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A recurring theme of the Late Bronze Age is the apparent association between deliberate deposition of material and wet places. Recently, a human skull has been discovered within the basal sediments of a relict mire at Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, dating to the later Bronze Age (c. 1250–840 cal BC). The find, which belonged to a c. 25–35 year old male, was located within a layer of silty wood peat elm deep, representing the ancient root system of a hazel copse and containing many hazelnuts and some charcoal. Palaeopathological investigation established the likelihood that the skull had decomposed before deposition and there are strong parallels between the find and its context and other prehistoric skulls recorded from British wetlands. The connection of the human remains with considerable amounts of hazel wood may also be of significance when viewed within the wider context of similar associations recorded from European bog-bodies. During the course of excavation and survey of the site worked wood fragments were recovered indicating both human and animal (beaver) activity, dating to the later Bronze Age and Early Iron Age respectively. The stratigraphic sequence indicated that organic sedimentation resulted from the rapid flooding of a formerly relatively dry landscape, perhaps as a result of the effects of beaver damming – a possibility which may hold wider implications for the archaeological interpretation of prehistoric pollen data.
What can Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) contribute to the solution of the problems facing higher education today? This edited volume brings together the work of an international group of scholars and researchers to address this important question. Drawing on contemporary interpretations of CHAT, the contributors take on a wide range of issues, ranging from pedagogy to administration and from teacher preparation to university outreach. An introduction presents the key principles of CHAT. Subsequent chapters address such issues as effective ways of teaching large undergraduate classes, providing support for struggling writers or for students with disabilities, opening up opportunities for students from historically underserved communities, preparing students for the professions, and building bridges between higher education and the wider community. Readers with an interest in higher education will encounter ideas in these chapters that will prompt them to rethink their role in preparing today's students for tomorrow's challenges.
It is now more than a quarter of a century since the study reported in the first edition of this book was completed. Nevertheless, to the best of my knowledge, no study of comparable scale has since been carried out that casts doubt on the original findings. I shall therefore retain most of the earlier chapter. However, I shall take the opportunity, in the final part of the current chapter, to say something about the collaborative action research with classroom teachers in which I have recently been engaged in the attempt to create richer opportunities for children to construct knowledge together through more dialogic forms of classroom interaction.
It has always been assumed that language plays a major role in formal education. And with good reason. Most of what is taught in schools is transmitted either through teachers' oral presentation or through textbooks and reference works, and when assessments of educational attainment are made they are typically made through the medium of questions and answers in either the spoken or the written mode. It seems self‐evident, therefore, that to succeed in school a pupil must have an adequate command of the linguistic skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
Although correct as far as it goes, such a concept of the role of language in education is seriously misleading, since it leaves out of account the essentially interactive nature of linguistic communication.
The centrality of language has run like a leitmotiv through the exploration of knowing and knowledge in the preceding chapter. Here I want to focus on it more directly, first by setting out the arguments for treating it as the very essence of education and, second, by considering in more detail the relationship between discourse and knowing. I shall then consider some of the implications of the preceding arguments for the discourse through which so many of the daily practices of learning and teaching are enacted in the classroom. Briefly, I shall propose that classrooms should become communities of inquiry, in which the curriculum is seen as being created emergently in the many modes of conversation through which teacher and students dialogically make sense of topics of individual and social significance, through action, knowledge building and reflection.
The Role of Language in Human Development
Vygotsky's contribution to our understanding of the central role of language in human development has already been spelled out in some detail in Chapter. It rests on the fruitful analogy he drew between material artifacts and signs: both function as tools to mediate joint, productive activity. Viewed in this way, language and other semiotic systems can be thought of as “psychological tools” that, through their inclusion in activity, radically transform participants' orientations both to the material situation and to their coparticipants.
From a phylogenetic perspective, we have already seen this transformative effect in the account that was offered, in Chapter 2, of the emergence of the different modes of knowing in the evolution from primate to contemporary humans.
One of the central claims put forward in the language-based theory of learning proposed by both Vygotsky and Halliday is that the very same conversations that provide the opportunity for the child to learn language also provide the opportunity to learn through language. That is to say, by participating in the conversations that form part of most everyday activities, the child not only appropriates the culture's chief means of interpersonal communication, but also its ways of making sense of experience, as these are encoded in the discourse contributions of the coparticipants in those activities. As Halliday puts it: “language is the essential condition of knowing, the process by which experience becomes knowledge” (1993a, p. 94).
This is a strong claim and one that is clearly relevant to the ongoing educational debate about “educational knowledge” – what should be taught and how. However, what is surprising about this debate is how little attention is given to the nature of the knowledge over which there is so much disagreement. What does it mean to talk about either the “transmission” or the “transformation” of knowledge, and how are these processes achieved in the discourse, both spoken and written, which constitute the major forms of activity in classrooms at all levels from kindergarten to university. In this and the next chapter I want to explore these issues in farther detail.
As I shall argue below, knowledge construction and theory development most frequently occur in the context of a problem of some significance and take the form of a dialogue in which solutions are proposed and responded to with additions and extensions or objections and counterproposals from others.
James, age 5, comes into the kitchen just as his mother has taken some cakes out of the oven. There is a loud, metallic “Crack.”
James: Who did that?
Mother: I expect it was that tin contracting
James: Which tin?
Mother: The one with your pastry in
James: Why did it make that noise?
Mother: Well, when it was in the oven, it got very hot and stretched a bit. I've just taken it out of the oven, and it's cooling down very quickly, you see, and that noise happens when it gets smaller again and goes back to its ordinary shape
James: Oh! was it a different shape in the oven?
Mother: Not very different. just a little bigger
James: Naughty little tin. you might get smacked - if you do it again
(Wells, 1986, p. 59)
My central argument in this book is that education should be conducted as a dialogue about matters that are of interest and concern to the participants. This is how children learn about the world as they simultaneously learn to talk before they go to school; the above is just one of many spontaneously occurring examples of learning and teaching in the home that were captured on tape in my earlier study of first language development (Wells, 1985, 1986). Surely we should enable children to build on that firm foundation by encouraging their desire to understand and their willingness to observe and experiment, and to read, write, and talk with others about what interests them.
In the preceding chapter, I argued that triadic dialogue is not necessarily incompatible with a mode of classroom interaction in which students play a part in proposing topics for discussion. The next question to be addressed is whether such collaborative discussion can become progressive; that is to say, can students contribute in such a way that they build on their peers' earlier contributions in a manner that advances the collective understanding of the topic under discussion?
The two episodes to be discussed in this chapter are taken from a curricular unit on mass which took place in the same classroom early in the following school year. Several of the children have continued with the same teacher into what is now a Grade 4/5 class and, as will be seen, a collaborative community of inquiry is becoming quite well established.
The Importance of Predicting When Carrying Out an Experiment
The first activity occurred in the second lesson in this curricular unit and was part of a series devoted to answering the question: “Does mass change when matter changes state?” In the previous lesson, the class had carried out a number of teacher-planned experiments, which involved massing the relevant materials before and after the change of state (e.g. melting a block of ice, dissolving sugar cubes in water) in order to discover whether there had been any change in mass. Today's lesson is going to be devoted to continuing the experiments, with attention to the procedures necessary to ensure that the experiments are fair tests.
Barbara Galbraith teaches a Grade 2 class and Mary Ann Van Tassell a combined class of Grade 1 and Grade 2 children. Through creative time tabling, we have arranged, each Wednesday afternoon, to work together on science with a group of some twenty Grade 2 children drawn from both our classrooms. Although we have been team teaching together for several years, and have progressively modified our teaching strategies in order to allow opportunities for the children to engage in hands-on investigations, we were still dissatisfied, when we reviewed our program at the beginning of this year, with the relationship between the questions that the children generated in the course of these investigations and our own teacherly agenda. Specifically, we noticed that, although we encouraged and noted their questions, we did not give them a central place in planning subsequent activities; in a sense, their questions were more an outcome of the topics we tackled rather than a point of departure for their organization. Our own question, then, was how could we arrange for the children's questions to play a more generative role in the planning of the science curriculum?
This question was also of interest to Gordon Wells, a researcher and teacher educator at the university, who, with Mary Ann, is a member of an action research project which is exploring ways to give a greater emphasis to inquiry in the curriculum.
Schooling, as a form of socialization through culture transmission, has been part of our culture for so long that we take for granted its encapsulated nature and its almost total dependence on oral and written discourse. Add to this an uncritical acceptance by many educators of the conduit metaphor of communication, in which utterances carry thoughts as trucks carry coal (Reddy, 1979), and it is perhaps not surprising that many attempts to understand the role of language in learning and teaching have treated the verbal component of classroom events as self-sufficient, and analyzed the talk as if, like a window, it gave direct access to what was going on in the learners' minds (Edwards, 1993).
But what if this view of learning as the increasing ability to send and receive verbal messages containing more, and more complex and abstract, information about non-present objects and events is an aberration – a byproduct of the form that schooling has happened to take in Western culture? In many other cultures, learning is not treated as a separate activity; and, even in our own culture, this is rarely the case outside the classroom. Instead, it is recognized to be a concomitant of engagement in joint activity with help from other people. Nor, outside the classroom, is learning conceived of as a purely verbal affair. For simply being able to talk or write about a practice is no substitute for being able to engage in it effectively.
There can be little doubt that, in the English-speaking world at least, it is the “zone of proximal development” that has been Vygotsky's most important legacy to education. Indeed, it is the only aspect of Vygotsky's genetic theory of human development that most teachers have ever heard of and, as a result, it is not infrequently cited to justify forms of teaching that seem quite incompatible with the theory as a whole. This centenary conference therefore seems an appropriate occasion to review Vygotsky's exposition of the zpd and to consider the ways in which this seminal concept has been modified and extended in subsequent work.
Although the zpd is often said to be a central concept within his theory, its explicit formulation appeared quite late in Vygotsky's writings and then in two rather different contexts. One version, translated into English as “Interaction between Learning and Development” (chapter 6 of Mind in Society, 1978), occurred in a posthumously published collection of essays entitled Mental Development of Children and the Processes of Learning (Vygotsky, 1935). Here, the immediate context in which the concept of the zpd is presented is that of the assessment of children's intellectual abilities and, more specifically, as a more dynamic conception of intellectual potential than that represented by an IQ score. Vygotsky defines the zone of proximal development as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (1978, p. 86).