Developing pedagogical connections among ideas, experiences, and concepts

By Heather King - June 2011


Scott, P., Mortimer, E. & Ametller, J. (2011). Pedagogical link-making: A fundamental aspect of teaching and learning scientific conceptual knowledge. Studies in Science Education, 47(1), 3–36.

This study discusses a process that the authors have termed ‘pedagogical link-making’. This may be described as the way in which educators and learners establish connections between ideas as part of the ongoing interactions comprising teaching and learning. This process has clear implications for educators: by supporting knowledge building, promoting continuity, and encouraging emotional investment, educators can help learners make links between ideas and experiences.

Theorists have described the process of learning as linking new and existing ideas. Moreover, sociocultural scholars have emphasized the importance of the link-making processes being firstly played out in the social space – by the teacher or by peers – before they become internalized by the individual. As the authors claim, “both teaching and learning must involve link-making processes: they are the complementary sides of the same pedagogical coin” (p. 5).

The authors have identified three forms of pedagogical link-making (outlined in bold), each of which comprises a number of approaches:

In order to support knowledge building, educators engage in making links between:

• everyday and scientific ways of explaining • different scientific concepts • scientific explanations and real-world phenomena • modes of representations (i.e., verbal and mathematical representations of a phenomenon) • scales and levels of representations (from the submicroscopic to the macroscopic) • different analogies used in explanations of content.

The second form of pedagogical link-making involves making connections between ideas and teaching and learning events separated in space and time. Thus to promote continuity, educators must seek to:

• develop the scientific story across a series of learning events (separated by minutes within one session, or by years in a learner’s life) • manage or organize the story.

The results of this link-making process change the perception that schooling comprises a series of isolated, disconnected events.

The third form, pedagogical link-making to encourage emotional engagement, addresses the need to ensure the positive participation of learners without which the other two forms of pedagogical link-making would be rendered inert. Educator approaches here include linking students with a piece of content by, for example, asking a student for their view or prediction with regards to a particular phenomenon. Alternatively, a teacher may promote engagement by making the learning experience particularly striking and memorable. A further and more generic approach involves the use of general praise and encouragement such as “good girl”, “brilliant”, and “well done everyone”.

The authors note that if an educator is to address all three forms of pedagogical link-making they need to have a well-developed understanding of the content under discussion in order to be able to apply the various link-making knowledge-building approaches. They will also benefit from an understanding of what the learners already know as this would help their link-making to support continuity and learner engagement.

In the second half of the study, the authors present a detailed case study of how an experienced physics teacher supports his students in making links over a series of lessons. While this setting and situation may not be directly comparable to the learning experiences managed by ISE practitioners, the framework of link-making approaches developed by the authors comprises a useful tool for any educator wishing to reflect on his or her practice in supporting learning and to remedy gaps in their link-making repertoire.

Clearly, a desirable future research initiative would involve the identification of the pedagogical link-making forms and approaches within a range of ISE settings in order to produce a set of case studies to which ISE practitioners could refer to and build upon.