Annotated Bibliography of Resources for Educational Reform, Coherent Teaching Practice, and Improved Student Learning

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  • Wertsch, J. V., & Toma, C. (1995). Discourse and learning in the classroom: A sociocultural approach. In L. P. Steffe & J. Gale (Eds.), Constructivism in education (pp. 159-174). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Wertsch and Toma employ a sociocultural approach to mediated action which claims that mental functioning is assumed to be inherently situated with regard to cultural, historical, and institutional contexts. According to this approach, a research question could be "How does the thinking of Japanese children differ from that of American children when solving a problem?" The authors describe three general themes in Vygotsky's work: a developmental method; the social origins of higher mental functioning; and the mediation of mental functions by tools and signs. Signs include the forms of speakingÑthe "social languages" idea of BakhtinÑthat are used by different groups of people, as well as mathematical systems or diagrams. Vygotsky believed that the inclusion of signs in action transformed the action. Another important idea is the functional dualism of texts and discourseÑunivocal, transmission aspects and dialogic, meaning-making aspects. Two segments of interaction in a Japanese elementary classroom are provided to explicate the two functions of discourse. The authors focus on the role of teacher-student interactions on learning, pointing out that the typical pattern of questions in classroomsÑinitiation, reply, evaluationÑis an enactment of the transmission function of discourse. A dialogical interaction, on the other hand, encourages students to actively engage in thinking. Institutional forces often interfere with establishment of this form of discourse, and yet it appears critical to learning.

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