ABS355 - From semiotic system to situated classroom interaction: teaching the logic of French grammar in Parisian secondary schools

2.4 Cross-national explorations of sociocultural research on learning
20 minutes
This paper proposes a cultural-historical analysis of lessons in the French language which center on the grammatical and logical relationships of sentence structures grounded in literary texts, as is usual in traditional in French pedagogy. It draws on parallel examples of classes taught by three secondary teachers of a lower ZEP college in Paris, in which texts and exercises were being analyzed in terms of the functions and implications of complementary clauses, particularly those denoting cause and consequence relations. The data includes audio-recordings and written and photographic documentation of classroom exercises and is part of a long-term ethnographic study in elementary and secondary schooling in the French-Afro neighborhood. In the verbal exchange surrounding these exercises and examples, the link between language structure and logical thinking, a hallmark of mainstream teaching of the French language, is foregrounded. In Vygotskian terms, this allows a discussion of the strong association between “signs” and “tools” in the development of higher mental functions. However, our focus is not on the cognitive dimensions of this assumed association, but rather on its cultural-historical and pedagogical implications. Conceptually, this analysis draws on work done within the network of scholars who meet in the periodic “Séminaire pluridisciplinaire international Vygotski”, and have developed specific theoretical tools centered on the study of language and verbal interaction as semiotic systems in use. This perspective helps build bridges between the apparently autonomous semiotic systems and the extremely situated and often plural uses of historically constructed and appropriated sign systems.
Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional
Université Paris Est Créteil (UPEC)

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