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This article provides better understanding of the challenges related to engaging students in science and, operationalises the concept of “agency” in discursive terms for social research more generally. A core dilemma for educators and science teachers is that many capable students, especially girls, learn to do school well by being compliant, rather than doing science well and being agentic. The study draws from classroom discourse in a secondary school in Melbourne, Australia, filmed over an entire unit of work using four cameras and seven audio tracks. The inquiry is concerned with social acts involving three capable students, girls, in their science classroom and their relative positioning as agentic, or responsible for action in the discourse. The micro analysis reveals otherwise hidden moments of positioning where these girls act as responsible and inquiring. However, compliance and the maintenance of social identities as good students is jointly realised, limiting their agentic participation. The small group is shown to operate like a sub-community of practise, implying the need to better understand joint activity in small groups in science. The paper illustrates the potential of the discursive psychological approach for research concerned with human agency.

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Journal Article

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