W. T.

LeGard (2007) OU

The Effect of Intersubjectivity on Effective Instruction in an Informal Asymmetrical Problem-Solving Situation: A Review of the Literature
Socio-cultural theory proposes that expert-novice interactions are significant in fostering cognition. Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and the scaffolding concept can assist in investigating the effectiveness of adult-child interactions and the role of the educator. Most research in this area has focused upon teachers and caregivers as educators. However, it is now common for a variety of non-teacher adults to assist in primary school classrooms. The quality of the relationship between the participants is often overlooked, yet establishing intersubjectivity may prove to be as significant as effective instruction for the promotion of children’s cognitive development. The research reviewed here examines effective instruction and communication within adult-child dyads from a socio-cultural perspective.

Vygotsky (1978) maintains that development occurs within a social context and that the central element of the educational process is the unique form of co-operation between the child and adult. The child is a social being who internalizes new patterns of thinking when learning alongside a more competent individual. Vygotsky (ibid.) called this concept, the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This is the expanse between the child’s level of development and their potential developmental level, under the guidance of an adult or more capable peer. The concept of the ZPD, however, is not defined clearly. Consequently, different interpretations can lead to misapplications of the approach. Vygotsky claims that a society is produced through the construction and use of cultural tools, acquired during a culture’s development and forwarded to subsequent generations.


W. T. LeGard (2007) OU Such a theory arguably supports a form of ethnocentrism. Adults occupy a position of irrefutable and superior knowledge; they possess the cultural tools and present them as indisputable.

Research focusing upon the role of non-teachers in supporting children’s cognitive development in schools is scarce. However, an observational study by Hughes (1994) examined adults’ contribution to children’s learning in five schools. Audio recordings of adult-child discourse were collated for eight categories of talk partner in both formal and informal interactional contexts. Such recordings exclude the non-verbal communicative devices, crucial components of the interpersonal process. Discourse analysis revealed that the children adopted a different interactional role depending upon their talk partner. Adults with the intention to teach employed a form of discourse which largely eliminated pupil initiation and limited their response slots. With the exception of community workers and nursery nurses, all the adults used the classic teacher-pupil exchange of Initiation-Response-Feedback (IRF) (Mercer, 2004). The nursery nurses and community workers employed a more ‘supportive’ (Wells, 1987) style of interaction within both interactional contexts. Such an approach ensured the pupils were given access to more communicative roles, leading to them operating at a higher cognitive level. The children took up more communicative roles with adults of all categories when they were engaged with them in informal exchanges. This suggests that typical teacher interactions fail to achieve intersubjectivity. Hughes and Westgate (1997) describe the teachers’ role as custodial rather than educational, and findings that the teachers’ style was limiting


W. T. LeGard (2007) OU supports Wood’s assertion that the more teachers question, ‘the less children say’ (1986, p.172).

Hughes’s (1994) study focused on the early-years setting in five schools within the same geographical area. However, generalizations of interactive styles observed in specific contexts are unhelpful. Would similar findings be reproduced in other contexts and age groups? Although their coding scheme analysed classroom discourse, the features of successful dyadic instruction must be identified if its effectiveness is to be examined.

Employing a Vygotskian approach to the study of adult-child interactions, Wood (1986) attempted to define the nature of effective instruction. He proposes a distinction between spontaneous teaching encounters in the home and contrived adult-controlled interactions in school. Indeed, he 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 a family context. Such knowledge leads to the establishment of intersubjectivity, which Wood (ibid.) maintains is the foundation of contingent instruction. Young children experience difficulties with school-based learning because teachers employ unfamiliar forms of discourse, the rules of which children have to infer. Wood (1986) asserts that teachers who work with individual pupils face difficulties in establishing contingent interaction because children only present a handful of epistemic offerings upon which to be contingent.


W. T. LeGard (2007) OU Wood and Middleton (1975) attempted to define features of effective teaching by analysing mother-child interactions in an experimental situation. Caregivers were instructed to teach their four-year-old children to construct a wooden ziggurat, a task the children would be unable to complete without scaffolded instruction. Wood and Middleton (ibid.) identified five levels of control of contingent instruction, which, they claim, accommodate any demand an adult might make. However, they omit two potential levels (cf. Pratt et al., 1988). Wood and Middleton (1975) conclude that children who performed well following instruction had mothers who were more likely to act in accordance with two instructional rules pertaining to the level of assistance offered. That is, the more the adult’s actions were contingent upon the child’s behaviour, the more the child could 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. Indeed, the mothers were directed to instruct their children within a specific, goal-directed exchange. Observations of naturally occurring problem-solving activities would, arguably, result in more genuine interactive behaviours.

Wood (1986) suggests that the typical method employed by teachers to manage interactions − the use of questions − is counter-productive. Communicative contributions, for example, speculations and opinions, are more likely than closed questions to elicit high cognitive responses. Although Wood (ibid.) offers guidelines for effective questioning, he acknowledges that research on the successfulness of questions has produced ambiguous results. However, he proposes that the child’s role within teaching


W. T. LeGard (2007) OU and learning interactions can be constrained by the adult’s excessive control of the exchange. Such dominance produces few opportunities for contingent instruction and exclusion to the child’s cognitive processes; the attainment of intersubjectivity is thus unsuccessful. Wood (1986) characterizes the process of effective instruction as the contingent control of learning. However, the concept of scaffolding and contingency suggests that knowledge and skills are transmitted from the adult to the child in an asymmetrical relationship. Indeed, the scaffolding metaphor emphasizes the notion that children are passive recipients of adults’ direct instruction. They are, conversely, active participants in their development. Certainly, Hoogsteder et al. (1996) maintain that adultchild interactions are more negotiated processes than the scaffolding metaphor implies. Various interaction formats exist within every culture, and scaffolding, they suggest, is only one approach to teaching and learning. The child’s contribution should not be overlooked. Interactions are joint constructions in which the participants learn how to achieve intersubjectivity, and this implies a more symmetrical relationship than Vygotsky’s (1978) notion of the more competent other. The adult does not control the child as Wood’s (1986) notion of contingency suggests; a dyad constructs its interaction in accordance with a mode.

Following their observational study of twenty-five parent-child dyads, Hoogsteder et al. (1996) revealed that problem-solving pairs employed three modes of interaction: the playful mode; the economic and efficient mode; and the didactic mode. They present a case study from one of fifteen adult-child dyads to illustrate the way in which a parent and child co-operate within a didactic mode of interaction. Throughout the exchange,


W. T. LeGard (2007) OU goals were agreed and then performed by the dyad; what Hoogsteder et al. (ibid.) term an episode. These episodes structured the interaction. The child’s understanding steadily improved as the goals became more complex; thus the child learned through participation in previous episodes. Each goal was silently agreed upon and became intersubjective. Although Hoogsteder et al. (1996) claim that the didactic mode is primarily concerned with increasing the child’s competence rather than task completion, they cannot state if there exists one specific mode in which teaching and learning occurs. Indeed, they concede that all modes of interaction offer opportunities for learning. A didactic mode is, however, an example of an expert-novice interaction. The learning of the child presented in Hoogsteder et al.’s (ibid.) case study did not depend solely on the adult’s correct way of intervening; the child contributed substantially to her own learning.

Like Wood (1986), Hoogsteder et al. (1996) carried out observations within a single interactional context. Although the participants were observed in the home, this remains a contrived situation. Within a goal-directed interaction, the caregivers were instructed to assist the children in their own way when they thought it necessary. Indeed, Hoogsteder et al (ibid.) admit it likely that the caregivers presented themselves as ‘good’ parents. Certainly, interactive styles examined in particular contexts and cultural settings reveal only a narrow view of culture-specific exchanges. Rogoff et al. (1993) argue that Vygotskian concepts of cognitive development have progressed within a limited framework. To examine the different methods of communication, developmental goals and the role of adults and children, Rogoff et al. (ibid.) proposed the concept of guided participation. Their observational study focused upon differences between two childhood


W. T. LeGard (2007) OU niches in Guatemala and the US. Variations concerning the children’s involvement and the developmental goals of the niches were found. Rogoff et al. (1993) conclude that children learn through observation in cultures where they participate in the adults’ world. Where children are segregated from the adult world, caregivers take more responsibility for managing children’s activities and engage in more explicit instruction. Rogoff et al. (ibid.) claim that a child’s environment is structured by caregivers at a macro and micro level − leading to the transfer of responsibility − according to the developmental goals of the culture. Hoogsteder et al. (1996) accuse them of including culture as an independent variable. However, consciousness is constructed through the child’s interactions with their environment; development cannot be separated from its social and cultural context.

Rogoff et al.’s (1993) notion of bridging expands the concept of intersubjectivity and emphasizes that shared history between individuals facilitates joint focus. Encountering a new task/situation, teachers and learners attempt comprehension with reference to their past experiences. Adults employ emotional cues, verbal and non-verbal interpretations of events, and spoken labels to classify objects and occurrences. If, as Rogoff et al. (ibid.) claim, intersubjectivity is inherent to effective communication, it must be measured to establish its significance and Stone (1993) proves helpful here. He criticizes the concept of scaffolding within the context of adult-child interactions, claiming that researchers fail to consider the communicative mechanisms involved in the exchange. The transfer of task responsibility from the inter- to intramental level within the ZPD is, Stone (ibid.) maintains, a semiotic process. He suggests the linguistic concept of prolepsis − the anticipation and answering of withheld information − as a means to understand the


W. T. LeGard (2007) OU scaffolding process. While Wood (1986) perceives inference as restricting, Stone (1993) views it as contributing to cognitive development. Prolepsis compels the participants to infer the meaning of an utterance and adopt the speaker’s perspective on the subject. Following repeated interactions − comparable to Hoogsteder et al’s (1996) episodic learning − the proleptic challenges instigate a transfer of responsibility for the cognitive task. Rommetveit (1974) argues that achieving greater intersubjectivity is more likely within proleptic exchanges. Stone (1993) maintains that the construct of implicature should be expanded to incorporate non-verbal scaffolding interactions. How a lingual concept would be applied to non-verbal communicative devices, such as gestures and pauses, however, is not proposed.

The interpersonal relationship between the adult and child is fundamental to the outcome of teaching and learning interactions. Like Wood (1986), Stone (1993) maintains that the relationship comprises both the current task and the qualities of past interactions. If either participant is uninterested in the activity, the interchange is unlikely to provide appropriate semiotic challenges. The potential for cognitive development, therefore, is likely to be greater if the dyad can achieve intersubjectivity. It is debatable, however, whether a high use of prolepsis indicates the attainment of greater intersubjectivity. Prolepsis arguably reveals the participants’ linguistic proficiency rather than a dyad’s intersubjectivity.

The proposed study will employ a neo-Vygotskian approach in an analysis of talk between two adult-child dyads involved in a problem-solving task. I propose that a


W. T. LeGard (2007) OU teaching assistant and a pupil whom they support daily possess a level of intersubjectivity analogous to the relationship between Wood’s (1986) parent and child and, thus, will achieve contingent interaction. The study’s principal intention is to answer the following research questions: 1) Does enhanced intersubjectivity lead to a greater frequency of effective teaching discourse? 2) Does greater intersubjectivity enable adults to teach in a more contingent way? I hypothesize that the dyad that possesses deeper intersubjectivity will achieve greater contingency and that the adult will employ more discourse of effective teaching than the non-relationship dyad. My coding scheme will measure types of discourse to examine whether the teaching assistant operating within the dyad with ‘greater intersubjectivity’ (Rommetveit, 1974) employs more effective teaching discourse (Wood, 1986; Hughes & Westgate, 1997). I will apply a modification of Wood and Middleton’s (1975) levels of control to identify contingent instruction and scaffolding. Coding of the transcripts will also focus upon examples of bridging (Rogoff et al., 1993), episodic interactions (Hoogsteder et al., 1996) and prolepsis (Stone, 1993).

Word count: 2106 References Faulkner, D., Littleton, K. and Woodhead, M. (eds) (2004) Learning Relationships in the Classroom, Oxford, Routledge/The Open University. Hoogsteder, M., Maier, and Elbers, E. (1996) ‘Adult-Child Interaction, Joint Problem Solving and the Structure of Cooperation’ in Woodhead, M., Faulkner, D. and Littleton, K. (eds) (1998) Cultural Worlds of Early Childhood, Oxford, Routledge/The Open University. Hughes, M. (1994) cited in Hughes, M. and Westgate, D. (1997) pp.214-221.


W. T. LeGard (2007) OU References (cont.) Hughes, M. and Westgate, D. (1997) ‘Teachers and Other Adults as Talk Partners for Pupils in Nursery and Reception Classes’ in Woodhead, M., Faulkner, D. and Littleton, K. (eds) (1998) Cultural Worlds of Early Childhood, Oxford, Routledge/The Open University. Mercer, N. (2004) The Guided Construction of Knowledge: Talk Amongst Teachers and Learners, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters Ltd. Pratt, M., Kerig, P., Cowan, P. and Cowan, C. (1988) ‘Mothers and Fathers Teaching Three Year Olds: Authoritative Parenting and Adult Scaffolding of Young Children’s Learning’ Developmental Psychology, 24, 835. Rogoff, B., Mosier, C., Mistry, J. and Göncü, A. (1993) ‘Toddlers’ Guided Participation with their Caregivers in Cultural Activity’ in Woodhead, M., Faulkner, D. and Littleton, K. (eds) (1998) Cultural Worlds of Early Childhood, Oxford, Routledge/The Open University. Rommetveit, R. (1974) cited in Stone (1993) p.161. Schaffer, H. R. (2005) Social Development, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing. Stone, C. A. (1993) ‘What is Missing in the Metaphor of Scaffolding?’ in Faulkner, D., Littleton, K. and Woodhead, M. (eds) (2004) Learning Relationships in the Classroom, Oxford, Routledge/The Open University. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) ‘Vygotsky’s Theory: Zone of Proximal Development ─ A New Approach’ in Offprints. Wells, G. (1987) cited in Hughes, M. and Westgate, D. (1997) p.216. Wood, D. J. and Middleton, D. J. (1975) cited in Wood, D. J. (1986) pp.162-164. Wood, D. J. (1986) ‘Aspects of Teaching and Learning’, in Woodhead, M., Faulkner, D. and Littleton, K. (eds) (1998) Cultural Worlds of Early Childhood, Oxford, Routledge/The Open University. Woodhead, M., Faulkner, D. and Littleton, K. (eds) (1998) Cultural Worlds of Early Childhood, Oxford, Routledge/The Open University.


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