Refining and enriching children’s working theories: A trialogical approach

1.1 Social, cultural, linguistic and educational mediation
Paper in a Symposium (Symp)
1:30 PM, Tuesday 29 Aug 2017 (40 minutes)
The first paper explores children’s working theories, a holistic learning outcome from Te Whāriki. Working theories combine knowledge, skills, attitudes, expectations and strategies and can be thought of as children’s early conceptualising of the workings of their world. This paper presents working theories from a unique perspective, that of being three-fold: outcome, process, and interpretive framework leading to further learning. Using this perspective, I argue that working theories align with the theoretical concept of trialogy, where learning is the creation of new knowledge formed by focusing “on collaborative development of mediating objects or artefacts rather than monologues within mind or dialogues between minds.” (Hakkarainen & Paavola, 2009, p. 67). This paper focuses on one metaphor of learning that has been positioned within trialogy: knowledge building (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003), foregrounding conceptual entities, ideas and theories that are both valued by, and are valuable for a community. Knowledge building occurs collaboratively to create, develop, understand and criticise conceptual artefacts. I argue that working theories can be considered as conceptual and knowledge artefacts and therefore as mediators of learning. Knowledge artefacts include a three-fold view of concepts: as a tool, as a process, and as an object or entity (Paavola, Engeström & Hakkarainen, 2012). Similarly, I argue that a cultural-historical perspective affords positioning of working theories as knowledge artefacts: process, outcome and interpretive framework of further information and experiences. Therefore, working theories can be viewed as mediational tools in the mind of both individuals and collaboratively in groups within early childhood communities. I will present preliminary findings from a qualitative case study investigating early childhood teachers’ strategies that might enrich and refine children’s working theories about STEM subjects. The study is in-process in two early childhood centres in Aotearoa, New Zealand, using observation and video-recording of teacher interactions with individual children and with groups of children. The findings will be framed through two models being developed in this project. First, building on Wells’ (1999) spiral of knowledge, a model of children’s working theories as a ‘spiral of working theories’ incorporating the aspects of ongoing refinement and enrichment, and viewing working theories as process, outcome and interpretive framework. Second, building on the theoretical concept of co-construction (Valsiner, 1994) and further, Siraj-Blatchford’s (2006) notion of sustained shared thinking, I present a model of teaching interactions as a ‘shared learning commitment’ which I have coined to represent knowledge building occurring through deliberate choices by teachers (or peers) to engage with children to co-construct enriched working theories together. Both models incorporate mediating aspects such as new information, new experiences and collaborative knowledge building. These models might provide insight both into teacher’s strategies that foster and enrich working theories and furthermore, a model for teachers to consider in their own practice. 
University of Auckland

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