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Deﬁnitional aspect (2): In-principle enablement of teaching functions Whether or not one follows Vygotsky (1978) in regarding human learning as inherently requiring social assistance, assisting learning is how we deﬁne teaching. Teaching is the promotion of learning not only in the sense of involving learners in activities whereby they are likely to learn, but also in that learners are assisted therein by the teacher.
Accordingly, the LPP of any particular kind of teaching strategy is also going to depend on the extent to which it allows the key functions of the teacher’s assisting role to be realized effectively. At a general level, systems-type analyses and psychological research on skill (cf. Fischer & Bidell 2006; Gellatly, 1986) indicate that successful activity requires the integration of two irreducible functions: acting on or inﬂuencing the object/context in question and monitoring the behaviour of that object/context, in relation to the intended outcome of the activity. In the case of the teacher’s contribution
to teaching, this translates into two irreducible joint teaching functions, namely:
inﬂuencing the learner’s learning and monitoring the learner’s learning progress.
Inﬂuencing learning Assisting the learner’s progress is doubtless the most obvious function of teaching.
Indeed, as contended above, generally speaking ‘teaching’ has itself traditionally been taken to refer more or less exclusively to such on-line assistance – tending thereby to be unfortunately identiﬁed with what is actually only one possible form of teaching strategy, the face-to-face transmission of information or ‘teaching as telling’. However, the interplay of this teacher function with the learning function aspect of teaching implies some quite subtle issues regarding the possible forms and focuses of such teacher inﬂuence, indicating in turn the subtly inferential nature of the LPP concept.
First, we may note that the way this teacher inﬂuence on learning is achieved may vary considerably, from direct to indirect, explicit to implicit, and may be more or less distinct from the provision of pupil learning function opportunity outlined above.
The possibilities will vary according to the type of teaching strategy involved.
For example, viewed in relation to a relatively active and independent pedagogical strategy such as learner groups discussing meaningful issues on the basis of informational resources available to all, it is relatively easy to discern the teaching inﬂuence function as expressing itself in the relatively separate activity of the teacher as he or she visits and engages with the various groups. Whereas in a transmission version of teaching as direct, explicit communication – typically verbal – from teacher to learner, the learner’s learning functions are inherently intertwined with the teacher inﬂuence function – here the learner’s learning activity is itself a matter of processing the teacher’s input, even if the learning and teaching functions are thereby in some senses all the more distinct. Clearly, however, the teacher inﬂuence function may also be deployed indirectly and implicitly, if no less powerfully. Indeed, the teacher’s original selection and planning of teaching strategy, including relatively active learner methods such as the above group discussion example, might itself be regarded as an initial, indirect but radical form of the teaching function of inﬂuencing learning.
Also relevant to the teacher assistance function is the issue of its focus, what it should target. It is important to distinguish the concrete task aim or product of the activity central to a teaching strategy (e.g. making a model Viking ship, producing an essay on the Vikings, etc.) from its pedagogical goal(s) of achieving learning (e.g. gaining knowledge about the Vikings, enhancing skills of reasoning and prose composition, etc.). It then needs to be emphasized that whilst teachers can only deal Copyright © The British Psychological Society Reproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the Society
512 Peter Tomlinson
with learners via their observable actions and communication, the teaching inﬂuence function should be geared basically towards the forms of learning progress that were intended to be generated by and involved within such activity, rather than just towards student engagement in and completion of the overt tasks. Even in a teaching/learning activity deemed high in relevant LPP, its typically multiple layers and the limits of class management capability will afford many degrees of freedom for learners to engage differently from the ways intended (including not engaging at all!), so ongoing repair and assistance for the learning process by the teacher may be needed. This may indeed be by re-focusing the learner into that pre-speciﬁed activity, but if necessary, the teacher may need to alter the learner’s activity in order to promote their learning processes and progress, rather than ensuring simply that they are ‘busy on the planned task’.
In sum, then, a further aspect of the LPP of a teaching strategy concerns the extent to which, beyond tending as such to bring about learning processes through the learner’s engagement in the activity concerned, it also enables ﬂexible interaction between teacher and learners in which the teacher can provide on-line assistance to promote, supplement, and repair the processes of learning. In order to decide the nature of that assistance, the teacher also needs to engage in a further function, that of monitoring learning progress.
Monitoring learning Insofar as contexts are dynamic and ‘open’ (Poulton, 1957; Tomlinson, 1995, 1998), successful skilled action must include reading the situation as a basis for ﬂexible reaction and anticipation. With its ‘multidimensionality, simultaneity, immediacy, and unpredictability’ (Doyle, 1986) teaching easily qualiﬁes in this respect. Monitoring learners’ progress, taking account of the nature and achievements of their learning processes through engagement in relevant activities, is therefore a vital function within the overall teacher role of assisting learning. In more traditional terminology: along with the monitoring of learner activity as such, formative assessment of learning progress is to be seen as an inherent part of the very concept of teaching as a purposeful activity, rather than as an extra to be added on to teaching conceived concretely just in terms of what we are calling the inﬂuencing learning subfunction. Once again, empirical research conﬁrms this analytically based claim, as well as usefully investigating the utility of different forms of monitoring and their formative use to generate adapted assistance for students (Black & Wiliam, 1998). Though even here there is perhaps the tendency to see the use of such monitoring too narrowly, for example just in terms of generating feedback to students (Shepard, 2001).
A further aspect of the LPP of a teaching strategy therefore includes the extent to which it enables the teacher function of monitoring learners’ learning progress, as a basis for ﬂexible adaptation of the teacher’s inﬂuencing learning function. Thus, for example, whilst they may have some, perhaps even considerable LPP as regards the learning function facets outlined earlier, non-interactive teaching strategies such as lecturing fall down particularly by way of preventing the teacher monitoring function, which sooner or later needs to be implemented through the teacher witnessing individual learners’ relevant performances and communication as indicators of learning progress.
To summarize so far: teaching strategies consist of interactive activities involving learners and teacher that are intended to promote the learners’ learning. They have the potential to do so, which we are calling LPP, to the extent that they bring about relevant kinds of learning processes in learners and afford opportunities for the teacher to Copyright © The British Psychological Society Reproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the Society
monitor and inﬂuence such processes. Before extending the LPP concept with respect to a more adequate view of the further facets involved in teaching, we may note some corollaries of this idea.
Corollary (1): Differentiation, substitutability, combination and multifunctionality of teaching strategies Although pedagogical differentiation is often seen in relation to learner differences, which will be treated below in the section on ‘situatedness’, even in general terms just of teaching strategies and learning goals, the LPP concept implies differentiation in a number of other senses, with corresponding implications. Perhaps the most obvious is that (A) different teaching strategies may have differing degrees of LPP with respect to the same set of learning goals. To the extent that we analyse different teaching/learning activities as having different likelihoods of embodying the required underlying learning processes/functions and enabling the teacher functions of monitoring and assistance, then other things equal, we should choose those that have the greater LPP (I touch below on some of the ‘other things’ that may not be equal).
On the other hand, to return to our Chomskyan metaphor: just as there may be different ways of communicating the same message effectively, different surface utterances having the same deep structure, so conversely there may be different ways of teaching something equally effectively, different teaching strategies that have similar LPP with regard to the same learning gains. To that extent, such activities would be substitutable for each other and selection from amongst them would need to be based on considerations other than the particular learning aspects on which they appear to have comparable potential. In this respect, amongst others, the LPP notion provides us with various counters to the sort of pedagogically pathological search for the ‘unique silver bullet’ teaching method referred to above.
(B) An equally important kind of differentiation is constituted by the similarly obvious possibility that the LPP strengths of different teaching strategies may be towards different kinds of learning goals. To the extent that we have multiple learning goals for our teaching, we might then wish to combine such teaching strategies. Then again, a particular teaching/learning activity may indeed be more desirable in both of the above senses: not just in that it has greater potential to actualize a particular kind of learning, but also because it has multifunctional LPP, that is capable of promoting a number of kinds of learning functions at the same time, leading to richer and perhaps more robust learning gains.
To some extent, designing a multifunctional teaching approach may be simply a matter of combining relatively simple teaching tactics into more complex strategies within overall teaching sequences: the label ‘teaching strategy’ has been used above somewhat loosely to include different scales of activity. Nevertheless, otherwise similar levels of teaching strategy, for example in terms of the time they take up, may well have qualitatively and quantitatively different LPP. To take an easy example, compared to extended rote recitation, well-organized classroom discussion over the same duration seems considerably more likely to engage the deep/meaningful levels of processing required by the cognitive theories cited above. At the same time it also provides the variation and practice in such processing that have been implicated in the consolidation of constituent processes by a range of psychological sources from early behaviourism, through cognitive skill theory, to recent connectionist modelling (cf. Tomlinson, 1981, 1999). In addition to such learning functions, classroom discussion affords considerable opportunity for ongoing teacher monitoring and assistance.
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514 Peter Tomlinson
Corollary (2): The importance of implementation quality at multiple levels It is important to point out that the LPP concept is deliberately framed in terms of the in-principle power of a teaching/learning activity both to bring into play those learning functions in the learner whose operation should achieve actual learning gains and to enable the linked teaching functions of monitoring and assistance. Whether or not such a teaching strategy actually does achieve such functions and consequent learning gains depends, other things equal, on the quality of its implementation. The desirability of multifunctional and thus probably more complex teaching strategies, for example, may need to be set against their higher demands in terms of teaching skills and resources.
On occasion, it may actually be deemed preferable to opt for a less ambitious but more reliably achievable approach in which a teacher has more experience.
Further analysis on the basis of modern ‘fallible realist’ philosophy of science (House, 1991; Norwich, 2000), backed up by psychological insights into the nature of skilful action (e.g. Gellatly, 1986), namely indicates that even the most simple human activity is typiﬁed by a multiplicity of strands and levels, with various kinds of subskill capability and performance embedded within the action as deﬁned, all of whose quality of implementation has consequences for the overall realization of purpose. With respect to teaching, this applies to the learning activity as also to the teaching functions. Whilst, for example, a simple verbal explanation may have potential to promote a learner’s meaningful grasp of some topic, in order to actually succeed in doing so, even such a non-interactive teaching tactic as this must at least be provided in a language the learner understands, and in turn be spoken with sufﬁcient clarity and at a rate and volume he or she can perceive effectively, not to mention the learner attending sufﬁciently and the teacher simultaneously monitoring whether the learner is doing so. More interactive and dialogic teaching approaches (Leach & Scott, 2005) obviously pose much more complex and less predictable implementation demands.