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differential treatment of ethnic minority students, cultural differences in the motivation to achieve, children's social and group relationships, and parental involvement in children's school learning

The Social Nature of Knowledge Acquisition

Were we to focus only on issues examined in the previous chapter, such as the nature of understanding across subject matter, the various forms of knowledge learners possess, and the way prior knowledge influences the acquisition of new knowledge, we would be ignoring a vital aspect of school learning: the fact that most learning occurs in a social context in which individual actions and understandings are negotiated by the members of a group. There are two theoretical perspectives on the locus of this negotiation. The individual perspective is based on the idea of constructivism—that individuals actively construct meanings from interaction with the world around them, an idea traced back to Piaget's (1970) theories of cognitive development (see Chapter 3). In contrast, the social perspective is based on sociocultural theories of learning that emphasize the role of social interaction with more knowledgeable others (Vygotsky, 1978) and activity-oriented work in a social setting (Leont'ev, 1981). While there has been a tradition of debate over the relative accuracy of these perspectives in depicting learning processes, recent work suggests it may be more profitable to determine when and how the two perspectives might work together to describe student learning (Bereiter, 1994; Cobb, 1994).

We focus here not on this debate, but on the context of negotiation as related to the social nature of learning. We propose that in a classroom learning situation, negotiation occurs within at least two domains: the rules for how to talk in the classroom and the construction of actual content knowledge through talk. It is from the interpretation of these negotiations that students construct their own knowledge and understanding. However, it is typically the teacher who, either implicitly or explicitly, initiates negotiation across these dimensions.

Negotiating How to Talk

The process of negotiating the way classroom participants will talk about subject matter is of concern for researchers from a sociocultural perspective because participation in situated cultures of practice is assumed to be an important influence on an individual's academic performance. Thus, students who understand that a teacher's question about a text requests an explanation for their interpretation rather than the literal interpretation itself will participate more effectively in that classroom's practice. Research on learning outside the classroom has demonstrated the extent to which context influences the nature of such learning for any given individual (Brown et al., 1989; Carraher et al., 1985; Lave et al., 1984; Resnick, 1987; Scribner, 1984). Classroom participants similarly



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