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    Fieldwork as Social Pedagogy

    May 2nd, 2009, 4:18 pm

    In the fieldwork course that I am teaching this semester, students spend one morning a week in a center with infants, toddlers, or two year olds.  I’ve asked them to write about their experiences and link them to the readings we’ve done this semester.  Some of the readings are about observing and recording young children’s behavior.  Others are about child development.  My hope is that students will see child development theory validated or invalidated as it comes alive in real children and that they will hone their observation skills to continue learning from children.

    For example, one student wrote,

    • According to the reading in chapter 6, I could say Jayquan’s gross motor skills developed well. He could ride a scooter as well as a tricycle. He could paddle forward and backward. He was laughing when I made the sounds like “beep beep beep” when he backed up. Jayquan has very sensitive fine motor skill also. He can use a spoon pretty well and can eat by himself at lunchtime. After he finished his food, he tried to scrape the leftovers into the trash can using the spoon. I wonder who taught him to do that.

    A core concept that causes some difficulty is that developmental domains, or areas of development, work together.  In the example above, for instance, the student is describing Jayquan’s physical development, but her description includes how he is thinking and what he knows.  Students truly grasp this concept of “the whole child” through their direct work with children.  Yet, the professional literature isolates these developmental domains to examine each more closely and to zero in on a child’s development in precise ways.  I (and most early childhood educators) ask students to discuss a child in terms of each domain.  Taken for granted, here, I think, is that students can hold and work simultaneously with two opposing ideas: that it is impossible to isolate domains in real life and that it is a useful heuristic to think about a real child’s ways of being in separate domains.

    Students object to separating the domains and ask questions on their drafts about how they can possibly address different domains using a single event or story without being repetitious.  I think these objections and questions indicate that they are grappling with the opposing ideas.

    I think this might be an example of how social learning — their real work with children — has pushed students to confront a complexity.  Because the children are real, the work is authentic and they care about it.  Even the students who are struggling to engage with the children at their fieldsites are involved in the process of becoming engaged and are explaining to me what they are doing (in most cases, to overcome their shyness and) to become more involved.  They are dealing weekly with the interface between their current selves and the professional selves they strive for — and this is also true for the students who are not having trouble getting involved with the children.

    A fieldwork class is a prime example of the affective connecting with the cognitive to generate a sense of purpose. The affective is ever present as students feel judged by teachers, children, parents, me, classmates, and themselves. They want to do well and be liked, and they want to figure out problems that arise (why is the two-year-old I’m observing throwing herself on the floor and screaming when it’s time to stop doing one thing and start another?). The challenge is to link the affective, which is closely related to their practice, to the discipline’s definition of the cognitive, that is, to the theory on which the class is based. I speculate that on the one hand, that is made easier, because the fieldwork is so important to the students.  On the other hand, it is harder, because the fieldwork seems more important than the class itself.

    A second challenge, which is easier to confront in some cases than in others, is to build an intellectual community among the students, so they address whatever arises at each other’s fieldsites together.  I don’t think that I’ve been as successful with this group as I wish I were and as I’ve been with other groups.  Student reticence and lack of time have contributed, but I also don’t think that I’ve pushed enough.  I could ask student to make their journals (in which they discuss their fieldwork, their observations of a child, and their readings) public to the class and could devote more time in class to students’ discussions of their sites.  I’ve asked each student to choose a week to discuss that week’s topic in light of her or his fieldwork, but not all students have done it and not all students have spoken to the class in a way in which their classmates understood or could follow.  Clearly, other methods would have worked better for this particular group.


    Impressions to Reflections

    May 2nd, 2009, 4:03 pm

    Almost all Macaulay students study abroad at some point during their four years.  We support this (including financially) and see it as a key element in the curriculum.  This year we also begain an eportfolio project, and (somewhat unexpectedly) found many of our students using their eportfolios as blogs/eportfolios (I use the terms somewhat interchangeably–a separate question and subject to be discussed) of their study abroad experience.

    I’m interested in a range of questions about these away and abroad eportfolios.  I see the eportfolios as a place for students to engage in social pedagogy-type activities, but often separately from the context of a specific class.  They are having experiences which are learning experiences as they encounter classes (academic and economic), cultures, places, foods, living arrangements, politics, and languages which they’re not used to, which are different from those they’ve encountered at home or on their home campuses.  And as they have these experiences, they’re describing them and reflecting on them, posting photos and videos, getting and responding to questions and comments from friends back home and in other countries, because they have these public away and abroad eportfolios.

    These eportfolios seem to move through the framework “counterclockwise,” in the sense that they start with (and are designed to start with?) connecting the affective and the cognitive–they start with impressions or the equivalent of tourist journals.  But as they become more conscious of addressing a real audience (as they get comments or readers) and engaging with an intellectual community (which we promote and design for by aggregating all their eportfolios into a single site and directing advisors, other students, and the public to that site), they also become more conscious of representing knowledge for others and their explorations become more open-ended.

    What I want to see, the core design element towards which I hope they are moving, is to go from impressions (tourism) to reflections (engagement with authenticity and difficulty).  This does seem to be happening with many of the eportfolios, especially as they connect their experiences away and abroad to what they’ve learned back on campus.  I can already see and code for some of these moments, and I hope to locate more, as well as to see what kinds of design elements and pedagogies can promote this (more specifically).  I also think as time goes by (this is the beginning of these projects, so most students have not yet returned), I would like to see how these travel eportfolios get integrated into (connected? linked? cross-reflected?) their broader eportfolios of their thinking and learning when they return from abroad.

    I’m also interested in some of the social elements of the experience that are only beginning to occur–but for which I do notice I’m designing (sometimes without knowing I was doing it).  In several cases, we have several students studying abroad in the same place, and they have chosen to create a group eportfolio–so it’s one site with multiple authors, and they talk to each other in comments but also in posts directed to each others posts.

    Finally, we’ve just implemented (but not fully announced or launched) the BuddyPress suite of plugins which layers social networking on top of the eportfolios.  The idea of this is that all members of the Macaulay eportfolio community (not just study abroad) have their eportfolios connected to a central audience/response/intellectual community site, where they see new posts and blogs and member profiles and status messsages, and groups and friends–all searchable and connected. I’m anxious to see how this designed community might affect student experiences of situated feedback, and other connections I might not expect.

    (Oh, and one more thing–as if I don’t have enough–most of the away and abroad eportfolios make extensive use of photographs, and some video and audio, too.  I’m curious about how and why students make use of multimedia in these contexts–and whether this might have to be a separate petal entirely?)