The importance of social interaction in learning and development

With the issue of children being kept out of school being currently debated, and trying not to take sides on how and when all children will be allowed back into their classrooms, I have revisited some of the work of educational theorist Dr Barbara Rogoff. 

From Rogoff’s point of view a child’s individual cognitive development is ’embedded in the practical and routine activities of daily life’, this development being seen to happen due to a child becoming increasingly immersed in a supportive and expanding ‘social world’. Thus learning happens when a child is structurally embedded ‘in a system of interrelations with other people’, without there necessarily being any ‘explicit focus on instruction or guidance’. 

Below I set out some quotes from Barbara Rogoff’s book ‘Apprenticeship in Thinking: Cognitive Development in Social Context’ (1990 – OUP, Oxford), which sets out her views on the contextualised and socially situated nature of learning, and which I think are pertinent to us as Intensive Interaction practitioners (although for those of us working with or caring for adults, where it says ‘children’ I think we could justifiably substitute ‘learner of any age’). 

‘Children’s cognitive development is an apprenticeship – it occurs through guided participation in social activity with companions who support and stretch children’s understanding of and skill in using the tools of culture.‘ ‘Children’s cognitive development has until recently been considered a solitary endeavour, with little examination of the contexts in which and about which children learn … the roles of the individual and the social world are mutual and not separable … children’s thinking and development are supported and stretched in the immediate social contexts in which [they] are involved’ 

Rogoff’s view on learning is that it is best described ‘… as a process in which caregivers’ and children’s role are entwined, with tacit as well as explicit learning opportunities in the routine arrangements and interactions between caregivers and children.’
Rogoff also shares her view of communication, which she sees as being ‘by its nature … an intersubjective process of shared understandings’ … ‘based on a common focus of attention and some shared presuppositions that form the ground for communication.’ That sounds to me like a good description of Intensive Interaction!

So, Rogoff concludes that what is seen as ‘individual activity’ is actually based on a foundation of shared, social participation: ‘Under conditions of cooperation, an activity that is initially shared by those participating in it emerges as an original and fundamental foundation for the development of individual activity.’
I would see Rogoff’s view on children’s learning to be equally applicable to any learning of the earliest, most fundamental communication understandings and abilities, entered into, or continued on at any age; e.g. via Intensive Interaction. Importantly Rogoff sees the individual and social world as educationally inseparable; any such learning only being achievable within an interactive process, carried out ‘in collaboration with others’, where I think most importantly of all she points out that ‘knowledge itself originates within an interactive process…’. 
So, I suppose I am clumsily trying to point out that all learners, children and adults, who are currently missing the socially inclusive, collaborative interactions (made available via Intensive Interaction) with peers and caregivers (and yes, teachers as well!) are missing out on the most formative, most defining, most socially and psychologically important learning available to us all as humans. 
When we come out the other side of this pandemic, when we create a new normal, when we build back better, let’s not forget what’s become increasingly evident – the vital educational and psychological importance of those socially supportive and nurturing ‘interrelations’ with all of those around us!
Please continue to take care … of yourselves and each other.

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