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Bronisław Czarnocha Hostos Community College, CUNY, NYC (USA) email@example.com
ABSTRACT A short review of the meaning and role of learning educational theories is provided through personal narrative remarks of the author, a teacher-researcher from the Bronx, NYC. The remarks based on classroom experience lead to a re-examination of educational theories in teaching-research. The remarks are coordinated with the comments of new teacher-researchers who graduated from the PDTR project and reflected upon the issue in their practice. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development is discussed as an example of the theoretical framework that fits well into classroom teaching practice of concerned teachers; it is followed by an argument presenting a theoretical notion of schema as a theory particularly useful for teaching-research practice.1 In many contributions to this book one can read about other educational theories and their use by the PDTR Project, some of which are discussed below. INTRODUCTION Bruner (1996) introduces an interesting dichotomy in the characterization of mathematical presentations: a narrative and a paradigmatic presentation, each arranging the experience in a different, irreducible, yet complementary manner. While the narrative mode pays attention to the sequence of actions in time, dwells on particular episodes for the illustration of an idea, and is highly contextual and personal, the paradigmatic mode is highly impersonal, categorical and hierarchical in its expression. The aim of the present remarks is to contribute to a discussion on how the role and need for an educational theory arise out of teaching practice of teacher-researchers. Therefore, the narrative mode of presentation is taken here as better conveying the subtleties of this experiential process, which is often difficult to grasp through the paradigmatic mode characteristic for standard research papers. Moreover, since the developmental process of teacher-researchers is not yet well understood, the narrative story-telling approach has a chance to provide glimpses into TR practice for any professional interested in the development of a teaching-research profile. Consequently, the presentation below is created by integrating the thoughts of an individual teacherresearcher, the author of this contribution, together with statements of participants of PDTR found in this volume of collected articles.
1 The remarks below are enhanced if read in conjunction with two other entries by the same author: “The Ethics of Teacher-Researchers,” and “A Teaching Experiment,” (Part 1), where pertinent issues concerning the learning theories are also extensively discussed.
While of wide scope. as a professor of mathematics at the unique bilingual Spanish/English Community College in New York City teaches arithmetics. The contribution is seen as thinking-in-action.” while definitely helping in the organization of “one’s thinking about complex. interrelated phenomena” of mathematics classroom.e. when applied to a particular classroom setting. these characterizations do not address fully the work of teacher-researchers for whom a theory can fulfill an excellent role of “a guide in the design of instruction. and be applicable to broad ranges of phenomena. Consequently. my colleagues in the Bronx. The role of theory becomes significant here. while Dubinsky & McDonald (1999) add that a theory should help organize one’s thinking about complex. and provide the language for communication of ideas that go beyond superficial descriptions. And all participants of the teaching-research endeavor are invited to construct that formulation together. (ii) Along which paths should I facilitate students’ learning in order to improve understanding of a particular concept? In distinction to theories in natural sciences. the use and application of theories in mathematics education depends significantly on the creation of learning environment in the classroom by teachers. understanding student responses or classroom interactions. Bruner’s theory provided a 124 . which allows for their proper and successful application. have explanatory power. WHAT IS AN EDUCATIONAL THEORY AND ITS ROLE? For Shoenfeld (1998) models and theories should support prediction. Moreover. and whether our work should be guided by such scientific research? These are the questions I would like to discuss in this contribution. The possibility of prediction of the state and nature of learning mathematics can be of invaluable help for classroom teachers in their choice of a didactic approach: (i) How will it change my students’ grasp of particular mathematical concepts. precalculus and calculus courses in a bilingual context. algebra. serve as tools for analyzing data. A good educational theory can help predict to a certain degree whether its conclusions. When did the need for a learning or educational theory arise for me? How did the group of teacher-researchers. for Hungarian colleagues Koi and Toth (Part 4). and as a provider of the medium through which classroom observations and reflections can reach more abstract formulations. important theoretical assertions which emphasize the path of learning from a concrete mode to an abstract one. This coordination is the primary task of teacher-researchers. can improve learning in this environment – one of the main tasks of contemporary teachers in mathematics classrooms. the ability to predict improvement of learning on the basis of a theory depends on the degree to which classroom teaching is coordinated with the tenets of this theory.NARRATIVE I would like to present these remarks as thoughts of a mathematics teacher. who. managed to incorporate it into their classrooms? What are the differences and similarities in the implementation of educational theory between teacher-researchers teaching mathematics and mathematics education researchers? How a theory can arise out of practice of teacher-researchers? Finally. what is a theory in scientific research. These decisions are reflected in the reports of teacher-researchers in the present collection. i. as a process of formulating the role of a scientific theory by a reflection upon the work of teacher-researchers. especially if teacher-researchers are interested in the improvement of learning in the classroom. and Bruner’s theory of enactive–iconic–symbolic pathway to learn mathematics became an important guide for the design of instruction. Thus. interrelated phenomena.
connections or analogies. 1987). with all its riches. EXAMPLE: ZONE OF PROXIMAL DEVELOPMENT For me. the intersection of ZPD in mathematics with ZPD in foreign languages. On the other hand. A theoretical construct (a germ of a new theory) that emerges here is a relative ZPD. The authors point out that due to recognized difficulties of students in the use of these strategies. The concept of the Zone of Proximal Development discusses the difference between the conceptual distance students can cover in solving a particular problem or construct a particular concept on their own. (2002) on the development of metacognitive strategies amongst mathematics students. Baker & Czarnocha 2002) suggest that students’ ZPD in mathematics can be differently positioned in relations to students’ ZPD in foreign languages and as such both of them can provide help to each other in the process of learning both areas. Such intersections can justify a claim that learning mathematics can help in learning foreign languages as well as a claim that development of language in mathematical context can be helpful in learning mathematics. The use of language as a medium of mathematics instruction has been widely implemented in many mathematics classrooms and reports of its impact can be found. Their work shows the importance of taking into account the complexity of the classroom 125 . and the conceptual distance that students can cover with the help of a mentor or a peer group. designed to facilitate students’ understanding of a particular mathematical concept can extend students’ capabilities much beyond the original knowledge. among others. I do remember a moment when – while pondering the significance of the increase of essay writing coherence demonstrated by the mathematics/English as a Second Language class (Czarnocha & Prabhu. This deficiency is particularly powerful in teaching geometry. i.strong motivation to reassert Hungarian teacher-researchers’ conviction that the manner in which mathematics is presently taught in a Hungarian school is seriously deficient precisely because of downgrading the concrete activities in mathematics classrooms.. The sequence of assignments or classroom questions given to the class can be designed with the help of simultaneous classroom investigations into the scope of ZPD’s of students helping them reach the maximum of their intellectual possibilities at a given moment (Czarnocha & Prabhu. Our classroom discoveries in this area (Czarnocha & Prabhu 2000. we have here an example of a need to supplement a given theoretical approach by the teachingresearch work in order to be able to utilize the chosen research in the classroom context. the work of Verhoef and Posthuma utilizes the research by Kramarski et al. a learning theory is an important component of my TR work because it allows for making fast connections with other concepts. It is an example of deriving general scientific hypothesis from classroom practice.e. an additional approach of critical questioning in a collaborative setting was needed to support their development. in the work of Italian and Catalonian teacher-researchers in this volume. Consequently. ideas or ways of doing things. which might be useful to better understand my particular classroom observations. This particular take upon the theory in TR is of special importance in the bilingual mathematics education when teachers have to coordinate learning mathematics with learning a foreign language. The series of precise questions on the part of teachers. 2006). 2000) – I understood that the effects of the language/mathematics teaching coordination need not be a purely statistical phenomenon but represented the impact of the algebraic structure upon the linguistic one and this realization led me to a theoretical structure called Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) (Vygotsky.
This calls for a careful reflection on the part of teacher-researchers. Similarly. The main aim is to make disciplinary structures resonant with students' minds (and bodies): the resonance experience is crucial if we want cultural models to be really perceived as useful tools. then the role of theory in the TR work is given immediately as one of the two essential tools with the help of which. Each theory raises our awareness concerning the classroom issues.” MATHEMATICS TEACHER-RESEARCHER AND EDUCATIONAL THEORY If one takes into account teachers’ ethical principle of responsibility for the quality of learning in their classroom (“The Ethics of Teacher-Researchers. While admittedly the framework of Vygotsky points to important components of the classroom as a social organism.” Part 1). precisely in order to understand the limitations of one theoretical approach in the context of that complexity. which might have to be supplemented by the developmental cognitive framework of Piaget. 126 . other issues need to be looked upon from a different theoretical angle to enable full understanding of the classroom’s complexity. if. applicable to learning of individual students. Iannece. An example of the approach which addresses both social and individual cognitive efforts is the resonance model of learning proposed by Tortora. yet it misses the importance of an individual student’s cognitive development as a socially independent process. teacher-researchers from the Naples team (Part 3). Some teaching/learning episodes that can be understood with the help of an applied theory in a particular classroom may be differentiated from those which can not. where one theoretical point of view such as for example. (Part 1) in this volume. play the role of the sensitive to resonance semiotic mediator. Therefore. of course. of course. one can well coordinate the theory with the events of the classroom. who assume “that any true learning in scientific/mathematical field is a result of the process of resonance between individual cognition. the socio-cultural framework of Vygotsky can not give full justice to the teaching issues which are widely encountered. consistent way different instructional aspects of classroom teaching. … So the other useful tool for teachers is the choice of the representation that can effectively. Mellone and Pezzia. social culture and reality structures along cognitive paths efficiently addressed and controlled in their meaning-driven dynamics. discuss that process in the framework of the resonance model: According to this vision.in vivo. Consequently. Another important role of learning theory as a tool for the increase of teachers’ classroom awareness for the classroom work of teacher-researchers is expressed by colleagues from the Italian and Catalonian teams of the PDTR. the goal of didactic mediation should be to create conditions that allow resonance between an individual way of understanding and a cultural systematization of discipline. which can be coordinated with it. Indeed. a careful planning of teaching work is fundamental in order to choose the situation sensitive to the resonance of cultural tools. it leads to a realization that the complexity of classroom teaching and learning may require several compatible theoretical frameworks. the quality of classroom work can be maintained and increased. a systematic use of theory in the design of instructional strategies and in analysis of student responses to and interactions with the theory changes the relation between teachers and students. the sole application of the Piaget approach to the classroom ethos misses the role of social structure mediated by the language and group work. time after time. we signal here a need to support classroom work not solely by one theoretical framework but by several which address in a smooth.
Of interest for us here are the processes through which such a network of relationships is created. through which the formation of such schemas takes place. i. 1977). I am very much drawn to the concept and theory of mental schema (Czarnocha. Bauersfeld & Zawadowski. 1994. developing the TR/NY City model led us towards the term “thinking technology. so that they respond to the posed teaching-research questions. These difficulties may come not only from the structure of content but also from social circumstances in the classroom or an individual condition of a single student. developed. Lampert (2001) notes that “in contrast to the familiar topic-by-topic approach. Here we understand schema as a network of relationships between different concepts and procedures. they choose an appropriate metaphor in order to explain the issues in terms that students already know (Sfard. One of the roles of a theory is to guide teacher-researchers in data production and collection. In fact. 2005). Lisbon presentation. mathematics in bilingual context and in calculus. We found that imprinting is in effect similar to the didactical phenomenon of proceptual divide described by Gray and Tall (1994).e. SCHEMA THEORY AS A THEORY OF TEACHING-RESEARCH My professional work in education. a component of the socio-cultural approach with the schema theory. and writing professional development grants especially. then the schema theory looks like a useful approach for those amongst teacher-researchers for whom their students’ learning independent thinking is of paramount importance. Another one is that at the start of each topic teachers explain. The design of an improvement plan and its evaluation for a class of about 30 persons is no easy task. we called it imprinting at our seminar. Since my personal interests are connected with the development of students’ independent thinking. 1981). The foregoing quote suggests that the choice of theory depends on the nature of the problem encountered and on the nature of the teaching-research question.” which is a careful integration of the principles of ZPD. and how to use that knowledge for improvement of learning? Together these questions lead to a very important theme within the theory of schema development. Because such a didactical phenomenon occurred in various other circumstances. made me aware that other teacher-researchers find it equally convenient to use that notion. … An example of one of available theories is Krygowska’s Metaphor for planning teaching by extracting concrete actions for students from the final structure of definitions. They chose the way which they first encountered. made stronger and more robust. As she describes her problem-centered math curriculum. And then a question arises for us. proofs. sometimes seemingly unrelated components. Recently. observations of this process and of difficulties experienced by my students in areas of critical thinking.THE CHOICE OF THEORY Which learning theory to choose. a component usually associated with the development of individual cognition. even though they were taught the easier multiplicative model and its advantages in a series of lessons. and theorems (Krygowska. teacher-researchers: what are the mental processes. the same team has found it useful to utilize the procept theory of Tall and Grey in addressing student difficulties with learning percent as a multiplicative rather than additive structure: In trial teaching most students chose the additive way in various problems persistently and committed errors. If we understand the process of thinking as the ability to make such connections between different. what kind of theory and how do we make this choice? The remarks of Kadej (Part 1) from the Siedlce team touch upon this subject: Research aimed at the improvement of students’ learning must first identify their difficulties. The term “schema” has many different connotations whose excellent history can be found in Marshall (1995). PDTR. I worked on constructing lessons for my students to investigate a number of different but related 127 .
The example is taken from an intermediate algebra class. i. teachers work with the schema of students’ thinking about that subject. and they had difficulty understanding the relationship between the two components of mathematical induction. it occurred during a review of the domain of f ( X ) = X . Jaworski’s student Ben describes his own thinking as a system (or schema) he observes in his mind: “I feel that in my head I have a system of mathematics. Finally. negative X ’s can not be used. and to investigate them repeatedly in different problem contexts” (259-261). they did not see the significance of a condition stated in the problem for the solution of that problem.” i. and whenever I learn a new bit of mathematics I have to find somewhere that that fits in” (Jaworski. The same concept of mental schema is often used to analyze the development of teaching proficiency by teachers of mathematics. their interaction shows intense coordination between the two which facilitate students’ final mastery of the problem. they could not decide from the analysis of a geometric drawing which sides of triangles are similar to each other. etc. While students work with the schema of square root. Stigler & Hiebert.e. knowledge that articulates multiple interconnections among these topics (Ma. It provides a tool that can help analyze the intense moments of teachers and students “thinking together” in the classroom. 1999). (1988) found that (American) teachers’ knowledge is usually fragmented and not organized in a way that enables them to understand and further develop children’s thinking. This is the primary reason why we suggest the notion of schema as one of the fundamental tools for teaching-research. 1994. The candidates did not know whether to take a positive or negative root while solving a problem or converging sequence problems. Simon (1995) and Simon and Tzur (1999) suggest that teachers – in order to develop the mathematical-didactical know-how necessary for their practice – should follow a learning trajectory from fragmented knowledge of the topics in the curriculum towards “knowledge packages. Observing my own development as a mathematics teacher-researcher I find that these authors’ description fits exactly my own self-observations and reflections. [The student is confusing here the general rule which states that for the function X only positive-valued X can be used as the domain of X + 3 . The teacher asked students during the review: Teacher: Can all real values of X be used for the domain of the function f ( X ) = X + 3 ? Student: No. we can see here that the same theoretical framework of schema is able to affect both teachers’ and students’ development. (1999). Korthagen and Kessels (1999) suggest that teachers’ learning trajectory may be described as a process of reflective abstraction from initial Gestalt or holistic experiences with concrete instances of mathematics instruction first to a schema and then to a theory. which often take place in the work of teacher-researchers. A simple example of such a moment of “thinking together” in the context of student-teacher interaction. I don’t know what it looks like but it is there. to a logical ordering of relations in the schema (Korthagen & Kessels 1999). 157.] definition. let me add that an error analysis of the 2006 Polish mathematics final high school examination (matura) revealed that graduating students had difficulties in noticing and utilizing relationships between different pieces of information in the text of the examination problems in at least 8 out of 21 questions in the exam. with the particular application of this rule to 128 . Carpenter et al. This indicated the weakness of their mental schema and suggested directions for necessary teaching-research didactic interventions. which reveals students’ thinking process can be found in Czarnocha. 1999.topics.e. Consequently. teacher Ben).
Teacher: How about X − 1 ? Student [after a minute of thought]: Smaller than 1 can’t be used.P. Tall. Krygowska. B. “Written Metacognition and Procedural Knowledge. as well as of helping students reach the maximum of their potential. (1999). How about X + 5 ? Student: X ’s smaller than – 5 can’t be used.” Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. E. ED 472 949. many of which are utilized in the present volume. (1988). “Linking Theory and Practice: Changing the Pedagogy of Teacher Education.” JRME. I-III Warszawa: WSiP. The success in such a classroom endeavor depends on the ability of the teacher to construct questions with gradual increase in the cognitive steps needed by the student to reach the process of discovery. 4-17.. The contribution points out to the need for using several different learning theories to account for the complexity of a single classroom. “Teachers’ Pedagogical Content Knowledge of Students’ Problem Solving. CONCLUSION Theory can play several special roles in the work of teacher-researchers. We can see here a teacher whose understanding of the schema relationships of the square root function allows the student to recognize her misconception. (1977). McDonald. 385-401. especially in the development of independent mathematical thinking. (2002). Dubinsky. B. 19.” Proceedings of the 24th Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. Z. This contribution brings together the roles which are important from the point of view of designing classroom instructional strategies and analyzing student responses to them. 26 (2). V. understand it and correct it autonomously.Teacher: How about X = −5 ? Student: No good. “The Flow of Thought across the Zone of Proximal Development between Elementary Algebra and English as a Second Language. Gray. Teacher: How about X = −4 ? Student: No good either. B. B.11(2) 52-63. 115141. Czarnocha.” 1993. Ambiguity and Flexibility: A Proceptual View of Simple Arithmetic. F. REFERENCES Baker. (1999). et al. M. Korthagen.” Educacion Matematica. E.” Educational Researcher (May). Hiroshima. Carpenter.. D. Czarnocha.” ERIC Accession No. the China-Japan-US Seminar on Mathematical Education. J. Czarnocha. Teacher: Right. Teacher: How about X = −3 ? Student [after a minute of thought]: It works here. Zarys dydaktyki matematyki cz. Mexico. “Duality. (2000). “APOS: One Constructivist Theory of Learning in UME. Teacher: How about X = −2 ? Student: It works here too. (1999). 129 . Kessels.. (1994). T.. [A moment later she adds:] Those X ’s which are smaller than – 3 can’t be used here. “El Maestro Constructivista como Investigador. Japan. & Prabhu.
Cambridge University Press. Herbert.” For the Learning of Mathematics.: Lawrence Erlbaum. Marshall. Liping. New York: The Free Press. 4-14. Ma. A. Mavarech. (2001). (1994). Cambridge. Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics: Teachers’ Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics in China and the United States.J. Vygotsky. (1986). Schoenfeld. 130 . M. (1999). M.. Lampert. J. P. S. 44-55. (1999). Thought and Language. N. Teaching Problems and the Problems of Teaching. Mass: The MIT Press. 1. Schemas in Problem Solving. (2002). 225-250. Stigler.Kramarski. “The Effects of Metacognitive Instruction on Solving Mathematical Authentic Tasks. Yale University Press.” Educational Studies in Mathematics. 14. The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the World’s Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom. Z. Sfard.” Educational Researcher 28(7). “Looking towards the 21st Century: Challenges of Educational Theory and Practice. L. A. & Arami. B. (1995). J. (1999). 49. “Reification as the Birth of Metaphor..
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