Wednesday, October 6, 2010

John-Steiner & Mahn: Sociocultural approaches to learning and development

John-Steiner, V. & Mahn, H. (1996). Sociocultural approaches to learning and development: A Vygotskian framework. Educational Psychologist, 31 (3/4), 191-206.

Sociocultural approaches emphasize the interdependence of social and individual processes in the co-construction of knowledge.

This article uses three central tenets of a Vygotskian framework to examine the relation between learning and development: (a) social sources of individual development, (b) semiotic (signs and symbols, including language) mediation in human development, and (c) genetic (developmental) analysis.

The role played by culture and language in human development is an essential aspect of the Vygotskian framework and provides an overarching theme for this article.

Similarities & differences between social constructivist and sociocultural approaches:
  • Social constructivist critics of the Vygotskian framework, such as Cobb and Yackel (1996) characterize internalization as a transmission model through which students inherit the cultural meanings that constitute their intellectual bequest from prior generations.
  • Although "cognitive constructivist research and practice … is mostly oriented toward understanding the individual learner" (Derry, this issue, p. 164) and separates individual processes of knowledge construction from social processes of joint understanding, we think of them as connected and interdependent.
According to social constructivist theory
  • learning occurs in a context of social interactions through reflection, collaboration, and articulation (Yildiz, 2009)
  • participation and dialogue in social settings offers participants the opportunity to construct and organize knowledge (Kukafka, 2007)
  • knowledge is socially situated and is constructed through reflection on one's own thoughts and experiences (Ruey, 2009)
  • the best way to alter students' affect in the classroom is to alter the norms that prevail in the classroom  ... Efforts aimed at individual students miss the point." (Prawat & Anderson, 1994, p.213)
Sociocultural approaches to learning and development are based on the concept that human activities take place in cultural contexts, are mediated by language and other symbol systems, and can be best understood when investigated in their historical development.

Almost all sociocultural researchers place language in a central position.

Representational activities and the sociocultural theory of semiotic mediation are fundamental to Vygotsky's concept of internalization and the transformation of interpersonal processes into intrapersonal ones.
According to the cultural-historical perspective, learning and development take place in socially and culturally shaped contexts

Sociocultural researchers reject "the cause-effect, stimulus-response, explanatory science in favor of a science that emphasizes the emergent nature of mind in activity and that acknowledges a central role for interpretation in its explanatory framework" (Cole, 1996).

A central concept of dialectics, the unification of contradictions, distinguishes it from traditional approaches: "Whereas, within the standard view, conceptual unity among objects relies on the commonality of elements, it is the interrelatedness of diverse elements and the integration of opposites that creates unity within dialectics" (Falmagne, 1995, p. 207).

"Our concept of development implies a rejection of the frequently held view that cognitive development results from the gradual accumulation of separate changes. We believe that child development is a complex dialectical process characterized by periodicity, unevenness in the development of different functions, metamorphosis or qualitative transformation of one form into the other, intertwining of external and internal factors, and adaptive processes that overcome impediments that the child encounters. " (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 73)

"education must be thought of in terms not of the transmission of knowledge but of transaction and transformation." (Chang-Wells & Wells, 1993, p. 59)

Rogoff (1994): "Learning is a process of transforming participation in shared sociocultural endeavors" (p. 210).

Internalization is simultaneously an individual and a social process.
Sociocultural researchers emphasize methods that document cognitive and social change.
Sociocultural theorists, expanding the concept of the zone of proximal development, increasingly conceptualize learning as distributed (Cole & Englestrom, 1993), interactive (Chang-Wells & Wells, 1993), contextual (John-Steiner, Panofsky, & Smith, 1994), and the result of the learners ' participation in a community of practice (Rogoff, 1994).

Two themes in sociocultural approaches to classroom learning and teaching: (a) the implementation of an educational program that allowed for or encouraged the coconstruction of knowledge and (b) the analysis of this learning that contributed to our understanding of classroom learning from a sociocultural perspective.
Sociocultural research on collaboration also includes examination of the mutual dependence of teachers engaged in collective activity and dialogue in the process of curriculum innovation.

Teachers in traditional schools often do not have the opportunity to interact with colleagues
Analyzing how students learn, as well as acknowledging and attempting to understand the culturally conditioned knowledge they bring to the classroom, can help lead to effective teaching.

The concept of "funds of knowledge" is based on a simple premise: people are competent and have knowledge, and their life experiences have given them that knowledge. (Gonzalez, Moll & Amanti, 2005)

Chang-Wells and Wells (1993) used Vygotsky's work on both learning and development, and spontaneous and scientific concepts to examine three dimensions of change in mental functioning that can be ascribed to formal learning: intellectualization of mental functions, bringing them under conscious and voluntary control; decontextualization, being able to detach a concept from the context in which it was first encountered; and a movement toward integration and systematization. They asserted that all these dimensions of cognitive change are dependent on literacy

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