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On the phenomenology of setting and solving the educational task in developmental learning: an attempt to integrate the ideas of V.V. Davydov and J. Dewey
Keywords: developmental learning, mental action, theoretical thinking, learning activity, learning task
Column: Discussions And Discourses
A Part of Article
This article is an attempt to integrate the ideas of V. Davydov and J. Dewey as applied to the analysis of child capacity to set and solve learning tasks. These scientists expressed very similar ideas concerning the role of theoretical knowledge in education and development of a younger generation, their views on integrity of essence and methods of teaching as well as a distant effect of knowledge as an ability to apply it in unpredictable situations were also very much alike. They both tried to overstep the limits of traditional formal approach to the system of education in general. They believed that it was impossible to convey knowledge from teacher to a pupil in its finite form; it was necessary to acquire it in the process of thinking.
The learning task is the one that makes a pupil look for a method of solving of all the tasks of this type. In his book “Typy obobshcheniya v obuchenii” (Types of generalization in learning) (1972) V. Davydov gives the following definition of the learning task; “The learning task suggested to schoolchildren expect from them the following things: 1) analysis of the facts leading to disclosure of their generalized relations to different forms of there appearances, i.e. formation of essential abstractions and essential conclusions; 2) their synthesis into a certain integral object which becomes a sort of a “cell”, an image of a real object; 3) a mastery of the general way of constructing the object under study in the course of this analytic-synthetic process. In solving the learning task schoolchildren discover the nature of the “cell” of an object under study and with an aid of this “cell” they can reconstruct the object in their mind. Thus in solving the learning task schoolchildren realize a sort of micro cycle of ascending from the abstract to the concrete path of theoretical knowledge assimilation (p. 151—152).
The learning task is a key point in D. El’konin and V. Davydov’s theoretical approach to the learning activity. They regard it as pupil’s solving of a system of learning tasks that are arranged so that to provide the assumption of theoretical knowledge in the direction from abstract notions to concrete ones. It takes place at the level of a school lesson as a micro cycle. It is necessary to mention that a learning task is a result of a logic analysis of the content of learning. It can be taken as relatively independent from the variety of learning conditions. The essence and the sequence of learning tasks in studying each subject are arranged in accordance with the elaborated in the society attitude to the substance of these subjects.
At the same time V. Davydov mentioned that psychologists and tutors often suggest quasi learning tasks to school children. School-teachers do not understand clearly both the essence of a learning task and its place in a learning process. The culture of setting of a learning task is not formed.
In the judgments of the author of the article this problem roots in scanty knowledge of phenomenology typical for the process of theoretical knowledge assimilation. He states that within the concept of developmental teaching the logic-psychological analysis of solving the learning task is massed in its second part. It starts with the pupil’s disclosure of “some general relations connected with different displays of the object under study”, i.e. when he sees in a learning task something common to other tasks of this type. This was the first definition of a learning action aimed at solving the learning task, namely: “transformation of problem situation with a purpose of disclosure of general relation of an object under study”. Then other learning actions follow: “modeling of the disclosed relation in an object, graphic or literal form; transformation of a relation model to study the quality of relation just as it is; framing of the system of partial tasks that can be solved in a similar way; control of the previous actions and estimation of the level of assimilation of the general relation as a final stage of solving a learning task”. (V. Davydov, Problemy razvivayushchego obucheniya, (Problems of developmental learning) M., 1986, c. 154).
The cultural analogue of this sequence of actions was borrowed from the structure of a scientific research activity, namely the way scientists present the results of their studies.
These subjects are social in a double sense. They represent the tools which society has evolved in the past as the instruments of its intellectual pursuits. They represent the keys which will unlock to the child the wealth of social capital which lies beyond the possible range of his limited individual experience. While these two points of view must always give these arts a highly important place in education, they also make it necessary that certain conditions should be observed in their introduction and use. In a wholesale and direct application of the studies no account is taken of these conditions. The chief problem at present relating to the three R’s is recognition of these conditions and the adaptation of work to them.
In contrast Dewey gave a detailed description of phenomenology of a thinking act up to the moment of obtaining the first result of thinking. We recommend paying attention to three main aspects in Dewey’s approach: 1) availability of ideas in child consciousness which make him able to hypothesize about the way of solving the task settled; 2) pupils readiness to take a risk of solving the task by means of actualizing the means of solving s/he possesses; 3) pupils bias attitude to the result of his/her mental act (John Dewey, Democracy and education).
As well as V. Davydov J. Dewey exemplified the cultural pattern with the help of research activity of scientists having focused on its experimental part. He found similarity between thinking of scientists and theoretical thinking of people occupied in other intellectual spheres of activity. In a learning process this type of activity displays itself as a mental experiment related to a concrete object.
It is from this standpoint that the author of the article tries to analyze the situation of teacher’s problem setting and pupil’s attempts to solve it. Three distinguishing features of a learning task as an object are presented by the author below.
First, the learning task cannot be solved practically or on the basis of already known means of solving the tasks like that. Second, the pupils should posses the necessary prerequisites for its theoretical solution being guided by previous experience of comprehending the real objects. Third, the task should be the one in a line of other learning tasks arranged in logic of ascending from abstract to concrete notions.
In accordance with it the psychological conditions of task setting by a teacher were examined. The author comes to conclusion that the moment of teacher’s action with a learning task as an object, and correspondently a pupil’s action with it, dropped out of sight of psychologists and methodologists. One of the most frequent mistakes of school-teachers is fragmentation of a learning task into several smaller ones, which he regards as more familiar for children and easily understood in course of solution. Taken separately these tasks can be solved easily and do not demand much effort from a child. The effect of novelty vanishes. Yet, as Dewey states it, the hypothesis should be examined experimentally otherwise the act of thinking remains incomplete and it is impossible to carry out a true reflexion.
It also appeared that in case of fragmentation of a learning task children do not feel it necessary to reconstruct in their imagination the events of the previous lessons as specific acts in a thinking “drama”. Yet in solving the learning task the “history” of the initial abstraction underlying the general way of solving such like tasks must be reconstructed.
Let us assume that a learning task is presented in a correct form. The pupils verbalized hypotheses concerning its solution. In learning activity the usual way of testing the hypothesis is discussion. The main teacher’s task is not to let the object of a learning task go in course of discussion.
The author disagrees with V. Davydov (Teoriya razvivayushchego obuchenity, (Theory of developmental education) 1996, p. 159) that the first learning action introduced should be an “acceptance of a learning task. The thing is that we can estimate the effect of this action only in the form of a pupil’s disclosure of general relation in an object. Only in this case we can take it as “accepted” by a child.
Let us assume that one of the hypotheses is accepted and becomes a platform for transformation of an object. So the first learning action is carried out: the object is transformed, the initial relation is singled out. Now it is necessary to fulfill the second learning action, i.e. a modeling of an initial relation. Here appears again a specific task of a teacher — to keep the children’s attention engrossed to isomorphic relations between an object and its model. Otherwise the moment of testing the hypothesis could appear problematic. As we mentioned above the testing of hypothesis is an important moment of thinking act. So it is necessary to focus on the actions aimed at solving the initial task with the help of the acquired methods of solving such like tasks. In Davydov’s concept this action is actually included in a learning action, connected with formation of a system of learning tasks. That is why the author of the article thinks that the solving of a practical task should be treated as an independent learning action.
Analyzing further the process of learning task solving by children the author gives a different from Davydov’s definition of controlling and estimating actions. The act of control closely connected with the solution of a learning task is a measure of correspondence of child’s practice to the highest level of its perfection. The action of estimating connected with the solution of a learning task is in fact an identification of the possible limits of the method of solving the task.
In conclusion the author states that phenomenological analysis of setting and solving a learning task doesn’t have pretensions of an ultimate answer to all the questions. It is rather an invitation to go on a study of the concept of a learning activity.