3 The nature of effective instruction
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.
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)
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.
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
Transcript: COOKING WITH DAD
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.