‘Interactive approaches to teaching and learning’ by Dr Penny Lacy

Interactive approaches to teaching and learning 

For my blog this week (which are becoming much more infrequent I know, sorry about that) I am summarising a chapter by the late and sadly missed Dr Penny Lacy from the book:

Intensive Interaction Theoretical Perspectives‘ (2011) edited by Dave Hewett, Sage Publications, London. 

There is some belting stuff in it!

According to Penny ‘Interactive approaches to teaching and learning … developed in the UK in response to the prevailing dominance of behavioural approaches in the 1980’s’. She notes the concern prevalent at the time that skills were being taught that did not lead to an understanding of ‘when, where and how to use those skills’, and the skills could only be reproduced ‘in that one [classroom] context’. 

She then goes on to cover some of the history of the development of ‘interactive approaches’ and how difficulties arose due to the adoption of the National Curriculum and the prevailing ‘target driven agenda’. Lacey identifies interactive approaches as influenced by ‘the processes of education rather than by the products’, and such approaches encouraged teachers to consider the importance of ‘intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards’.

Penny states that:‘Interactive approaches have their routes in cognitive psychology and a desire to understand the development of such processes as thinking, perceiving, reasoning, judging, problem-solving as well as the development of communication and language’. Within interactive approaches children are viewed ‘as being active in their own learning’ and this active engagement ‘lifts learners from ‘learned responses’ to ‘intelligent behaviours’’.

Interactive approaches also support learners in ‘taking control of their own learning’ allowing learners to ‘gradually understand that their actions are the causes of the effects they can see, hear and feel’. She also points out that in the early stages, ‘3 components of learning appear to be important … exploration, imitation and repetition’ and these are ‘all part of active learning and enable young children to become increasingly autonomous’.

Penny then looks at some theoretical views of learning and language acquisition, initially pointing the reader to Piaget’s theories of the child ‘developing ideas and concepts through trial and error’. She also points to the work of Vygotsky (he of the Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD) who viewed ‘learning and development to be mutually dependent and interactive’, and that ‘learning needs to be organised and structured by teachers to provide an environment within which children can derive the most benefit’ … ‘children need an environment … that is interactive, where people around them talk to them, listen to them and generally encourage all attempts at communication’.

Penny also goes on to look at learning through play (for young children) and how adults need to ‘enhance’ the learning of children without ‘taking over’ i.e. they need to ‘take the lead from the child, rather than being didactic’. However, she acknowledges this kind of active exploration and learning can be very difficult for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), who may also have multi-sensory impairments (MSI), and severe physical and motor impairments, and thus, in such circumstances adults, ‘may need to take a much more leading role’.

She also points out that for children with PMLD ‘progress is likely to be extremely slow’ and they need ‘... a huge amount of repetition’ for learning to accrue. She then advocates the use of the ‘Routes for Learning’ assessment tool (Welsh Assembly Government, 2006) which provides 43 different behaviours (for communication and cognition development) that can be assessed and suggests strategies for moving children on to each behaviour. 

Finally, Penny points us to Alexander (2006) who defines ‘what makes universal good teaching’, i.e. that teaching is:  well organised and planned; reflective; is based on sound subject knowledge; depends on effective classroom management; requires an understanding of children’s developmental needs; uses exciting and varied approaches; inspires; encourages children to become autonomous learners; facilitates children’s learning; stimulates children’s creativity and imagination.

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