The cornerstone of assessment is localized in the face-to-face interactions in daily classroom instruction. Daily instruction involves understanding how learning inside disciplines should be organized to respond to the needs of particular learners. This chapter examines how opportunity to learn (OTL) can be structured in classrooms serving culturally diverse students in ways that (1) build on fundamental propositions in cognition; (2) focus on generative topics, concepts, and forms of problem solving within subject matters; and (3) scaffold forms of knowledge and ways of using language emerging from students' everyday experiences in families and communities. The basic argument is that reconceptualizing forms of assessment in the absence of reconceptualizing instruction will yield few results.
In this chapter, OTL means students have a right to rigorous instruction that:
1) is organized in ways to build on and expand forms of prior knowledge they construct from their experiences outside school and across their years of schooling;
2) provides them with models of expertise (e.g., models of more expert problem solving) and in-time feedback on the progress of their learning in ways that are usable and motivating; and
3) focuses on powerful and generative topics, concepts, and problem-solving strategies within academic subject matters and across their years of schooling in ways that help them make sense of how their learning is useful in the world.
In order for these opportunities to take root, several important issues must be addressed. First, we must have good operational definitions and illustrations of learning within subject matters from a developmental perspective.
In this chapter, we argue that learning and teaching are fundamentally cultural processes (Cole, 1996; Erickson, 2002; Lee, Spencer, & Harpalani, 2003; Rogoff, 2003). The learning sciences have not yet adequately addressed the ways that culture is integral to learning. By “culture,” we mean the constellations of practices historically developed and dynamically shaped by communities in order to accomplish the purposes they value. Such practices are constituted by the tools they use, the social networks with which they are connected, the ways they organize joint activity, the discourses they use and value (i.e., specific ways of conceptualizing, representing, evaluating and engaging with the world). On this view, learning and development can be seen as the acquisition throughout the life course of diverse repertoires of overlapping, complementary, or even conflicting cultural practices.
Through participation in varied communities of practice, individuals appropriate, over time, varied repertoires of cultural practices. As youth make their rounds through the varied settings of their everyday lives – from home to school, mathematics class to English literature class, basketball team to workplace or church youth group – they encounter, engage, and negotiate various situated repertoires of practices. Each repertoire represents a particular point of view on the world, characterized by its own objects, meanings, purposes, symbols, and values (Bakhtin, 1981; Gee, 1990). Navigation among these repertoires can be problematic at any time in any place for any human being.
Language is a powerful mediator of learning. It is the dominant medium through which communication occurs, and it provides humans with symbolic resources through which to manipulate ideas and solve problems. The study of literature is directly situated on the plains of language use. Literary texts are themselves multilayered. Readers stand in dialogic relationship to the multiple layers of potential meaning that the language of literature conveys. In this chapter, I describe an apprenticeship into literary response in a high school serving African American students who are speakers of African American Vernacular English (AAVE).
Bakhtin provides a set of constructs through which to analyze the role that AAVE discourse norms played in socializing students into a complex literate practice. The focus on AAVE with these students is important for several reasons. First, a majority of the students had standardized reading scores well below the 50th percentile. The high school had a history of underachievement. The students learned to tackle challenging problems of interpretation in very difficult literary texts within a short period of time, despite their low reading scores. In addition, the variety of English that served as their primary medium of communication (i.e., AAVE) has been denigrated in the academy and viewed more as a detriment than a resource (Bereiter & Engelmann, 1966; Orr, 1987; Stotsky, 1999). Because these student attributes are more often than not viewed as detrimental, it is useful to understand how the students' language resources supported learning.
A continuing challenge is how we as educational researchers are to investigate learning and development as these occur in complex settings in an attempt to understand the ecological niches of practice in the real world. In many ways, these questions are the terrain of Cultural–Historical Activity Theory (CHAT). CHAT, as articulated by Cole (1996) and others (Rogoff & Lave, 1984; Rogoff, 1990; Wertsch, 1991), is an outgrowth of the Russian school of psychology represented by Lev Vygotsky (1978, 1981, 1987), Alexander Luria (1976), and Alexei Leontiev (1981). This orientation to the study of human learning and development places several core tenets at the center of inquiry. These tenets include the mutually constituting influences of social interaction in participation in jointly constructed activity across multiple settings and the functions of mediating artifacts. CHAT places culture at the center of human sense-making activities. Educational research rooted in CHAT has documented the centrality of cultural systems; much less attention has been paid to cultural systems of non–European or non-European-American ethnic groups. In this chapter, I will illustrate how multiple mediational resources have been drawn upon in culturally responsive ways to support discipline-specific learning.
I have an abiding personal interest in these questions. In the Cultural Modeling Project (Lee, 1993; 1995a; 1995b; 2001), we developed a curriculum intervention in response to literature that was implemented over a 3-year period in an urban, underachieving high school.
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