Contexts for Learning: Sociocultural Dynamics in Children's Development

By Ellice A. Forman; Norris Minick et al. | Go to book overview

3
Dynamics of Discourse: Literacy and the Construction of Knowledge

GEN LING M. CHANG-WELLS and GORDON WELLS

Work in both child language and cognitive development concurs in seeing the child as a meaning maker ( Bower, 1974; R. Brown, 1973; Bruner, 1983; Newson, 1978; Wells, 1985). The linguistic repertoire the child builds and the expanding mental model of the world that he or she inhabits are the results of the child's constructive effort, achieved through a progressive and cumulative process of hypothesis formation, testing, and modification. Moreover, what is true of learning during the preschool years seems to continue to be true of later learning, even during adulthood. Each new step in the constructive process results from a transaction in which what is already known is brought to bear on new information, creating new meaning and enhancing understanding and control.

It thus seems clear that there can be no such thing as "objective knowledge," in the sense of knowledge that is independent of particular individuals who know. Indeed, "knowledge" is not an entity at all, but a mental state -- the state of understanding arrived at by learning, that is, through the various constructive processes involved in coming to know. To be sure, what a person knows can be represented in the form of linguistic propositions, and these propositions may be given general assent. However, it does not follow that the knowledge of which these propositions are formulations is identical from one knower to another because for each knower the propositions are embedded in a unique structure of personal knowing arrived at through a particular, socially situated learning biography ( Rommetveit, 1985).

Not all knowledge is propositional, however. Much of what we know consists of routines, procedures, and strategies that we deploy to achieve larger goals of various kinds. Recalling the distinction made by Ryle ( 1949) between "knowing how to" and "knowing that," it seems that both the procedures and the activities to which they contribute are best described in terms of "knowing how to." So, for example, we talk both of knowing how to ride a bicycle or write a report and of knowing how to apply corrective feedback when steering or of how to justify beliefs and opinions. We refer to this type of knowledge as procedural knowledge.

In practice, however, most activities require a transaction between both

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