Early childhood teachers’ concept mediation during storybook reading and extra-textual talk with young children

1.1 Social, cultural, linguistic and educational mediation
Paper in a Symposium (Symp)
2:10 PM, Tuesday 29 Aug 2017 (40 minutes)
The dialectic relationship between language and thinking was illustrated by Vygotsky. He outlined childhood processes of how language mediates learning. Children first verbalise and negotiate ideas using egocentric dialogue as a means of internally collaborating with their own thinking. Children then employ socialised dialogue with others to verbally negotiate ideas and meaning. Finally, children utilise an inner dialogue signifying internalisation of knowledge and conceptual understanding. Vygotsky argued that “Language arises initially as a means of communication between the child and the people in his environment. Only subsequently, upon conversion to internal speech, does it come to organise the child’s thought, that is, become an internal mental function” (1987, p.89). Thus, all higher mental functioning occurs within some dialogic encounter with self and other and passes through these planes of cognitive development as language acquisition and use transform how children think. This paper explores these mediated processes of language and thinking towards higher mental functioning. It seeks to understand mediating interactions during adult-child conversations about shared experiences leading to conceptual talk where children verbalise their thinking with an adult who mediates the conversation in ways that shift a child’s thinking beyond current understandings. Vygotsky believed "the central fact about our psychology is the fact of mediation’’ (1997, p. 138) through culturally derived sign systems as semiotic tools that collectively mediate cognitive development within intersubjective “interpsychological” interactions. To investigate these processes the data is analysed using two Vygotskian lenses of cognitive psychology – the relation between thought and language (1987), and the processes of children’s thinking shifting from concrete to more abstract conceptualisations – everyday and scientific concept formation (1987). Sociocultural views of learning inform Te Whāriki, Aotearoa New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum framework (MOE, 1996), which sees thinking and knowledge creation as mediated, shared encounters, practised within the socialised ways of a community through the collective cultural tools of language, artefacts, relationships and settings. In this sense, dialogue and mediation work together as profound social processes that might foster progression in children’s thinking (Vygotsky, 1987). Close examination of teacher-child conversations and teachers’ mediation of conceptual talk is timely in light of the accumulating empirical evidence in Aotearoa New Zealand research-to-date revealing that there are few language-rich interactions between teachers and children where children have opportunities to verbalise and negotiate their thinking with adults. This is the case despite explicit statements in the curriculum goals for frequent opportunities for children to engage in conversations with their teachers, (e.g., Meade, et al., 2012). These findings are consistent with international research, and indicative of gaps in teachers’ pedagogical knowledge and practice to realise opportunities for extending young children’s language and thinking during conversations (e.g., Sylva, Melhuish, Sammons, Siraj-Blatchford & Taggart, 2010). The wider study this paper draws from is located in Aotearoa New Zealand. It used a qualitative case study methodology and methods including observation and video recording of various teacher-child shared storybook interactions. Video-stimulated recall was used during one to one interviews with teachers. This paper presents some preliminary findings in relation to Vygotsky’s aforementioned theories and relevant contemporary literature. It argues that Vygotsky’s claims have resonance and value with 3-5-year-olds’ concept development during storybook conversations with their teachers. These findings highlight the mediating role of teachers and language in framing concepts for conscious consideration to enable shifts in thinking. New insights into Aotearoa New Zealand’s early childhood pedagogical research base in the specific area of shared storybook reading and extra-textual talk to support concept mediation are presented.
University of Auckland

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