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.

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