Contexts for Learning: Sociocultural Dynamics in Children's Development

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

4
Discourse, Mathematical Thinking, and Classroom Practice

PAUL COBB, TERRY WOOD, and, ERNA YACKEL

Aspects of an ongoing research and development project in elementary school mathematics that has as an overriding goal the development of a framework within which to coordinate sociological and psychological analyses of classroom life are discussed in this chapter. We must state at the outset that neither the theoretical nor the pragmatic aspects of our work were initially derived from neo-Vygotskian theory. Informed by an almost exclusively cognitive constructivist perspective, we initially intended to analyze individual children's learning as they participated in classroom mathematical activity. Our interest in symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology developed in concert with our growing awareness of the insufficiency of this initial theoretical orientation. It subsequently became apparent that the way in which we were attempting to make sense of classroom life was, in many respects, compatible with certain of Vygotsky's theoretical notions, particularly his work in what Minick ( 1987) has identified as the last of the three phases of his intellectual development (i.e., 1933-1934). We use sample episodes repeatedly in the main body of this chapter to illustrate our current view of classroom life and to highlight similarities and differences with Vygotskian theory. First, however, we give a brief overview of the project.


Overview

The initial pragmatic goal of the project was to develop instructional settings in second-grade mathematics' classrooms that are compatible with implications of the constructivist theory of knowledge ( von Glasersfeld, 1984). To this end, we conducted a year-long teaching experiment in one second-grade classroom. All instruction was conducted by the classroom teacher, who was a member of the project staff. She taught mathematics four days each week and joined us for project meetings one day a week. During these meetings we reflected on the events of the previous week and discussed instructional issues pertinent to subsequent lessons. In doing so, we and the teacher

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