Sociocultural Researchers Can Shape the Future of Education

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Florida Atlantic University]On: 19 November 2014, At: 01:09Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Mind, Culture, and ActivityPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/hmca20

    Sociocultural Researchers Can Shape theFuture of EducationEllen H. Robinson aa University of Colorado DenverAccepted author version posted online: 24 Oct 2011.Publishedonline: 19 Jan 2012.

    To cite this article: Ellen H. Robinson (2012) Sociocultural Researchers Can Shape the Future ofEducation, Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19:1, 78-80, DOI: 10.1080/10749039.2011.632052

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10749039.2011.632052

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  • Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19: 7880, 2012Copyright Regents of the University of California

    on behalf of the Laboratory of Comparative Human CognitionISSN 1074-9039 print / 1532-7884 onlineDOI: 10.1080/10749039.2011.632052

    Sociocultural Researchers Can Shape the Futureof Education

    Sociocultural Theories of Learning and Motivation: Looking Back, Looking Forward(Volume 10 in Research on Sociocultural Influences on Motivation and Learning), editedby Dennis M. McInerney, Richard A. Walker, and Gregory Arief D. Liem, Charlotte, NC:Information Age Publishing, 2011, 317 pp., $45.99 (paperback).

    Reviewed byEllen H. Robinson

    University of Colorado Denver

    Starting in 2001, Dennis M. McInerney and colleague(s) have edited a series of volumesconcerned with research on sociocultural influences on motivation and learning. These volumesserve as a compendium of related work over the past decade. Sociocultural Theories of Learningand Motivation: Looking Back, Looking Forward, Volume 10 in the series, summarizes and con-textualizes past, present, and future theory development. This work confronts methodologicalissues in theory and research, highlighting exemplary practices and considering the implicationsfor the future direction of research on motivation and learning. This largely academic work iscritical for those engaging in sociocultural research on learning and motivation.

    Dennis M. McInerney, currently Chair Professor of Educational Psychology and AssociateVice President (Research and Development) at The Hong Kong Institute of Education and for-merly Research Professor and Associate Director of the Self Research Centre at the University ofWestern Sydney, joins Richard A. Walker, educational psychology professor at the University ofSydney, and Gregory Arif D. Liem, currently a research fellow with the Faculty of Educationand Social Work University of Sydney, to edit this years volume. Prominent educators andresearchers in the field such as Wolff-Michael Roth, Gordon Wells, and Marilyn Fleer weresolicited to contribute, along with other practicing researchers and theorists such as MaryMcCaslin at the University of Arizona, Judith MacCallum at Murdoch University in WesternAustralia, Jennifer Vadeboncoeur at University of British Colombia, Christopher J. Ward atUniversity of Washington in Seattle, and Dale T. Hickey at University Indiana University inBloomington. Even though there are American and Canadian researchers in the mix, the majorityof contributors are Australians.

    Although this volume does summarize the history of sociocultural theory development in theintroductions to various chapters, it is not intended as a textbook for sociocultural theories oflearning and motivation. Rather, it is intended as a unifying volume for researchers in the field,

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  • BOOK REVIEW 79

    seeking to unify theorists in terms of terminology and methodology, thus helping to clarify issuesand frame future research directions.

    La Tefy Schoen opens the discussion in Chapter 2, maintaining that the sociocultural per-spective is relatively new in the research lexicon and bears greater explanation. Her chapter,Conceptual and Methodological Issues in Sociocultural Research and Theory Developmentin Education, is essentially a unifying plea. She defines socioculturalism, traces its history,and advocates a pragmatic research paradigm, using mixed methodology as the means to bestaddress the complex research questions inherent in this field. Moreover, she calls for a con-certed effort to build a more reliable theory practitioners can count on and to move from acollection of descriptive mini-theories to a well-tested normative theory. In my experience, shestates, Constructivist Theory and Pragmatic Theory in education are characterized by timidityin declaring causal relationships. . . . As a field, it is important that sociocultural researchers takedescriptive theory a step farther. . . . The development of strong normative sociocultural theory isnecessary to empower researchers to build a bridge from theory to educational practice (p. 33).

    In addition to calling for unification and the development of strong normative theory, this vol-ume highlights intriguing and important theoretical and practical work in the field. It divides thechapters into two sections: Motive and Learning. In the Motive section, Wolff-MichaelRoth applies a cultural-historical activity theoretical approach to motivation in learning to work.Marilyn Fleer presents a research study that seeks to better understand a childs navigationbetween motive and demand in situational contexts, particularly considering the practice tradi-tions found within the classroom. Gordon Wells, following a clearly written delineation of motiveand motivation, considers the role of sociocultural theory in teacher preservice education. Nolen,Ward, and Horn try to open a dialogue between sociocultural learning scientists and motivationtheorists who take a cognitive view in hopes that the synergy created will both spark expansionsof theory and further conversation (p. 131). They present their own work viewing motivationas both fundamentally situated and ontological, situated because goals emerge from contexts andontological because motivation also concerns who people think they are in the world. DanielHickey summarizes efforts to consider the implications of contextual theories of cognition forfostering motivation and introduces a recent effort to apply emerging participatory views of learn-ing. Finally, Judith MacCallum and Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn examine change in motivationand how motivation might develop over time.

    In the Learning section you will read, Tabletalk, a study by McCaslin, Vega, Anderson,Calerson, and Labistre, which presents three complementary researcher-designed methodsregarding the study of word meaning in the context of navigating and negotiating in small-grouplearning. You will also read Sainsbury and Walkers theory development regarding ConceptualChange Learning, a sociocultural discourse model that stretches the notion of learner toinclude all participants in a learning zone, teacher included. Vadeboncoeur, Vellos and Goesslingpresent a lengthy chapter considering identity and learning titled Learning as (One Part) IdentityConstruction: Educational Implications of a Sociocultural Perspective. To conclude the volume,Janine Bempechat and associates present their qualitative study of Muscovite teenagers comingof age in a society in transition. This study, theoretically grounded in ecological and socioculturaltheory of mediated cognition, considers the ways in which we may advance our understandingof culture and learning (p. 285) by examining students in the new post-Society Russia raisedby adults educated under the Soviet system.

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  • 80 ROBINSON

    The volumes compelling chapters clearly apply a sociocultural perspective in thoughtful andinnovative ways. Brief biographies are given for each of the contributors, and each chapter has anextensive reference list for further reading.

    The book does have weaknesses. Although it advocates relating theory to practice, this bookremains largely academic and is not particularly accessible for the busy classroom teacher andother educational practitioners. Because of its journal-like feel, readers may consider it more aperiodical than a finite resource. Its layout is also not visually interesting or helpful. There areno text features, other than the predictable journal article format, to help the reader determineimportance, leaving key points usually buried in the text. An abstract introducing each chapterwould have been helpful. In addition, important researchers in the field are conspicuously absent,such as Wertsch, Rogoff, and Moll.

    As a doctoral student at the University of Colorado Denver in Educational Studies andResearch, and as an educator with 18 years classroom experience who recognizes the valueof integration of sociocultural theory into our schools, I see the value of the work collected inthis book. I highly recommend this book as a resource to professors, graduate students, andresearchers. It does a fairly comprehensive job of creating a detailed schema to help the researchercontextualize personal work. I do not recommend this book for classroom teachers. It does notoffer practical day-to-day advice, nor does it provide narratives that would help a classroomteacher understand the need for such continued research. Sadly, it does not invite a classroomteacher to become a teacher-researcher. Perhaps it would be useful to offer a teacher-friendlyversion of these important topics.

    I agree with the editors that a unification of theoretical practice is needed. I agree with Shoenwhen she writes,

    Sociocultural researchers are in a unique position to shape future advances in education because thephilosophy itself is built upon the idea of integrating knowledge from individual, social, and culturaldomains to solve practical problems, or provide insightful theory to inform practice. (p. 33)

    She goes on,

    The challenge for the next generation of sociocultural researchers will be not so much to generatenew basic knowledge, but to find ways to connect and make sense of what is already known. Rapidadvances in multiple areas necessitate revisiting fundamental questions in education, given not atwentieth century mind set characterized by a need to know and understand basic information, but bya twenty-first century mind that is inundated by knowledge and wonders. (p. 34)

    This volume takes a brave step in the right direction: encouraging, directing, and even providinga tentative model of theory unification.

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