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Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Eduacational Assessment
experts involved in the study. Cognition was again mediated by culturally specific practice.
Studies such as these suggest that much knowledge is embedded within systems of representation, discourse, and physical activity. Moreover, communities of practices are sites for developing identity—one is what one practices, to some extent. This view of knowledge can be compared with that which underlies standard test-taking practice, whereby knowledge is regarded as disembodied and incorporeal. Testing for individual knowledge captures only a small portion of the skills actually used in many learning communities.
School is just one of the many contexts that can support learning. A number of studies have analyzed the use of mathematical reasoning skills in workplace and other everyday contexts (Lave, 1988; Ochs, Jacoby, and Gonzalez, 1994). One such study found that workers who packed crates in a warehouse applied sophisticated mathematical reasoning in their heads to make the most efficient use of storage space, even though they might not have been able to solve the same problem expressed as a standard numerical equation. The rewards and meaning people derive from becoming deeply involved in a community can provide a strong motive to learn.
Hull, Jury, Ziv, and Schultz (1994) studied literacy practices in an electronics assembly plant where work teams were responsible for evaluating and representing their own performance. Although team members had varying fluency in English, the researchers observed that all members actively participated in the evaluation and representation processes, and used texts and graphs to assess and represent their accomplishments. This situation suggests that reading, writing, quantitative reasoning, and other cognitive abilities are strongly integrated in most environments, rather than being separated into discrete aspects of knowledge. Tests that provide separate scores may therefore be inadequate for capturing some kinds of integrated abilities that people need and use on the job.
Studies of the social context of learning show that in a responsive social setting, learners can adopt the criteria for competence they see in others and then use this information to judge and perfect the adequacy of their own performance. Shared performance promotes a sense of goal orientation as learning becomes attuned to the constraints and resources of the environment. In the context of school, students also develop facility in giving and accepting help (and stimulation) from others. Social contexts for learning make the thinking of the learner apparent to teachers and other students so it can be examined, questioned, and built upon as part of constructive learning.