Wednesday, June 03, 2009

learning for life in the 21st century: book review

Long weekend well occupied with the National Scrabble Tournament, held this year in Christchurch. However, took time out on Monday to read the book “Learning for life in the 21st century: Sociocultural perspectives on the future of education” a book edited by Gordon Wells & Guy Claxton (also author of book ‘what’s the point of school’)

This is a good book providing good information on applying sociocultural perspectives to teaching & its impact on learning. The most significant factor in learning are the cultural settings in which learning takes place, the learning activities employed to engage learners in participative learning and how each informs the other. It’s very readable book, explaining sociocultural perspectives without resorting to high academese. The bibliography is an excellent resource on sociocultural learning theories which provides me with an additional source of exploration and more reading.

Chapter 2 by Guy Claxton provides a good introduction to sociocultural perspectives and their relevance to learning. Chapter 4 – the gift of confidence : A Vygotskian view of emotions by Holbrook Mahn & Vera John-Steiner reiterates the importance of affect in thinking & action. Effective lifelong learning emanates from growing confidence & the chapter introduces & explores ways in which support from colleagues, mentors, teachers etc. can enables people to be willing to take risks and try out new ideas. Chapter 6, sociocultural perspectives of assessment by Caroline Gipps argues for recognition of the social process in assessment. Assessments need to be more dynamic in order to catch some essence of the ‘learner in action’ instead of just measuring how much knowledge has been transmitted / absorbed.

Chapters 8 through to fourteen have very pertinent articles on school age learning & development, all of which reinforce the influence of social relationships, culture and environment as important contributors to learning.

This is followed by a series of chapters of relevance to all educational sectors with an emphasis on the use of cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) in research. For example, chapter 16 by Yrjo Engestrom, Ritva Engestrom & Arja Suntio provides a good example of the use of activity theory in researching education (in this case teacher development within a school community). Another example in chapter 17 by Katherine Brown and Michael Cole is also available as a paper about after school learning.
Chapter 19 by Andy Northedge (also author of The Good study guide) is especially relevant to my current teaching. This chapter is titled ‘organising excursions into specialist discourse communities: a sociocultural account of university teaching. It provides good guidelines on how to gradually bring students into academic reading via ‘constructing pathways into specialist discourse’. These pathways include the teacher ‘stepping outside’ the discourse & to engage students using discourses that are familiar to them, to plan the route of entry & engagement with the discourse using ‘a flow of meaning structured as a plot’ and to coach the students in ‘speaking with the locals’. Much of this I practice via cognitive apprenticeships but using the ‘plot’ scenario provides me with a better base from which to introduce students new to the field of adult learning to the literature of educational research.