Parents and toddlers: Teaching and learning at home
Parents and toddlers: Teaching and learning at home

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Parents and toddlers: Teaching and learning at home

3 The nature of effective instruction

3.1 Introduction

Reading 3

Read Chapter 9 of Cultural Worlds of Early Childhood, ‘Aspects of teaching and learning’, by David Wood, attached below. In this reading Wood addresses three main issues. First is the concept of ground rules. Consider what Wood means by this, and how useful it is for comparing different contexts of teaching and learning. Next, pay attention to Wood's arguments concerning levels of control and contingency in relation to teacher competence. These ideas should be easier to understand now that you have applied them in analysing Videos 1 and 2 of ‘Joe's day’. What experimental evidence is there to support Wood's claims for the importance of contingency? Finally Wood offers a critique of teachers’ questioning strategies, and suggests how these might be improved.

Aspects of teaching and learning (PDF, 21 pages, 0.4 MB) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

The main question Wood addresses in Reading 3 is, ‘What is the nature of effective instruction?’ Towards the beginning of the reading he makes a distinction between ‘spontaneous’ teaching and learning interactions at home, and ‘contrived’ encounters in schools and psychological experiments. The two types of encounter make different demands on adults and children, and each follows its own set of distinctive ground rules.

Like Donaldson (1978) Wood argues that children initially find school learning difficult for two reasons. The first is that the ground rules and discourses of the classroom are very different from those to which children are accustomed outside school. The second is that the forms of instruction teachers use are very different from those used by parents. Taking Vygotsky's theory as his conceptual framework, and using examples from his own experimental work on teaching and learning interactions between mothers and their pre-school children, Wood identifies key features of effective, contingent teaching and learning encounters.

Drawing on the work of Tizard and Hughes (1984) he claims that contingent instruction is more likely to take place in family contexts. Parents have privileged access to their children's particular learning needs and histories. This knowledge provides the conditions for the establishment of shared meanings, or intersubjectivities, which, Wood suggests, are the bedrock of contingent instruction.

Wood next analyses the ways in which teachers use questions. He offers reasons as to why traditional styles of questioning are not particularly effective in eliciting ‘high cognitive’ responses from children – ‘The more they question, the less children say’ (p. 172) – and suggests a set of guidelines for the effective use of questioning based on the features of contingent interaction. If, after you have studied Wood's critique of classroom teaching you feel that he has been somewhat unfair on teachers, you should note that at the end of his chapter he comments as follows:

If we find ourselves dissatisfied with the interactions that take place in such institutions [schools], measured against what we take to be the optimum contexts for learning [the home], then we must question not simply the teacher's ‘skills’ but the form of the institution within which we expect these to be deployed.

(Cultural Worlds of Early Childhood, p. 175)

Reading 4

Read Chapter 10 of Cultural Worlds of Early Childhood, ‘Adult-child interaction, joint problem solving and the structure of co-operation’, by Mariette Hoogsteder, Robert Maier and Ed Elbers, attached below.

Adult-child interaction, joint problem solving and the structure of cooperation (PDF, 18 pages, 0.4 MB)

Hoogsteder et al. argue that research in the post-Vygotskian tradition has emphasised the uni-directional transmission of skills and knowledge from adult to learner during the course of asymmetrical interactions. The metaphor of scaffolding conveys an image of the child's learning being propped up by an omniscient adult who invariably directs and controls the interaction. The contribution of the child has been ignored. Hoogstedder et al. argue that allocation of a passive role to the child oversimplifies the nature of teaching and learning interactions.

They describe teaching and learning interactions as ‘exercises in collectivity’ which involve both child and adult in processes of negotiation, disagreement, the exchange and sharing of information, judgement and decision making and evaluation of one another's contributions. For example a child may decide to ignore an adult's instructions if they do not fit in with his or her goal. Similarly, an adult may ignore a child's contribution if it does not conform to the agenda the adult wishes to set. In this manner, children not only learn about the task in hand, they also learn about the nature of co-operation and how to participate in problem solving as a joint enterprise.

Hoogstedder et al. criticise the scaffolding metaphor on the grounds that it suggests a universal format for teaching and learning interactions. In support of their argument that ‘Every culture provides adults and children with a repertoire of interaction formats or patterns’, they draw on experimental observations of three- to five-year-old children solving various construction tasks with a parent or caregiver. These observations showed that Dutch parents and children use three distinctly different modes of interaction: the playful mode; the economic and efficient mode and the didactic mode.

Video 3: Cooking with Dad

Now watch Video 3 – the final episode in ‘Joe's day’. Using the criteria defined by Hoogstedder et al. for distinguishing and classifying modes of interaction (p. 181) see if you can arrive at a description of the predominant mode operating between Joe and his father.

As you did in the earlier video activities you should watch the whole episode through once to familiarise yourself with what is going on before you attempt to analyse it. Use the transcript supplied to help you with your analysis. Draw a line across the transcript every time you judge that the mode of interaction changes, and make a note of which mode is represented by these segments of the transcript.

Cooking with dad

Download this video clip.Video player: COOKING WITH DAD
Skip transcript: COOKING WITH DAD

Transcript: COOKING WITH DAD

Philip
What we going to put out first?
Joe
Um, margarine
Philip
Margarine, okey dokey, we need a hundred grams of this
Joe
Yeah, we have to mix it?
Philip
Yup. Do you remember we have to cream it together with the sugar
Joe
Cause it’s too hard, I can’t how to do it, ‘cause it’s too hard,’cause it’s too hard ...
Philip
Not enough
Joe
Cause I can’t know to do it
Philip
Too much, Delia Smith always gets it right first time there we go. Leave the scales alone please let me ... Here’s the margarine ...
Joe
Yeah, are we have to mix it?
Philip
Yes what we do is chop it up first a bit, small bits, nice and soft, OK, now can you remember what we put in next?
Joe
Yeah, we put in in egg
Philip
No not yet
Joe
Sugar
Philip
Sugar yup
Joe
And we have to mix it
Philip
Yeah
Joe
In there
Philip
Yeah
Joe
I have to take take it?
Philip
OK can you tip it in then please. Very good, now mix them all up together, tip it all in, that’s it. Good. Scales ... that’s it you have to mix them together, shall I hold the bowl?
Joe
It’s too hard
Philip
Is it, do you want me to start it off for you?
Joe
Yeah, it’s too I can’t how to do it, ’cause it’s too hard ...
Philip
Once it gets soft
Joe
Yeah
Philip
If you push the spoon down like it’s a bit easier then, see, now does Joe want a go now?
Joe
Yes
Philip
There we are, now you have a go
Joe
Mix
Philip
Are you having a crafty lick?! Come on!
Joe
Eggs!
Philip
Yup, how many eggs?
Joe
Two
Philip
Ahh ahh
Joe
And you don’t need no more?
Philip
No just two. There we are
Joe
Now you broke it now
Philip
Yeah I know well we have to get it out the shell
Joe
But I need that
Philip
Right can you mix them together ... what have I done? Use that spoon to mix them together
Joe
I can how to do it
Philip
Good. OK move that bowl to one side, let’s move the scales over here ...
Joe
And you need a fork
Philip
Not for a minute. Now can you, if you, can you tip the eggs in for me please and we’ll start mixing them together a bit. That’s it, good OK. Good. OK are you going to have a stir
Joe
Yeah, I need to do it
Philip
Go on then
Joe
It’s too harder
Philip
Keep going
Joe
I can’t how to do it
Philip
That’s it keep going
Joe
Cause it’s too harder
Joe
Yesss
Philip
It looks messy doesn’t it?
Joe
You need a
Joe
Yes ... you need a driver [mixer!]
Philip
No we won’t use the mixer today
Joe
Yes, we need
[Fade out]
Philip
Now do you want to tip some flour in here Yeah For me please, OK
Joe
Yeah
Philip
For me please, OK
Joe
I need a spoon
Philip
Just gently
Philip
Tip it up, that’s it ... whoa, whoa, whoa!
Joe
I need a spoon
Philip
I’ll give you a fresh wooden spoon in a minute. You’ve put a little bit too much in there, hold on, can you put some back in the packet please, no don’t stir it just put it from the bowl into the packet, because we’ve got a bit too much in there. There you go. Right now can you remember what we do with this before we put in the cake. In here. Hold on
Joe
Can I put this in there?
Philip
Yeah, we’re going to put the flour in there aren’t we, give this a bit more air ...
Joe
Now you need the cakes? I need some flour ...
Philip
OK are you going to do that? That’s it, just put in. OK stop for a minute. Just fold this in carefully. Do you remember what this is called, it’s called a sieve isn’t it? OK can you put in some more flour please?
Joe
Mmmm
[Fade out]
Philip
Does this look ready to put in the cases?
Joe
Yeah, it’s my turn
Philip
Hold on, hold on, don’t use that, I’ll get you a spoon, all right
Joe
I need a, I want that one ah, ah
Philip
Use this one
Philip
That’s it, good boy, don’t lick it every time ... OK Don’t keep licking it, OK do the next one now, that’s it, good boy, put a splodge in each then we’ll go round again. That’s it. Don’t keep picking it otherwise we won’t have enough to cook. Stop eating it mate. Come on keep going, you’re doing a grand job. That’s it.
Joe
That one?
Philip
Yup please ...
Joe
Move your fingers ...
Philip
Sorry, I was just holding the cup paper paper case still. Joe. You keep on eating it, we won’t get enough cakes to make. There we are let’s put dob in there. It’s a bit sticky today isn’t it?
End transcript: COOKING WITH DAD
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COOKING WITH DAD
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Hoogstedder et al. seem to suggest that while they identified three distinct patterns of interaction, any one parent and child pair characteristically use only one of these modes. In Video 3, however, you can observe all three patterns. The probable reason why Hoogstedder et al. observed only one pattern of interaction per adult/child pair lies in the way their study was designed. They observed children and caregivers in a single interactional context, solving construction tasks. Had they varied the contexts to include different types of task, or studied some of the more naturally occurring interactions which take place in families (such as joint cooking episodes), they might have reached a different conclusion.

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