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The Effect of Intersubjectivity on Effective Instruction in an Informal Asymmetrical Problem-Solving Situation

The Effect of Intersubjectivity on Effective Instruction in an Informal Asymmetrical Problem-Solving Situation



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Published by Voog
An observational study that compares and measures the educational discourse of an intersubjective and non-relationship dyad to determine the effect of intersubjectivity on effective teaching-learning discourse.
An observational study that compares and measures the educational discourse of an intersubjective and non-relationship dyad to determine the effect of intersubjectivity on effective teaching-learning discourse.

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Published by: Voog on Mar 18, 2009
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W. T. LeGard (2007) OU
The Effect
of Intersubjectivity onEffective Instruction in anInformal AsymmetricalProblem-Solving Situation
Support staff in British primary schools works with individual pupils or small groups.Since these non-teacher adults are able to attain intersubjectivity with pupils, contingentinstruction is possible within the context of the classroom. An observational studycompared and measured the educational discourse of an intersubjective and non-relationship dyad to determine the effect of intersubjectivity on effective teaching-learning discourse. The study was designed to test the hypothesis that greateintersubjectivity leads to more effective teaching and learning. The sample comprisedtwo six-year-old male children and a teaching assistant. Data were collated from a video-recorded problem-solving task. The participants’ discourse was coded. Analysis revealedthat the dyad with greater intersubjectivity engaged in teaching that was more contingent.However, while intersubjectivity affected the adult’s use of effective teaching discourse itdid not influence the child’s use of effective learning discourse. Findings suggest thatintersubjectivity is fundamental to contingent and effective teaching, and that non-teacher adults can achieve contingent instruction within schools. Pupils’ use of effective learningdiscourse is influenced by the asymmetrical nature of adult-child interactions, context andmisidentification of the zone of proximal development.
Socio-cultural theory proposes that expert-novice interactions are significant in fosteringcognition. Vygotsky’s (1978) zone of proximal development and the scaffolding conceptcan assist in investigating the effectiveness of adult-child interactions and the role of theeducator. Most research in the area of adult-child exchanges has focused upon teachersand caregivers as educators. However, it is now common for a variety of non-teacher adults to assist in primary school classrooms. Unlike teachers, who must promote andsustain interactions with large numbers of children, these adults usually supportindividual or small groups of pupils and are thus able to achieve shared understanding.Shared understanding or intersubjectivity refers to attention, knowledge andunderstanding shared between the participants of an activity (Göncü, 1993). Schaffer (2005) maintains that shared understanding is the key to cognitive development. This
quality of the teaching-learning relationship is often overlooked, yet determining theinfluence of intersubjectivity on effective teaching and learning could compel educatorsto re-evaluate their organization of adult-child interactions, which are rarely observed inthe very settings where they would seem most appropriate (Tharp and Gallimore, 1991).Many researchers have employed Vygotsky’s (1978) socio-cultural theory to examine thelink between social interaction and cognitive development. Vygotsky (1987) maintainedthat development occurs within a social context and that the central element of theeducational process is the unique form of co-operation between the child and adult.Vygotsky (1978) perceived children as social beings who are able to appropriate new patterns of thinking when learning alongside individuals who are more proficient.Through such collaboration, children come to master activities, use cultural tools (e.g.language), and think in ways that have meaning in their culture. Vygotsky (1978) calledthis concept the zone of proximal development (ZPD). This is the expanse between thechild’s level of development and their potential developmental level, in collaborationwith a more competent individual. Thus, social interactions scaffold the child’s cognitivedevelopment in the ZPD, leading to a higher level of reasoning; cognitive functions aretransferred from the intermental to the intramental plane.Employing a Vygotskian approach, Wood and Middleton (1975) attempted to define thenature of effective teaching by analysing mother-child interactions in an experimentalsituation. Caregivers were instructed to teach their four-year-old children to construct awooden ziggurat, a task the children would be unable to complete without scaffoldedinstruction. Wood and Middleton (ibid.) identified five levels of control of contingentinstruction, which, they claim, accommodate any demand an adult might make. Theyomitted, however, two potential levels, namely,
no interaction
. Wood’s(1986) contingency rule states that the adult should adjust the level of instruction inrelation to the child’s task competence. Following an error by the child, the adult shouldassume more control. After successful completion of a task behaviour followinginstruction, the adult should relinquish some control. Wood and Middleton (1975)concluded that the more an adult’s actions are contingent upon a child’s behaviour, themore the child can accomplish independently after instruction. Although Wood (1986)criticizes contrived encounters in psychological experiments, his and Middleton’s (1975)findings arose from studies of manufactured interaction. A pyramid puzzle, for example,is unlikely to be recognized as familiar by the child and merely increases the artificialnature of the situation.Wood (1986) proposes a distinction between spontaneous teaching encounters in thehome and contrived adult-controlled interactions in school. Conversations, claims Mercer (2004), are built upon a shared history. Indeed, the notion of bridging (Rogoff et al.,1993) expands the concept of intersubjectivity and emphasizes that a shared history between individuals facilitates joint focus. Encountering a new task/situation, teachersand learners attempt comprehension with reference to their shared experiences. Wood(1986) claims that, because parents have privileged access to their children’s particular learning needs and histories, contingent teaching is more likely to take place within afamily context. Such knowledge leads to the establishment of intersubjectivity, which2
Wood (ibid.) maintains is the foundation of contingent instruction. Teachers facedifficulties in establishing contingent interaction and merely attempt to achieve groupintersubjectivity (Wood, 1986). However, regularly working with individual pupils, non-teacher adults are able to attain what Rommetveit (1974) terms greater intersubjectivity.Wood (1986) suggests that the typical method employed by teachers to manageinteractions ─ the use of questions ─ is counter-productive. Effective teaching discourse,for example,
, are more likely than closed questions to elicit highcognitive responses. Similarly, Mercer (2004) maintains that teachers’ communicativetechniques reflect the constraints of the school environment. The standard teacher-pupilexchange of Initiation-Response-Feedback (IRF) can limit pupils’ contributions. Mercer (2004) cites context and continuity as foundations of intersubjective interactions. If theseare not fully established, shared understanding may be disrupted. Certainly, children areactive participants in their development (Schaffer, 2005) and Mercer (2004) asserts thatthey should practise and develop their language use by employing it to
. Such verbalizations can be categorized as effective learning discourse.Although Wood (1986) claims that contingent teaching is unlikely to take place withinschools, it is possible for non-teacher adults who support individual pupils to achieveintersubjectivity and thus establish contingent interaction. Moreover, if, as Mercer (2004)asserts, shared understanding is the foundation for reasoning with language, the presenceof greater intersubjectivity (Rommetveit, 1974) should lead to an increase in the use of effective teaching and learning discourse.Few studies exist that examine the effect of intersubjectivity on effective teaching andlearning within adult-child dyads. However, a parallel area of research, the influence of friendship on peer collaboration, has received some attention. Following an observationalstudy of child-child problem-solving interactions, Azmitia and Montgomery (1993) foundthat collaborations between friends produced more transactive discourse thancollaborations between non-friends. Transactive discourse is defined as dialogue in whichchildren operate upon one another’s reasoning (Azmitia, 1997). Children whocollaborated with a friend displayed greater pre- to post-test change than children whoworked with a non-friend. Azmitia and Montgomery (1993) maintain that the relationship between the children within the friend-friend dyads motivated them to achieveintersubjectivity. The dyads’ interaction history enabled them to sustain the collaboration.Miell and MacDonald (2000) also found this positive influence of friendship onchildren’s collaborations, although Berndt et al. (1988) found no empirical evidence of supporting the claim. Studies of peer interaction, then, can demonstrate the influence of intersubjectivity on effective discourse, but what of adult-child interactions?Following their longitudinal study
investigating the influence of relationships betweenteachers and pupils, O’Connor
and McCartney
found that high-quality
teacher- pupil relationships foster children’s cognitive development. Their findings demonstratedthat, by the time children are nine years old, teacher-child relationships are stronger  predictors of achievement than relationships with peers. The
significant effect of thequality of these
relationships on academic achievement indicates the importance of considering
the dynamic quality of relationships between educators and learners.3

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