Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Week 4!

         This week’s readings focused on building and accessing student’s representations and thought structure in the sciences.  Greeno and Hall’s article reiterated many of the points in Lehrer and Sampson’s discussions of modeling, focusing on the importance of bringing actual science practice into the classroom.  Greeno and Hall hone in on the process of representation, which allows students to actively comprehend potentially abstract concepts and manipulate their representations flexibly to understand relationships on a more whole-system level, using representation more as a means to understanding than an end product itself.  I especially enjoyed their discussion of the context of representation and the integral role of the individual student as interpreter of both historical and creative representations, suggesting the value of representation is not inherent but requires interaction.  
            Because the value of representation is dependent on student interpretation, the question becomes how do we as teachers understand the ways our students are interacting with the subject matter?  In their article on Using Interviews, Russ and Sherin discuss the value of one-on-one conversations to “uncover more about how students make sense of the concepts in their own terms.” (20) Their approach is not meant to teach the student what is right or wrong, but rather to act as a probing interviewer, providing the teacher with thorough pre-assessment of their students prior knowledge in order to better craft lessons around what students do and do not know.  Ginsburg’s chapter from Entering the Child’s Mind delves deeper into this theory, focusing on the value of a child’s constructions and representations regardless of their ‘accuracy’.  Ginsburg provides strategies and advice for optimally uncovering student’s thought processes, highlighting a trusting, respectful relationship, careful preparation, and focused tasks paired with open questions focusing on process over answer, like “How did you solve that problem?” (121)  By being a flexible and probing interviewer, Ginsburg argues that one can uncover Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development” to better help both the interviewer and the student understand the student’s process and potential. 
            The readings this week raised interesting questions for me on the relative importance of individual versus communal relationships with learning.  Greeno and Hall’s vision of representation revolves around individual interpretation of a representation, which would seemingly produce a class of students with potentially disparate or incorrect understandings of a system.  The supplemental text by Wu and Puntambekar addresses this conundrum by suggesting combinations of representations across domains and categorization and with appropriate scaffolding by instructors.  Even with the guidance of a teacher, by Greeno, Hall, and Ginsberg’s models each student will have a unique relationship with a representation so it would seem difficult to me to interview just a few students in a class as representative of the whole as Russ and Sherin suggest.  Are there generalizations about children’s thought processes that can be gleaned from individual interviews?  Outside of the potential constraints of application as suggested in the article, I can definitely see the value of interview style questions both before and during class, which would gauge comprehension as class progresses, allow students to work through the ‘how’ of a system, and potentially ‘seed’ more correct interpretations.    


  1. Asking if there are generalizations about children's thought processes is an interesting point! I think that to a point, there can be generalizations. If all of one's students are giving examples from a previous experiment that relates or is a lead in to a new topic, one can assume that they are indeed making a connection to the new subject. It would be important to figure out how deep that understanding goes though. Like in the video case we saw in last week's class, the students could paraphrase a book definition well, but we could not tell that they knew why the answer was that. The teacher even interpreted what seemed like fairly good answers as a full understanding of the topic while we, as observers, disagreed. Maybe that was because we are not with those students every day nor are we constantly evaluating their thinking processes, as Ginsburg's article says teachers need to do, so we could not see the understanding.

  2. I think this is kind of where bloom's taxonomy could be incorporated because bloom identifies all the ways that students can be asked to represent their knowledge. If students can spit out knowledge, articulate and explain concepts, apply concepts to new situations, make comparisons, or create something to represent the knowledge, then students will show understanding of the topic. Varying the way that students are being assessed and assessing all areas of understanding will give clues as to how well students are grasping concepts. I would argue that the teacher has a better understanding of student responses and the individual students in his classroom and therefore understands what the student is able to grasp better than our class would be able to.

  3. How has your view of individual learning versus communal learning changed from before and after this week’s readings? Is it not a requirement of a teacher to value the individual interpretations of learning, but then to influence learning in the correct way? It was mentioned this week that just because a student arrived at an incorrect answer does not mean that the student’s thinking is incorrect; teachers should recognize effort but then ask questions to enlighten students to think about different ways of interpretation. If student interviews are conducted as Ginsburg described, there must be concepts from students’ thought processes that can be gained by the instructor.


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