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Scientific reasoning and interpretation of data

Learning by writing

Writing as a tool to think, to discuss, to reflect

A school in its very nature is a place where communication goes on: that is what it is for. Education is a form of communication. (I must hastily ask you not to translate this into, “All teachers have to do is to tell their pupils what they need to know.) (Barnes 14)

The child originally learnt speech for communication with others but is now using that speech for himself.
We cannot consider language in the classroom only in terms of communication, but must consider how children themselves use language in learning. (Barnes 19).

What pupils learn must be closely related to what they do, but “do” here includes what interpretation they put upon their actions. The talk and writing that goes on in lessons is part of that interpretation, and thus intimately involved in what is learnt. If teachers understand the patterns of communication in their lessons they can take more responsibility for what their pupils learn. (Barnes 20)

Every pupil in the class will go away with a version of the lesson, which in some respect is different from all of the other pupils’ versions, because what each pupil brings to the lesson will be different. Thus we shall not be able to understand what they learn without considering that they make sense of new knowledge by projecting it upon what they know already.

It is misleading to see learning as the adding of new blocks of knowledge to an existing pile of blocks. (Barnes 21-22)

As the events happen we tend to squeeze them to fit our interpretative categories. Piaget calls this “assimilation”. At the same time, however, we modify our expectations to make them explain the events more adequately, and this complementary process Piaget calls “accomodation”. By the simultaneous action of assimilation and accomodation the events are perceived as meaningful and at the same time generate changes in the interpretative procedures. These changes are transformations not additions.

These transformations can be carried out not only in response to new sensa data but also by communication with other people. I write “communication” because I want to refer not only to verbal exchanges, but also to diagrams and pictures and to mathematics and logical symbols. It is as if we bring our own interpretative systems into interaction with the interpretative systems of other people; this is what is intended to happen when teacher and class discuss. It is all too possible for a teacher to be so intent on his own interpretation that it never comes into significant relationship to those of his pupils. (Barnes 21-23)

The young childs’ cognitive field-of-vision includes the data thought about but not the process of thinking itself. Insensitive to the very fact that the way he construes the data is only one construction among many possible……he can scarcely check for cognitive bias his own view of events…Intellectual egocentrism is fundamentally an inability to take roles….
This is a summary of Piaget’s view on egocentrism.
An adult, however, wouldset up a more complex mental representation of them which would enable him to reconstruct in imagination how they would appear from another viewpoint. This is one aspect of what Piaget calls “decentration”.

The need to collaborate with other people, or to persuade them to adopt one’s point of view, will encourage and reward children’s attempts to acknowledge other people’s viewpoints.

The child has no powers of reflection – i.e. no second-order thoughts which deal critically with his own thinking. No theory can be built without such reflection. (Barnes 88-90)

Our ability to think depends on the many previous dialogues which we have taken part in.

The desire to communicate with others plays a dynamic part in the organizing of knowledge, (Barnes 90-91)

The process……implies that the learners not only receive messages from the teacher but also articulate their own understandings. (Barnes 92)

Language allows one to consider not only what one knows but how one knows it, to consider, that is, the strategies by which one is manipulating the knowledge, and therefore to match the strategies more closely to the problem.

Learners will achieve more insight into underlying principles (i) if they themselves rehearse aloud the demands of the task which they are facing; (ii) if they put into words what they are doing with the data, and with what purpose; (iii) if they do so repeatedly in response to questions from someone else. (Barnes 98)

The Interpretation teacher sees writing as a means by which the writer can take an active part in his own learning: as pupils write they can – under certain circumstances – reshape their view of the world, and extend their ability to think rationally about it. He believes that the social context in which the writing takes place will partly determine whether it performs this function. He tries to ensure that his pupils see the written work as relevant to their own purpose, and see writing as contributing to a dialogue in which he plays a crucial part. He therefore writes replies as well as comments, gives his pupils’ writings the added status of wider publication, and allows it to influence the direction of lessons, thus encouraging pupils to play an active part in the shaping of knowledge.
The Transmission teacher on the other hand, is primarily aware of writing as a means of measuring the pupil’s performance against his own expectations and criteria. When he sets written work his attention is focussed upon the kind of writing he wants, so that he is careful to ensure that his pupils understand what he wants of them. He assumes that it is his business to define the task for his pupils, and to provide them with information about their success in measuring up to his standards. He values writing as a record to which his pupils can later look back, but assumes that they will adress it to a general disembodied reader rather than to themselves or to him. He believes his main responsibility in receiving pupils’ writing to be the awarding of a grade. Ususally he continues his lessons which he has already planned, and does not refer back to pupils’ previous work.

The Transformation teacher sees it as his task to transmit knowledge and to test whether pupils have received it. He sees language as a tube down which knowledge can be sent; if a pupil catches the knowledge he can send it back up the tube.
The Interpretation teacher the pupil’s ability to re-interpret knowledge for himself is crucial to learning, and he sees this as depending on a productive dialogue between the pupil and himself. (Barnes 140 – 142)

Barnes Douglas (1975), From Communication to Curriculum, PenguinBooks






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