Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Development of Verbal Thinking and Problem-Solving among TshiVenda-Speaking Primary School Children

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Development of Verbal Thinking and Problem-Solving among TshiVenda-Speaking Primary School Children

Article excerpt

Introduction

A recent study by Cubero, de la Mata and Cubero (2008) elaborated on the question of what and why changes occur during participation in formal learning processes. The study compared the classification performance between advanced and novice adult education learners on classification tasks involving lists of domestic menus. Participants had to classify the lists of local, Mediterranean menu in two different ways: formal and local-spontaneous and everyday modes related to familiar domestic meal-preparation activities. The study found that both the novice and the advanced learners employed everyday modes of classification when using familiar objects in familiar task situations such as preparing domestic meals using local menus, whereas the advanced learners were more adept to employing an alternative, formal mode of classification with abstract justifications when requested to employ an alternative mode of classification. Their novice counterparts, on the contrary, resorted to the everyday mode of classification that resembled familiar, domestic food-preparation activities and were thus unable to employ an alternative, abstract- categorical mode of classification.

These findings extended Luria's (1976) original results in that they elaborate on the differentiated ways in which people engaged in similar activities may apply their cognitive processes to problem situations depending on the nature and extent of their engagement. Cubero, de la Mata and Cubero (2008) argue, on the basis of these findings, that what accounts for the different forms of thinking is the use of different mediational means in different activity settings. That is, the use of formal, abstract forms of knowledge in school accounts for a change in the conceptual tools people use for thinking, and this change is accounted for by the activity setting (that is, the formal learning context) in which the cognitive processes are applied. However, this change does not necessarily supplant existing modes of thinking and problem-solving, but rather contribute to differentiation of thought processes that are applied to a problem situation according to its specific demands.

While beginning to elaborate on the nature and extent of the developmental changes that occur during the course of formal schooling, Cubero, de la Mata and Cubero's (2008) analysis was questioned for not mentioning anything new that was not known, in that it essentially confirms Vygotsky-Luria's original hypothesis, showing us how deeply schooling can modify and develop people's modes of expressing themselves and of understanding their environment (Zittoun, 2008). Zittoun argues that such studies should rather consider the ambiguous meanings and the possible interpretations that could be derived, not from the results, but from the experimental processes.

Zittoun's (2008) critique, while perhaps emphasising individuals' meanings and interpretations at the expense of the role played by activity setting and the associated cultural-psychological tools, may, at the same time, be crucial for understanding potential manifestations of differentiated, plural forms of thinking and problem-solving in a specific activity setting such as formal schooling. That is, learners may manifest forms of thinking and problem-solving that derive both from their formal learning experience and from their spontaneous, everyday learning and developmental settings simultaneously within their formal learning, classroom context.

This proposition demands that the notion of 'activity setting' and 'cultural tools' be extended or re-conceptualised, so as to be conceived not as binaries that exist in separation and as having a neat influence and cognitive consequences on learning and development and hence applied neatly according to the specific demands of the activity setting in question. At this point, the present study becomes relevant.

The cultural contexts of learning and development for TshiVenda2-speaking learners are, as is generally the case in most rural South African and African settings, very diverse to what is normally encountered in relatively stable social settings. …

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