). This communication model real-
izes the fundamental principle of communication, relat-
ing understanding with active participation [2,24,25].
Dialogicity, a dominant attribute of this activity, supports
reflective teaching [10], overcoming significant weak-
nesses in the thematic organization of the activity. At the
same time, as the analysis in the previous section indi-
cates, the social interactions enacted by dialogicity con-
stitute a valuable strategy for kindergarten supporting
children’s understanding and cognitive progress and ena-
bling ‘the possible to be transformed to feasible’ [25.
However, while dialogicity supports the active par-
ticipation of pupils, its consistent and undifferentiated
use by the teacher in the first activity reveals significant
limitations. The evolution of the activity illustrates that
this teacher has probably no particular plan, or lacks a
theoretical background related to the specificities of sci-
ence teaching. Therefore, her supportive and facilitative
role sometimes remains unfulfilled. In such cases the
adherence to the dialogic / interactive communication
proves ineffective and underlines the need for systematic
planning in science activities and for the use of alterna-
tive communicative practices at different stages and for
different purposes [13]. Therefore, as every methodo-
logical choice, a child-centered stance, realized through
dialogic / interactive communication should take into
consideration specific teaching objectives and the evolu-
tion of the activity.
In contrast, the teacher in the second activity consis-
tently undertakes the role of the expert. She focuses on
the quantity of information that can be delivered – main-
ly by her- in the course of the activity [16], directs chil-
dren’s learning and restricts them to the repetition of
Communication Practices and the Construction of Meaning: Science Activities in the Kindergarten
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
technical terminology and expressions [17]. This is par-
ticularly evident when she introduces a definition (Ex-
ample 2.4 line 141). Such episodes constitute functional
and essential parts of science activities. However, the
authoritative / interactive communication practice perva-
sively used during the second activity deprives the chil-
dren from the possibility to participate in the production
of classroom discourse that would have brought out in-
dications of their understanding and of the effectiveness
of communication [2].
Moreover, the authoritative interaction promoted dur-
ing the second activity places the teacher in a strikingly
privileged position in relation to the pupils, and allows
her to determine the organization and evolution of the
activity, as well as the children’s role in the whole proc-
ess. This model of one-way communication, which
builds on triadic dialogue [6,7], restrains the develop-
ment of scientific reasoning based on the exploration of
assumptions. Therefore, in the course of the second ac-
tivity the children are not given the opportunity to ex-
press their thoughts and in the few instances where this
occurs spontaneously (Example 2.5 line 207) the teacher
fails to correspond and exploit the children’s ideas relat-
ing them to the experimental procedure. Even when she
introduces teaching strategies (such as the cat and mouse
analogy in Example 2.3 line 330), these do not serve her
teaching purposes [24] but are merely used to attract the
children’s interest and attention, and therefore do not
contribute to understanding. Thus, this teacher only seeks
passive understanding and discards the opportunity for
effective communication [2]. Had this teacher included
dialogicity at certain points of her instruction, her pupils
would have had the opportunity to elaborate the out-
comes of their experiments, draw conclusions from their
actions and come up with functional definitions. Such
skills of scientific thinking are not encouraged by the
communication practice she adopts.
5. Conclusions
The present study employed a framework of analysis for
comparing communication practices and their role in the
construction of meaning in two kindergarten activities
about magnets and magnetic attraction. The analysis
presented in the previous sections illustrates critical dis-
crepancies in the discourses produced in the two classes.
These different discourses directly result from the com-
municative practices adopted by the two teachers. More-
over, these discourses produce clearly differentiated
meanings at the ideational, interpersonal, and textual
More particularly, the differences in ideational mean-
ing result from the differences in the negotiation of prac-
tical experiences, the introduction and use of technical
language, as well as the formulation of functional defini-
tions, explanations, or conclusions.
The differences in interpersonal meaning between the
two activities are exemplified by the different roles
adopted by the two teachers (facilitator or expert) and
granted to their pupils (equivalent, active participants in
the learning process, or passive executors of instructions).
Last, the differences in textual meaning reflect dis-
crepancies in terms of the activities’ expansion, that is
the degree to which this textual organization is influ-
enced by the children’s actions, or is entirely predeter-
mined by the teacher. Differences in textual meaning also
reflect discrepancies in terms of time managing. There-
fore different levels of dialogicity impose variations in
regards to the rhythm and duration on each activity, as
well as in regards to its degree of temporal linearity.
The preceding analysis underlines the necessity for
preschool teachers to systematically design their science
activities taking into account the social dimension of
learning [1] and select accordingly the communicative
practices most appropriate for each topic, stage, and
teaching objective. It also illustrates the relative advan-
tages and disadvantages of dialogic and authoritative
interaction in the kindergarten, as well as the need for
complementary use of the two communication practices
[8,13] to fulfill different purposes related to young chil-
dren’s initiation into science.
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