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[Xmca-l] Re: In defense of Vygotsky [[The fallacy of word-meaning]


The question wasn't directed at me, but I'd like to share some perspectives on the problems of this kind of reform-oriented instruction, and the broader question of appropriate units of analysis for classroom teaching--perhaps they bear on your particular response/interpretation of this class.

Reform-oriented instruction generally is informed by two theoretical trajectories, of independent origin: the Piagetian theorization of conceptual development based on schemas that derive from the individual's reflective abstraction of their own actions; and the Vygotskyan theorization of development through interiorization of cultural practices. Each of these is relevant to student development in the context of reform-oriented instruction such as the group work you described, below. In particular, a teacher can attend to the particular conceptual constructions that students are wrestling with as their current conceptual structures are challenged and reorganized--a focus that requires engagement with individual students; or the teacher can attend to the corporate engagement of the classroom in increasingly sophisticated practices of thinking, reasoning, and communicating.

Unfortunately, our efforts as theorists to understand and support effective teaching in this kind of landscape all too often consist in recognizing the dialectical opposition of the alternative perspectives, and therefore to claim we are on the track of identifying a satisfactory unit of analysis to ground a science of education. However, I think Jean Lave (1988) got it right as she laid out the challenge as establishing coherence across "units of analysis [that], though traditionally elaborated separately, must be defined together and consistently" (p. 146). 

What ensues from claims of victory, when all we've done is identify the problem, is a false sense that the priorities a teacher might attend to in engaging students in reform-oriented group work are mutually consistent. In my experience, it is this false sense of good teaching as a mutually coherent set of practices that obscures from teachers the real challenges of reform-oriented instruction, which only can be properly engaged with recognition that the agendas one pursues with individuals and groups  are not reconciled with one another, and often work at cross purposes to one another. Absent this perspective, the teacher really has no way to make sense of either branch of the reform agenda or the teaching practices that support it. As a result, all too often, the reform-oriented teacher is simply engaging students in group discussion with no real sense of how that activity is supposed to lead to learning or development in any sense--an enjoyable, but banal pedagogical exercise.

Of course, finding ways to theorize social and individual perspectives as mutually consistent remains a viable theoretical project. But let's not mistake naming the problem for offering a solution. And in the meantime, perhaps our best service to teachers lies in sharing the richness of the Piagetian and Vygotskyan traditions independently of one another. Because absent epistemic resolution, teachers need to be prepared to engage in the delicate art of balancing and managing inconsistent priorities and methods.


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Ed Wall
Sent: Sunday, October 26, 2014 2:52 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: In defense of Vygotsky [[The fallacy of word-meaning]


      To first comment on your note to Andy. The teacher was not necessarily interested in students' fluency with the operations (in fact she may have thought there were more than fluent). The first sentence of my story reads:

>Ms. Peña has, in previous years, noticed that her fourth graders, at times, struggle to make sense of multi-step word problems. Many seem confused about both the nature of the required operations-most usually, addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division-or the order in which these operations are to be applied.

    Second, we may see teaching mathematics (and see teaching teachers) differently (which is fine as I certainly do have all or even significant number of the answers - I am right now working on the questions). A story might be helpful:

A number of years ago I was asked to view an 'exemplarily' mathematics class for pre-service teachers taught by a mathematician (he had received a grant to design this special class). He began the class by clearly and succinctly introducing the mathematics  problem(s) to be considered and when all seemed to have a good idea what was to be done, the pre-service teachers - about five or six to a table - began talking and working. Students definitely seemed engaged, there was a lot of good discussion, and I think the teacher walked around a bit making comments and asking questions. The class ended and he asked me what I thought. I told him nicely it was among one of the worst taught classes I had ever seen (I did tell him why). Why do you think I said that? Student turns were certainly in the 90s.


On Oct 26, 2014, at  10:31 AM, White, Phillip wrote:

> as you wrote, Ed:
>     " In the next section of the paper I take up a different math lesson with ostensibly the same purpose (i.e. making sense of 'word' problems). Some different things will show up which perhaps get me a little closer to a 'smallest' unit of analysis. It will, in a sense, be the 'kinds' of turns not the number of turns (although chidden will have more turns) that are interesting (or so I think - smile)."
> clearly i did not express myself coherently, this this is exactly the point i was attempting to make - that it was the 'kinds' of turns, the action within the turn, that was of paramount importance.  i interpreted the teacher's turns as actions that the students could have been doing. which is why i noted that the teacher produced the greatest number of turns.  as a teacher of teachers i would have preferred to see the great majority of turns having been done by the students - preferably student to student responses.
> and thanks for the smiles!  
> phillip