MEANINGFUL DIALOGUE AS A PATH TO LEARNING

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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: jesuina@if.usp.br

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 [1], while placing particular emphasis on the work of Paulo Freire [3], 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 [2]. 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 [3]. “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
[1] Vigotsky, L. S. 1989. A Formação Social da Mente. São Paulo.Martins Fontes.
[2] 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.
[3] Freire, P. 1996 Pedagogia da Autonomia-saberes necessários à prática educativa.
São Paulo. Paz e Terra.

				
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