MANAGING THE INTERMENTAL: CLASSROOM GROUP DISCUSSION AND THE SOCIAL CONTEXT OF LEARNING
Mary Catherine O'Connor Boston University
In recent work on classroom group discussion and its role in learning2 an idealized view of classroom discourse frequently appears. In this idealization, content-related meaning is continually negotiated and created in the moment by peers who respect each others' views. Within the participant structure of small or large group discussion, students purposefully appropriate each others' ideas and utterances to further their own thinking and that of the group. In this scenario, students have the right and responsibility to function as equal members in a "discourse community" characterized by frequent instances of dialogic discourse.
While the supposed social benefits of such participant structures are sometimes emphasized, the usual focus is on the cognitive benefits. "Whole-class discussions enable students to pool and evaluate ideas, record data, share solution strategies, summarize collected data, invent notations, hypothesize, and construct simple arguments" ( National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM] , 1989, p. 79). Small group discussions are believed to confer similar benefits. These beliefs about classroom discussions are generally buttressed by reference to Vygotskyan theory, in that collaborative or joint reasoning, the "intermental" plane of cognition, is viewed as the genesis of a child's individual "intramental" functioning.____________________