Saturday, November 27, 2010

Research on science teacher knowledge - Lit Review by Abell (2007)

Abell, S. K. (2007). Research on science teacher knowledge (Chapter 36). In S.K. Abell and N.G. Lederman (Eds.), Research on Science Teacher Education, pp.1105-1149, New York: Routledge.

This chapter is a comprehensive literature review of the research on science teacher knowledge.

Science teacher subject matter knowledge (SMK)

Using a true/false written test, researchers found that prospective elementary teachers (Ralya & Ralya) and practicing teachers (Blanchett) held a large number of misconceptions about science and science-related issues. The Ralya and Ralya study is interesting in that misconceptions they identified for a significant number of teachers became key targets for research on both student and teacher science conceptions 50 years later (e.g., causes of the seasons, force and motion, heat and temperature).

"Teachers often subscribe to the same alternative conceptions as their students" (p. 189), (Wandersee, 1994)
Few studies have examined the development of science teacher SMK over time. Arzi and White (2004) investigated SMK in a 17-year longitudinal study of secondary science teachers. They found that the school science curriculum was "the most powerful determinant of teachers' knowledge, serving as both knowledge organizer and knowledge source" (p. 2). This study is significant both for the rarity of its longitudinal methods as well as the resulting phase model of teacher SMK development that could be a useful tool in science teacher education.

Appleton (1992, 1995) claimed that factors other than increased science study affected confidence to teach science but admitted that teachers who experienced success in learning science content did become more confident. Appleton also warned science educators not to confuse confidence with competence.
A review of the research on teacher SMK about chemistry (de Jong et al., 2002) corroborates the observation that even teachers who have strong preparation in chemistry lack understanding of concepts fundamental to their field. ... students across disciplines, including preservice teachers, gave incorrect answers about the causes and consequences associated with this phenomenon. Indeed, problems in understanding college chemistry are not limited to prospective elementary teachers.

Another line of science teacher research concerned itself with teacher planning. Although this research typically did not mention Shulman or PCK, being more often framed by a teacher cognition perspective, notions of teacher knowledge were often implicit. The planning literature in teacher education is rich (see Clark & Peterson, 1986; So, 1997), but science education is not well represented. Science education studies on teacher planning have examined both preservice (Davies & Rogers, 2000; Morine-Dershimer, 1989; Roberts & Chastko, 1990) and practicing (Aikenhead, 1984; Sanchez & Valcarcel, 1999; So, 1997) science teachers in an attempt to understand how teachers plan and what knowledge and beliefs influence their planning.

Two other studies of SMK in earth and space science (Barba & Rubba, 1992; 1993) were substantially different in that they adopted an expert/novice theoretical framework to study inservice/preservice and novice/veteran teachers' declarative and procedural knowledge about a variety of earth and space science topics. Aligned with their theoretical frame, they found that expert teachers had better content knowledge structures, gave more accurate answers, used information chunks in solving problems, solved problems in fewer steps, and generated more solutions. Novice teachers moved between declarative and procedural knowledge more often and were less fluent in solving earth/ space science tasks overall.

SMK Assessment Methods: card sort, concept mapping, true-false tests, organize topics, comment on topic importance. Rather than provide the terms used in the card sort, the researchers (Gess-Newsome and Lederman, 1993; 1995) asked teachers to first generate their own terms and then diagram the relationships.
By far the most research on teachers' SMK in science has taken place in the domain of physics. The overall finding from these studies of teacher SMK in physics is that teachers' misunderstandings mirror what we know about students. This finding holds regardless of the method used to assess teacher knowledge: true / false (Yip et al., 1998), multiple choice (e.g., Lawrenz, 1986), open-ended surveys (Mohaptra & Bhattacharyya, 1989), interviews (Linder & Erickson, 1989; Smith, 1987), and observation techniques (Daehler & Shinohara, 2001; Pardhan & Bano, 2001).

Relation of SMK to Teaching

Druva and Anderson (1983) found a small but significant positive relation between "science training" and "teaching effectiveness."

In an observational study of elementary science teachers, Anderson (1979) provided convincing evidence that, "Lack of science content [knowledge]... made it virtually impossible for them to structure the information in lessons in ways preferred by science educators" (p. 226); the teachers avoided spontaneous questions from students, emphasized minor details in discussion, and failed to develop important concepts.

Dobey (1980) demonstrated the complexities of correlating SMK with teaching. Dobey, in his dissertation (Dobey, 1980; Dobey & Schafer, 1984), studied 22 preservice elementary teachers' SMK and level of inquiry teaching via their planning and teaching of a pendulum unit to fifth graders. The researchers measured SMK, not by the number of college science courses taken, but by performance and training on topic-specific tasks. The findings were mixed. Teachers in the "no knowledge" group were more teacher-directed than those with "intermediate knowledge," but not more so than the "knowledge" group teachers. The "no knowledge" teachers did not pursue new avenues of investigation during the lesson and allowed the least number of student ideas. The "no knowledge" group did not give out pendulum information in the lesson, and one-half of the "knowledge" group lectured at some point. [too little or too much SMK was associated with teacher-directed instruction; perhaps the teachers with high-SMK taught science they way they learned science]

In her dissertation study of five experienced biology teachers, Gess-Newsome (Gess-Newsome & Lederman, 1995) compared the teachers' subject matter structures with their classroom practice, concluding that the "level of content knowledge had a significant impact on how content was taught" (p. 317). [Qs the teachers ask, amount of "risky activities," complexity of test questions, amount of teacher vs. student talk]
Smith (1997): "knowledge of science does enhance teaching, but not in a straightforward manner" (p. 151).

Examining preservice elementary teachers as they planned a science lesson, Symington and Hayes (1989) demonstrated that inadequate SMK led to limitations in planning, and that future teachers had few strategies for coping with their lack of science understanding. However, in another study, Symington (1982) found no direct relationship of SMK to a preservice teacher's ability to plan appropriate materials for student investigation. According to Symington, there must be other kinds of knowledge and abilities that "compensate for a lack of scientific knowledge" (p. 70).

Despite this mixture of settings and methods, the evidence does support a positive relationship between SMK and teaching.

Could it be, as Lederman and Gess-Newsome suggested, that some minimal SMK is necessary, but that studies at different grades, or with preservice versus practicing teachers, cannot be compared fairly? Or could it be that SMK does have an effect on science teaching, but that this effect is mediated by other types of teacher knowledge? This was implied in many of the studies reported. Perhaps SMK is necessary, but not sufficient, for effective teaching. A review of studies of PK and PCK could be instructive.


Shulman's Model of Teacher Knowledge: pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) as the knowledge that is developed by teachers to help others learn. Teachers build PCK as they teach specific topics in their subject area. PCK is influenced by the transformation of three other knowledge bases: subject matter knowledge (SMK), pedagogical knowledge (PK), and knowledge of context (KofC) (Grossman)

The Shulman program was substantially different. Shulman and his colleagues attempted to answer the question "What knowledge is essential for teaching?" by studying teachers from different subject areas (e.g., English, science, social studies).

Magnusson, Krajcik, and Borko (1999) defined PCK as consisting of five components: (a) orientations toward science teaching, which include a teacher's knowledge of goals for and general approaches to science teaching; (b) knowledge of science curriculum, including national, state, and district standards and specific science curricula; (c) knowledge of assessment for science, including what to assess and how to assess students; (d) knowledge of science instructional strategies, including representations, activities, and methods; and (e) knowledge of student science understanding, which includes common conceptions and areas of difficulty.

Grossman's (1990) formalization of Shulman's model of teacher knowledge included a component of pedagogical knowledge separate from PCK that she labeled general pedagogical knowledge (PK). PK includes knowledge of instructional principles, classroom management, learners and learning, and educational aims that are not subject-matter-specific. Theoretically, these types of knowledge interact with PCK for teaching of a particular topic in a discipline. Could it be that the influence of PK on PCK needs to be better articulated? I believe that more attention must be paid to the interaction of PK with PCK-for example, the role of caring, classroom management, or general learning views-in how teachers teach science.


Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) has been defined as "the transformation of subject-matter knowledge into forms accessible to the students being taught" (Geddis, 1993, p. 675). Grossman (1990) and later Magnusson et al. (1999) defined separate components of PCK, including orientations, knowledge of learners, curriculum, instructional strategies, and assessment. Yet, the PCK literature in science education is not nearly as tidy as the SMK literature.

Several lines of research used frameworks other than Shulman's to understand science teacher knowledge. For example, science education researchers have used Schon's theory of reflective practice to understand the development of "professional knowledge" (Abell, Bryan, & Anderson, 1998; Anderson, Smith, & Peasley, 2000; Munby, Cunningham, & Lock, 2000; Munby & Russell, 1992; Russell & MWlby, 1991). These studies demonstrated how teacher knowledge develops over time with respect to various inputs and perturbations, but did not classify teacher knowledge as Shulman did.

Subcategories of PCK
  1. orientations: "general way of viewing or conceptualizing science teaching" - (e.g., fact acquisition, conceptual development, and content understanding); approaches to teaching (e.g., transmission, inquiry, discovery)
  2. knowledge of learners: requirements for learning certain concepts; areas students find difficult, approaches to learning science, and common alternative conceptions; many teachers were unaware of students' likely misconceptions [teachers have many of the same misconceptions student have]; veteran teachers are able to predict and plan around these difficulties; experienced teachers are able to provide evidence to support their interpretations of students. Overall it appears that teachers lack knowledge of student conceptions, but that this knowledge improves with teaching experience.
  3. curriculum knowledge: (a) knowledge of mandated goals and objectives (e.g., state and national standards); and (b) knowledge of specific curriculum programs and materials. Although science teachers recognize a variety of goals for science teaching, they tend to emphasize content goals over attitudinal or process goals. We know little about the knowledge teacher bring to bear on the analysis, selection, or design of science curriculum materials.
  4. knowledge of science instructional strategies: (a) subject specific strategies (e.g., learning cycle, use of analogies or demos or labs); and (b) topic-specific teaching methods and strategies, including representations, demonstrations, and activities. More science education research should be devoted to examining what teachers understand about classroom inquiry strategies and science teaching models, and how they translate their knowledge into instruction.
  5. science assessment: this includes (a) what to assess, and (b) how to assess (methods); According to Briscoe (1993), a teacher's ability to change his/her assessment practices is "influenced by what the teacher already knows or understands about teaching, learning, and the nature of schooling" (p. 983). These studies of teacher knowledge of assessment in science provide rich research models that demonstrate a link between PCK for assessment and science teaching orientation. More studies are needed to better understand what teachers know about assessment, and how they design, enact, and score assessments in their science classes.


Science teacher education must honor not only formal teacher knowledge, but also the local and practical knowledge of teachers in the field and the sociocultural contexts that frame their work.
Current U.S. federal policy implies that only SMK is needed to produce highly qualified teachers (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). This review provides evidence to the contrary.

Recommendations for Future Research
The area in which the SMK literature is less clear is the relation of SMK to other forms of teacher knowledge, to teacher beliefs and values, and to classroom practice. We need more studies that take place within the teaching -context to examine how SMK develops, how it plays out in teaching, and how it is related to other kinds of teacher knowledge (see Ball & McDiarmid, 1996).

More studies need to focus on the essence of PCK-how teachers transform SMK of specific science topics into viable instruction (see van Oriel et al., 1998).

Although we have a good understanding of the kinds of knowledge that teachers bring to bear on science teaching, we know little about how teacher knowledge affects students.

The ultimate goal for science teacher knowledge research must be not only to understand teacher knowledge, but also to improve practice, thereby improving student learning.

Expert and novice, earth and space science (1993)

Barba, R. H. and Rubba, P. A. (1993). Expert and novice, earth and space science: teachers' declarative, procedural and structural knowledge. International Journal of Science Education, 15(3):273-282.

Abstract: This study sought to compare expert and novice earth and space science teachers in terms of the declarative, procedural and structural knowledge that they use while engaged in solving 'typical' earth science problems. In a qualitative analysis of the problem-solving skills of six expert and six novice earth and space science teachers, it was found that expert earth and space science teachers: (a) brought more declarative knowledge to the problem, (b) used fewer steps to solve a problem, (c) generated more subroutines, (d) generated more alternative solutions, (e) moved less between declarative and procedural knowledge, and (f) solved problems more accurately than did the novice earth and space science teachers. Findings from this study support Norman's (1982) theory of learning, that experts perform with ease while novices seem to work harder. The expert earth and space science teachers in this study seemed to function at the 'tuning' level, while novice earth and space science teachers function at the 'accretion' level (Norman 1982).

Barba, R. H. and Rubba, P. A. (1992). A comparison of preservice and in-service earth and space science teachers' general mental abilities, content knowledge, and problem-solving skills. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 29(10):1021-1035.

The purpose of this study was to compare in-service and preservice earth and space science teachers on their general mental abilities, their content knowledge or declarative knowledge of earth and space sciences, the Gagnean levels of their content knowledge or declarative knowledge, and the procedural knowledge used in solving earth and space science problems. This study used a contrast-group design to compare in-service (n = 30) and preservice (n = 30) earth and space science teachers. The in-service earth science teachers (a) bring more declarative knowledge to the problem-solving situation, (b) use fewer steps while problem solving, (c) generate more subroutines and alternate hypotheses, and (d) possess different structural knowledge than do preservice earth science teachers. Findings from this study support Norman's theory of learning that experts (in-service teachers) function at the tuning mode of learning, whereas novices (preservice teachers) function in an accreting or structuring mode. In-service earth science teachers exhibited smoothness, automaticity, and decreased mental effort not exhibited by preservice earth and space science teachers.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Three competing purposes of education - Laboree (1997)

Labaree, D.F. 1997. Public Goods, Private Goods: The American Struggle Over Educational Goals. American Educational Research Journal, 34 (1), pp39-81.

According to Labaree, there are three alternative & competing goals for American education:
1. democratic equality: for citizens, everyone needs to know as much as possible, education needs to be accessible to everyone in order to create a true democracy, so anyone can contribute (public good)
2. social efficiency: for workers, everyone benefits from more skilled workers, make education more practical by offering more practical study matters and some degree of stratification (private training for public benefit)
3. social mobility: for individuals, the benefit largely goes to the individual consumer, who gains a salary increase or mainains his/her position on the social scale; this provides further stratification and differentiation between institutions (even with similar programs), as well as within institutions (from remedial to gifted)

“Schools,” Stanford historian David Labaree wrote, “occupy an awkward position at the intersection between what we hope society will become and what we think it really is.” What do we want our schools to do, and for whom?

According to Lauren Resnick [Resnick, L. B. (1987). The 1987 Presidential Address: Learning in school and out. Educational Researcher, 16 (9), pp. 13-20], there are three main views about the role of education in American society:
    1. schools should prepare people for economic participation (work)
    2. schools should prepare people to learn effectively over the long course of their work lives, and
    3. schools should prepare people for civic and cultural participation
and that we as nation struggle with these competing visions and purposes of education.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Teaching as assisted performance - Tharp & Gallimore 1988

Tharp, R. G. & Gallimore, R. (1988). The redefinition of teaching and schooling (Chapter 1, pp. 13-26), A theory of teaching as assisted performance (Chapter 2, pp. 27-43) in Rousing minds to life: Teaching, learning and schooling in social context. New York. Cambridge University

Thesis: Teaching must be redefined as assisted performance. Teaching consists in assisting performance. Teaching is occurring when performance is achieved with assistance.

Traditional "teaching": lecturing, explaining, and asking students questions

Duffy and his associates (Duffy, 1981; Duffy, Lanier, & Roehler, 1980) summarized the work on teacher effectiveness and drew two conclusions: (a) The most effective teachers of basic skills generate the greatest opportunity to learn. (b) Such teachers are technical managers of instructional materials and activities rather than theory-driven and reflective decision makers.

Teaching as assistance
  • Of what does this "other" kind of teaching consist? For one thing, it clearly involves subject-matter competence. To do more than manage activities and allow students to learn on their own, teachers must command the knowledge and skills they seek to impart (Shulman, 1986). The point of teaching is to impart knowledge and the capacity to process that knowledge
  • But knowing the subject matter is not sufficient for teachers. Pedagogical expertise is also required (Berliner, 1986), of which there are many kinds.
Rousing minds to life
  • Until internalization occurs, performance must be assisted.
  • Assisted performance identifies a fundamental process of development and learning.
  • Students cannot be left to learn on their own; teachers cannot be content to provide opportunities to learn and then assess outcomes; recitation must be deemphasized; responsive, assisting interactions must become commonplace in the classroom. Minds must be roused to life.
  • "If seek to promote the quality of teaching, reforms should also provide [teachers] some means to improve"
  • How are we to achieve in schools the conditions that will make them places for teachers as well as students? The solution will involve others besides teachers.
In one view, the definitions of teaching and teachers are straightforward and readily mastered: Teaching can be reduced to a few days of standard in-service training that teachers can implement on their own. Such teaching can be assessed with an observation form and teachers can be assessed with a test. The results of teaching can be checked by standardized achievement tests. (p.24)

In an other view. teaching is a complex, humane activity at which a teacher can grow steadily more proficient over the years by means of disciplined curiosity, continuous training, and skillful assistance. Teachers can be supported and evaluated by persons - including principals - who join with them in mastering and advancing the craft. In this view, one influences teachers primarily by organizing the support and recognition that will permit them to realize the higher motives of service that bring them to teaching.

Supervision should be defined - particularly in an institution devoted to teaching - as assisting performance in precisely the terms we used to define teaching.

"In collaborative settings, teachers acquire and develop better skills through their collective analysis, evaluation, and experimentation with new teaching strategies." (Rosenholtz, 1986, p. 518)

Chapter 2 - A theory of teaching as assisted performance

Assisted performance defines what a child can do with help, with the support of the environment, of others, and of the self. For Vygotsky, the contrast between assisted performance and unassisted performance identified the fundamental nexus of development and learning that he called the zone of proximal development (ZPD).

Vygotsky's work principally discusses children, but identical processes can be seen operating in the learning adult.

T & G's general definition of teaching: Teaching consists in assisting performance through the ZPD. Teaching can be said to occur when assistance is offered at points in the ZPD at which performance requires assistance.

The four stages of the ZPD:
Stage I: Where performance is assisted by more capable others
Stage II: Where performance is assisted by the self
Stage III: Where performance is developed, automatize, and "fossilized"
Stage IV: Where de-automatization of performance leads to recursion back through the ZPD

Responsive assistance
In the transition from other-assistance to self-assistance (and automatization) there are variations in the means and patterns of adult assistance to the child. At the earlier phases, assistance may be frequent and elaborate. Later, it occurs less often and is truncated . Adult assistance is contingent on and responsive to the child's level of performance.

If the truncated guidance fails, the adult may add additional hints, testing to find that minimum level of help the child needs to proceed. This continual adjustment of the level and amount of help is responsive to the child's level of performance and perceived need.

However, patient, contingent, responsive, and accurately tuned adult assistance does not always occur. A major variable here is the nature of the task or performance.

"Assistance" offered at too high a level will disrupt child performance and is not effective teaching. Once independent skill has been achieved, "assistance" becomes "interference."

That's why T & G say teaching occurs when assistance is offered at points in the ZPD at which performance requires assistance.

As common as assisted performance is in the interactions of parents and children, it is uncommon in those of teachers and students. Why?
First, to provide assistance in the ZPD, the assistor must be in close touch with the learner's relationship to the task. Sensitive and accurate assistance that challenges but does not dismay the learner cannot be achieved in the absence of information.
Second, while most parents do not need to be trained to assist performance, most teachers do. Teachers need a more elaborate set of skills in assistance, and they need to be more conscious of their application. Teachers need to learn good pedagogical practices.

Scaffolding; A theory of the teacher - Greenfield (1984)

Greenfield, P. (1984). A theory of the teacher in the learning activities of everyday life. In B. Rogoff and J. Lave (Eds.), Everyday cognition (pp. 117-138). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Scaffolding and the Zone of Proximal Development
The scaffold is a metaphor, originated by Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976), to describe the ideal role of the teacher. This metaphor is the basis for a theoretical model of the teacher in informal education. The scaffold, as it is known in building construction, has five characteristics:
  1. it provides a support;
  2. it functions as a tool;
  3. it extends the range of the worker;
  4. it allows the worker to accomplish a task not otherwise possible; and
  5. it is used selectively to aid the worker where needed.
Scaffolding thus closes the gap between task requirements and the skill level of the learner, creating what Hunt (1961) called "the match" between the cognitive level of the learner and the characteristics of instruction, or what Brown (1975, 1979) referred to as "headfitting."
  • The "region of sensitivity" to instruction lies in the gap between comprehension and production
  • Shaping involves a series of successive approximations to the ultimate task goal. While the learner is successful at every point in the process, he or she starts with a simplified version of the ultimate task.
  • Scaffolding, in contrast, does not involve simplifying the task during the period of learning. Instead, it holds the task constant, while simplifying the learner's role through the graduated intervention of the teacher.
Language Learning in Los Angeles was examined: mothers engaged in both shaping and scaffolding communications

Learning to Weave in Zinacantan, Chiapas, Mexico: The role of scaffolding in informal instruction was also illustrated in weaving in Zinacantan

Other ideas:
  • The basic idea that a scaffold functions to close the gap between learner abilities and task requirements implies that more scaffolding will be used in the harder parts of the task.
  • Equally fundamental to the scaffolding concept is sensitivity to the skill level of the learner and the idea that the scaffold supports what the learner can already do.
  • There is an interesting commonality here with the language learning process: the use of multiple and potentially redundant communication channels also decreased as the learner became competent in going from words to meaning.
  • An unanswered question is the extent to which school instruction could be improved by greater use of the principle of scaffolding, thus putting more emphasis on cooperative success in the early stages of learning and less emphasis on independent discovery through a process of trial-and-error.
  • Scaffolding is also related to the concept of cooperation. It can be conceived as an asymmetric type of cooperation where one person takes greater responsibility than the other for the successful accomplishment of a task by compensating for the other person's weaknesses.
  • This concept of scaffolding and its potentially broad applicability to situations of everyday learning raises questions as to the cognitive skills required of the teacher. Usually the focus is on the cognitive development of the learner. Perhaps more important in real life is the cognitive development which allows a person to become an effective teacher.
  • What are the cognitive skills involved in scaffolding?

Mind in action: A functional approach to thinking - Scribner (1983)

Scribner, S. (1983) Mind in action: A functional approach to thinking. In M. Cole, Y. Engestrom. And O. Vasquez (Eds.) Mind, Culture and Activity: Seminal papers from the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, (pp. 354-368). NY, NY: Cambridge University Press.

This "classic" and widely cited article is about the use of mathematics knowledge by dairy workers who assemble and price orders and take inventory in the warehouse.

The first thing we learned from our systematic observations is that the preloaders had a large repertoire of solution strategies for what looked like the "same problem."

We postulated a "law of mental effort": "In product assembly, mental work will be expended to save physical work."

By comparing various modes of solution in terms of the number of moves they required, we could determine which strategy represented a "least-physical-effort solution" under a given set of circumstances. We refer to these as optimal solutions.

Pricing delivery tickets is all symbolic work. Speed and accuracy count.

A problem by problem analysis of solution strategies showed that the case price technique functioned as an effort saver in a manner analogous to the nonliteral optimal solutions in the product assembly task - with an important difference. The effort saved here was mental, not physical, Use of case price either eliminated computation altogether or simplified it.

Practice makes for difference - the problem-solving process is restructured by the knowledge and strategy repertoire available to the expert in comparison to the novice.

One feature of skilled problem-solving is the dependency of problem solving strategies on knowledge about the workplace. Skill in the dairy was not content-free.

Variability was an outstanding feature of skilled performance on all tasks.

Skilled practical thinking at work is goal-directed and varies adaptively with the changing properties of problems and changing conditions in the task environment.

In contrast to the conventional psychological model of learning which assumes a progression from the particular and concrete to the general and abstract, skill acquisition at work seems to move in the direction of mastery of the concrete.

Work activities have certain peculiarities and cannot be considered representative of all practical thinking in action.

At the end of one interview, a seasoned delivery driver described to me the public's image of a milkman. He said , "Most people believe you only need a strong back to be a milk man. But, come to think of it, there is a lot of brain work involved." I think he is right.

Cultural similarities and variations in guided participation - Rogoff 1990

Rogoff, B. (1990). Cultural similarities and variations in guided participation, Chapter 6 in Apprenticeship in thinking: Cognitive development in social context. New York: Oxford University Press.

In this chapter, Rogoff suggests that guided participation may be widespread around the world, but with important variations in arrangements for and communication with children in different cultures.

The most important differences have to do with the goals of development - what lessons are to be learned - and the means available for children either to observe and participate in culturally important activities or to receive instruction outside the context of skilled activity.

The general processes of guided participation appear around the world. Caregivers and children make arrangements for children's activities and revise children's responsibilities as they gain skill and knowledge.

In these accounts, which illustrate the ubiquity of social guidance and participation in learning through structuring of activities for novices in close involvement with others, there are also obvious cultural differences.

The most important differences across cultures in guided participation involve variation in the skills and values that are promoted according to cultural goals of maturity.

Along with differences in skills considered important (e.g. , reading, weaving, sorcery, healing, eating with the right hand) and approaches valued (e,g., individual achievement, speed in performance) are differences in the situations available to children for the practice of skills and incorporation of values.

There are striking cultural differences in the explicitness and intensity of verbal and nonverbal communication, the interactional status of children and adults, and the company children keep

An emphasis on explicit, declarative statements, in contrast to tacit, procedural, and subtle forms of verbal and nonverbal instruction, appears to characterize cultures that promote schooling

These joint socialization roles may be universal, although communities vary in the goals of socialization and in the means of communication. Observations of variations in guided participation across cultures draws our attention to
1. How the goals of mature contribution to the community organize the skills and values that children learn
2. The opportunities available to children for learning in the arrangements made for children's activities and companions
3. The responsibility that children take for learning from whatever activities they participate in, and the rich opportunities for observing and eavesdropping
4. The tacit but ubiquitous nature of children's guided participation
5. The unselfconscious nature of the roles of children as well as of their

How School Learning Differs from Other Learning; Learning in school and out - Resnick 1987

Resnick, Lauren B. (1987). The 1987 Presidential Address: Learning in school and out. Educational Researcher, 16 (9), pp. 13-20.

How School Learning Differs from Other Learning
  1. Individual cognition in school versus shared cognition outside.
  2. Pure mentation in school versus tool manipulation outside.
  3. Symbol manipulation in school versus contextualized reasoning outside school.
  4. Generalized learning in school versus situation-specific competencies outside.
  • The dominant form of school learning and performance is individual.
  • Work, personal life, and recreation take place within social systems, and each person's ability to function successfully depends on what others do and how several individuals' mental and physical performances mesh. (Example: piloting ships in and out of harbors)
  • In school, the greatest premium is placed upon "pure thought activities - what individuals can do without the external support of books and notes, calculators, or other complex instruments.
  • In contrast, most mental activities outside school are engaged intimately with tools (calculators, compasses, tables), and the resultant cognitive activity is shaped by and dependent upon the kinds of tools available.
  • Tool use is not only a way for people of limited education to participate in cognitively complex activity systems; it is also a way of enhancing the capacity of highly educated people well beyond what they could do independently.
  • Outside school, actions are intimately connected with objects and events; people often use the objects and events directly in their reasoning, without necessarily using symbols to represent them. (e.g., Scribner: the use of mathematics knowledge by dairy workers who assemble and price orders and take inventory in the warehouse)
  • School learning, by contrast, is mostly symbol-based; indeed, connections to the events and objects symbolized are often lost.
  • Part of the reason for this isolation may be that schools aim to teach general, widely usable skills and theoretical principles.
  • On the other hand, situation-specific learning by itself is very limiting. Some of these studies also document the limits of highly situated skills acquired in the workplace. Several demonstrate that when familiar aspects of a task change in certain ways-for example, when construction foremen are asked to work with scales not used in their culture (Carraher, 1986), or when bookies are asked to accept bets that cannot be calculated from their tables (Schliemann & Acioly, in press)-unschooled individuals have considerable difficulty and may fail entirely. Schooled people do better, although they rarely use the supposedly general algorithms taught in school. Instead, they invent new methods specific to the situation at hand.
  • Briefly, schooling focuses on the individual's performance, whereas out-of-school mental work is often socially shared.
  • Schooling aims to foster unaided thought, whereas mental work outside school usually involves cognitive tools.
  • School cultivates symbolic thinking, whereas mental activity outside school engages directly with objects and situations.
  • Finally, schooling aims to teach general skills and knowledge, whereas situation-specific competencies dominate outside.

What Role for Schooling Then? - And What Kind of Schooling?
Three points of view:
  • the role of schooling in directly preparing people for economic participation
  • its role in preparing people to learn effectively over the long course of their work lives, and
  • its role in preparing people for civic and cultural participation.
Schooling and economic participation: The question of job training. The simplest view of education as a means of improving economic productivity treats schools and classrooms as places in which to prepare students directly for jobs.

Skills for learning outside school: modern economic conditions also call for education aimed at helping people develop skills for learning even when optimal instruction is not available; schooling seems to play a role in helping people adapt to breakdowns, new and unexpected situations.

What we require now are studies of the development of competence in people who are becoming experts in their fields. We also must mount detailed examinations of people coping with situations of breakdown or transition in their work.

School is not only a place to prepare people for the world of work and everyday practical problems. It is also a place in which a particular kind of work is done-intellectual work that engages reflection and reasoning.

Resnick (1987) undertook an examination of a number of programs claiming to teach thinking skills, learning skills, or higher order cognitive abilities. She looked for elements common to the successful programs that could point cumulatively toward a theory of how learning and thinking skills are acquired. She found three key features.
  1. First, most of the effective programs have features characteristic of out-of-school cognitive performances. They involve socially shared intellectual work, and they are organized around joint accomplishment of tasks, so that elements of the skill take on meaning in the context of the whole.
  2. Second, many of the programs have elements of apprenticeship. That is, they make usually hidden processes overt, and they encourage student observation and commentary. They also allow skill to build up bit by bit, yet permit participation even for the relatively unskilled, often as a result of the social sharing of tasks.
  3. Finally, the most successful programs are organized around bodies of knowledge and interpretation-subject matters, if you will-rather than general abilities.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Teaching as learning, in practice - Lave 1996

Lave, J. (1996). Teaching as learning, in practice. Mind, Culture & Activity, 3(3), 149-164.

The argument developed by Lave & Wenger (1991) is that learning is an aspect of changing participation in changing "communities of practice" everywhere; they view "learning" as social practice, and the social practice of learning as the fundamental social phenomenon in relation with which practices of teaching are constituted.

Martin Packer wanted to know what is a theory of learning. He proposed a theory of learning consists of three kinds of stipulations: a telos for the changes implied in notions of learning; the basic relation assumed to exist between subject and social world; and mechanisms by which learning is supposed to take place.
  1. Telos: that is, a direction of movement or change or learning (not the same as goal directed activity),
  2. Subject-world relation: a general specification of relations between subjects and the social world (not necessarily to be construed as learners and things to-be-learned),
  3. Learning mechanisms: ways by which learning comes about.
The telos might be described as becoming a respected, practicing participant among other tailors and lawyers, becoming so imbued with the practice that masters become part of the everyday life of the Alley or the mosque for other participants and others in turn become part of their practice.

Rather than particular tools and techniques for learning as such, there are ways of becoming a participant, ways of participating, and ways in which participants and practices change.

Learning, taken here to be first and principally the identity-making life projects of participants in communities of practice.

Teaching, by this analysis, is a cross-context, facilitative effort to make high quality educational resources truly available for communities of learners.

It is difficult to find research on learning that focuses on great learners learning, but it rarely focuses on great teachers teaching either. (p158) [great line!]

Lave proposes that we should address questions about teaching through research focused on learners learning
If we presume that teaching has some impact on learners, then such research would include the effects of teaching on teachers as learners as well.

Given teaching work as defined here, teachers need to know about the powerful identity-changing communities of practice of their students, which define the conditions of their work.

In what central ways do bodies, trajectories, timetables, daily practices, and changing careers create registers of identity-changing activity among learners in American schools? Lave: racialization, and the production of social class divisions and unequal gendered identities

School teaching is a special kind of learning practice that must become part of the identity-changing communities of children's practices if it is to have a relationship with their learning.

For educational researchers whose major identity is in research on schools, the approach taken here recommends research to establish the locations in which and the processes by which the most potent identity-constituting learning conjunctures occur.

For researchers whose major identity is in research on the teaching of high culture in school settings. the key questions revolve around how to make pedagogic situations (organized to produce deeper scholastic understanding) effectively available to the school-specific, identity-changing participation of kids together in their own lives.

Those most concerned with relations between learning and teaching must untangle the confusions that mistakenly desubjectify learners' and teachers' positions, stakes, reasons, and ways of participating, and then inquire anew about those relations.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the craft of reading, writing, and mathematics - Collins, Brown, Newman

Collins, A., Brown, J.S., and Newman, S. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the craft of reading, writing, and mathematics. In L. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser, pp. 453-494. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Although schools have been relatively successful in organizing and conveying large bodies of conceptual and factual knowledge, standard pedagogical practices render key aspects of expertise invisible to students. As a result, conceptual and problem-solving knowledge acquired in school remains largely unintegrated or inert for many students.

For example. students are unable to make use of potential models of good writing acquired through reading because they have no understanding of the strategies and processes required to produce such text. Stuck with what Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987) call "knowledge-telling strategies," they are unaware that expert writing involves organizing one's ideas about a topic, elaborating goals to be achieved in the writing, thinking about what the audience is likely to know or believe about the subject, and so on.

To make real differences in students' skill, we need both to understand the nature of expert practice and to devise methods appropriate to learning that practice. (p455) 
[this is also probably true for teachers - both pre-service and in-service it would be interesting to study expert teachers]

First and foremost, apprenticeship focuses closely on the specific methods for carrying out tasks in a domain. Apprentices learn these methods through a combination of what Lave calls observation, coaching, and practice, or what we, from the teacher's point of view, call modeling, coaching and fading.

The interplay between observation, scaffolding, and increasingly independent practice aids apprentices both in developing se lf-monitoring and correction skills and in integrating the skills and conceptual knowledge needed to advance toward expertise.

Observation plays a surprisingly key role; Lave hypothesizes that it aids learners in developing a conceptual model of the target task or process prior to attempting to execute it.

Conceptual models provide:
1. an advanced organizer
2. an interpretitive structure
3. encourages reflection, comparison and diagnosing difficulties

Cognitive apprenticeship:
1. the method is aimed primarily at teaching the processes that experts use to handle complex tasks
2. focus of the learning-through-guided-experience on cognitive and metacognitive, rather than physical, skills and processes
3. have problem solver alternate among different cognitive activities while carrying out a complex task. Most notably, complex cognitive activities involve some version of both generative and evaluative processes (producer and critic).

Cognitive research:
1. protocol analysis
2. reflect on differences between novice and expert performances through abstracted replay
3. tasks are selected and sequenced to reflect the changing demands of learning

Active vs. passive learning: Students can learn by reading or listening to lectures. But passive forms of learning tend to result less learning, retention, and understanding. Students can learn to engage in active reading or listening. But few learn to do this on their own. Observing the processes by which an expert listener or reader thinks and practicing these skills under the guidance of the expert can teach students to learn on their own more skillfully.

Three Successful Models of Cognitive apprenticeship
- Palincsar and Brown's reciprocal teaching of reading: (formulating questions, summarizing, clarification, prediction)
- Bereiter and Scardamalia's Procedural Facilitation of Writing: five general processes or goals: (a) generating a new idea, (b) improving an idea, (c) elaborating an idea , (d) identifying goals, and (e) putting ideas into a cohesive whole.
- Schoenfeld's Method of Teaching Mathematical Problem Solving: heuristic strategies (e.g., distinguish special cases, solve a simpler problem, draw a picture); assigning roles to students (idea generator, critic, moderator/manager); train them to ask each other (and then themselves) questions like: what are you doing? How will success doing this help you?
[JC: this reminds me of Vygotsky's description of the internalization of language of tools - first languague is use to mediate interpersonal communication, then intra-personal thought]

Cognitive apprenticeship methods:
1. Modeling
2. Coaching
3. Scaffolding & Fading
4. Articulation
5. Reflection
6. Exploration

Collins et al., have identified some dimensions or principles that should guide the sequencing of learning activities to facilitate the development of robust problem-solving skills:
1. Increasing complexity
2. Increasing diversity
3. Global before local skills

Five characteristics affecting the sociology of learning:
1. Situated learning
2. Culture of expert practice
3. Intrinsic motivation
4. Exploiting cooperation
5. Exploiting competition

Learning through knowledge building - Scardamalia & Bereiter

Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (2003). Knowledge building. Encyclopedia of Education (pp. 1371-3) Farmington Hills, MI: Gale

Three approaches to learning:

1: Acquisition Metaphor

One approach emphasizes foundational knowledge: First master what is already known. In practice this means that knowledge creation does not enter the picture until graduate school or adult work, by which time the vast majority of people are unprepared for the challenge.

A second approach focuses on subskills. Master component skills such as critical thinking, scientific method, and collaboration; later, assemble these into competent original research, design, and so forth.

2. Participation Metaphor

A third approach is associated with such labels as "learning communities," "project-based learning," and "guided discovery." Knowledge is socially constructed, and best supported through collaborations designed so that participants share knowledge and tackle projects that incorporate features of adult teamwork, real-world content, and use of varied information sources. This is the most widely supported approach at present, especially with regard to the use of information technology. The main drawback is that it too easily declines toward what is discussed below as shallow constructivism.

Knowledge building as defined by Scardamalia & Bereiter Knowledge building results in the creation or modification of public knowledge knowledge that lives "in the world" and is available to be worked on and used by other people. That goal is to advance the frontiers of knowledge as they perceive them. The key distinction is between learning - the process through which the rapidly growing cultural capital of a society is distributed - and knowledge building - the deliberate effort to increase the cultural capital of society.

Shallow versus Deep Constructivism

"Constructivism" is a term whose vagueness obscures important distinctions. Knowledge building is clearly a constructive process, but most of what goes on in the name of constructivism is not knowledge building. To clarify, it is helpful to distinguish between shallow and deep forms of constructivism. The shallowest forms engage students in tasks and activities in which ideas have no overt presence but are entirely implicit. Students describe the activities they are engaged in (e.g., planting seeds, measuring shadows) and show little awareness of the underlying principles these tasks are to convey.

In the deepest forms of constructivism, people are advancing the frontiers of knowledge in their community.

Most learner-centered, inquiry-based, learning community, and other approaches labeled "constructivist" are distributed somewhere between these extremes of shallow and deep constructivism.

In knowledge building, ideas are treated as real things, as objects of inquiry and improvement in their own right. Knowledge building environments enable ideas to get out into the world and onto a path of continual improvement.

Educational approaches of all kinds are subject to what is called the "Matthew effect": The rich get richer. The more you know the more you can learn. This is as close to a law of nature as learning research has come. It can be used to justify loading the elementary curriculum with large quantities of content.

However, another potent principle is that knowledge needs to be of value to people in their current lives, not merely banked against future needs. This is part of the justification for activity and project-based methods where work is driven by students' own interests.

In knowledge building this Deweyean principle is carried a step farther: Advances in understanding produce conceptual tools to achieve further advances in understanding. Thus there is a dynamism to knowledge building that can be a powerful motivator.

The knowledge building trajectory offers value all along its course, not just at its upper reaches. At all stages people are building authentic knowledge that is immediately useful to themselves and their community in making sense of their world.

Joe's Questions:
1. What are some examples of knowledge building activities for math, science, and history?
2. What would teachers need to know to teach this way?
3. What kinds of curriculum materials support this form of learning?

Sfard: acquisition vs. participation metaphor: why two metaphors are better than one

Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational Researcher. 27(3): 4-13

The basic message of this article: As researchers, we seem to be doomed to living in a reality constructed from a variety of metaphors. We have to accept the fact that the metaphors we use while theorizing may be good enough to fit small areas, but none of them suffice to cover the entire field. In other words, we must learn to satisfy ourselves with only local sensemaking. A realistic thinker knows he or she has to give up the hope that the little patches of coherence will eventually combine into a consistent global theory. It seems that the sooner we accept the thought that our work is bound to produce a patchwork of metaphors rather than a unified, homogeneous theory of learning, the better for us and for those whose lives are likely to be affected by our work.

Two metaphors for learning:
1. acquisition metaphor
2. participation metaphor

acquisition metaphor: the Collins English Dictionary defines learning as "the act of gaining knowledge." Since the time of Piaget and Vygotsky, the growth of knowledge in the process of learning has been analyzed in terms of concept development.

The language of "knowledge acquisition" and "concept development" makes us think about the human mind as a container to be filled with certain materials and about the learner as becoming an owner of these materials.

Key words of the frameworks generated by the acquisition metaphor: knowledge, concept, conception, idea, notion, misconception, meaning, sense, schema, fact, representation, material, contents.

Once acquired, the knowledge, like any other commodity, may now be applied, transferred (to a different context), and shared with others.

Researchers have offered a range of greatly differing mechanisms of concept development. First, they simply talked about passive reception of knowledge, then about its being actively constructed by the learner; later, they analyzed the ways in which concepts are transferred from a social to an individual plane and internalized by the student; eventually, they envisioned learning as a never-ending, self-regulating process of emergence in a continuing interaction with peers, teachers, and texts. As long as they investigated learning by focusing on the "development of concepts" and on "acquisition of knowledge," however, they implicitly agreed that this process can be conceptualized in terms of the acquisition metaphor.

participation metaphor: learning is seen in terms of a legitimate peripheral participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991) or as an apprenticeship in thinking (Rogoff, 1990).

Learning is now conceived of as a process of becoming a member of a certain community. This entails, above all, the ability to communicate in the language of this community and act according to its particular norms. The norms themselves are to be negotiated in the process of consolidating the community. While the learners are newcomers and potential reformers of the practice, the teachers are the preservers of its continuity. From a lone entrepreneur, the learner turns into an integral part of a team.

"Participation" is almost synonymous with "taking part" and "being a part," and both of these expressions signalize that learning should be viewed as a process of becoming a part of a greater whole.

While the AM stresses the individual mind and what goes "into it," the PM shifts the focus to the evolving bonds between the individual and others.

While AM emphasizes the inward movement of the object known as knowledge, PM gives prominence to the aspect of mutuality characteristic of the part-whole relation.

Indeed, PM makes salient the dialectic nature of the learning interaction: The whole and the parts affect and inform each other. On one hand, the very existence of the whole is fully dependent on the parts.

On the other hand, whereas the AM stresses the way in which possession determines the identity of the possessor, the PM implies that the identity of an individual, like an identity of a living organ, is a function of his or her being (or becoming) a part of a greater entity. Thus, talk about the "stand-alone learner" and "decontextualized learning" becomes as pointless as the attempts to define lungs or muscles without a reference to the living body within which they both exist and function.

Problems with the acquisition metaphor:
1.The conception of knowledge as property, when not controlled, leads to too literal a translation of beliefs on material properties into beliefs on learning; some of the resulting norms and value judgments are likely to have adverse effects on both the theory and practice of learning and teaching
2. How do we account for the fact that learners are able to build for themselves concepts that seem fully congruent with those of others? Or, to put it differently, how do people bridge individual and public possessions?
3.If knowledge is conceived of as a commodity, it is only natural that attitudes toward learning reflect the way the given society thinks about material wealth.
4. It is noteworthy that within the acquisition paradigm, not only knowledge, but also the means for gaining it, counts as a highly priced possession that, if of a superior quality, can make the possessors themselves superior to others.
5. Students' achievements may depend on environmental factors. But the teachers feel they can tell students' real (permanent) potential from their actual performance.
6. The gifts and potentials, like other private possessions, are believed to be measurable and may therefore be used for sorting people into categories.

The participation metaphor has a potential to lead to a new, more democratic practice of learning and teaching. Because, however, social, normative, and ethical morals of metaphors are not inscribed in the metaphors themselves but rather are a matter of interpretation, the intentions and skills of those who harness the metaphor to work are of central significance.

Sfard: giving up the AM is neither desirable nor possible. When it comes to research, some important things that can be done with the old metaphor cannot be achieved with the new one. Besides, the PM, when left alone, may be as dangerous a thing as the AM proved to be in a similar situation.

Why is the AM needed?
The Question of Transfer: Our ability to prepare ourselves today to deal with new situations we are going to encounter tomorrow is the very essence of learning. Competence means being able to repeat what can be repeated while changing what needs to be changed. How is all of this accounted for if we are not allowed to talk about carrying anything with us from one situation to another?

Greeno (1997) central idea is to provide the old notion with a new interpretation. Defining learning as "improved participation in interactive systems," he proceeds to account "for transfer in terms of transformations of constraints, affordances, and attunements" (p. 12).

Even if we could create an AM-free discourse, we probably shouldn't. Within the participationist framework, some powerful means for conceptualization of learning are lost, and certain promising paths toward understanding its mechanism are barred.

Pedagogical issues with PM:
1. More often than not, it is not all that obvious how the request to disobjectify knowledge and "put it back into context" should be interpreted.
2. real-life situations that would be likely to become for mathematics or science students what a craftsman's workshop is for the apprentice are extremely difficult to find
3. it is far from clear how we should construe the term "community of practice" and whom we should view as "expert practitioners" and the shapers of a given "practice."
4. The main problem, it seems, is that of a gradual disappearance of a well-defined subject matter. Without a clearly delineated content, the whole process of learning and teaching is in danger of becoming amorphous and losing direction.

Conclusion: One Metaphor Is Not Enough
Why Do We Need More Than One Metaphor? The relative advantages of each of the two metaphors make it difficult to give up either of them: Each has something to offer that the other cannot provide. Moreover, relinquishing either the AM or the PM may have grave consequences, whereas metaphorical pluralism embraces a promise of a better research and a more satisfactory practice. The basic tension between seemingly conflicting metaphors is our protection against theoretical excesses, and is a source of power.

The participation metaphor is often translated into a total banishment of "teaching by telling," an imperative to make "cooperative learning" mandatory to all, and a complete delegitimatization of instruction that is not "problem based" or not situated in a real-life context.

An adequate combination of the acquisition and participation metaphor would bring to the fore the advantages of each of them, while keeping their respective drawbacks at bay.

Having several theoretical outlooks at the same thing is a normal practice in science, where, for instance, chemistry and physics offer two different- but not incompatible-accounts of matter, while physiology and psychology bring mutually complementing outlooks at human beings. In the spirit of this approach, acquisitionists and participationists might admit that the difference between them is not a matter of differing opinions but rather of participating in different, mutually complementing discourses.

The metaphors might be incommensurable rather than incompatible.

Clearly, some metaphors may be more attractive than others because of their accessibility, flexibility, imaginativeness, or aesthetic value. In the final account, however, the choice made by individual researchers would probably depend mainly on what they want to achieve.

If, for example, one's purpose is to build a computer program that would simulate human behavior, then the acquisition metaphor is likely to be chosen as one that brings forward the issue of representations-something that has to be constructed and quite literally put into a computer.

If, on the other hand, one is concerned with educational issues-such as the mechanisms that enable successful learning or make its failure persistent, then the participational approach may be more helpful as one that defies the traditional distinction between cognition and affect, brings social factors to the fore, and thus deals with an incomparably wider range of possibly relevant aspects.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cognitive development and formal schooling

Cole, M. (1990) Cognitive development and formal schooling: The evidence from cross-cultural research. In L. Moll (Ed.) Vygotsky and education: Instructional implications and applications of sociohistorical psychology, pp. 319-348.. New York: Cambridge University Press.

How does formal schooling impact the process of cognitive development?

The essential advantage shared by all written notation systems is that they extend the power of language in time and space (Goody, 1977). Words that are written down can be carried great distances with no change in their physical characteristics. In like manner, writing systems freeze words in time; once written down, ideas and events can be returned to and contempluted time and again in the ir original form. In this respect, written nota tions are a form of memory.

When we look into the archaeological record, we can discern two distinct purposes of reading and writing: to regulate people's interactions with the physical world, and to regulate people's interactions with each other.

Although there is room for disagreement, I believe that it is sensible to conclude lhat concrete operational thinking is not influenced by schooling; what is influenced is subjects' ability to understand the language of testing and the presuppositions of the testing situation itself. At the level of formal operations, it is far more often concluded that schooling is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for development.

A variety of evidence supports Rogoff's generalization that schooling promotes memory for unrelated materials.

Four distinctive features of educational activity, already present in the schools of ancient Summeria briefly described earlier, capture a good deal of the contemporary ethnographic picture:
  • First, formal schooling uses a distinctive mediational means (e.g., written symbol systems).
  • The second conspicuous fact about schooling is the participant structure and the form of discourse that goes on there.
  • Learning to respond easily to known-answer questions, in addition to learning about the acadcmic content of the curriculum, is an imponant early lesson of schooling.
  • The special nature of language in school-based learning is also manifested in the emphasis that teachers place on linguistic fo rm. Sometimes this emphasis on form may even occur at the expense of accuracy about content, making the entire exercise appear rather strange.

Three factors of of educational activity have prima facie generality in the sense that they are relevant to behavior in a wide range of contexts (at least within industrially advanced countries).

First, the medium of instruction, writing, is the medium of public life, aiding performance in a great many settings.

Second, insofar as the content of the curriculum allows them more broadly to understand their particular historical circumstances, it will lead students to be more effective problem solvers when they are not in school.

Third, the lexicon of every language carries within it the culture's theory about the nature of the world.

The cultural part of cognition

D’Andrade, R. (1981). The cultural part of cognition, Cognitive Science, 5, 179-195.

A good part of what any person knows is learned from other people. The teaching by others can be formal or informal, intended or unintended, and the learning can occur through observation or by being taught rules. However accomplished, the result is a body of learnings, called culture, transmitted from one generation to the next.

In saying that an object--either a physical object like a desk, or a more abstract object like a talk or a theorem--is a product of culture, I mean that the cultural pool contains the information which defines what the object is, tells how to construct the object, and prescribes how the object is to be used. Without culture, we would not have or use such things.

How can things be arranged so that all this information gets learned again and again without serious loss or distortion? How could one know if the information were lost? How can procedures be established so that the person who has the appropriate information is there when needed? How has all this been arranged in the past, and how can it be arranged in the future when it is likely there will be an even bigger pool? [See posting about the Tomasello article]

An important assumption of cognitive anthropology is that in the process of repeated social transmission, cultural programs come to take forms which have a good fit to the natural capacities and constraints of the human brain.

One major difference between cultural and computer programs is in the degree of precision with which computer programs must be stated. For almost all computer programs, there must be an exact and unambiguous specification of the steps to be taken to accomplish the task, while what it is that is being accomplished does not have to be represented at all in the program. For humans, however, what is to be accomplished is usually represented in detail, while how to do the task is usually given only incompletely and ambiguously, if at all.

Looking at cross-cultural studies of socialization, one is struck with both the small amount of explicit step by step instruction and the large amount of occasional correction that characterizes cultural learning all over the world.

Part of the method of guided discovery is having ready for the discoverer information about what has been learned, and how it is labelled. Typically, cultural systems not only label what is a good thing to know or do, they also classify and label the kinds of errors people make.

The author argues that part of the human condition to work hard to discover what is already known.

Three generalizations have been made about the relation between humans and cultural programs. First, culturally based programs for action and understanding are rarely well specified and explicit; second, people typically learn these culturally based programs through a process of informally guided discovery; and third, people are very good at discovering what they must learn under conditions of informally guided discovery, and not so good when they must learn entirely on their own.

There are two types of abstraction: content-based abstraction and abstraction by recoding the problem or situation in a different symbol system.

On the cultural level, formal language abstraction is the product of "schooling", where there is a division of labor between the "theor ists" who develop and teach the formal system, and the "engineers" or "applied people" , who work on the interface between the formal system and the content problems. Content based abstraction, on the other hand, appears to be the product of "experience", where the division of labor is a blurred distinction between the old hands versus green horns, and instruction involves on the job training and a personal relationship between the "master" and the "apprentice".

There is a strong positive correlation phylogenetically between intelligence and emotionality. Thus vertebrates show more emotional communication and intelligence than the invertebrates (with that interesting creature the octopus as an exception), and mammals more emotional communication intelligence than reptiles and fish. Among the mammals, the higher primates have a more complex emotional communication system than the rodents, herbivores, and even carnivores.

It seems to the author that intelligence necessarily involves a delay between stimulus and response, a delay which permits time for complex information processing. As intelligence increases, the representation of external events relies more on internal processing, and response to events is determined more by learned and recalled connections instead of innate stimulus-response bonds. This processing takes time and requires delay.

The beauty of feelings and emotions is that they permit delay, but work against forgetting. Feeling and thought are parallel systems of processing which permit one to reason while being hungry or angry. Emotions and reasoning are not at all incompatible. In fact, as a total information processing system, emotions and thoughts are, the author argues, interacting parallel processes which have evolved together.

The self in cultural historical activity theory (CHAT)

Stetsenko, A. & Arievitch, I. M. (2004) The self in cultural historical activity theory. Theory and Psychology, 14 (4): 475-503.

This paper explores how cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT), initially formulated by Vygotsky, Leontiev and their collaborators in the 1920s and 1930s, can be employed as a foundation for conceptualizing the self as an important agentive dimension within a profoundly social and relational view of human life and development.

Re-conceptualized and expanded in a number of ways, the authors use CHAT to address both individual (agentive) and social dimensions of the self in a non-dichotomizing way and thus provides grounds for integrating progressive conceptual shifts in newly evolving conceptualizations of the self.

Views of the self

  • Self as a Mental Construct: the self is presented as being profoundly shaped by social factors such as interactive experiences with significant others and group membership, along with the roles and positions each individual occupies in society. However, perhaps most characteristic of these approaches, the self is implied to be exclusively a mental phenomenon, reducible to self-concept, self-perception, self-esteem and other similar strictly cognitive and individual constructs.
  • Self as Fused with Context/Practice: human development is conceptualized by Vygotsky and others as located not ‘under the skull’ but in the processes of ongoing social transactions. Another approach (e.g. Lave, 1988; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Rogoff, 1990, 1994) addresses the relational character of human subjectivity as being produced by participation in a community. Learning and development are conceptualized as evolving through the dynamics of such participation: for example, as movements from the fringes of a community to more centralized performances in that community. Unlike social constructionism, the transactional processes are conceptualized not as discourse but as the shifting and moving patterns of participation, drawing attention to the actual social practices and material sites of action as important sources of development.
  • Dialogical Approaches: like transactional approaches, it also challenges the dichotomous notions of cognitivism and proposes to conceive the self not as a phenomenon of individual minds but as a relational dialogical process between individuals.Specifically, the sense of self is postulated to be produced in the flow of rhetorical actions as these incorporate signs, providing individuals with terms for talking about themselves, and thus essentially constituting the self; selves are essentially constructed in the profoundly relational processes of speaking and listening to others.

Grounding Assumptions of CHAT: The activity theory perspective fully acknowledges the sociocultural origin and nature of human subjectivity (i.e. broadly conceived human psychological processes that include cognition, self-regulation, emotion and self).

Activity theory states that each living organism exists only as part of a dynamic system that connects it with the environment and with other organisms (note some similarity with the recently influential dynamic systems theory, e.g. Thelen & Smith, 1998).

Transformations are achieved through human labor, that is, a collective and collaborative (i.e. social) use of tools, in which individual efforts are necessarily blended to produce, deploy and preserve the efficient tools, as well as pass them on to new generations.

Tools reflect ways of mastering specific classes of tasks discovered in collaborative practices. For example, language represents a tool par excellence as it emerges out of and serves the purposes of coordinating, planning and organizing the complex processes of collective production and deployment of tools.

In the course of human evolution, the tools come to reify the collective experiences (e.g. knowledge, memory, skills) that can be passed to subsequent generations, not through genetic mechanisms but by means of specially organized teaching and learning processes in which these tools are re-introduced to and re-discovered by each succeeding generation.

In these socially and historically specific cultural processes, people not only constantly transform and create their environment; they also create and constantly transform their lives, consequently changing themselves in fundamental ways and, in the process, gaining self-knowledge.

The self originates in actual processes of human activity and develops within transformations of its structures, including prioritization among various elements of object-oriented activity.

According to activity theory, the self is profoundly sociocultural and historical. Leontiev conceptualized the self as an integral moment within activity processes. What Leontiev likely wanted to achieve by introducing the notion of object–motive was to convey the idea that human activities are always driven by something objectively existing in the world, rather than by some events and occurrences in the hidden realm of mental processes or human soul.

Leontiev saw the self as being a moment in the dynamic flow of activity that connects individuals to the world around them and to themselves. [similar to Kierkegaard]

Leontiev’s theory of self revolves around the notions of individuals acquiring cultural norms and experiences of previous generations

The authors assert that that Leontiev did not seem to emphasize enough (and perhaps to fully appreciate) is that human subjectivity, the collective processes of material production and social interactions all co-evolve as parts of a unified system constitutive of human social life, interpenetrating and influencing each other, while never becoming completely detached or independent from each other.

The authors propose a concept of the self as a leading activity, namely as a process of real-life activity that most explicitly positions individuals to meaningfully contribute to the ongoing social collaborative practices in the world.

This view of the self as a leading activity also upholds the view that the self represents a moment in ongoing social activities that is not stored somewhere in the depths of a human soul, but is constantly re-enacted and constructed by individuals anew in the ever-shifting balances of life.

Understanding that people always contribute to social practices, rather than merely participate in or sustain them, places activities that allow individuals to purposefully transform the world at the very core of the self.

One interesting caveat is that individuals might not always be aware of how exactly their activities contribute to the world, or they might be in a constant search for such activities, struggling to make sense of their lives through internal dialogues and personal narratives. However, the lack of awareness and the often continuous struggles to find a meaningful leading activity notwithstanding, people always do contribute to something that goes on in the world, even if only on a small scale, and even if by doing nothing (because the latter type of a 'contribution' often helps to perpetuate the existing status quo and to stifle changes in society).

The leading role of the self as organizing and directing all other pursuits and activities of a person is yet another meaning conveyed by the notion of self as a leading activity.

The arguments advanced by the authors of this paper continue Leontiev's account of the self and the overall gist of the culturalhistorical activity theory, especially in (a) seeing activity as the foundation of the self and (b) overcoming the ego-centered stance in favor of viewing the self as incorporated into a general system of social relations.

The concept of the self as a leading activity is grounded on the premise that uniquely contributing to social life is the essence of humanness and human individuality.