Roland Tharp

Roland Tharp

Well, I think a theory is enormously important to—because it gives us tools for analyzing and solving complex problems and classroom is among the most complex organizations that we can get because it has so many people and it’s made of different people and there’s so many complex purpose. So understanding what’s happening, the filtering of even perceiving happening, I find some kind of conceptual structure a very uh almost indispensable. And I think um everybody does and it’s just the degree of the formality of our theories. We all—we all have our folk theories or our private theories or intuitive theories about things that we don’t have a formal intellectual structure for. Sociocultural theory is uh—is a loosely coupled theory. I think it’s not a tight organization of uh, logical development. It—many people refer to it as less a theory then a perspective.  And it—that—that’s a fair enough characterization I think and it’s especially important for uh when we’re—when we’re talking about diverse members of a—of a community such as a classroom or a school becomes extremely important to understand all of the complexities of the ways that kids develop in their communities, in their families, in their cultures, in their own histories. So the sociocultural theory is particular appropriate because that’s what it talks about it. And so it’s—it’s a very good fit of theory to subject matter and it uh—sociocultural theory is sometimes—it sometimes—it has many, many names, many guises.  One of the most popular ones currently is what’s called CHAT that people refer to it as CHAT, Cultural Historical Activity Theory. So a different people emphasize different pieces of it, activity or the historical basis of current events, sometimes the cultural issues and sometimes, social interaction. But all of those are features of a—of sociocultural theory and all of those are very much features of the classroom.  So I’ll just give you one instance. One of the things that uh—that we find, for example in—I’ll take each one of those four elements at—and—and talk about it a bit. A Native American classroom is a good—a good model I think because um—a good example because it um is very different from mainstream society in so many ways. But uh in—in Native American classrooms, the relationship of the larger society, historically, to Indian education is very complex and it’s been very troubled. And because national US policy for many years was to use education as a means of, literally, destroying the culture and uh with a very self-proclaimed purpose of doing that to remove the native culture and incorporate um the—them into mainstream light, that has been very troubling and therefore there’s a deep distrust and unease between native communities, particularly on reservations, and all forms of public education.  And uh the children whose parents, many of whom have been educated in boarding schools in which they were required to go miles and miles and states apart and—and to go in that kind of education and uh they—their children have a very different attitude towards schools that is alive and well and that’s historically based linguistically. Many reservation schools, students speak the tribal language at home and this—English is a—the school—the school’s language. And because they’re pretty good at it and because they’ve been learning English for—for a long time, teachers I think in reservation schools are often deceived into—in—in forgetting—in to forgetting that these are English language learners. And—but that kind of—of different way of signifying what it is in front of you and of understanding through the use of language what—what’s going on in the classroom is often very different. And understanding that as sociocultural theory helps us to do—points up much. And in terms of activity, if—if we—I—I—I think most—most everybody, whether it’s cognitive theory or socioculturalists or behaviorists or whatever the theory is these days are willing to grant that learning is heavily based on activity. But the patterns of activity are so different in different groups, the kinds of activities that are considered um normal, that are normative, that are uh comfortable, that are understood are very different in different communities and there can—depending on the culture, that can vary by age, it can are—vary by gender. And uh understanding how all of that works and what—what children come to school expecting and what they participate in in institutional cultural familial lives outside of school, understanding all that if teachers can or program designers can, it uh—it does much to making learning experiences available to the children.

And then finally, the cultural history itself uh—the—there—there’s so many differences and—and uh—and ways that uh in cultures that makes—makes so much difference, the differences and motivation.  Whether or not a person’s likely to be motivated by individual incentives or by group incentives can make tremendous differences in the way you organize classroom activity.  And uh—and there is tremendous differences of—we’re talking about language, of course. The differences in social organization and the degree to which uh work is done collectively or individualistically and which work is done which way by different groups is—and there—there are tremendous mismatches in this occur every day in classrooms organized by one—by the member of one culture for kids that are another culture. And these—these can cause mischief, unintended but of fairly great consequence.  And uh—and—and one of the most important things to is the—the ways that are—that—that—that conventions and courtesies of conversation and of interaction. For example, many different groups, many cultural groups have quite different ways that are um appropriate for adults and children to interact and they’ve—Hawaiians and oh, Polynesians, for example, the appropriate way to act is at some distance and that—and uh the adults are approached by children only cautiously and with a great deal of respect. And uh they are in—in a mainstream society, of course at least in middle class societies, very, very close interaction of conversational one and even to some degree uh, uh one of um—of uh great deal of power sharing between young, even quite young children and—and adults. And that creates interaction styles that kids bring that expectation to classroom, teachers bring a different expectation to classroom and that again can put people often at loggerheads.

A final—final example I’d use is that in a much cultural different set plays out uh fairly—fairly heavily in the classroom is the degree of—of um independent decision making that is—that is allowed. For example, a very—very tight control over what kids do, what they’re allowed to decide, what it is that they have autonomy to do.  They’re very, very great differences. Native Americans going by to my example, this is not true of every tribe, but by and large it’s very—they have enormous autonomy given to children that are very, very young.  Shepherding kids at 5-years-old will stay out all night alone and they take—bring—they have that expectation in the classroom is that they can decide and should decide things and those decisions are respected in Native America by adults.  An African-American society, for example, it’s much more often the case that small children are kept under—under very tight rein of adults and kids expect that and consider that when they are tightly controlled and—and—and guarded and marched along uh, uh and—that that is a—that’s a sign of attention of affection and respect and they’re not uh—no one expects them to be able to decide exactly what they want to do in there—when they’re very small children. And then mainstream society is probably somewhere between. So these are—all of these elements are present and in every classroom.  And all this stuff is going on simultaneously and so how in the world are you going to figure all this out. So having a few concepts from sociocultural theory, I think, does for me and I—many, many of uh the people that I work with and many teachers that have taught me and that I’ve taught are—are agreed that uh seven or eight ways of thinking about things can certainly help you in perceiving some order in a—in a classroom. (interruption)  If you had some conceptual tools.  That having some conceptual tools I think is very important.     

Well, one of the—one of the really important uh foundational principles of sociocultural theory is it goes something like this and this is from the—from the uh great Russian uh psychologist, Lev Vagodski, and his basic—basic principle is that all that is psychological was first social. And this is a—a way of—of understanding that what goes on between people is what creates the—the—the psychological, the mental, and intellectual activity that we each develop. So the social activity, and I don’t mean parties, but I mean the interaction among people, the so—those kind of—that social activity, what happens between the teacher and the child is a—a very, very great importance because it goes along way into creating how that child will think and what—what the child will think, how the child will think, what are the routines it uses to solve problems, to understand things, develops really fundamentally in that interaction. Well, that’s a fairly heavy responsibility and it alerts the teacher, I think to understand that this needs to be attended to and it needs to be increased and that the need to be opportunities for the kind of dialog and understanding between teacher and child that can help the teacher understand when the—when assistance is needed. And that’s a second concept that I think sociocultural uses that’s a—a of fundamental concern. Now technically in—in uh Vagodski in terms and one of the concepts that’s been adopted almost all reaches of sociocultural theory is Vagodski’s notion of the zone of proximal development. And uh it’s a formable term but it’s fairly simple and what it means, it means that uh—what he calls the developmental level of a child is what the—what the child can do by himself or herself and if that given a task, a test, or a puzzle, or solving a problem, or reading a page, whatever it is, a child can do it by—alone, without any assistance. And that’s the developmental level. But for the child’s purpose to be—to do that’s only practice because we already know how to do it so there’s not really any learning or development taking place in a—in repetitions of that developmental level.  So what he’s talking about, the zone of proximal development is—is that zone that goes from what the child can do alone into what the child can do with assistance because that is the place where learning takes place. And so if you—so that I—I am—I am unable, for example, to do um—well, when I get a new software program, my typical experience is that—is that I can get some of it, but uh there’s some—I go running around trying to find anybody no how to do and if somebody can help me just a little bit, that during that time if I can get just a—the right kind of help and somebody can do that, then I’ve got it and my developmental level moves up. And then if I have to go any further than that, if I’m going to go get into the—pull down the expert box or something, then I’m going to have to have more assistance to get through that play—play. Little children are just the same. Same in learning to read, the same in learning to drive, it’s the same in adult education classes everywhere. So that that concept is enormously important because if you—if you take that seriously then you see once—that what—the task of teaching is to provide that assistance and in order to provide the right amount of assistance, you have to know what the kids can do by themselves and then what it is they need help doing and what kind of help they need doing. So that range in the zone of proximal development is what good teaching means always looking for, creating activities within that, providing assistance within those activities. So those—those are just two simple concepts that seem to me, if fully mastered, would give a good a deal of guidance at any point of puzzlement. And uh any point of frustration with an individual child or uh, structural unit isn’t going well, then go back to looking at what’s the development. What kind of assistance you need provided and how can you set up activities that will pull the kid along by these kinds of—by this kind of assistance. So just a few concepts like that, I think, can give us a kind of guidance that otherwise classroom can be very bewildering.

We have several choices in the way that we look at classrooms and historically there have been—there have been several. Um, uh the—the simplest one I suppose and the least theoretical has been uh—has been that of uh, effective practices movement. And so you could just take things one at a time, look at classrooms and do correlations well if there uh—and find out what elements are present in classrooms and which kids are learning and just extract those on a strictly descriptive level. So if you get something like this in um class size. So if you get the right number in class size, well, 20 is best so then why is 20 best, nobody knows. It’s just 20 is best because that’s what the data illustrate. And it is uh its—its good too uh—there are other kinds of effective practices as using um, um multi—a multi uh sensori—sensorial presentations or I guess we think now multi-media as pictures and graphs and text and so forth. And that’s good. Well, why is it good? It’s not important. It’s just strictly descriptive. So the—I—I don’t mean to make light of that, I’m—those are all important things to know, but it doesn’t give you very much guidance about how to advance and how to um organize all these separate features.  And then we have—we uh—it isn’t used very much any more, but there are still elements of behaviorism that are still perfectly valid. Understanding the use of incentives is, in classrooms, is enormously important. It doesn’t need to be done mechanically and the like, but—but behaviorism is—is looked back, I think, in social science in general because it um—it uh has been excessively mechanistic and it—it’s almo—it’s ahistorical, it’s acultural, it’s uh—it only has two or three terms in its conceptual vocabulary. It’s just not proved to—proven complicated enough. Cognitive theory is the—is the other big contender and has provided enormous degrees of understanding about how the mind works—how the individual mind works, and how we can present material, test material, and how we can understand how curriculum can be best organized. But it doesn’t say—but—but cognitive uh theory is limited because it has almost nothing to say about teaching. That—learning and teaching are not the same thing and we uh—we—the human—the human being learns as we—we—if our—if our brain is the organ of learning, then it at some degree determines the way we learn, but it does not say anything about teaching. It doesn’t have anything to say about what happens between kids in the classroom and what happens with adults and children in the classroom. And the teaching aspect is of—ironically, is one of the last things to be studied in the science—developing science of education. And that’s what sociocultural theory does best. It talks about interactions, it talks about teaching, it talks about the ways that community is built and the way that norms of classrooms are built. It talks about values and the way that values are connected to teaching and learning. And it talks about diversity. And all those great strengths, I think, is one of the reasons why I—I don’t think—personally I don’t think there’s very much doubt that in educational—current educational research, I think sociocultural theory is dominant.

There’s um—one—one of the conventions in sociocultural analysis is to talk about planes.  And uh of analysis and we—conventionally this is do primarily to the work of Barbara Rogoff, one of the eminent theorists in sociocultural theory.  It talks about three planes of—by which—that are present in any human activity. And it—it—by planes she means the suggest—I think it’s—it’s something like maybe facets or—I can’t think of another really good synonym, but it means to suggest that there are angles of view, ways of focusing that uh do not mean to imply that the—they are separate, but as in surfaces of a—of—of surfaces of a crystal there are—you can look at different planes and focus on them, but all the planes are there all the time. So what we say is that the three planes are on the individual or psychological plane.  A second one would be the social or interactional plane and the third is a community or institutional plane. So all that means is, in affect that you can look at any human event in one of these three—you can look at it in all three terms of the same instance, but it’s uh given—given our—given the way human minds work, it’s hard to look at all three and think of all three at once. So we kind of—it’s a question of—of focus. Let’s just take some kind of ordinary classroom event is that um, uh there is a um—there is a um peace of uh—of uh mischievous behavior, let’s say, in the—in the classroom and there—it—it erupts into some kind of dispute over in the corner where the kids are suppose to be working in a cooperative learning center and there’ some kind of—something breaks out over there and the teacher goes over to find out what’s happening. There are different ways of looking at that. And the individual plane, what we can say is, is that—is that um this uh miscreant who—whoever he was, whatever he did, that this miscreant is uh—has just acted in some kind of way and he is uh—he may be our focus and we can—we can focus on that.  “Why did you do that?  What were you thinking?  How could you have thought a thing like that?  How did you lose your self control?”  And we can uh, uh apply some kind of contingent uh incentive to uh have this not repeated. So he can be put on time out or he can be done—sent to the principal, whatever happens, or he could—the—the teacher could judge it’s not serious and he’s all right.  Well, that’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it would be uh, however, it—it doesn’t invalidate what I did—just said, but you could look at it on the social plane. “What was going on in that group at that moment?  What was the interaction?  What—what were they doing in saying to each other that led to this outburst.”  And if what we do there, we would find that it’s very, very rare that one individual piece of miscreants is going to have suddenly just descended through the ceiling somehow and then faded some kids consciousness.  Something happened.  There’s some kind of interaction there that we—that could be uh examined, the same event, exactly the same event, and also attended to. And perhaps that as a matter of fact, might be the most appropriate form of intervention or using it as a learning opportunity. On the other hand, you could look at it as the community level.  “What in the world were those kids doing that would have let them violate the community norms in that kind of way?  And what was everybody else doing?” What in fact about the community norms that this teacher has been working so hard with the kids to produce common values about how they interact together and what’s aloud, what is good—acceptable growth enhancing, learning enhancing behavior and what is out of bound in the classroom? Now what happened and—in—in the building of this community in—in their—in this group and this individual’s relationship to those community values.  What—that’s another level of which it could be examined.  Now a good teacher will do all of that it seems to me.  You would do all of that and you’d do it very fast. You’d come over and make a rapid assessment of what this one—and then what—what were you all doing over there. And then at the end of the class they’re going to stop and what they ought to be doing at the end of each class session anyway is say, “Let’s talk about what happened today and we had a little thing that went wrong.  How did—how did that—how can we make sure that this doesn’t happen anymore.  How can we understand that in terms of what we all believe together about how we should act? So you can—the—the thing about those three planes is another kind of conceptual tool that gives you some kind of guidance. It doesn’t mean that one is more important than the other or—but if you’re going to get a comprehensive view of what goes on and even down to the—each individual human event, all three of these planes are operative, current, and potent at all times and uh we’d just be a lot better off if we know that and pay attention to all of them.

Working in the zone of proximal development is a challenge to a teacher because their—how do you know when you’re working in the zone and when you are either giving the practice level or you’re going way beyond that uh—outside the zone on the other end because the—the—no matter how much help the kid gets right now, you’re not going to be able to—to do it. It’s just too far advanced. How do you work in that zone?  (clears throat) It’s an assessment problem. And an assessment problem is um not unusual in the teaching situation. We—we give tests and assessments all the time and that’s one of the tools that we can use. If you see consistently that—that uh kids are failing in objective indices of their performances, well that’s one way to tell is that uh setting their sights to high or we’re not providing the right assistance or something like that.  But at—but that is uh—is ordinarily is not a sufficient way to do it. It’s not sensitive enough, it doesn’t happen often enough, and it doesn’t give you that kind of delicate calibration that you need to understand about what kinds of assistance a—a student needs at any particular point and when you can move it up, when you can provide a greater challenge. How do you find that out? That’s a problem. And uh the—the—the solution to the problem is fairly—is fairly simple conceptually. You just talk to them.  So you need to engage in conversation. If you say—a—ask a kid uh what um—what is the name of this shape and he gets it right or does not get it right.  So OK, that’s some assessment. But if what you’re doing this in dialog, you say, “What is the name of this shape?”  And then he says, “Well, it’s a triangle,” and then you say, “Well, what makes you think it’s a—it’s a triangle?” He says, “Well, it’s a triangle because it has four sides.”  So that simple little interchange let’s the teacher know exactly what is the misunderstanding and what kind of assistance the student would need in order to go on—beyond that.  Now the absent the dialog, there’s no way to understand what’s the source of the error. And if you don’t know the source of the error, then you don’t know whether or not the child’s in the zone or what kind of a—so this is—this I why an asocial culturally based classroom, regardless of the theorist, it doesn’t matter where in the world you do this regardless—of all the disputes and arguments that different socioculturalists have and different kinds of emphasis, everywhere—everywhere you go, what you’re going to—to find is—is that the foundation of instruction needs to be dialog because you can’t work in the zone of proximal development absent the dialog. And it’s only through the dialog that you can—also that you are able to provide the sensitive kind of assistance. So the—how do you work in the zone?  Through the dialog. Now how do you organize the classroom to ensure that there is a region of pattern of dialog?  Now that’s another issue. 

For working in the zone of proximal development, dialog is critical but how to organize dialog in a classroom setting is—is uh—is something of a challenge and particularly if one begins to try to introduce dialog into this standard organization of the classroom.  Uh, classrooms of the common tradition are organized so that seats of 20 or 30 kids in rank and file are facing the teacher and in the—this uh—the—the dialog is between class member and teacher and so this is sometimes called a switchboard pattern in which all the—all the calls commended the teacher and the teacher refers them out and it goes that, always coming to and from the teacher.  It is possible to have a bit of a conversation that way. And if what you want to do is consider the class is some kind of thing itself, it’s possible then to—to have a dialog between the community of the class and the teacher. But it’s not the same thing as having the dialog with individual kids, which is what you need to do in order to be able to individualize and structure it in to any degree at all. So it’s quite difficult to organize dialog in the ordinary set up of the classroom. And the nearest equivalent of that that develops in school—in—in classrooms of the common tradition is when the teacher is floating—um, that’s my term, I guess there are other ways of describing it, but when—and—in which the—either individual kids or groups of kids are working on some task that the teacher has assigned and she moves around and drifts or floats and perceives points of assistance that are needed. And sometimes there would be a two or three exchange level piece of dialog, but not very often. The—the data is—is very convincing is that teachers, in terms of microphone time, teachers have the microphone time over 90 percent and students less than 10. And that’s very typical in the classroom. The number of speech events of—of utterances is in a typical classroom, is—oh, is the teacher provides—oh, I don’t know what the latest figures might be—in some of our own classrooms, the teachers are providing 40 to 50 times as utterances as all children summed. So there’s not—it’s not organized for—for dialog.  But we talk about eh instructional conversation is a—is an attempt to structurally alter the classroom in such a way that dialog is programmed, becomes predictable, expectable, dep—and—and becomes dependable in the sense that a teacher will have an opportunity as often as possible in elementary school which is easy to arrange every day.  And—and um high school classes when—if you’re not doing block time and you only have 50 minutes at a—with—with a whole class for a day, you can’t—may not be able to do it every day, but you can certainly do it twice a week. It’s perfectly possible to schedule in instructional conversations. And what we mean by that on—on a descriptive level is a regular scheduled, intellectual conversation among a teacher and a small group of students, 7 or less, 7 to 3, in which there is a general instructional goal—a clear instructional goal, and in which there is a good balance of participation so that the teacher has an opportunity to know what the—what the students think, no what they know and what they don’t know, and as a result of that, can alter the patterns of assistance and the patterns of activities that are—the children need—the students need in order to proceed. Instructional conversation can also be looked at in terms of its—of its defining characteristics, another way of saying its essential elements.  So we could talk about that for a minute and I think of an instructional conversation as being—as being um—well, it’s something of a paradox because we—we don’t think of those terms in—together very often. We think of an instruction as something that a teacher delivers, and a conversation is something that happens interactively and informally and—and for enjoyment. And um they don’t seem to go together. But it is possible to do this in such a way that the essential features of instruction are preserved and the essential features of good conversation are preserved. Now it’s not—it’s not exactly a natural act. Um, one of the—one of the ways that the decline of western civilization that all—all of us uh older people talk about is the loss of the art of conversation. I mean, it’s hard enough to find anybody that is a good conversationalist anymore anyway because of the television and so forth, but—but uh it’s—it’s—it’s—you can’t rely, in essence, we can’t rely necessarily on our normal social skills because many of us are not adequate conversationalists and how to combine instruction and con—and conversation, it’s an art and it needs to be practiced, it needs to be learned. But it’s per—it is learnable. Brand new teachers can learn it, teachers in training can learn in a very, very short time if you get the idea of what it is you’re suppose to be doing.  So what is that?  Well, let’s just think about what’s the element of good instruction.  You think of a—a good instruction no matter the format or anything else always has three essential elements at least.  It’s got a goal, a clear—it’s got a clear goal, it’s got assessment, and it—and it provides some kind of assistance.  So we need to have an event, this instructional conversation’s got to have those elements. What are the goals of a good conver—or what are the characteristics of a good conversation when a group of people are sitting around, how do they—when do they go away happy and everybody thought, “Oh, that was really nice. That was really nice that we had a change to talk together.”  That’s not all that complicated either. It happens in which everybody gets a chance to talk, doesn’t have to be absolutely equal time every time this group gets together, but everybody has a chance so it’s fully inclusive and it is responsive so that if—if uh what is said has some relationship to what was said the last time, it’s not—and so uh that is a good conversation in that—in that it plays off of—of what—of what was said uh before. And uh, uh—I think that a third characteristic of uh—of a good conversation is that uh—is that there is a fair balance uh among the participants. That is to say, it’s not—no one individual dominates.  It doesn’t have to be—it doesn’t have to be um—everything doesn’t have to be ab—absolutely perfectly equal, but in general, a—a group that will have enjoyed a good conversation on a dinner table or while they’re driving somewhere, whatever it is, is that no one person is dominating this conversation and that it has a free responsive flow.  So that’s the—that’s the trick.  So you get all of this going all at the same time and it is absolutely possibly to do. It can be done, but it is—it is—it is uh—it’s a high art and it’s not anything that everybody ever—ever perfects. It’s something that—that we—that we can on—can only hope to improve just as we do in our—in our ordinary personal lives.  So that uh—that—when—in what it all looks like in the classroom is the teacher is sitting there we—we like the kidney shaped table best be—because it just fits—it fits so well. It’s almost a circle. And you can use a round table too except sometimes that puts people too far apart from each other. So you can do it—it can be done anywhere. You can sit on the floor and do it, as I have done many times in—in uh higher education. But at any rate, uh wherever you’re sitting the—the teacher and the small group of students will be there having this conversation. But then that leaves 15 or 25 or whatever it is—other students and they’re all doing something else. And what they’re all doing is on their own recognizance and organized and self controlled because of the values and the community and their—to be working productively, assist each other with whatever the tasks are, work on their projects, and respect the concentration that the teacher has to do on this instructional conversation. And then if you look at it dynamically over time as it develops, what you find is that people—students will move in and out of that conversation and so that everybody eventually gets a turn and a 50 minute class in high school may be the—that uh—it will only be twice a week that each student would be in the conversation with the teacher. In elementary school, it can happen every day—every day.  You can get every day and have 20 minutes of—in that kind of intense instructionally based responsive conversation. It can be built into the schedule. It can happen and if that happens, then the teacher is able to work in every child’s zone of proximal development.   

You have the most stimulating and the most useful kinds of dialog perhaps and when everybody has equal command of the language that you’re talking in, but that is not the case and it is never the case in schools or rarely. Most of the time we think that the teacher probably has a greater command of the vocabulary and the syntax of the subject matter then the students. I know there are—there are occasions when that’s not the case, but in general, the teacher always has the problem of having greater language proficiency, either in the language of the subject matter or in the primary language itself, in English if everybody’s speaking English or in English if everybody’s trying—or the students are all trying to learn English. So the—the teacher always, always has the problem of adjusting vocabulary and complexity of syntax. Always in teaching. It’s not any different in—in second language learners. Now you have to—you may very well have to adjust down further and further, that is to say towards simplicity of vocabulary and towards simplicity of sentence structure, you go—you may have to go down and down and down the—the less that English is known. And if you’re teaching—I teachers are teaching in newcomer programs, for example, in which you are—the classroom is a wash with 30 different languages of who just got off the boat last week and that—and none of them can speak a word of English, that’s got to move down pretty—pretty low. But, there is—but the principle is the same and what you need to do is all—it’s exactly the same test.  Just simplify the vocabulary and in syntax.  Well, how can you do that with English language learners is—I believe that it is—it can be—again, it require dialog and if the—it also requires a careful, specific reference, that is to say if it—to—to learn um—to learn English or any other language totally out of context is a very, very difficult thing to do and that’s no way to go about it if there’s any—any option whatsoever.  And in schools we have the option so we can provide concrete activities that are clear that every—that around which it can be making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it can be sorting everybody’s name into be—into—into alphabetically. I mean, any kind of task in which the childrens can—children can engage along with the teacher so that there’s specific reference either to something that’s happening or to some specific objects and—and the—and the—the vocabulary and the—and the simple sentences that discuss this can be done in the context—in that kind of context then the learning will be more rapid.  Now there are very, very good strategies that have been identified by research in order to do what we call sheltering instruction. The general word for this is shelt—is using is sheltering the English instruction. And I suppose that—I don’t know what that metaphor is exactly—shelter is some kind of protection to kids against having too much rain down on them in complex words.  I don’t know what it is. But at any rate, that’s what we call it. And some of our—our researchers here at uh—at CREED have been in the forefront of that kind of research, Jana Echieverra and Debra Short have uh—have just published a—a wonderful analytic system and um instructional system based on—call it SIOP, the Sheltered Instruction Observational Protocol, that to—I—I bring that up because there’s good guidance available about what are the rules for good sheltering and what are the—what—what—how can you—how can a teacher regulate her own speech about that and what—and so forth.  So it—primarily it needs to be act—that—that kind of—that kind of teaching needs to be sheltered, it needs to be activity based, and it needs to have shared objective reference present in the activity or the object field so that the words begin to have an immediate sensory meaning.

Our fourth standard for uh effective pedagogy is to—we need to have challenging instruction and we need to encourage children to think in more complex ways and that is a uh—it’s—it’s—it’s not—it’s hard to dispute. I mean, everybody would like to be able to—to do that, but how do we provide it and how can we tell when we’re doing it?  And it doesn’t uh—it doesn’t mean that it’s making sure the kids always miss 20 percent you ask them. I mean, it doesn’t mean you’re suppose to make things harder and harder and make sure that they are—that there’s always note some stuff they can’t do. That’s not the idea, that the idea is to provide some kind of activities and provide uh, uh intellectual tasks that push them within the Zonar Proximal Development, but always pushing them and pulling them forward to be able to handle things in more complex ways. Now part of that you need to do through—through um—just through dialog so that you know where you are in the Zonar Proximal Development and you—you can always work beyond that. But there are a few other uh issues that—that will help teachers to know what it is they want to do because they—there some rules even in their—at the curriculum level and one—one of their—their fairly simple ones. Um, you almost always can get greater complexity of though if it is in a task that is meaningful to the kids because they will just be more interested in going further and going further. So having the activities meaningful sets the stage for allowing it to become more complex. Another uh, uh there—there are um—let’s think about in dialog or in conversation, how can you make sure that you’re always moving the kids toward thinking in more complex ways. Well, teachers can have a very good regulation. This is something teachers can self-assess and can provide some greater—provide themselves with a little bit of evidence to get better. Like how many yes or no questions are you asking?  How many are you ask—how many questions are you asking that can be answered in a single word?  Well those ought to be few.  How many questions are you ask are—are—are why questions?  Or what makes you think that question? Or what is your evidence question? Those are—those are—those are—are, in every case, the—the—the question that will lead to greater complexity, the teacher can pretty much figure out if you already—if there’s only one right answer and you already know what the question is, that is not meeting the criteria.  That’s not to say that you—there’s some checking back, that there’s some clear facts that you want to get and you may want—but those—that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about cognitively challenging. So what you need to do is to ask questions in which there’s more than one possible answer and ask questions in which the teacher does not know what the child’s going to say. If you say, “Why do you think that?”  Think about how many different answers you could get to that question. If you had 30 kids you’d probably have 20, at least, different answers. You might have a jillion.  So that kind of question is asking the child to stretch and to think and to analyze and to—the same kind of—of—the same kind of think is like in why.  What are the—what are the events—what are the dynamics?  How does all this complicate them working together. Now that same kind of think can be fostered also in activity so that if—if—when—in—in science this is particularly uh, uh obvious that you can work this way. It is also very obvious that you can work this way in mathematics. People use—usually don’t think of it, but there is—when your asking the kids to solve the problem and then tell me how you solved it and why you solved it this way. Well, in mathematics you don’t have to go very far. In fact, you can even do it—often even in arithmetic you can—there are different ways to get to the same answer. There are different kinds of routines that you can follow and different heuristics that will come out with the same kind of answer. And—and–and by the—you’re in middle school; there are alternate correct routes to problem solving in math.  So if what you do in mathematics, for example, is you don’t’ stop at what’s the right answer, but how’d you get there and can you think of another way to get there, then that’s the kind of challenging questions that I’m talking about.  In uh in science there uh, um—there—some of the best science teaching is such a problem and or something to inquire about and what you need to do is to answer that question, and I don’t care how you do it, just go answer the question and then come back and justify it. So if you—either in dialog or in activity, the basic rule is set task asked problems that have multiple correct answers available and ask the—ask um answers that you don’t know what the child’s going to say. Those are some fairly good rules and um know yes and no answers available to a good question. 

Assessment in—in—in a—in a really vibrant dynamic effective classroom especially for one classrooms that serve diverse kids, English language learners, those students who are different from the culturally, linguistically, economically from the teachers, those are uh—uh, assessment comes even more critical. Particularly if what we’re doing is relying on um what we think of as standardized tests or those that are—require a mastery of the English languages in order to be able to be assessed. And that is a—that is a—typically provides a drastic underestimate of the capacity of kids and also will mislead the teacher in terms of the Zonar proximal development because it is possible that—that uh children can be operating at a level that is not assessable in English and we will then confuse the assessment of a language with the assessment of the task. So how do we do something that’s more authentic is a popular phrase for it.  Um, it—uh, the—the—the advantage of standardized tests is, of course, is you compare one whole classroom to another school—another school or a state to another state or a nation to another nation and so forth. Other kinds of tasks that we think of as more criterion referenced or that are assessments of a particular task has been set in a classroom.  Don’t allow for that kind of cross comparison very easily. I’m not even going to talk about that because that’s something that the whole field of educational assessment is struggling mightily with right now and I don’t have any particular wisdom. I have the same impatience that everybody else has with this. I hope the specialists get it on fast. But at the present uh it—it is a complex issue of how to provide for comparability. However, in the classroom assessment that will participate in leading to more effective instruction and to greater learning, that’s a different issue and that, can be done now. It can be done.  Those techniques are available right now. For example, in designing activities what our—our—our request of every teacher is, is that what—is that you don’t design an activity because it looks like it would be fun. You design an activity in the light of an instructional goal. So if there is a—something to be learned, some area to be—to be explored or mastered, then an activity broken off in terms of that—in—in terms of that activity can be designed, but should never be designed until or unless the teacher has determined what would be evidence that I could take that would let me know that they’ve got it.  So what—what would I want them to do. And not—not would necessarily—it might be for some things, but not necessarily be um answer uh multiple-choice question on the—on the subject.  But it might be—it might be to do something, to solve some problem, to present some evidence that—that uh the tool, the intellectual tool has been used in order to create that kind of problem.  So uh, there’s a uh—a—I’m—I’m put in mind of a—I’m put in mind of a um activity that was um—that was done in science in a middle school in a 6th grade class that I saw in a—recently.  The—there was thematic unit that was based on cleaning up a local lake. Kids went down to the—they were working in environmental science and picked up the cans and took water samples and they were doing all that and um—and uh in science and mathematics. The—the instructor took down a surveyors instrument and—and uh let them do—get some idea about how that all worked and they began to get some experience with that tool. And then the next task that they sat—that he set them was to draw a map of the lake.  Now the goal that he had set for that was—and that he would understand that they—that uh—that they had gotten the idea is if they were able, in fact, to produce a map of the lake in reasonable proportion and with uh representation of the major features with which he knew that they were familiar. And um he uh—he further decided that he would um—he would let them build these—build this map—build map making in stages. So what he did—what he did first was let them work on—as a group on it and the final test that they wanted to do is—is that after this—after they had done that, then he had an individual test that he gave them later. But that test was to draw a map of the schoolyard. And after they’d gone through the purpose of it, a group product on the map. So until the assessment device were to one, is the map and the lake and he had them keep up that work until they had reached the criterion as a group and then at the end make sure they had all gotten this individually and had some idea about how they were going to represent in—in a fair proportion the perceived world and he—he had them do an individual map.  And um he was able to respond those maps, grade them if you will, on a number of dimensions that were—that were appropriate to it. Give it back to them. Give them some kind of feedback. And in some instances, have some of them work further on the subject.  So that kind of assessment that is built into the activity, that flows from the activity, and then as a final test can be a kind of a generalization from that activity into a similar performance at a—at a different arena is what I think of as a useful heuristic for bringing assessment right into the instruction.    

Well, the—the cultural forces that impact psychological development are—are um—they’re enormous and—and they are to some degree invisible because cultural is not something that most teachers ever see.  I mean I don’t know if any of us see cultural. We have to infer it from uh events and interactions and emotions and so forth.  But what we actually—what we actually see is that a—a teacher has an opportunity to see in the classroom in the way that the students interact with her, the way the students interact with each other and so you see this culture if whatever it is in behavior and the way to some degree see it interact with materials.  Now, they come to school having complex repatras of all sorts in all of the dimensions. How you are suppose to be—interact with peers, how you react with adults, what is teacher, who is a respective adult, how do you—how do you do that, what are the—what are all the courtesies and conventions of conversation and all those issues that—children even at kindergarten arrive with a very complex repatras already built in and that—and those repatras become more culturally based, continue to develop and become more and more complex.  Well, the teacher isn’t gonna ever see that happen unless she is present in those—in the interactions in which those are created. So what’s culture?  How does that happen?  Well, where is culture happens?  It happens primarily between parents and the kids or between kids and kids or grand—extended family members or in institutional structures, religious or economic or developmental or whatever they are, athletic, other kinds of institutional structures that exist outside the school. So culture always happens in human interaction and that’s the only place you can ever see it. We get deceived by it because we think the culture or the tamales, or we think that it’s the—it’s the roasted corner or we think it’s the chopsticks of whatever it is and its the ma—material culture. And so many, many teachers I think can get terribly deceived because they think that they’ll get a multicultural classroom and so—you know, in holidays we’re going to have different kinds of food, we’re going to have stuff all over the classroom that celebrates all of our cultures.  Um, that—that—I—I don’t mean to—those are good things to do but they’re not going to get you very far they’re—because the real culture happens in how people think, act, and feel and—and how they do that differently and in different situations.  So where can you find it happening?  So how can teachers learn what it is that kids are expected to do and what is the cultural basis?  I—that’s very difficult to find out. It’s very difficult to discover because you have to find a way in which you can present when the events occur.  Home visits is a tried and true method, which really is and continues to be a really good idea. But it’s very difficult for many teachers to arrange. Present in uh cultural activities, in community activities, present—uh to be present in the—in the churches, in the community meetings, and uh school board meetings, in the—in the—in the volunteer work groups that are out cleaning up the ditches or what—and—and to be—if you’re present in those activities, cultural will reveal itself very, very quickly and—but it reveals itself in the way that people act and think and feel and what they expect of each other. So there’s some things that you—that are important to teachers that they could look forward, especially, and can make a difference in the classroom. One of them has been written about quite—quite a lot. It is important. That’s what we—what we call wait time in—in dialog and that’s very important in the classroom is different cultures are exquisitely timed about the amount of space you give between the ending of one person’s speech and the beginning of the next person’s speech. And that can be—in terms of seconds, that can be anything from that much to that much to negative. And—so—and those kinds of expectations that you would see present in any kind of community event or any kind of family interaction will be—those expectations and repatras be carried into the classroom and if the teacher really needs to understand. That’s one of things it’s easy to look for and see. And uh—and the ways that adults interact with children is a very important thing. It doesn’t mean that the teacher should necessarily always imitate that but to understand what the students expectations are allows her to also extend courtesies and respect to the kids while at the same time understanding what it is that they have to learn in order to interact in some schooled ways. And the way—the way that uh people group themselves—I’m—I’m put in mind of the—of the way that uh some of our own disasters that we’ve had in our school discipline is not fully appreciating when we’re working in Navajo, for example, not fully appreciating the degree to which gender separation begins to happen in that society so early. I mean it’s perfectly obvious if you would go—you can’t go anyway on the reservation without seeing that men are there and women are here in almost every activity. We had no appreciation for the fact that it would—that it would begin in 2nd grade. And uh—and—but it did and it does so not understanding that we were mixing up the kids in different kinds of activities that they found just unendurable and stupid. And uh—and until we figured that out, we were really trying to go against the grain and—and not—and it wasn’t necessary. It was perfectly possible to teach that at some point and for certain purposes they need to work—in school they need to also work cross-gendered, they need to do that to. But we were just uh—we were really bulldozing it just out of ignorance. So that’s another example of uh—of uh the way that people group themselves will be brought into the classroom and teachers not understanding them.  Well, how—what does all that have to do with development?  It—as uh—as Vagodski taught us what was first social becomes psychological, so the way that we think, the way that—and the way that we organize our thoughts is going to be determined by the kind of social interactions we have and that is profoundly provided by culture through the medium of adult/child socialization practices. And we also—we also know that another tenant, another major tenant of socioculture theory is the way that—that meaning is learned and values are learned, which is so much a part of culture, has to do with the way that emotion is labeled and that the meaning of—of events and of things are communicated during activity.  So when the kids and adults are interacting in a certain kind of way, they’re talking—they’re talking together in the tones of voice, words that are used in describing a thing that happens, an event, whether it’s a sacred object or whether it is a particularly repulsive piece of kid behavior, or whatever it is, the kind of speech that’s used which labeled the way it’s talked about, that—those—that mechanism of the signs and symbols that we used to attach value to events, those are internalized in the developmental processes and become the value sets of the individuals. So school isn’t the only life that kids have. They’ve got this other huge life in which all of these processes are going on that I’m describing. The same processes go on in the classroom and—but the more that could be known about what’s going on outside of the classroom will allow the teacher to be more sensitive, to be more accurate in assessment, and more accurate in—accurate in activity design and be more accurate in working in the Zonar Proximal Development.

Well, that uh—uh “Arousing Minds To Life” is a—is a title that we chose from the book. It was—it’s a—it’s a direct quote from Vagodski, the English translation of Vagodski. We uh—we worked for um four years on that title and we despaired of ever getting a title. We thought that could—but at any rate we finally decided that we would find—we would find the title in the manuscript of the book. So we went back and read the book again at the last—with five minutes left to name the book it—it uh really became very obvious once I—I looked again at that—that wonderful quotation from Vagodski. I’m not sure that I can quote it exactly but it goes something—something like this, “Is that in the Zone of Proximal Development what we were concerned with is the”—how did he put it, “is the buds of development, not the full flowers.  We’re looking—we’re looking at the um at the growth points on the tree and not at the—in the full leaf.” And that’s what we want to be concerned with.  And the way that we are able to do this is by—through the—through dialog, through talking together, providing assistance and through the appropriate use of the language in labeling and transmitting emotion and values and an understanding is that is the way that children can—can uh be awakened.  Their minds can be awakened. They can—they’re—it is possible there with to arouse their mind—their minds to life. And it’s uh a lovely concept and it’s one that you—that teachers see every day.  Last week, we were doing a little bit of training of professional development to a group of very, very highly motivated excellent teachers but who had been using pretty much classrooms of the common tradition and then they began talking with the kids, instituting instructional conversat—activity-based stuff and she—and the teacher never heard “Arousing Minds To Life.”  Never knowing anything about it to—said, “I can’t believe it.  They’ve woken up.”  This is after a year, you know, they woke up. Well, that’s exactly right and I think that’s what Vagodski was telling us is that is the way it is, is through this kind of dialog, joint work together and that—and activity-based learning, we all wake up and our minds do get aroused to life and—and it is such a characteristic of classrooms that are taught in this way. They’re lively, they’re noisy, they’re energetic, they are—they don’t look like school.