Leonardo Gonçalves Lago

University of Cambridge – United Kingdom

Thesis: On the (transformative) dialogue and dialogicity in science lessons

Research supervisor: Dr Christine Howe

I have a great interest in take part in the 6th ISCAR Summer University for PhD students in order to deepen my knowledge about the theoretical framework, develop my research project, and engage in discussions with peer and professors. It will be a honour to celebrate the Vygotsky`s 120th anniversary dealing with his theory in Moscow.

I have been studying the cultural-historical approach since 2005, firstly through Brazilian scholars during my undergraduate course to be a physics teacher. However, I have intensified my readings since 2011 when I started a master degree course in science education (University de Sao Paulo, Brazil) and formally joint the research group lead by Professor Dr Cristiano Mattos (Science Education and Complexity). During that time, we read and discussed in weekly meetings original writings from Vygotsky, Leontiev, Davydov, Ilyenkov and Engeström among many others scholars. The study of this primary sources have aimed to avoid some Western interpretations and then develop our own understanding about the activity approach to education. I also had the opportunity to visit the Centre for Research on Activity, Development and Learning (CRADLE) in the University of Helsinki in 2012 and 2013.

One of the results of this effort was a master dissertation where we argued for the approximation of the Leontiev’s (1981, 2009) activity system and Vygotsky’s (1987, 1998) concept system, based on the activity thesis that the humans’ mental process acquire a structure tied to the sociohistorically formed means and methods transmitted by others in social interaction during cooperative labour (Leontiev, 1981:56). This led to a theoretical proposition that we called concept-activity. This term means the dialectical unity between a given concept and its genetic activities, i.e., the activities historically determined and culturally systematized in which the concept emerges directed to a purpose. Employing notions such as consciousness and willingness (volition) we were able to relate scientific concepts with action (concept-action) and everyday concepts with operation (concept-operation). The articulation of these elements drives the emergence of conceptual thinking as an activity (Leontiev, 2005), a concept-activity. The implication of this relationship is that the concepts are seen as open, dynamic, multifaceted and controversial entities. Resorting to some episodes and debates of the history of science regarding the moon, we showed that this concept has these qualities that have been just presented. Another development was the designing and implementation of fifteen classes with the purpose of teaching about the moon and its phases through inquiry practices (activities) and employing everyday knowledge and history of science (cultural-historical meanings).

Currently, I am conducting my PhD research (University of Cambridge, UK) which aims to include language and dialogue in the concept-activity framework. The starting point is the acknowledgement that the way of thinking about the school-scientific knowledge is only possible through the teacher’s and students’ talk around the learning activities. In other words, the teaching sequence by itself is not a guarantee of successful learning and the dialogue that emerges from them is what matters. This understanding and a literature review have led me into the dialogic teaching and dialogic pedagogy, a sociocultural educational approach that one of the roots is usually traced back to Vygotsky’s and Bakhtin’s works. These both perspectives have been an increasing research field where modern developers of the dialogic teaching are Alexander, Mercer, Scott, Wells, among many others. Regarding dialogic pedagogy we can cite Matusov, Wegerif, Freire, Bibler, to name a few developers, and one example of actual implementation of this proposal is the School of the Dialogue of Cultures.

Finally, I am sure that the interdisciplinary research perspective of the course provides an insightful context to present and develop the basis of my research project because both of them share the same theoretical framework and focus, “psychological and pedagogical research of childhood development and education” by dealing “with various problems that emerge in modern education”. In addition, the contact with researchers from other fields and cultural backgrounds is always personally and professionally enriching.