Schooling as Cultural Process: Children Working Together and Providing Guidance on a Task in Schools Differing in Collaborative Practices

Eugene Matusov, University of Delaware
Nancy Bell, Microsoft Inc.
Barbara Rogoff, University of California at Santa Cruz

This website is built to share findings of our study and invite you to be our co-researcher... By watching the video clips of the children working together and guiding each other, you can also learn how to become a keen observer of educational practices. Welcome to the study!

Do children learn only subject matter or also a certain culture in school? Can children from traditional and collaborative schools be recognized through observing how they work together and provide guidance to each other?

In this research, we examined the role of the ubiquitous cultural institution of formal schooling in children’s forms of collaboration and assistance with each other.  We argue that this institution--in which US children spend years of their childhood--fosters particular approaches to working together and guidance, in accordance with the everyday structures of interaction in the classroom.  To examine this idea, we observed the interactions of pairs of children from two public US elementary schools, one with a philosophy and daily practices emphasizing collaboration throughout the school day and one with a more traditional format involving only occasional opportunities for children to collaborate.  We observed how third and fourth grade dyads coordinated their work on several problems and how the fourth grade partners provided guidance to the third graders.

Below are video illustrations of some of our findings. To read the full report of the study, click on the underlined hyperlink in the reference below:

Matusov, E., Bell, N., & Rogoff, B. (in press). Schooling as cultural process: Shared thinking and guidance by children from schools differing in collaborative practices. In R. Kail & H. Reese (Eds.), Advances in Child Development and Behavior, Vol. 29, pp. 129-160. New York: Academic Press.

On this website, you can watch two videos of two dyads (out of a total of 24 dyads participating in the study) from the two different schools working on putting cards with household items together (see an up-close photograph sample of the cards). You can compare how the children work together and provide guidance to each other. Below we share our observations on the videos. We encourage you to add yours in the interactive form at the end of this page.

Video clips: Card sorting puzzle

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Traditional school


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Collaborative school


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Note: The fourth grader in both clips is located on the right, next to the adult.  The third grader is on the left.  The faces of the children are obscured to prevent the children's identification.

Our Observations

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Observation

Evidence, example

Interpretation

1 The session of the collaborative school dyad is longer than the session of the traditional dyad. The collaborative dyad session lasted 549 sec.

The traditional dyad session lasted 133 sec.

Why? It appears that the traditional school dyad was faster and more effective. However, the collaborative school dyad redefined the task several times.

Which dyad was more advanced? In our view, it depends on values. When time of doing a task is the main factor, the traditional school dyad was more advanced. When the task exploration is important, the collaborative school dyad was more advanced

2 The traditional school 4th grader accepted the task without any negotiation with the adult.
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Accepting any task from the teacher without a negotiation fits a traditional school guidance format.
3 The collaborative school 4th grader tried to clarify and negotiate the task with the adult. 4th grader: Okay, now, um…, we’re… let’s put some cards together that go together… so… um… so what if… I have a question.  Would it be like these two… because they’re scissors?
Adult: Uh huh. Sure! Why not?! Sure.
4th gr.: Could we… do like these… because they’re ‘cleaning’ or something?
Adult: Do what you think best, okay?
4th gr.: Okay. And does it have to be more than two cards put together?
Adult: Why not?!
4th gr.: Okay. So, we can put them in two or three categories. …?
Adult: Uh huh, uh huh.
4th gr.: Okay.

Clip
Negotiating an offered task with the adult was very common in the collaborative school, according to our observations.
4 The collaborative school 4th grader explicitly introduced the notion of "category" as a consistent principle for sorting.

4th gr.: So, we can put them in two or three categories. …?
Adult: Uh huh, uh huh.
4th gr.: Okay. So… like we’d have… scissors, scissors and, maybe, razor, because it can [be called?] ‘sharp’ or something and, maybe, knife. Okay. […inaudible] This is the ‘sharp category’.

Clip

The collaborative school 4th grader demonstrated meta-cognitive skills probably stemming from her interactions and negotiations with adults that are common between the children and adults in the collaborative school.
5 The collaborative school 4th grader redefined the assigned task (figuring out which category to use for sorting) many times. The task was redefined six times: by function, by material, by color, by shape, by having wires, by having handles. The collaborative dyad explored the task and introduced new problems not assigned by the adult such as.  They explored how else it was possible to sort the cards.  The children also discovered how difficult it was to use a specific sorting category. Thus, the collaborative dyad took ownership for defining the assigned task, as it often occurred in the collaborative school.
6 The traditional school 4th grader used only one tacitly defined principle for sorting. This principle was organized around the notion of familiar household activities. 4th gr.: What do you use… to go with… this? {toaster card}
3rd gr.: Hum…
4th gr.: What do you eat out of this?
3rd gr.: Toasts.
4th gr.:  And what do you eat with [this dish?]? What do you drink with […inaudible]?
3rd gr.: Oh, yeah! {takes cup card}
4th gr.: Okay.

Clip
The traditional school dyad accomplished the task within the boundaries defined by the adult. Thus, the ownership for defining the task belonged to the adult.
7 The traditional school 4th grade interpreted the activity as providing a series of tasks for the 3rd grader. 4th gr.: What do you use to do this?


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The traditional school dyad worked mainly through a division of labor: the 4th grader generated tasks, while 3rd grader solved them. Division of labor is the main organizational form of classroom activities in a traditional school.
8 When a problem emerged, the traditional school 4th grader first  tried to solve the problem by herself and only then to offer the solution to the third grader.

4th gr.:  And then… let's see... What goes with this? {hairdryer card}
3rd gr.: Um…This! {points to razor card} [These are the same things,] okay?
4th gr.: Okay.
...
{4th grader notices a problem in their solution: mismatching the hairdryer and the razor because they are linked by a common place of use -- bathroom -- and not by a daily activity; and tries to solve the problem by herself by searching for a more appropriate item}
4th gr.: I think it’s this one {towel} because you use bath towel when you use a hairdryer.
3rd gr.: Uh huh!


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According to the guidance dominant in a traditional school, the teacher has to know how to solve the problem by him/herself before teaching it to the students. In this case, the process of problem solving is closed to a learner.
9 The collaborative school 4th grader interpreted the activity as a task for the dyad that they had to solve collaboratively by building on each other's ideas, asking for feedback, discussing the ideas. 4th grader: Okay, now, um…, we’re let’s put some cards together that go together...


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The collaborative school dyad worked through mainly through collaboration. Collaboration was one of the main organizational forms of how classroom activities were organized in the collaborative school.
10 When a problem emerged, the collaborative school 4th grader shared the problem with the 3rd grader for collaborative decision making. The collaborative school 3rd grader contributed to the solution of the emerging problems.

3rd gr.: Now?
4th gr.: We can do it by
‘colors’.
Raising an issue 3rd gr.: Okay. Yellow... Look, these are all different colors!
Proposing a solution 4th gr.: We will take a color that has more of it.
Proposing another solution 3rd gr.: Well. […inaudible] These are all different colors, I guess.
4th gr.: Uh huh.


Clip

In the collaborative school, knowledge was not necessarily prerequisite for guidance. A more knowledgeable person (an adult or a child) could guide another person while they tried to solve a problem together. The guidance was embedded in collaborative problem solving. In this case, the process of problem solving was open to the learner.
11 Unlike the traditional school 3rd grader, the collaborative school 3rd grader raised issues during the activity.

3rd gr.: Now?...
4th gr.: We can do it by ‘colors’.
3rd gr.: Okay. Yellow... Look, these are all different colors!
4th gr.: We will take a color that has more of it.
3rd gr.: Well. […inaudible] These are all different colors, I guess.
4th gr.: Uh huh.

Clip

In the collaborative school, guidance had a collaborative character with a learner taking responsibility for raising issues.
12 The traditional school 4th grader organized her guidance in a series of quizzing (asking a known answer questions) shaped by triadic interaction (Mehan, 1979): quizzing question-response-evaluation.

Quizzing question 4th gr.: What do you use to do this? {wooden spoon card}
Response 3rd gr.: This! {bowl card} Because …of stirring.
Evaluation 4th gr.: Okay..

Clip

The quizzing type of guidance based on triadic dialogue is one of the most common forms of guidance in the traditional school (Lemke, 1990; Mehan, 1979; Wells, 1992).
13 When the traditional school third grader had a problem answering the 4th grader's question, the 4th grader developed a scaffolding chain of guiding-quizzing questions. Scaffolding involves a simplification of the task (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976) and is a deviation from the triadic quizzing dialogue (Lemke, 1990).

Quizzing question 4th gr.: What do you use… to go with… this? {toaster card}
Indicator of being stuck 3rd gr.: Hum…
Scaffolding question 1 simplifying the task 4th gr.: What do you eat out of this?
Response 3rd gr.: Toasts.
Scaffolding question 2 simplifying the task 4th gr.:  And what do you eat with [this dish?]? What do you drink with […inaudible]?
Response 3rd gr.: Oh, yeah! {cup card}
Evaluation 4th gr.: Okay.

Clip

Scaffolding is another main form of guidance in a traditional school (de Haan, 1999)
14 The collaborative school 4th grader provided guidance by explication, verbalization, justification, and offering meta-cognition of the dyad's collaborative problem solving while working together.

Example1
4th gr.:
Okay, what’s this? I think this is ‘metal.’
3rd gr.: It’s ‘plastic.’
Justification 4th gr.: ‘Plastic’? No! It’s... Well, it’s a hairdryer and it probably would melt if it were plastic.
3rd gr.: Uh huh.

Clip


Example2
4th gr.: Now… Now what do you want to do?
3rd gr.: I don’t know.
Defining a new category for sorting 4th gr.: Hum… Which ones have wires?
3rd gr.: Okay.

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The collaborative guidance was embedded in collaboration which was a common form of guidance in a collaborative school.
15 The collaborative school 4th grader asked the 3rd grader only information seeking questions. When asked a question the collaborative school 4th grader honestly sought information or feedback from the 3rd grader (in contrast with the traditional school 4th grader).

Information seeking questions 4th gr.: […] and that. Where would this go? … Maybe we should do [inaudible] ones?
Providing feedback 3rd gr.: Maybe.

Clip

Information seeking questions invite and support collaboration.

Have you noticed something in the clips we did not notice? Do you want to make comments on our observations? Please add your own observations or comments below.  Thanks.

Your name:

Institutional affiliation (optional):

Observation

Evidence, example

Interpretation

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Please provide starting and ending footage (in the 00:00:00:00 format)

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end:

Comments (to separate lines put two Enter)

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 General Comment (to separate lines put two Enter):


Name: John St. Julien
Affiliation: University of Delaware
start: 00:00:00:00
end: 00:00:00:00
Date: Tuesday, 01 January 2002
Time: 04:41:49 PM -0800

Observation

Interesting use of the concepts of metacognition--usually not associated with socio-cultural approaches and the idea of linking scaffolding, usually associated with Vygotsky out of Bruner, to the traditional side.

Evidence

These are comments regarding your observations 4 and 14 about meta-cognition and 13 about scaffolding.

Interpretation

Comment

One of my first thoughts, without having read the article is to wonder how you deal with the class/cultural differences between the two schools in terms of collaborative patterns. I suspect that this is the sort of thing that one can only point to and note, not the sort of thing that one can control. But that historical difference should be highlighted for the reader. ..........Ok, I just read the part of the article that compares the two schools--and it makes a lot of sense. I would say that were I you I would prepare myself to answer the critique that while typical "social" variables are held relatively steady the root difference that _choice_ introduces in picking out subcultural groups with differing values is _not_ clearly dealt with (at least in the segment I looked at (methods, pp 9-13). Folks who start and sustain a school centered on emphasizing collaborative work are likely to systematically favor it outside of school as well.......I scanned through the rest of the paper and particularly the conclusions and liked it very much. The clear link between practices in differing settings is just great. I know how hard it would be to do but I am fascinated by the idea of tracing the historical dynamics between settings. Between families predisposed to a style of interaction who send their kids to a school, who then get additional practices from school....and so on. Neat stuff.


Name: Eugene Matusov
Affiliation: University of Delaware
start: 00:00:00:00
end: 00:00:00:00
Interpretation:
Date: Tuesday, 01 January 2002
Time: 04:51:32 PM -0800

Observation

Evidence

Comment

John wrote, "I would say that were I you I would prepare myself to answer the critique that while typical "social" variables are held relatively steady the root difference that _choice_ introduces in picking out subcultural groups with differing values is _not_ clearly dealt with (at least in the segment I looked at (methods, pp 9-13). Folks who start and sustain a school centered on emphasizing collaborative work are likely to systematically favor it outside of school as well......."

Interesting point but it was not the case as we checked it in our next study. We found that the majority of the parents from the collaborative school in their first two years of working with kids in the classrooms as parent volunteers being adult-run and only than gradually learning a collaborative approach to guidance. So it is probably true that many of they ideologically lean to a collaborative approach but it is not true that they know how to practice it with children. It is also probably true that once they learn how to do a collaborative approach with children in school they may be more collaborative in their parenting as they reported (we published a study of surveys).

For info read our papers:

Rogoff, B., Matusov, E., & White, C. (1996).  Models of learning in a community of learners. In D. R. Olson & N. Torrance (Eds.), Handbook of education and human development: New models of learning, teaching, and schooling.  London: Basil Blackwell.

Matusov, E., & Rogoff, B. (in press). Newcomers and oldtimers: Educational philosophy-in-actions of parent volunteers in a community of learners school. Anthropology and Education Quarterly.

John also wrote, "Interesting use of the concepts of metacognition--usually not associated with socio-cultural approaches and the idea of linking scaffolding, usually associated with Vygotsky out of Bruner, to the traditional side."

Good observations. I really more and more believe (together with work of my friend from Netherlands Mariétte de Haan who did her research in Mexico) that scaffolding is a marker of traditional schooling.

Haan, de Mariétte. Learning as Cultural Practice: How Children Learn in a Mexican Mazahua Community. Amsterdam: Thela Thesis, 1999. (Click here to read a fragment from the book).


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