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Posts tagged ‘novice’

3
Mar
collaboration big

Scaffolding for Deep Understanding

How CAN we help our students be the kind of thinkers we want?

My friend and colleague, @brendasherry, recently wrote a thoughtful post called What is Deep Understanding?  She asked several excellent questions:

  • what kind of thinkers do we want our students to be?
  • what is deep understanding?
  • can schools really provide the learning environment to nurture and develop it?

In thinking about these questions, I would like to ask: “How can we help novice learners become more expert learners?” Read more »

9
Jan

ZPD – Who’s in Charge Here?

What’s Dynamic Scaffolding?

Forgive this cross post from The Construction Zone website, but I want to bring it forward partially in response to Chris Lehmann’s post about Engagement vs Empowerment.

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) may be defined as the zone in which we can accomplish a task with the assistance, or accompaniment, of a more knowledgeable other – a task that we could not handle alone. The student should ideally be engaged at the outside limit of competence.

Advancing one’s knowledge, by definition, requires that one operates in advance of one’s level of competence. One may conceive of the ZPD as being a zone just in advance of the student’s position of competence. It is in this zone where learning and development occur.

But this may be a wide zone – a large ‘depth of field’, if you like. The inner edge of the ZPD (close to total competence) is characterized by tasks that can be carried out with a minimum of support whereas at the outer edge of the ZPD a greater  amount of scaffolding is required. A great deal of complexity is inherent in assuming control of ‘scaffolding’ within that zone. Is this possible, or best handled, by others?

A great deal of complexity is inherent in assuming control of ‘scaffolding’ within the ZPD. Is this possible, or best handled, by others?

Novice & Expert Learners

There are common behaviours that are characteristic of relative levels of expertise. Novice learners display approaches that are consistent across domains. So do expert learners.  This theoretically allows for an easier determination of one’s position on this novice-expert continuum due to similarities of strategic approaches or behaviours. One may therefore be able to identify a ZPD just in advance of this position. For example, a novice may not think to generate a variety of possible solutions before embarking on one approach to a task, whereas a more expert student might, so one could afford opportunities for this generation of alternate strategies to occur.  However, as the student gains expertise and moves up the continuum, the ZPD is always in advance. Therefore, it necessitates that the ‘cognitive partner’ provide ‘dynamic’ support or scaffolding.  Not just the gradual quantitative reduction of support as the learner acquires more competence in a particular skill, but a qualitative shift because now new competencies become attainable with appropriate support.  An ‘optimal mismatch’ needs to be maintained. This is quite a challenge.

…the ‘cognitive partner’ needs to provide ‘dynamic’ support or scaffolding.

Robbie Case developed a theory & technology of instruction that focused on analysis of novice-expert behaviours and procedures and the design of “successive stages for transforming the novices procedures into more expert-like ones” (Bereiter & Scardamalia). My own work on spelling acquisition was consistent with this work. It was determined that relative expertise in spelling could be acquired by identifying and supporting stages & procedures in between novice and expert. However, it is still questionable whether this determination and judgement of one’s position might not best be assigned to the student rather than the teacher or other. In this work on spelling acquisition, there was student involvement in the analysis of the progression of learning.  I remember asking them to think they were holding a video camera just above themselves…that they were watching themselves.  What do they see?

Who’s in Charge?

Is an outside individual able to determine the appropriate support to advance another’s expertise?

Is an outside individual able to determine the appropriate support to advance another’s expertise?  With such complexity involved, even though there are general patterns among novices and experts, many of us believe that one should be proactive in one’s own construction of knowledge within the ZPD. The teacher often assumes responsibility for this learning process and I am suggesting that we turn over this responsibility to the student. This already occurs in many other settings and does not mean abandoning scaffolding.

Bruner (in Toohey) suggests in regard to parent-child interactions “…mothers most often see their role as supporting the child in achieving an intended outcome, entering only to assist or reciprocate or ‘scaffold’ the action.” Donald Graves (in Writing : Teachers & Children at Work, 1983 p.271) says that “scaffolding follows the contours of child growth”. Both Bruner and Graves identify that the child is in control while the adult remains sensitive and responsive.

However, often scaffolding in schools means the ‘imposition’ of a structure on the student. Is a sheet of questions outlining steps on how to proceed on a science experiment effective scaffolding?  “Whose intentions are being honored” asks Searle (in Jordan, 1997)? “The adequacy of the metaphor implied by scaffolding hinges on the question of who is constructing the edifice.” (in Jordan, 1997)

“The adequacy of the metaphor implied by scaffolding hinges on the question of who is constructing the edifice.”

Here is an example of a child in charge of the construction of new knowledge within the ZPD. This is a description of a parent’s support of a child who is learning to count to 100. The child can manage alone through each set of ones, but needs to be prompted at each ‘ten’.

C:“25..26..27..28..29…..

A:“30” (unsolicited)

C:“30..31..32..”

Further on, perhaps at another session the adult may only have to shape her mouth like the initial sound of the tens number for the child to say it. It is in this way that an adult can collaborate in the ZPD. The adult initially needs to provide considerable scaffolding, but scaffolding is only a temporary building structure that is gradually reduced and withdrawn as the student constructs the knowledge and competence necessary to continue unaided. A cognitively sensitive, attuned adult allows the control of the ZPD to remain in the hands of the student.

A cognitively sensitive, attuned adult allows the control of the ZPD to remain in the hands of the student.

For example,

C:“57..58..59..”

A:“60” (unsolicited)

C:“Don’t tell me!!”

A:“Sorry, I didn’t know whether to help.”

C:“67..68..69..Don’t tell me…Don’t tell me…(pause)…Give me a hint..”

A:“Ssss”

C:“Seventy..71..72…”

Here the adult has attuned to the ‘depth of field’ of the ZPD (on this task) and has allowed and encouraged control to remain with the student.

More Complex Problem Spaces

I recognize that the above examples illustrate the concepts with relatively simple learning tasks.  The same holds, I believe, for more complex problem spaces.  Much of my everyday work with students struggles in those spaces.

3
Jan

PBL – Who IS in Charge? What Tools can Help?

What tools support a socio-constructivist approach to Project-based Learning?

Assumptions

Traditional Classroom

Old Traditional Classroom

We believe in kids.  That’s why we are in this ‘business’ of education in the first place.  Yet, much of what we must face relegates us, and the students, to roles and responsibilities that are in discord with this belief.  Further to that, I believe that most of us would agree that people, including kids, naturally want to learn.

Students can ‘take charge of their learning’.  They have the ability to define driving questions within the context of curricular needs, to set their goals, to generate and implement strategies to achieve those goals, and to reflect on the efficacy of their efforts.  They understand intuitively that this can be accomplished best within a social context and with the tools at hand.

This era of information and communications technologies (ICT) is particularly conducive to a shift towards more natural models of learning and away from the factory model of education that grew out of the industrial era.   Powerful tools exist for accessing and manipulating information and also for supporting rich communications among people.

I have spent most of my career supporting project-based learning (PBL) because I believe in kids.  I trust in their power of self-regulation.  I have no doubt in their ability to work together for the betterment of themselves and others.  I also believe in teachers.  People enter this profession for noble reasons. We want to make a difference — to educate all children to the best of their abilities.  We want students to become lifelong learners and teachers understand that to achieve this they must encourage and support the development of self-regulatory skills — the rudimentary origins of which children had when they arrived in school!

Out of Line

Out of Line

Locus of Control

For years I have been frustrated with the school system’s inadvertent theft of a student’s locus of control.  Before a child enters school, they are full of questions and make much sense out of the rich complexity of authentic situations.  Once a child enters kindergarten, the educational system begins to set the learning agenda.   Children are segregated into age groups.  The curriculum is defined — segmented and sequenced.  The activities are organized. The learning is controlled and measured.  As the years go on — and students acquire their new roles — their curiosity, passion and motivation to learn measurably decreases.

Neil Postman astutely suggested that,

“Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.”

Project Based Learning

Kite Building

I believe that teachers prefer project-based learning models but in these times of standards and testing they

often withdraw to more didactic approaches.However, I am not so naïve as to think that the use of a PBL approach is enough to cause a radical change in education.  But I recognize that such approaches to education are consonant with our deeper beliefs.  I am also confident that when schools systems adopt these philosophies and tools — and use them well — the evidence of higher student achievement will be overwhelmingly convincing.

I believe that we cannot raise standards appropriately until we adopt these methodologies.

ICT Affordances

And so, then the question is, what information technologies support these methodologies? We need to provide environments which:

  • encourage and support student-generated questioning
  • allow students to make their thinking explicit – both to themselves and to others
  • scaffold student learning
  • provide for multiple representations of knowledge
  • facilitate conversation among students

Many of these can be handled by different applications available to us.  Tools that ‘catch and allow for the organization of ideas’ are particularly useful for brainstorming and/or making sense of that which we already know.  Inspiration, Smart Ideas, and the outliner of most word processors can fulfill this function.  Word processors are also useful as diaries or journals – but likely serve best for a ‘personal’ form of those.   It has often been said that we are no longer in the ‘information age’ but rather have entered the ‘communication age’ or ‘creative age’.  There is a proliferation of environments in which people may hold discussions.  Many of these are web-based in the form of blogs, wikis, Twitter, Skype or Facebook. However, few of these are specifically focused on education (with the exception of Knowledge Forum.) They are, therefore, not designed to incorporate multiple features as mentioned above – mainly because they are often used in ‘social’ ways, not for ‘cognitive’ gain.   Not a bad thing – necessary, as it’s said, but not sufficient.

Journal Writing

Cognitive Scaffolding – How Do We Support and Encourage Thoughtful Journal Entries and Comment/Discussion

Ah yes, herein lies the greatest problem.

I designed software a few years ago called Journal Zone to try to meet these needs.  It was a good first attempt – but didn’t do well commercially.  BUT, this is not about selling that product. It’s not available any more anyway. It is about the feature set that embraces a socioconstructivist philosophy and is designed specifically for students to become better learners.

Tools to support and encourage novice learners to think deeply about what they should think about or write about aren’t, for the most part, currently available. It is really up to the culture of the classroom to support deep thinking.  It should anyway of course.  <g>

Madeleine's Blog

A Scaffolded Posting

But, to have some of these affordances built into the tools would be useful.

I have made attempts at this – yes, with Journal Zone in the past – but more recently, with blogs, wikis and Diigo. It’s a hack, and not quite as integrated as I would like.  But if anyone wants to build something with me, please let me know.

I’ll describe the concepts more fully here.  Please read The Construction Zone section if you would like a more robust theoretical basis of ‘expert/novice learning behaviour’, Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), ‘dynamic scaffolding’, and mindfulness.

I would like to see an online journaling environment that supports reflective learning within a social context.   It could integrate three common practices of exemplary teaching – journal writing, collaboration, and cognitive scaffolding.  Students would think more deeply, not only about the task at hand, but also about their own thinking and learning processes.

A Collaborative Classroom

It would be a place where students could write and illustrate their thoughts, plans and ideas over a period of time.  Sometimes journals would be ongoing – as a diary might be.  At other times journals might be kept during specific projects  – to track plans, thoughts, notes, questions, strategies, solutions and so on. The journal entries would be reviewed and commented upon by group members or project partners.

Because the environment would encourage and support social sharing and discussion of these thoughts, it would be an ideal place for students to work together to make sense of curricular or conceptual problems.  The distinctive tools (perhaps sentence prompts) would scaffold individual and group learning by helping students in planning, reflecting and commenting effectively on the work of others.

Imagine a student, Sarah, is beginning her investigations into her topic of ‘natural disasters’.  Normally, this occurs as an independent activity.  However, in this case, Sarah is part of a group of students – each of whom has his/her own topic of investigation.  Each student has a responsibility, not just for her own investigation, but also for the projects of the others in the group.  (Indeed, each student may have a sub-part of a topic, but not necessarily.)  In practical terms, this means that each student works on her own project, but also regularly comments on the progress of the others in her group.  As Sarah documents her plans and thoughts, others read them and give substantive feedback in an effort to ‘bump up’ the standard of work.

My research indicated that ‘prompts’ were initially essential to get novice learners to behave more like expert learners – to develop the metacognitive strategies of, for example, generating a number of solution strategies before embarking on one or, breaking a complex project into mind-size parts.  Prompts can also assist in elevating the conversation from a social one to a more substantive one.  For example, instead of a student merely saying, “I like your idea”, the student might say, “Have you considered…that we studied that hurricane all last month.  How has that affected the farming?”  The benefits to the recipient of the advice are obvious.

But the students who give the advice also benefit in several ways:

  • they intimately learn the subject content of the other students
  • they ‘see’ the learning processes of the others (how they ‘think’ – question, plan, solve problems)
  • they learn how to be part of a team – an important lifelong learning skill

Driving Questions are Essential

The first task for each student may be to work towards a ‘driving’ question for the investigation.  This may take several journal pages and much discussion with peers to develop a question that meets the criteria.  A ‘driving’ question (modified from Krajcik) is defined as one that:

  • integral to the curriculum under study
  • worthwhile
  • complex enough to be broken down into smaller questions
  • link concepts/principles across disciplines
  • feasible
  • contextualized
  • anchored in the lives of learners
  • meaningful
  • ill-structured
  • engage students in a state of ‘flow’

In fact, the teacher – perhaps in conjunction with the students – may have developed rubrics for a ‘driving’ question.  This could be posted in a Teacher’s journal and referred to during these discussions.

Once Sarah has defined her question, she would need to develop her plans for investigation.  Again, she does this by ‘thinking aloud’ in her journal and by reading and reacting to the comments of her peers.  Over the course of the project, therefore, Sarah and her peers have regular, reflective conversations about every stage of their work.

It is in this way that students feel empowered over their own learning.   They set the agenda.  They identify and work through the planning, the development of strategies, the accomplishment of their goals.  They will be better prepared to meet the challenges of educational standards and of a life of learning within a social context.

Request of You

If you are interested in the processes I used in scaffolding students to think more deeply and to collaborate more substantively in these environments, I would be thrilled to have the discussion.  It is my plan to write more about:

  • the differences between novice and expert learners
  • dynamic scaffolding
  • effective collaboration

Please, share your thoughts.

Resources

Knowledge Forum – ‘an electronic group workspace designed to support the process of knowledge building.’

The Construction Zone – a theoretical overview of: expertise – the differences between expert and novice learners; the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD); ‘dynamic scaffolding’; and, mindfulness.

Diigo – a social bookmarking tool that allows for annotation of web pages

Project Based Learning:

15
Dec

The Backchannel: What Affects Its Efficacy?

So before David Jakes started his keynote presentation at RCAC the other day, he walked past our table – where a bunch of twitterers were poised to backchannel as he presented.  David made a comment about the efficacy of backchanneling while a speaker is on stage.  We ended up in a quick discussion about this phenomenon and about the criteria surrounding effective backchanneling.

I believe that this is in its infancy (with these new media) and requires some controversial discussions.

Types of Backchanneling during a Presentation (via twitter, chatroom, etc.)

  • to share the content out to a wider audience
  • to create online notes (easily retrieved later via a hashtag)
  • to pose questions that the presenter to which a presenter could respond (best managed by a moderator)
  • to make associations with prior knowledge and note/describe that
  • to share related links to websites or other resources
  • to discuss or engage in conversation with others (in the room or at a distance)

Mental Effort and Cognitive Load

I would suggest that the first three of these are extremely similar to things we have traditionally done in the past…taking notes.

However, the last three – and specifically the last one – require a greater intensity of mental effort.  Mental effort is not unlimited.  It is somewhat finite.  So if we are expending a percentage of our mental effort into conversation, we are taking our concentration and effort away from what the speaker is currently saying.

Expertise

I was teaching my daughter to drive with a standard transmission yesterday.  She is an experienced driver, but because managing the clutch, the gearshift, the gas, and the brake were quite new to her, she was quite overwhelmed.  However, her level of expertise in the other aspects of driving – traffic patterns, rules of the road, etc. – allowed her to more easily cope with the new demands

If you are merely note taking or posing questions, this does not necessarily draw upon a great amount of mental effort.  However, if you are engaged in making associations and documenting them, or involved in a discussion about issues in the backchannel, you are definitely expending a greater amount of your mental energies in those activities.

Factors Impacting Efficacy of Backchanneling

Having said that, there are other factors that are at play here.  It is not a simple equation. Consider the following factors of the presentation and its delivery:

  • level of expertise with the material/content (more expertise with the content may require a lower cognitive load and therefore free up some mental space to engage in other activities)
  • engaging characteristics of the speaker/speed of delivery
  • variety and quantity of modalities provided in the presentation
  • mood
  • learning style

In other words, a fast-paced presentation rich with multimedia on material that is new and complex will likely be demanding.  A droll, slow verbal delivery on well-understood material will require less of you.

Other Observations from an Old Guy

Novice Behaviour

In my years as an ICT-using educator, I’ve watched new technologies/software come along.  And I have studied novice behaviours with these.  You will all recognize the characteristics when people get their hands on a new piece of software. People typically use it in playful ways at first.  They use all the features. They use every font and every colour and every effect.  They use the tool for everything – even when it isn’t appropriate to do so.  I remember kids using Logo.  They always typed forward 1,000,000,000 to see what would happen!  Who remembers that?  After a while, and perhaps with experience, the tools become more effectively used.

I think, in some ways, we are seeing this with backchanneling.  I believe it will settle into an appropriate rhythm.

Effects on the Speaker

I will not dwell on this point, but I do wish to mention it.  Audience feedback – body language, eye contact, looks of engagement – have a cyclical impact on the ability of the speaker to do a great job.  It is important to respect the individual speaker’s comfort level and desire for backchanneling.

Some speakers engage a moderator to manage the backchannel – and define ways in which the audience could use it to, for example, bring questions or issues to the speaker.

Other Notes

David Jakes said to me in our brief conversation in advance of his presentation, “the extraneous discussions are really off putting for everyone”.  I agree.

Thoughts?

Other Resources

9 Tips for Enriching Your Presentations With Social Media

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