Guide Interpretation and Social Knowledge: On the Use of Theory in the Human Sciences

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Interpretation and Social Knowledge suggests a different route, offering and Social Knowledge: On the Use of Theory in the Human Sciences.
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At first glance, some of these ideas appear to be inconsistent with research that suggests that much earlier—indeed, by the time they begin elementary school—children already are well aware that individuals can hold different beliefs about the same objects and events. Beliefs are not simply copies of reality; they are products of the activity of knowing—therefore, they are subject to verification and are potentially disconfirmable by evidence Perner, If young elementary schoolchildren understand these.

Chandler, Hallett, and Sokol suggest that, although young children are aware of representational diversity, this does not mean that they consider it a necessary or legitimate aspect of knowledge. Instead, they are more likely to believe that there is one right answer and that other interpretations are simply wrong or misinformed. Hence, the criteria for knowledge cannot easily be specified, and all knowing is associated with an unavoidable degree of ambiguity.

And once again, the relations between the lines of research are complex. It is straightforward to imagine how holding either absolutist or relativist epistemologies could lead to a distorted view of the nature of science. For example, Carey and Smith point out that many students do not understand that science is primarily a theory-building enterprise. They may learn about observation, hypotheses, and experiment from their science textbooks, but they rarely understand that theories underlie these activities and are responsible for both the generation and interpretation of both hypotheses and experiments.

The commonsense epistemology that young students typically hold is unreflective; to the extent that they think about it at all, children often think of knowledge as stemming directly from sensory experience, even though they do know that some knowledge is inferred rather than observed Sodian and Wimmer, , and they are even aware that the same object may be interpreted differently by different observers Taylor, Cartwright, and Bowden, Carey and Smith suggest that children may not make clear distinctions between theory, specific hypotheses, and evidence, and they may expect to find simpler and more direct relations between data and conclusions than are warranted.


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Like the absolutists described in the developmental psychology literature, they tend to regard differences in conclusions or observations as being due to lack of information or misinformation, rather than legitimate differences in perspective or interpretation. For this reason, Kitchener and King argue students fail to understand that controversy is a part of science and that authorities are deemed, by definition, to share a common set of true beliefs. We suggest, however, an additional factor that may explain this finding, but that is not considered in this body of research.

Children are rarely taught about controversy in science, so why would they come to view scientific knowledge as contested? Carey et al. Many children regarded models merely as copies of the world, a Level 1 perspective. Finally, in Level 3 epistemology, models were regarded as tools developed for the purpose of testing theories. When data are gathered em-. Similarly, Driver et al. The reasoning considered at the lowest level was reasoning grounded in phenomena; at the next, empirical reasoning based on relationships between variables; and finally, the highest level was reasoning that uses imagined models.

Like the Carey and Unger studies, Driver et al. Much of this research literature suggests that K-8 students have a limited understanding of how scientific knowledge is constructed. However, it is not clear to what extent one can attribute such limitations to developmental stage, as opposed to adequacy of instructional opportunity or other experiences. In the words of Carey and Smith , p. First, in what sense are these levels developmental?

Is Science a Social Construct?

Second and distinctly , do these levels provide barriers to grasping a constructivist epistemology if such is made the target of the science education? Consider first the model of science as a way of knowing underlying the science children experience in the science curriculum, their primary source of information about the nature of the discipline. As noted in other chapters, in the upper elementary school years, the process of scientific knowledge construction is typically represented as experiment, with negligible acknowledgment of the role of interpretation or, more generally, the active role of the scientist in the process of knowledge construction.

In the early grades, the typical emphasis on description of phenomenology through the basic science process skills of observation, categorization, measurement, etc. In the same vein, science aspires to construct conceptual structures, with robust explanatory and predictive power, yet this is seldom either explicit or implicit in the K-8 science curriculum. An analysis of science.

According to Roseman, Kesidou, Stern, and Caldwell , authors of the AAAS report, the science texts evaluated by AAAS included many classroom activities that either were irrelevant to learning key science ideas or failed to help students relate their activitiy to science ideas. Science curriculum has long been criticized as reflecting an impoverished and misleading model of science as a way of knowing e.

Although there are notable exceptions to this pattern, most K-8 curricula would appear to at least exacerbate the epistemological shortcomings with which children enter school.

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In the words of Reif and Larkin , p. The epistemic cognition literature has documented shortcomings in students at all levels of study, including college and beyond. It is not surprising that shortcomings in the understanding of science as a way of knowing have been identified in K-8 teachers. A small literature of classroom-based design studies indicates that these limitations may be at least to some degree ameliorable by instruction.

With appropriate supports for learning strategies of investigation, children can generate meaningful scientific questions and design and conduct productive scientific investigations e. For example, in the small elementary school in which she was the lone science teacher, Gertrude Hennessey was able to systematically focus the lessons on core ideas built cumulatively across grades She chose to.

In another example, students showed improved understanding of the process of modeling after they engaged in the task of designing a model that works like a human elbow Penner et al. In this study, students in first and second grade in two classrooms participated in a model-building task over three consecutive 1-hour sessions. They began by discussing different types of models they had previously seen or made. They considered the characteristics of those models, and how models are used for understanding phenomena.

They were then introduced to the task of designing a model that functions like their elbow. After discussing how their own elbows work, children worked in pairs or triads to design and build models that illustrated the functional aspects of the human elbow.

After generating an initial model, each group demonstrated and explained their model to the class followed by discussion of the various models. Students were then given an opportunity to modify their models or start over. In interviews conducted after the session, students improved in their ability to judge the functional rather than perceptual qualities of models compared with nonmodeling peers.

They also demonstrated an understanding of the process of modeling in general that was similar to that of children 3 to 4 years older.

Books | Isaac Ariail Reed

Researchers have also identified important curricular features that support the development of a more sophisticated epistemology. Curricula can facilitate the epistemological development of students when they focus on deep science problems, provide students opportunities to conduct inquiry, and structure explicit discussion of epistemological issues see, e. In order to advance their understanding of epistemology, learners engaged in inquiry need explicit cues to reflect on their experiences and observations and consider the epistemological implications Khishfe and Abd-El-Khalick, Finds a variety of ways in which students can externally represent their thinking about the topic.

Begin to address the necessity of understanding other usually peer positions before they can discuss or comment on those positions. Toward the end of the year, begin to recognize inconsistency in the thoughts of others, but not necessarily in their own thinking. Continues to provide an educational environment in which students can safely express their thoughts, without reproaches from others.

Models consistent and inconsistent thinking students can readily point out when teacher is being inconsistent. Explore the idea that thoughts have consequences, and that what one thinks may influence what one chooses to see.

Begin to differentiate understanding what a peer is saying from believing what a peer is saying. Begin to comment on how their current ideas have changed from past ideas and to consider that current ideas may also need to be revised over time. Provides lots of examples from their personal work which is saved from year to year of student ideas.

Continue to articulate criteria for acceptance of ideas i. Begin to employ analogies and metaphors, discuss their explicit use, and differentiate physical models from conceptual models. Provides historical examples of very important people changing their views and explanations over time. Many researchers assume that epistemology is trait-like, although some argue that it is situational—an interaction of cognitive and historical resources with environmental features that cue or elicit those resources.

Looking across the various lines of research, most children in grades K-8 do not further develop the rudimentary knowledge and skills that are so evident during the preschool years. Young children tend to move from one level of understanding to the next slowly, if at all, and by middle school few students reach higher levels of understanding, at which knowledge is viewed as problematic and claims are necessarily subjected to scrutiny for their evidentiary warrants.

In large measure, this pervasive pattern probably reflects more about the opportunities to learn that children encounter in their. Evidence from design studies, discussed in this chapter and to which we return in Chapter 9 , suggests that, under optimal curricular and instructional conditions, children can develop very sophisticated views of knowledge. Yet the contrast is remarkable between the capabilities of preschool children and modal patterns of development in older children and the lack of sophisticated reasoning about knowledge in early adolescents.

We argue that in carefully designed, supportive environments, elementary and middle school children are capable of understanding and working with knowledge in sophisticated ways. Instruction in K-8 science can significantly advance their understanding of the nature and structure of scientific knowledge and the process by which it is constructed. With appropriate supports for learning strategies of investigation, children can engage in designing and conducting investigations that enable them to understand science as a way of knowing Gobert and Pallant, ; Klahr and Li, ; Metz, ; Schwartz and White, ; Smith et al.

The core elements of this scientific activity involve articulating hypotheses, laws, or models, designing experiments or empirical investigations that test these ideas, collecting data, and using data as evidence to evaluate and revise them. We will discuss this literature in depth in Chapter 9. Rather, there is a tendency to overemphasize methods, often experimental methods, as opposed to presenting science as a process of building theories and models, checking them for internal consistency and coherence, and testing them empirically.

This lack of attention to theory, explanation, and models may exacerbate the difficulties children have with understanding how scientific knowledge is constructed. It may, in fact, strengthen their misconceptions, such as the view that scientific knowledge is unproblematic, relatively simple to obtain, and flows easily from direct observation.

behold Interpretation and Social Knowledge: On the Use of Theory in the Human Sciences

The role of teachers and teacher knowledge in science education is taken up in greater detail in Chapter Akerson, V. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37 4 , Bell, P. Beliefs about science: How does science instruction contribute? Hofer and P. Pintrich Eds. Burbules, N. Science education and the philosophy of science: Congruence or contradiction? International Journal of Science Education, 3 3 , Carey, S. International Journal of Science Education, 11 5 , On understanding the nature of scientific knowledge.

Thus: the fact that all maximal interpretation is partial emphatically does not undermine its interest or importance; the implication is that it is through this interpretive work that social science has something interesting to say:. I would submit that this is the ultimate purpose of the pluralistic, contentious language game of social theory—to allow the investigator to travel in mind and in text and through the analysis of evidence, and thus to comprehend and communicate the way social life works in other times and other places.

As you can tell, I generally liked the book and find its approach stimulating and unusual. My concerns with the book are two-fold. I think even empirically-minded theorists like the ones I mentioned above would find it hard to care much about the high-minded theorization going on here. The other concern is more pedestrian, but the book is, well—dense.

I felt like I had hitched onto a speeding train and was being whisked along for speedy ride, rarely offered the opportunity to stop and get my bearings. That made for an exhilarating journey but a difficult read. Hi Andy, this is an excellent review of Reed — which I too find very valuable. It will hopefully get set for grad soc of knowledge and theory classes, and eventually strengthen methods debate.

At least it has a couple of prizes.


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