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Conway learning cop-ies02

  1. 1. This article was downloaded by: [University College Cork]On: 7 October 2008Access details: Access Details: [subscription number 785045793]Publisher RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Irish Educational Studies Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: Learning in communities of practice: Rethinking teaching and learning in disadvantaged contexts Paul F. Conway a a College Lecturer in the Education Department, University College, Cork Online Publication Date: 01 December 2002To cite this Article Conway, Paul F.(2002)Learning in communities of practice: Rethinking teaching and learning in disadvantagedcontexts,Irish Educational Studies,21:3,61 — 91To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/0332331020210308URL: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use: article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug dosesshould be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directlyor indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
  2. 2. Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter, 2002 61 LEARNING IN COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE: RETHINKING TEACHING AND LEARNING IN DISADVANTAGED CONTEXTS Paul F. Conway Introduction A well-documented finding across many educational cultures is that students in disadvantaged communities have less challenging pedagogical and curricular experiences than their counterparts in moreDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 advantaged contexts. This paper makes a case for the relevance of new ideas about cognition and learning for rethinking teaching and learning in disadvantaged contexts in the light of efforts to promote more active learning by students in primary and secondary education. Even though there has been an emphasis on the promotion of active student engagement in the learning process at primary level since the advent of the "New Curriculum" (Ireland, 1971) and more recently, in the last decade, at second-level, research suggests that teaching focuses predominantly on lower order thinking (Shiel, Forde and Morgan, 1996). This paper has four sections. First, I note the persistence of educational disadvantage despite impressive advances in the education system as a whole, and then discuss what some commentators see as the relative dominance of technical and transmission oriented discourse in relation to pedagogy in Irish education. Second, I outline some of the findings internationally and in Ireland on the school experiences of disadvantaged students and argue that their pedagogical experiences in Ireland are characterised by an emphasis on low-order thinking and a persistent assumption of the solo or individual learner - like their more advantaged counterparts. Furthermore, there is some evidence that students labeled disadvantaged may experience diminished curricular and pedagogical experiences - unlike their advantaged counterparts. In the third section of the paper, I outline the assumptions underpinning behavioural and cognitive perspectives on learning and cognition. Drawing on the work of Brown (Brown, 1994; Brown, 1997a), Rogoff et al. (1996), and Lave and Wenger (1991) and others, I compare the behavioural and cognitive positions with the fundamental assumptions of emergent socio-cultural perspectives on cognition and learning with a focus on the socio-cultural position as a powerful model on which to base initiatives to address educational disadvantage. Ideas such as
  3. 3. 62 Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter 2002 "situated cognition", "distributed cognition", and "communities of practice" may present an even more fundamental shift than that between the behaviourist and cognitive views of learning. The final section of the paper addresses the implications of these new views of learning and cognition for students in educationally disadvantaged settings. The many notable and impressive achievements of the Irish education system over the last forty years are an important preface to the critique of Irish educational discourse and practice in this paper. Among these notable achievements are: "the epoch making" impact of the Investment in Education report (Lynch, 1998), the overall increase in the capacity of the education system as well as the rise in overallDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 attainment rates (Fitzgerald, 1998), the improvement in curricular opportunities for both girls and boys, the significant increases in public expenditure on primary, secondary and third level education as well as the overall increase in expenditure on education as a percentage of Exchequer expenditure (Thomhill, 1998), the vast increase in the range of areas of study at third level, developments in both pre- and in-service teacher education, and the provision of well qualified graduates to foster social and economic well-being (Coolahan, 1994; Hyland, 1998). Despite these watershed developments, educational disadvantage persists (Hyland, 1998; McCormack, 1998) and Irish society is becoming more rather than less inequitable (Breen and Whelan, 1996; Lynch and Lodge, 2002). Thus, while the education system has in many respects been an effective agent of social and economic change in Irish society it has been considerably less effective in combating long standing societal inequalities. In addressing these persistent problems, I make a case for a greater interrogation of the assumptions about learning underpinning various pedagogical practices, aware that neither classroom practices nor the education system writ large are wholly responsible for educational disadvantage. However, the education system does play an important, albeit contested, role in reinforcing or challenging long-standing patterns of social reproduction. The potential influence of some system features and how they contribute to educational disadvantage and social inequality has received some attention while others have not. It is to this imbalance in attention I now turn. Debate on pedagogy in Irish education? Various commentators have highlighted how Irish educational discourse has been notable in its inattention to and resistance to
  4. 4. Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter, 2002 63 problematize curricular concerns regardless as to whether students are viewed as advantaged or disadvantaged. What I mean by curriculum here, in a similar fashion to the use of curriculum in the White Paper on Education, is not only what subject matter is taught, but also how and why, and its impact on students (Gleeson, 1998). Drawing on Habermas framework for understanding knowledge-constitutive activities in society, Gleeson (1998) has critiqued the dominance of technical discourse in Irish education to the relative exclusion of practical or emancipatory dialogue. Similarly, Callan (1997), commenting in the context of second-level curriculum initiatives, has pointed out the technical nature of concerns with the dominance of class size (1998) and access to resources as issues, to the relativeDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 exclusion of more reflexive discourses examining the ideological bases of preferred beliefs and classroom teaching practices. Similarly, Gleeson (1998) laments the dominance of power and control issues in the 1990s post National Education Convention (Coolahan,1994), Green (Ireland, 1992), and White paper (Ireland, 1995) debates to the relative exclusion of curricular issues. Despite the dominance of a technical discourse, a considerable body of critiques and position papers on Irish education emerged in the 1990s both in anticipation of and response to changes in the education system (e.g. (Hogan, 1995; Gleeson, 1998; McCormack, 1998) and CMRS/CORI publications (CORI, 1992; CORI, 1998). While the range of issues addressed in this body of literature is beyond the scope of this paper, the focus was primarily on the system-level issues such as certification, selection, assessment (examinations mainly) rather than classroom practices. While these debates clearly recognize the education system as a site for the partial perpetuation or redress of inequality, they nevertheless veil pedagogical practices as a site in the brokerage of inequality/equality. As such, the moment-to-moment transactions between students, teachers and curriculum have received insufficient attention in various efforts to address educational disadvantage. In sum, conflict and debate about pedagogical and curricular concerns (i.e. what is taught, how and why it is taught and its impact) remains marginal in both educational research and debates on educational disadvantage. While there has been some debate, as noted by Gleeson (1998), about history and health and personal education, these are exceptions. Conspicuously missing from the 1990s, in contrast to the power and control discourse, was rigorous critical engagement and reflection on the nature of whose knowledge is taught, how and why it is taught and its impact on disadvantaged students. Consequently, the classroom in Irish education remains largely a secret garden.
  5. 5. 64 Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter 2002 The OECD (OECD, 1991) review of Irish education raised serious concern about the dominance and widespread prevalence of a transmission model of teaching, low level cognitive demands in classroom teaching, and low levels of pupil involvement in the learning process in Irish schools. What is unclear from the OECD report is the extent to which transmission oriented teaching was or is more prevalent in educationally disadvantaged schools. Without leaving much doubt as to impressions of the examiners the report (OECD 1991, p. 55) concluded that: The face...Irish schools present to the world is quite recognisably that of previous generations. There is aDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 growing dissonance between it and the development of the learning sciences and modern teaching technologies that require a very different approach ... Co-operative (team) teaching and non-instructional forms of learning have not been conspicuous elements in determining design and layout in the past. Drawing upon this OECD report Callan (1997) noted that "the reality of school-learning can be profiled with such descriptors as "primarily didactic in nature, the teacher is the primary initiator, students work alone; lessons are structured around content with a focus on factual content; little or no small group problem solving approaches; little use of computer/video technology". Subsequently, the goal of active learning has become a more central feature of educational documents in Ireland over the last decade as reflected in both the National Education Convention Report (Coolahan, 1994) and in various curriculum and assessment reform initiatives e.g. (Callan, 1997; Gleeson and Granville, 1996; Gleeson, 1998; Hanafin, 1997; Hyland, 2000). While child-centered teaching was espoused in the New Primary Curriculum in 1971 transmission models of teaching nevertheless remained dominant particularly at second level (OECD, 1991; Coolahan, 1994). In the 1991 OECD report, the authors recommended that attention be turned towards cognitive theories of learning that might inform pedagogical practices in an effort to displace transmission oriented teaching (which they implied was based implicitly on common sense behavioural psychology). In rethinking practice in disadvantaged contexts, I want to take the focus on theories of learning one step further and turn to socio-cultural, situative-pragmatic, cultural or socio-genetic theories of learning, which have turned the spotlight away from the capacities of the solo learner to the creation of classrooms as communities of learners
  6. 6. Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter, 2002 65 (Brown, 1994) or communities of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). Research in other educational cultures on classroom practices for educationally disadvantaged students Considerable evidence internationally points to the diminished classroom pedagogical and organisational experiences of students in low income, high poverty and/or minority communities (Anyon, 1981; Oakes, 1986; Oakes and Lipton, 1999). Organisationally, teachers typically tend to adopt stricter discipline procedures, more classroom structure, and incorporate less social interaction. In terms ofDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 curriculum and teaching, teachers tend to provide less challenging content knowledge, engage in more repetitive curricular experiences, break down tasks into smaller pieces, provide fewer opportunities to engage in higher-order thinking or problem solving, and provide fewer open ended divergent tasks (Means, Chelemer, and Knapp, 1991). In sum, teachers tend to rely on drill and practice of basic skills in efforts to compensate for the perceived deficits that students bring to school. The result of such compensatory efforts, often based on deficit models of students,, is the exacerbation of differences in instruction between the "haves" and "have nots" (Means, Chelemer, and Knapp, 1991). In the next section, I attempt to paint a composite picture of classroom practice in Irish classrooms, attentive to the limitations of this endeavor given the paucity of observational and/or ethnographic research on classroom practices in Irish schools. Notable exceptions, which shed a critical light on classroom practice, include Sugrues (1997) interpretive interview and case study of primary teachers views of child centered teaching and Drudy and Ui Chathams (1998) gender focused action research using an interaction analysis frame. Furthermore, at present, there is an emerging and long overdue focus on classroom practice in Irish educational research. Two recent significant studies have provided insights on classroom teaching and are beginning to redress the relative neglect of classroom practice in Irish educational research. Lynch and Lodges (Lynch and Lodge, 2002) multi-method (i.e. classroom observations, questionnaires and essays, one-to-one and focus group interviews, classroom observations) study of twelve single-sex and co-educational second- level schools provides many insights on the dynamics of equality, power and exclusion as they play out in a range of classroom and school contexts. Lyons, Lynch, Close, Sheerin and Bolands (2003, forthcoming) video study, of Mathematics (mainly) and English teaching in ten different second-level schools, is the first such video
  7. 7. 66 Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter 2002 study in Irish classrooms and promises to shed light on the relationships between teacher beliefs and practices, common trends and diverse practices inside mathematics classrooms, and the impact of social class and gender on the mediation of subject learning. In the next section, with a view to understanding the largely implicit assumptions about learning, I argue that an individualist epistemology informs classroom practice in Irish education. Second, based on an individualist epistemology, I argue that classroom practice may be qualitatively different in disadvantaged settings, that is, a differential pedagogy hypothesis.Downloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 Research in Ireland on classroom organisational and pedagogical practices My concern, in this paper, is with how and why teaching is enacted as it is in disadvantaged settings. Educational research in Ireland has, almost overwhelmingly stayed at arms length from classroom teaching practices. Maybe this is, in part due to, what the OECD examiners termed, the "legendary autonomy" of Irish teachers as well as the assumption that generic good teaching is readily identifiable and universal in its efficacy. What teachers do in terms of best practice in advantaged or disadvantaged settings in Irish schools remains, in large part, a "black box". An important point to note, is that considerable attention has been paid in Ireland to reducing the pupil teacher ratio. The presumption, whether in advantaged or disadvantaged communities, seems to be that merely ensuring change at the level of inputs (a greater number of teachers) will be sufficient to improve both pedagogical and organisational processes leading to enhanced academic outcomes (e.g. the reduction of pupil-teacher ratio to 15:1 in Breaking the Cycle). The underlying assumption here appears to be that there are little or no differences in the pedagogical and organisational, practices between disadvantaged and advantaged communities. In other words, what remains relatively unquestioned, uncontested, and unexamined is the nature of the pedagogical practices themselves. Individualist epistemology Both in academic and folk psychology individualist epistemologies are dominant in Irish education. In teacher education a generic constructivist theory dominates the discourse but is implicitly
  8. 8. Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3. Winter, 2002 67 individualist in assumptions (i.e. Piagetian assumptions of the 1971 New Primary Curriculum). Furthermore, for example, reviewing recent volumes of Irish Educational Studies, the Irish Journal of Education or Oideas: Journal of the Department Education and Science there has been no debate about the meta-theoretical bases of learning and cognition. When learning and cognition are addressed the focus is on educational applications of individualist epistemologies (e.g. Gardners Multiple Intelligences Theory, Piagetian-inspired active learning initiatives). In using the term, meta-theoretical I want to draw attention to the underlying assumptions of dominant schools of thought or paradigms in the learning sciences over the last one hundred years. Attention to meta-theoretical issues provides anDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 opportunity to examine definitions, tease out assumptions, illuminate guiding metaphors and categorise the pedagogical implications of various learning theories. The conspicuous lack of a meta-theoretical debate in Irish educational debates is problematic given the upsurge of discussion and research internationally on cognition and learning, and emergence in the last twenty years of socio-cultural approaches to learning that have challenged the dominance of behavioural and cognitive perspectives. Attempting to characterize the epistemological beliefs held more broadly among teachers and students is more difficult. However, Raths interview study of second-level teacher candidates is illuminating (Rath, 2000). She noted deeply entrenched cultural beliefs and practices about learning among student teachers. In particular, she documented, a focus on (a) learning as something done in isolation, and (b) a pervasive focus on the memorization of information at a superficial level for the purposes of individual performance in examinations. Furthermore, Lynch, (1999) building on her earlier work, has pointed to the pervasive competitive individualism of Irish secondary schooling. In addition, Fontes, Kellaghan, Madaus, and Airasians (1983) study, of a nationally representative sample of Irish peoples conceptions of intelligence, presented evidence that they believed strongly in innate and immutable conceptions of cognitive capacity (e.g. "...71% agreed that education cannot make up for a lack of natural ability", p. 55). As such, their views were consistent with psychometric notions of singular intelligence and therefore deeply rooted in an individualist epistemology. What is the connection between individualist epistemologies and differential pedagogy hypothesis? An important logical connection between the individualist epistemologies and subsequent
  9. 9. 68 Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter 2002 differential pedagogical hypothesis can be understood in terms of the psychology of individual differences or differential psychology. Thorndike (Thorndike, 1903; Thorndike, 1931), among others, advocated in the early part of the 20th century that educators should devote their energy to understanding the individual student. Subsequently, various measures of individual difference were developed including intelligence tests used to sort students into ability groups, streams, and special education categories. While the large- scale intelligence testing movement to a great extent bypassed Ireland, the focus on the sorting of students into ability groups and streaming did not, and these have become central to school organisation in Ireland at both primary (Devine, 1993) and secondary level (Smyth, 1999; Smyth, 2000). Indeed, Smyths (1999) work provides strongDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 evidence of the negative impact of such streaming practices on both social and academic outcomes. Differential pedagogy hypothesis What evidence is there about organisational, curriculum, and teaching practices in Irish primary and secondary schools? Relatively little attention has been paid to understanding the school and classroom experiences of students in Ireland, although Lynch and Lodge (Lynch and Lodge, 1999; Lynch and Lodge, 2002) have cogently unveiled secondary school students experiences of power and authority in school. In particular, the pedagogical experiences of students at primary or secondary level remain relatively hidden, be they portrayed through the voice of researchers and/or students themselves. A study (OSullivan, 1980a; OSullivan, 1980b), based on teacher self report, compared teachers beliefs in working- and middle class schools about their own teaching styles in the light of the 1971 New Primary Curriculum but did not provide observational or ethnographic evidence of teaching practices. OSullivan (1980a) assessed the degree to which Bowles and Gintis (1976) differential socialization hypothesis might be acting as a crucial mechanism in the reproduction of social inequalities between middle and working class students. His survey study, of one hundred and fifty three Cork primary teachers in six middle- and fifteen working-class schools, concluded that "there is little evidence in the findings on school and classroom organization and teaching style in my study to support this view of differential socialization" (OSullivan, 1980a, p. 84). However, there is some evidence to support the differential pedagogical hypothesis from research on the school organisational practices such as ability grouping and streaming as well as research on
  10. 10. Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter, 2002 69 the extent that secondary schools contribute differentially to student achievement. Lynch has documented the widespread use of streaming and ability grouping in Irish primary and secondary schools and has criticised the continued reliance on ability grouping in primary schools and the continued existence of streaming, grouping or banding at second level (Lynch, 1999; Lynch and Lodge, 2002). The impact on students designated as low ability invariably confines that student to a school career in the low group or stream exacerbating educational disadvantage. However, the pedagogical experiences of students designated as disadvantaged remains relatively unexamined despite the fact that research in other countries has pointed out the differential pedagogical and classroom organisational experiences of studentsDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 labeled as disadvantaged. Smyths multi-level or hierarchical linear modeling analysis of a nationally representative sample of second- level schools provides clear support for differential pedagogy hypothesis with schools differential contribution to student achievement evident even after controlling for students background characteristics (Smyth, 1999). In summary, considerable evidence points to a system-wide emphasis on lower order skills. There is also considerable evidence to support the differential pedagogy hypothesis and both can be seen as underpinned by individualist epistemologies. The strongest evidence to support the differential pedagogy hypothesis is from Lynch and Lodges research (2002) on the widespread prevalence of ability grouping and Smyths (Smyth, 1999) documentation of differences between secondary schools in their contribution to student achievement after controlling for background factors. However, the extent to which differential pedagogy plays out according to advantaged/disadvantaged groups is not clear. In the next section I note the emphasis on an individualist epistemology in both the behavioural and cognitive perspectives and present the socio-cultural perspective as a generative alternative. Three theories of cognition and learning Broadly speaking, over the last one hundred years the learning sciences have provided three distinct camps of learning theories: the behaviourist-empiricist, the cognitive-rationalist, and situative- pragmatic1 (Greeno, Collins, and Resnick, 1996). The notion of communities of practice emanates from this last cluster of learning theories. While a detailed exposition of the differences between these three traditions is beyond the scope of this paper, it is worth addressing how each defines learning, knowing, intelligence, and the design of learning environments (Table 1). In the behaviourist
  11. 11. 70 Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter 2002 tradition learning is change in behaviour, in the cognitive tradition learning is change in thinking, and in the socio-cultural tradition learning is change in participation. These widely diverging definitions of learning draw the attention of teachers and researchers to different sets of questions in pondering and planning learning, teaching, and assessment.Downloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008
  12. 12. Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter, 2002 71 Table 1. Three perspectives on learning and their implications for teaching and assessment2 Camp Behaviourism Cognitive •-.•••! Socio-cultural Learning Change in Change in thinking Change in practices of as... behaviour communities. & ability of individuals to participate Intelligence How smart are you? In what contexts are you In what ways are smart? you smart? Knowing ...organised ...Structures of ...distributed in the as... collection of knowledge and world among collections processes that individuals, tools, between elements construct patterns of . artifacts, texts people or behavioural ;• symbols in order to: use and fosteringDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 units. 1. Understand communities of learners concepts & in which they participate 2. Engage in general skills such as < reasoning and problem solving Examples • Precision • General schemata • Fostering communities teaching (Jean Piaget) of learners (Ann Brown) j • Computer •General and : • Cognitive * Assisted specific apprenticeship (Collins, Instruction competencies e.g. etal) (CAI)... i.e. Multiple mastery learning Intelligences &TfU (Howard Gardner), Designing TEACHING: TEACHING ..; TEACHING ; [earning . Simplify and • Interactive • Communities of environments sequence tasks environments for : learning for active into discrete steps knowledge participation in the • Routines of construction and - formulation and How can we activity understanding : ] resolution of realistic design • Clear goals, •Sequences of • problems/inquiry teaching for" feedback, and conceptual . • Development of learning? reinforcement development disciplinary practices of • Individualization • Explicit attention discourse, i.e. "ways of with technologies to generality • J ; talking" e.g. CAI •• • / • ^ . • • ^ 1 : 1 v V ^ ••• - . ^ : . .• ••••? • A sequence of ::ASSESSMENT.. J:.: ASSESSMENT component to •Extended • Extended performance composite skills • performance: • assessment and assess ASSESSMENT: assessments and ; , change in participation Assessments that crediting varieties of .) tap into excellence ;i components To the extent that there has been explicit attention to and preference for assumptions about learning in Irish educational discourse over the last thirty years, the focus has been on cognitive theories particularly the work of Piaget, as evidenced by the 1971
  13. 13. 72 Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter 2002 New Primary School curriculum, and more recently the cognitive symbol systems focus of Gardners Multiple Intelligences theory which has been used as the basis for widely publicized curriculum initiatives (Hanafin, 1997; Hyland, 2000). Common in both Piagets and Gardners vision, given their shared cognitive assumptions, is that the learner is primarily viewed as an individual cognizer or solo learner (Phillips and Soltis, 1998). In contrast, socio-cultural, cultural or socio-genetic theories assume the learning itself is socially and culturally rooted in communities of practice, encompassing the artifacts and relationships of a particular time and place. An important point here is that social is not just another variable, nor is it only the interpersonal, rather it encompasses both artifacts and relationships as they are situated historically (Vygotsky, 1978; Cole, 1996; Daniels,Downloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 2001). Thus, one can speak of what Valsiner and van der Veer call, in their recent germinal work, the social mind (Valsiner and Van der Veer, 2000). They trace the long tradition of scholarship underpinning the idea of the social mind drawing a portrait of its lineage by tracing the intellectual interdependency of the work of Lev Vygotsky, George Herbert Mead, James Mark Baldwin, and Pierre Janet. More recently, the work of cultural psychologist Arm Brown, who is credited with creating the socio-cultural-based "community of learners" (COL) model, has drawn attention to the rich pedagogical implications of the socio-genetic tradition (Brown, 1994; Brown, 1997a; Brown, 1997b). Drawing on Vygotskys notion of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) she highlights how reciprocal teaching, jigsaw co-operative learning, and majoring (in-depth study of content focusing on understanding)3 embody her conception of a community of learners (Brown, 1993; Brown, 1994). The distinctive pedagogical practices emanating from these three camps of learning theories can be seen by examining the section "Designing teaching: How can we design teaching for learning?" (see Table 1). In the next section, I briefly describe the assumptions and implications of the three camps. The behavioural approach: clarity and targeted direct teaching followed by controlled practice Teaching approaches based on either common sense, what Olson and Bruner (1996) call "folk psychology", or theoretically-inspired behaviourism put a premium on three basic pedagogical strategies: breaking down tasks into small and manageable pieces, teaching the basics firsthand incrementally reinforcing or rewarding observable progress. It is my contention, that these strategies have particular
  14. 14. Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter, 2002 73 appeal in educationally disadvantaged contexts. What are some of the assumptions underpinning these hallmark strategies? Based on empiricist philosophy, typified by Locke, Hume and Thorndike, behaviourisms key assumptions are that learning occurs though the detection of stimuli in the world by the sensory organs, the detection of patterns in these stimuli, and the means through which these "new associations" are transferred to different contexts. A corollary of these assumptions is that knowledge is consistent with or a reflection of experience (Greeno, Collins and Resnick, 1996). In sum, these assumptions amount to viewing learning as the collection and organisation of elements, associations, or behavioural units.Downloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 What are the implications of these assumptions for our views of knowledge, intelligence, and pedagogy? From this perspective, knowledge can be seen as a hierarchical assembly or collection of associations or behavioural units. Intelligence is viewed as an individual trait and a fixed commodity that puts a limit on the pace or rate of learning. Perhaps the most widely recognised and intuitively appealing implications of the behavioural perspective are its recommendations for designing teaching. These are the simplification and sequencing of tasks into discrete hierarchical steps and reinforcing successful approximations of desired activity. In sum, the hallmarks of behaviourism are presenting learning in small steps, in the simplest possible form, sequencing tasks in a hierarchy from the simple to the complex, and rewarding successful observed behaviours. Two problems associated with this approach to teaching, are the assumption of "vertical transfer" and the decomposition of activities such as reading, writing, problem solving, resulting in a lack of task wholeness and authenticity. Vertical transfer assumes that learners will assemble the various associations or connections lower down on the learning hierarchy, and integrate these in order to eventually engage in higher order tasks. This vertical transfer problem is interwoven with, what critics view as, the lack of task authenticity when teaching is designed from a behavioural perspective. Thus, rather than involving learners in the full authenticity of say reading, a behavioural perspective focuses on teaching the fundamental elements (e.g. in the case of reading, perception of print, that is, single letters or words) prior to the more complex elements (reading sentences and extended text). Using the analogy of soccer, it is like teaching novice soccer players (novice readers) via repetitive practice how to head, kick, and dribble the ball (identify and sound out letters and words), that is the basics, for
  15. 15. 74 Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter 2002 prolonged periods before they ever get to play the game. Furthermore, the "slow" soccer learners get to head, kick and dribble the ball for even longer, before having the opportunity to engage in and make sense of the whole game (read extended text for meaning) until "the basics" have been thoroughly mastered. Despite these, and other problems, behaviourism has had a powerful influence on views of learning, approaches to teaching, and classroom management strategies in education systems across the world. Furthermore, formally and/or informally, many compensatory (targeted initiatives to overcome disadvantage) and remedial (with a high concentration of educationally disadvantaged students) interventions have been profoundly influenced by behavioural assumptions about learning.Downloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 Writing in an Irish context, although not addressing educational disadvantage per se, Dunne (1995, pp. 74-75) comments on the importance of engaging students in the fullness of human social practices such as reading and writing, claiming that It seems likely many people have been greatly shortchanged in their education, precisely because they were introduced to these activities not as practices, but rather as sites where decomposed drills, exercises and micro-skills were rehearsed as means, while a taste of the whole activity as an end was continually deferred or displaced. The apparently concrete, "practical" and observable nature of drills and micro-skills, allied to the assumption of vertical transfer, gives a compelling validity to these pedagogical strategies, and resonates with Anyon (1981) and Oakes (1986) research that educationally disadvantaged students (read lower working class) typically experience diluted curricular experiences, involving task decomposition and infrequent opportunities to engage in higher order thinking. The cognitive-rationalist perspective: creating contexts for making meaning through guided discovery Drawing upon continental rationalism, typified by Descartes and Kant, cognitive theorys key assumption is that learning occurs as the mind imposes order on the world through its own particular structures such as the order-imposing structures inherent in information processing schema theory, Piagets schema-based stage theory of cognitive development, or the modular structures of the mind underpinning Gardners multiple intelligences, MI, theory. Kant, responding to the
  16. 16. Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter, 2002 75 British Empiricists, argued that the mind imposes, rather than detects, order in the world (Case, 1996). A corollary of these assumptions is that knowledge is not a copy of reality. Resnick (1989, p. 2) conveys this position well commenting that "Learning occurs not by recording information but by interpreting it". In sum, these assumptions amount to viewing learning as the active construction of knowledge by the individual learner. What are the implications of these assumptions for our views of knowledge, intelligence, and pedagogy? From this perspective, knowing involves the structures of knowledge and processes that construct patterns of symbols to understand concepts and deployDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 general problem solving and reasoning strategies (e.g. Piagetian position that learners deploy general logico-mathematical thinking across contexts). Thus, knowledge rather than being "out there", the basic assumption from behaviourist-empiricist stance, is constructed by our actions on the world. As such, knowledge is made as we engage with and experience the world. Intelligence is viewed as an individual trait and portrayed as either a unitary (lumper position, e.g. dominant "g" based views of IQ) or a multifaceted (splitter position, e.g. Multiple Intelligences theory) commodity. The cognitive perspective has provided many important insights with which <to plan classroom teaching. Among the most important of these are the that learning is active, learning is about the construction of meaning, learning is both helped and hindered by our prior knowledge and experience, learning reorganises our minds, the mind develops in stages, and learning is more often than not unsettling. Based on these insights, a diverse range of strategies has been developed for classroom practice many of which are evident in various textbooks, teacher handbooks, and curricular documents in Irish education over the last thirty years. Much of the appeal of cognitive theories, in the Irish context, grew out of the desire to move away from didactic and transmission oriented teaching. Many advocates of active learning would echo Dewey (1933/1993, p. 201), who in his book How We Think, in opposition to the didactic nature of classroom teaching at that time, spoke out against "the complete domination of instruction by rehearsing second-hand information, by memorizing for the sake of producing correct replies at the proper time". Anticipating some of the arguments and claims made by cognitive and educational psychologists over the last forty years, Dewey argued for the importance of students active involvement in the learning process and problem solving as the context within which to learn information.
  17. 17. 76 Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter 2002 In sum, implications flowing from behavioural and cognitive epistemologies are familiar to most educators and embedded in policies and practices of teaching and learning in classrooms. For example, it is my contention that pedagogy in educationally disadvantaged settings is heavily influenced by behavioural principles of learning in particular, and many remedial teaching strategies borrow heavily from both behavioural and to a lesser extent cognitive principles. Furthermore, various forms of programmed instruction or mastery learning (Skinner, 1954) emanate directly from behavioural assumptions about learning. While behavioural and cognitive theories are based on very different assumptions about learning, knowing and intelligence and have very different implications for classroomDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 practice, they share one defining feature, namely their focus on the solo learner. Rather than viewing the learner as part of family, community and social group embedded in a particular time and place, both the behavioural and cognitive perspectives portray learning as primarily a solo undertaking. Thus, what is neglected, in this focus on the solo learner, is how the learner is situated amidst levels of guidance by more knowledgeable others, nurtured via social support, influenced by peer norms, and shapes and is shaped through engaging in communication with other humans and various media within evolving cultural and historical circumstances. As such, from a learning perspective, attempting to understand and ameliorate educational disadvantage, based on the assumption of the solo learner, forecloses on opportunities to interrogate the extent to which educational disadvantage is culturally and socially constructed in classrooms, schools, and communities. The socio-cultural perspective: promoting a community. of learners Rooted in the socio-genetic philosophies of Hegel and Marx, socio- cultural theories assert that the mind originates dialectically through the social and material history of a culture in which a person inhabits. This position is in marked contrast to the view that the mind has its primary origin in the structures of the objective world (behaviourist position), has its origin in the order-imposing structures of the mind (cognitive/Information processing position), or has its origins in the interaction of the individual learner and the objective world (cognitive/Piagetian position) (Case, 1996). What are the implications of these assumptions for our views of knowledge, intelligence and pedagogy? Knowledge, from a socio- cultural perspective, is viewed as a construction of groups and as such
  18. 18. Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter, 2002 77 is distributed as individuals and groups shape and are shaped through various social practices. Learning occurs, not through order-imposing structures of the mind, but through initiation and participation in out of or in school social practices. In marked contrast to conventional views of intelligence rooted in a cognitive perspective (here I include traditional notions of singular intelligence and multiple intelligences), intelligence is seen as distributed across a group and is not necessarily the property of individuals but refracted through the lens of "learners- in-context" as they use culturally valued tools, symbols and other artifacts that assist social and cognitive performance. In terms of pedagogy, socio-culrural theories put a heavyDownloaded By: [University College Cork] At: 18:00 7 October 2008 emphasis on fostering communities of learners (FCL), which provide not only opportunities for cognitive development but also the development of students identities as literate and numerate members of knowledge-building communities. In her classic article, "The Advancement of Learning" (Brown, 1994), first delivered as the Presidential address at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting in 1994, the late English born and US based educator, Ann Brown outlined a coherent set of principles underpinning the notion of a "community of learners" as well key strategies for its implementation. These principles are: • Academic learning as active, strategic, self-motivated and purposeful • Classrooms as settings for multiple zones of proximal development • Legitimization of differences • Developing communities of discourse and practice, and • Teaching deep conceptual content that is sensitive to developmental nature of students knowledge in particular subject areas The integrated implementation of these five principles forms the support for the emergence of communities of learners in classroom settings. First, based upon the insight that much academic learning is active, strategic, self-motivated and purposeful, Brown emphasized how FCLs ought to focus on the development of students capacity to think about thinking, that is engage in meta-cognition. As such, a key feature of FCLs is the promotion of a culture of meta-cognition, directed toward the development of learning to learn strategies. Second, drawing upon Vygotskys Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), that is the difference between what a learner can do by