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Constructive interplay

Conference paper
Authors Pia Williams
Sonja Sheridan
Published in Paper presented at the ECER-conference, Gothenburg, 2008-09-10.
Publication year 2008
Published at Department of Education, Childhood Studies Unit
Language en
Keywords Competition, preschool, school,
Subject categories Pedagogy, Communication Studies, Children


The aim of any educational system should be a learning environment of high quality where children of all ages are challenged to learn in a variety of ways. Such an environment would involve a complexity of interacting aspects like physical resources, the teachers´ competence, attitudes, the content, organisation of activities, and possibilities for children and adolescents to learn from each other constructive ways. The aims of this paper are to develop knowledge about constructive learning situations in different contexts. We attempt to do this by outlining our theoretical standpoint on constructive interaction patterns in relation to the results of an empirical study. The questions at issue are: • How does constructive learning situations develop in preschool and school from the perspective of children, adolescents and teachers? • What challenges children, adolescents and teachers to interact constructivly in learning situations? The theoretical approach is based on interactionistic perspectives in which individuals and the environment influence and are influenced by each other in a continuous interaction (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1986; Bruner, 1996). It is through interaction people obtain ways of thinking, speaking and executing actions (Säljö, 2000). The knowledge of people and institutions is constituted and maintained through interaction in specific cultural contexts (Rogoff, 2003). The cognitive, social and emotional aspects of children’s development cannot be separated as they constitute an integrated whole where children learn by experiencing, acting and communicating with the environment, which in turn interacts with them (Marton & Both, 1997; Pramling, 1994). Learning situations depend on how the environment is constituted to meet, extend and challenge the experience and intentions of children to learn, and how the child can influence and form the environment to interact, cooperate, compete and/or work individually. The study involved 78 children from 5 to 18 years and 25 teachers. Twelve children were selected from, preschool, years 1, 5 and 9 in compulsory school, and 30 students from five different programmes in upper secondary school. The teachers came from the participating pre/schools. The methodological choice was individual interviews, group interviews and video observations. The interviews were semi-structured, recorded and transcribed verbatim. The questions were based on critical incidents, which were highlighted with the help of four photos. The video-recorded observations allowed detailed description and interpretation of the participant’s individual activities, cooperation and competition. The qualitative analysis focuses on constructive learning situations where the participant’s cooperate, compete and learn individually. To grasp the totality of the data, the material was studied repeatedly. Next we focused on each group’s data material separately. Finally, the material was analysed as a whole. We related the results to theories of learning, cooperation and competition, and to the context of pre/school. The process of analysis can be described as interplay between empirical data and interactionistic theory, or as an analytical process of abduction, as it oscillates between the whole and the part and the whole (Pierce, 1931-1935). Constructive interacting patterns have been categorised as four dimensions: comparing competences, constructive motivation, reciprocal guidance, stretching beyond one’s own expected potential. They are based on the qualitative variation in meanings given by the participant’s. The dimensions interact, are internally interdependent and influence one another without being hierarchical. To conclude: children and adolescents continuously and successfully integrate and combine different interacting patters in one and the same learning activity. They observe, imitate, compare competences and skills with one another in individual, competitive and collaborative learning situations. Constructive interplay motivates people to achieve, makes learning and every day activities more exciting, encourages people to try harder, to enhance their own as well as others’ and makes them more focused and involved in the learning activity.

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