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A SIGNIFICANT DIALOGUE AS A MEANS TO LEARNING Jesuína L. A. Pacca Physics Institute, University of São Paulo, Brazil Corresponding author’s e-mail: email@example.com 1 Introduction The specific literature on research in science teaching contains a variety of works on the physics teacher’s training and his action in the classroom. These works are generally based on learning concepts that may or may not be explicit but that undoubtedly mold the procedures adopted and many authors may be cited as references. In this paper, we base our argument on a constructivist conception of learning , while placing particular emphasis on the work of Paulo Freire , when he refers to the value of communication in the learning process. “The coherent task of the right-thinking educator, exerting as a human being the irrecusable practice of comprehending, is to challenge the student with whom he communicates and to whom he communicates to produce his own understanding of what is being communicated. There is no intelligibility that is not communication and intercommunication and that is not founded on dialogicity. Right thinking is therefore dialogic and not polemical”. In our work in the field of continuing education over several years, we have sought a form of action whereby the teacher’s participation occupies most of the time and takes place based on his personal and current teaching proposal applied to the reality of his classes . The courses thus produced have evolved and have, more recently, placed emphasis on the difficulty – often revealed and perhaps rarely considered –, which is expressed in the teacher’s question: “How does one include the students’ previous conceptions in the classroom work?” In fact, working with conceptions students already have and following a plan with predetermined objectives requires a competence the teacher rarely possesses. The results of these programs have revealed novelties in the teacher’s professional development that actually exceed our expectations. Reflecting on the product of this training, we attempt to analyze the classroom work of these teachers, considering that the transposition of the procedures experienced in their continuing education to the classroom may occur naturally and authentically. Thus, we will consider the indispensable protagonism of the subject who learns, inserted within the context that surrounds him and really challenges him. It is up to the educator to open up spaces for the exercise of common sense, in the understanding of Paulo Freire . “The more we methodically put into practice our ability to question, to compare, to doubt, and to assess, the more effectively curious we can become and the more critical our common sense can become”. 2 The continuing education course. The course was attended by eight middle school Physics teachers who proposed to teach Optics, a subject treated poorly in school and considered difficult by teachers. The purpose was to plan and apply their knowledge with their students, bringing into the peer discussion the results and events they judged relevant. The first meetings with the teachers involved a discussion of this planning starting from guiding questions: What is sought with this stated objective? What is the student’s real activity at each moment of the planning? What do the students normally achieve/answer? How does the teacher provide continuity? The questions would lead each one to ponder his pedagogical instrument and to become aware of the meaning of the sequence and chosen activities. The next important step, which was the application of the plan in the classroom, involved the task of recording the students’ responses and behaviors, both desirable and undesirable. The records were discussed by the group, with the discussion focusing mainly on the negative outcomes that needed to be understood and that would constitute feedback for the next class and for redesigning the pedagogical instrument. This systematic procedure seems to have helped the teachers develop their sensors to carry out the plan outlined initially, modifying it wherever possible without losing sight of the planned content while ensuring some measure of self-comfort. We can state that, in group training work, the teacher is entrusted with the decision and choice for composing the planning in the education process, and dialogue is always present in a particular form appropriate to the adopted principles. Therefore, it is considered pertinent dialogue coherent with the need to face a problem and concerned with the inclusion of the participants; hence, meaningful dialogue. The application of pedagogical planning in the classroom is developed basically through experimental activities with the participation and interaction of the group of students, in which previous conceptions are brought to light and discussed. The purpose of considering the learners’ preconceived ideas is to reveal conceptual inconsistencies and barriers in their reasoning, favoring the disclosure of significant problems the students must solve, and the beginning of a dialogue between teacher and student. This dialogue should be able to establish a process in which the students’ perception of their own conceptions can lead to conflict with the information received. The classroom is the space where real dialogue should take place, with its partially predictable characteristics and with all sorts of novel and unexpected situations in the teacher-student relationship. For the teacher, the purpose of dialogue with the class (with each individual and with the group) is to “listen to” and “conduct” the learning process. It must be kept in mind that the condition of dialogue involves the presence of at least two subjects, a unifying context and a problem under focus. 3 The research. Dialogue in the teachers’ reports. We analyzed the performance of three teachers based on their report of a sequence of their course, chosen for having, to some extent, sustained a dialogue and gained some satisfaction (and awareness of it) from the outcome of their work. For this study we preferred to discover information about the existence of dialogue from the teachers’ answers on a specially designed questionnaire. The answers were given in writing and refer to the optics content that was being developed in the teachers’ respective classes. The students were middle school students ranging in age from 16 to 18, and had not previously studied this content. Consider the classes given in the past 10 days. 1. What was the content presented? 2. What were the results of these classes? 3. Do you think the students learned? What did they learn? 4. Did you encounter any difficulties? What were they? 5. How were these difficulties manifested? 6. Do you remember what some of the students said about the subject? The teachers’ answers: the data for analysis Alice:The result of the classes was quite satisfactory, since I noticed the students’ interest when we discussed the subject. I have three classrooms where I’m applying the project. In the first, a third-year group, I tried to teach a lesson demonstrating light reflecting from a flat mirror (as I mentioned in the group meeting), which was not successful. I encountered numerous difficulties in talking about the reflection of light by flat mirrors, because I wanted the students to look at a given point in the mirror and I didn’t know what to do to make them see or even to show them the laws of light reflection, and I still don’t. About the reflection of light: does light enter the mirror? Is the distance from the image to the mirror the same as that of the object to the mirror? Does light come from the image? I myself was not clear about my objective with this subject. Attempting to improve, I gave them some exercises and brought some mirrors [to the classroom]; we even observed the images formed in the classroom windows. The result was that they perceived the light’s path and how we see objects, and in the case of the mirror, how we see images formed in them. I should point out that “fishing” helped a great deal for me to understand light refraction and I believe the same holds true for the students, and I had no difficulty in applying this activity. The result was that they grasped the behavior of reflected light, the path of light from the object to the eye in each of these cases, and that although the light that reaches the eye seems to come from the image, in actual fact it always comes from the object. The dialogue takes place through the student’s speech and the pertinent sequence. Undoubtedly this report also shows that the teacher understood the phenomenon correctly, and this is a necessary condition to ensure that the dialogue in fact occurs. In addition, she revealed her attention to the information coming from the students (images formed in the windows) and incorporated it into the discussion. The teacher revealed how she learns while teaching; this learning also seems to us to be a condition for keeping up the dialogue with students. Berta: Since the students still had doubts about light reflection and refraction, I conducted an experiment, placing a flat mirror on a student’s desk and asking the class if the student could see in the mirror a poster hanging on the wall behind him. The class said he couldn’t, and the student confirmed it, so I asked the class to tell me what position the student should assume in order to see the poster in the mirror. This activity caught the students’ interest and they participated actively. At the end, I asked them to draw the path traveled by the light, that is, the beam, the normal one and the reflected beam, to the eyes of the student. This experiment enabled the students to better understand the laws of reflection – they understood how to represent the normal beam to the mirror. On another occasion, after the fishing experiment, I asked the students to draw the path traveled by the light from the object, in the water, to the observer’s eye, in air. The students were unable to do this alone; I had to explain it on the whiteboard, so I explained the laws of refraction. The teacher refers to an experiment conducted with the group under training, to ensure their confidence in discussing it with their students. She keeps the dialogue flowing, using as her strategy guided experiments and observations. However, this part ends with the teacher’s speech and there is no response from the students. She then changed the content of the dialogue, veering away from the established and truncated context and the sometimes logical reasoning of the students, as indicated below: After these activities, I handed them a list of exercises about light propagation, reflection and refraction. The doubts emerged with the math exercises; for instance, how to calculate the height of a building, knowing the shadows and height of a wall. Another difficulty involved the calculation of the index of refraction of a yellow light in different media (air, water and diamonds). They were able to answer the question about where a fisherman should throw a harpoon to catch a fish. The difficulties occurred when I attempted to draw light rays to locate an image or to locate the object’s position in the water. They know where to locate the image or object in water, but can’t draw it, represent it. Another difficulty was to explain and help the students understand the normal and the plane where the beam strikes, the normal and the reflected beam. I think the experiment of the horizontal mirror helped both the students and me. Leading this discussion was difficult because the question lies outside the context of the problem and the teacher attempted to give an answer without realizing that the students did not ask a question. The teacher concluded that they did not learn what she expected; there appears to be no constructive dialogue, for the report presents more the teacher’s actions and lack of continuity in the knowledge under development. Carmen: The most motivating lesson was the “fishing” experiment, because there was a lot of interaction among the students. When I showed them the pencil in the container with water the general comment was, the pencil is “divided” or “broken”. I believe the class I taught to make them see what refraction is produced good results, since everyone wanted to participate. Probably its set-up is faulty. The response comes rapidly, in other words, either there is complete silence or else everyone starts talking about other things and ignores the teacher. Another concern is when a student answers, or asks a question based on his own theoretical fundaments (spontaneous conceptions) and I, as a teacher, cannot find a link between his idea, which has great substance, and the theory or concept we are working on at that moment, and I notice this when the student begins to ask about or question the subject several times. The teacher feels difficulties with the dialogue and can characterize the situations in which she gets lost; she has not mastered the content to establish a productive discussion and is aware of her failure. She manages to remember doubts that could not be discussed and included in her planning; maybe they are also her doubts. She remembers a set of mistakes but is not able to organize them and thus integrate them into a meaningful dialogue. 4 Conclusions The pedagogical plan as it is conceived does not usually reserve space explicitly for the dialogue that should occur in the classroom. Nonetheless, dialogical interaction is the condition for teaching and learning, and it is in the application of the planned strategies and activities with the students that dialogue is possible. The teacher who is aware of this should conduct his class, really integrating the content of the expression of the participating subjects in the construction of a common discourse. Thus, if he intends to hold a meaningful dialogue, i.e., giving voice to the students and, together with them, building the desired discourse, his planning must be open to and count on this possibility. Therefore, to ensure learning, planning should always be in movement so as to keep the dialogue meaningful, absorbing and resolving the “novelties” of the classroom. Some conditions seem to be present in the behavior of the teacher who is able to establish and sustain a meaningful dialogue in the classroom. Firstly, an essential condition is the teacher’s knowledge about what he is teaching, with the degree of difficult appropriate to the learning expected. Agreeing with this is not difficult, but attention must also focus on the student’s understanding of the content under discussion, taking his word, understanding it in order to continue listening to him and keeping up the dialogue. Because the situation is characterized by unpredictability, the teacher willing to adopt this dynamics must also learn continuously while building the students’ knowledge. This seems to be the case of Alice and, in part, of Berta. Another way to perceive and operate in the classroom goes even further – it includes the teacher’s willingness to listen attentively and integrate the discourses of the one who teaches and those who learn so as to build the desired scientific discourse. Sustaining the dialogue presupposes confronting two different languages and converging toward a common meaning, following each one’s advances and approximations. In the first place, knowing the language and the meanings the students attribute to it make the teacher not only privileged but also, and principally, very responsible for the language convergence. Researches that allowed for the construction of well designed pictures of the alternative conceptions of common sense that proliferated 20 years ago left behind a very rich collection of ways of conceiving physical phenomena, organized scientifically in different contexts. Studies of the history of science and the evolution of scientific concepts have pinpointed conceptual barriers that need to be overcome with more or less deep and radical changes. Teacher Alice masters the content to be taught and understands the students’ difficulties in the situation based on the spontaneous conception, where the exclusion of the observer’s eye as an image receiver/holder is, perhaps, imposed by the idea that the eye is active through “visual rays”. Teacher Berta uses an activity that was not explicitly planned: the mirror supported on the tabletop to analyze the geometry of the phenomenon of reflection was an impromptu gimmick to overcome the students’ difficulty at that moment. Teacher Carmen has difficulties with the content and knows it; this situation obviously does not allow a discourse to be established with effective communication of any information because she lacks the necessary and appropriate language. This work has implications for continuing education courses, without overestimating reports of “good results” that may be the fruit of a meaningless monologue or a demonstration by the teacher without major consequences to significant learning. For the teacher a message: start teaching with the tools you have at hand, with the certainty and expectation that you can always learn and improve. 5 References  Vigotsky, L. S. 1989. A Formação Social da Mente. São Paulo.Martins Fontes.  Villani, A. y Pacca, J. L. A.1996. Un curso de actualización y Cambios Conceptuales en Profesores de Fisica. Enzeñanza de las Ciencias, 14(1), 25-33.  Freire, P. 1996 Pedagogia da Autonomia-saberes necessários à prática educativa. São Paulo. Paz e Terra.
"MEANINGFUL DIALOGUE AS A PATH TO LEARNING"