Jerome Bruner remarked that Vygotsky's conception of development is at the same time a theory of education (Bruner, 1987). It is also a dynamic theory of learning and teaching; the learning evolves through the teaching, and at the same time the teaching evolves through the learning. This paper presents a mediation model for dynamic literacy instruction which applies this idea to classroom research and makes it accessible and functional for teachers.
The model is based on two principles derived from Vygotsky's ideas. First, his idea that the primary function of language is social for communication (Vygotsky, 1981) leads to a view of literacy as a communication form using printed signs as the media for sharing meaning. Second, the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1962, 1978) leads to a view of school literacy instruction as sign-mediated activity nestled within socially mediated activity. The teacher mediates shared meaning between the reader and text author. She provides the learner support as they collectively build bridges of awareness, understandings, and competence through social interaction (Griffin & Cole, 1984; Wertsch, 1984).
In describing the zone, Vygotsky (1962) clarified the difference between student's actual and emerging levels of development using student engagement in problem solving mediated by an adult or capable peers. Investigation and application of the zone focuses on the question, how does the teacher mediate students' learning? Since Vygotsky used student problem solving to investigate development and learning, it seems logical and consistent with his work to use teacher problem solving to investigate instructional mediation.
The mediation model is a dynamic, general framework designed to guide teacher problem solving. It is not a guide for discriminate task analysis or prescribed list of next-steps. It is a dynamic working model because it both guides and evolves through the social interaction that occurs during the learning activity. During this process, the teacher creates and uses action relevant knowledge tailored to the learning context (Calderhead & Miller, 1985; Lampert & Clark, 1990). The model guides teachers' analyses and decisions on planning instruction and their actions during instruction. It can also be used to guide teachers' analyses and decisions on how to personalize new methods and materials and restructure their teaching through classroom research.
With this model, the teacher does not simply pass text meaning on to the student reader. Instead, she mediates student's learning through social interaction. Teacher mediation is more than modeling or demonstrating how to do something. While the teacher is interacting with the student, she continuously analyzes how the students think and what strategies they use to solve problems and construct meaning. From this analysis, the teacher decides how much and what type of support to provide.
The goal of instructional mediation is to help the learner develop her own self-directed mediating system (i.e., learner self-knowledge), to become an independent, self-directed reader. The teacher decision- making process proceeds through three components of the model: a) the purpose, b) the strategies, and c) reflection.
The purpose depends on an analysis of characteristics that both the text and the reader bring to the reading activity. Text characteristics could include length, structure, syntax, topic, related concepts or vocabulary. Reader characteristics could include the reader's knowledge about the text structure, topic, related concepts and vocabulary, and word recognition or print decoding skills. The teacher analyzes the reader and text characteristics to decide what the reader needs to do to comprehend the text.
The text-reader analysis leads to selection of the strategy. Since there are a large variety of reading strategies available, classifying them into the three areas enables the teacher to match her strategy to her purpose: (a) comprehension strategies include prediction, sorting information, making inferences, etc., (b) word identification strategies deal with context or print decoding, and (c) text structure strategies include identifying story elements, main points, supporting information, etc. Once the strategy is selected, the teacher guides the student in applying the strategy and adjusts her support when needed.
Reflection focuses on analyzing whether the student comprehended the text and building the learner's self-knowledge through discussion. The discussion must include both the meaning derived by the student and how the student figured out this meaning. Having the student verbally reflect on how she used the strategies and figured out the meaning helps to build her conscious awareness and deliberate control of her own thinking. It also helps the teacher determine if there is a match between the purpose, strategy, and the meaning derived by the student. If not, the teacher then reanalyzes the student and text characteristics and adjusts to a new purpose, new strategy, or both.
This example shows how the teacher uses the model to guide her "on-the-spot" decisions during a 60 second segment of student-teacher social interaction. It also demonstrates how the model provides flexibility in teacher decision-making within the context of her ongoing classroom reading program. In this example, the teacher decides to focus on the literary text structure elements she has been working on with her class. The student is reading the following passage to the teacher:
Ben opened the door and called his dogs into the house. The brown dog ran into the house and the black dog ran down the street. The student miscues the word black and reads, "the brown dog ran into the house and the brown dog ran down the street."
The child's miscue, "brown dog" instead of "black dog," occurs at the initiating event, and the following episodes in the story deal with mischief the black dog gets into because he ran away. The child needs to know that the black dog ran down the street in order to connect the initiating event to the upcoming story episodes (purpose). Focusing on text structure, the teacher points to the word and reads, "the black dog" to the student.
She then asks the student to predict what might happen to the black dog who ran down the street (strategy). If the child responds with, "I don't know," or her predictions deviate from the story line, the teacher decides to adjust to a more explicit directive (reflection) to keep the student focused on connecting the initiating event to the upcoming story episodes (new purpose). The teacher then explains to the student that the dog might get into some trouble for running away, and asks the student to read the story to find out what happens to the black dog who ran away (new strategy). After the student reads the rest of the story, the teacher initiates discussion and analyzes (new reflection) whether the student needs more directed reading lessons that focus on story structure (new purpose), and the cycle continues.
Vygotsky viewed the classroom as the laboratory for studying student learning and development (Moll, 1990). It can also be the laboratory for studying how teachers learn by exploring instructional change through the convergence of research and practice (Dixon-Krauss, 1992).
The mediation model can be adjusted to guide teacher problem solving in a classroom action research design. The action research design is also dynamic and evolving within the context of the instruction. The design is explained here within the context of a report of an action research study conducted in a multi- age classroom of first and second graders ranging from 6 to 8-years-old.
The action research emphasized collaboration between the classroom teacher and the university teacher educator in each of the three steps of the design: a) identify the problem, b) implement instruction, and c) Evaluate. The goal of the research was personalized instructional change for the teacher and investigation of learning principles for the teacher educator.
The design began with identification of the problem through classroom observations and reading in professional literature. The teacher identified using invented spelling in students' writing and more individual student reading of trade books. The teacher educator investigated how these young children benefited from peer collaboration, how much teacher support was needed, and how well they could monitor or detect their own learning.
A partner reading and dialogue journal writing activity was implemented. The learning activity included student selection of a trade book, 3 days of practice reading, reading to the partner, partner story discussion, and partner dialogue journal writing. Data sources were an attitude survey, observational notes during partner reading and discussion, recorded words miscued, and student journal entries.
Evaluation after three weeks showed only 5 story discussions and 4 journal entries out of 48 possible partner sessions focused on sharing the story meaning. A new problem, the need for more teacher support, was identified. A mini-lesson was implemented through a teacher storybook read aloud session with her class. She selected her favorite part of the story and asked students to share their favorite parts in a class discussion.
Evaluation after three more weeks of the partner activity showed written discussions of story meanings in all student journal entries. Observational notes showed students used several strategies to assist their partners in sharing the stories' meanings. They stopped during text reading to point out important words or events illustrated in the pictures, and they asked their partners questions and discussed the stories. These students at the early stages of literacy development needed direct teacher support to guide their peer collaboration. Attitude surveys showed students were able to detect word recognition as the area in which most learning occurred and fluency as the least, but they did not detect their improvement in the area of writing. These findings were verified by the observational notes and students' journal entries.
The mediation model of literacy instruction reflects Vygotsky's ideas about instruction within the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1962; 1978). It guides the teacher in making instructional decisions by analyzing the student, the text, and the type and amount of mediation she needs to provide. The model provides for a continuous process of literacy development because each episode of social interaction (i.e., purpose, strategy, reflection) leads to a new episode and the creation of new zones of proximal development. Adjusting and using the mediation model as a design for classroom action research provides for a continuous process of teacher development, because it guides teachers in exploring new methods and restructuring their classroom literacy instruction.
Lisbeth Dixon-Krauss has published a book that focuses on similar ideas as this article. The book can be ordered from Amazon Com. by clicking on blue text below.
Vygotsky in the Classroom : Mediated Literacy Instruction and Assessment
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