In qualitative research the facts never speak for themselves (Eisner, 1998, p. 39).
Introduction to the data analysis and results
The current study sought to discover how the explanatory animation creation task might surface and document conceptual crossroads. These conceptual crossroads were signposted according to the issues pertaining to each child’s chosen topic. In other words, it is only in direct reference to these topics that any sense can be made of conceptual change in relation to any particular child.
The final analysis of each child takes the form of a portrait where I draw on all relevant data sources to identify instances of conceptual change for each child. To identify and analyse these conceptual changes, I chose to compare and contrast two of the twelve data sources:
The children’s voice-over scripts
My researcher reflections (in weekly reviews) about the same topics
Focussing the analysis on these two sources affirmed that the children's voice-over script was the most important data source which the child generated as this formed the essence of their explanation. Similarly, the researcher reflections were the most important data source which I generated as these contained my historically bounded (i.e., written in 2011) instances of data analysis. The other data sources that each child generated also informed these portraits as evidenced through various instances of reinforcement or contradiction. In other words, the analysis is primarily between what each child knew and what I knew. These two items then constitute the ZPD quite logically as an analysis within the ZPD.
Creating zones of proximal development
The ZPD is usually understood as a context for teaching and learning rather than a framework for analysis but this approach is not without precedent. Sutter (2001) has noted the strong connection between the ZPD and Vygotsky and Sakharov’s dual stimulation method:
The concept of the zone of proximal development goes together with the concept of the method of double stimulation. That means that when your analysis focuses on ZPD, the relation between people is highlighted, and the instrument and sign used in the interaction are put into the background. But of course they are there, because people influence each other through artifact mediation, and through the method of double stimulation. In the second case, when your account focuses on the method of double stimulation, the instruments and the signs are in the forefront, and the interactions between people are in the background. But each time, the ZPD and the method of double stimulation go together. They are, as I see it, twin concepts in Vygotsky’s cultural-historical psychology (p. 18 original emphasis).
The ZPD provides the frame of reference that identifies what each party understands about the topic. Changing the topic changes the frame of reference so this further affirms the important point that each child’s topic constitutes a different case for analysis. The grounds for comparison (i.e., why contrast the children’s voice-over scripts and my researcher reflections?), involves the notion that storyboards are semiotic tools for cross-modal cognition. The co-construction of knowledge as evidenced through the evolving digital artefacts also surfaces the researcher’s understanding of the topic. This provides a logical context for analysis as I would not be able to make any judgements about each child’s work without reference to my own understanding (Leite, Mendoza & Borsese, 2007).
Diagrammatically, it is common to represent the ZPD using irregular shapes to acknowledge that learning is often a messy phenomenon, quite different from the neat boundaries implied by some Venn diagrams. The point of reconceptualising the ZPD as Figure 4.1 with the red extensions is to allow for instances where the child’s knowledge exceeds the helper’s knowledge.
Figure 4.1. Overlap within Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.
In the current study, to enter into the process of conceptual consolidation it was important for me, as the researcher, to grapple with the same conceptual issues as each of the participants. As each participant was free to choose their own topic, this put me in an interesting position because these topics were not necessarily areas in which I claimed to have any expertise. This caused me to reflect on the abstract- concrete continuum that was discussed in the literature review. As the ZPD is so widely accepted, it seems that the ZPD should also be able to account for the way in which new knowledge is acquired, particularly how new knowledge might not be instantly consolidated within the mind of the learner. This new perspective led me to reconceptualise a revised diagram for the ZPD as depicted in Figure 4.2.
Figure 4.2. Concretising new knowledge in the ZPD.
The dotted line for the outer shapes, for both the child and the helper, represent abstract knowledge that is known but not fully understood. The solid lines of the inner shapes indicate where conceptual consolidation has occurred. All of the shapes have been simplified compared to Figure 4.1 to improve the clarity of the diagram (now that there are four shapes instead of two) but the notion of the child’s knowledge exceeding the helper’s knowledge is still retained. (1)
Portraits of the children’s conceptual journeys
The children’s portraits have been designed and presented using the following format and order:
A video transcript table consisting of screen shots from each child’s three video artefacts along with the transcription of each video. The three videos are the prior knowledge video, completed explanatory animation and the director’s commentary.
A short introduction of each child and their chosen topic.
A ZPD discussion detailing which element of the explanatory animation creation task was most conducive in creating the ZPD for each child.
A narrative detailing the conceptual journey of each child. These narratives are often chronological due to the evolving nature of the children’s understanding. Each of these sections concludes with the final conceptual consolidation rubric for each child.
An abridged summary table of each child’s work serves to summarise each child’s conceptual journey in relation to each child’s content knowledge and a restatement of any issues or obstacles pertaining to each child during the project. “Issues or obstacles” is a heading in each of these tables as the animation task invariably involved conceptual problem solving. These problems usually related to either the suitability of the chosen metaphor or a re-evaluation of the scope of each topic.
Throughout this chapter, my voice as the researcher is present in two distinct ways. Interestingly, the contrast is not between my teacher and researcher roles, as the children displayed no such dichotomy in their interactions with me. Rather, the two voices are:
a) Me as the researcher making historically bounded comments and reflections from one week to the next in the second Semester of 2011. This was a natural component of the action research process being “integral with reflection during data collection” (Noffke & Somekh, 2005, p. 91). These instances have been referenced according to their source as Researcher reflections in weekly reviews, daily Researcher’s reflexive journal entries or retrospective reflections from the weekly Lesson plans.
b) Me as the current voice completing this analysis in 2014 (all comments within this chapter are me as the 2014 voice except where noted).
The following eight portraits are not in alphabetical order. They have been rearranged into the most appropriate order to document and illustrate the issues that arose during the case study:
A portrait of Harriet
A portrait of Sunny
A portrait of Neil
A portrait of Magnus
A portrait of Molly
A portrait of Ingrid
A portrait of Ryan
A portrait of Maria
Montages from the eight portraits
In summary, the data analysis can be encapsulated with three small montages (2) compiled from the eight portraits. Although the ZPD generally refers to a single idea, these three montages in turn will emphasise:
the zone itself
student/researcher proximity within that zone
the conceptual development that occurred within the zone
Harriet’s portrait [“How does hair grow?”] emphasised the fact that the ZPD involves learning that is beyond the current understanding of the child. When a self-motivated and diligent child such as Harriet is involved, it can actually be more difficult to find the right questions or other stimulus to create the ZPD, as the need for change is often not stated by the child. Harriet’s portrait also demonstrated how a child’s understanding, in certain areas, might surpass that of the more competent helper (see Figure 4.1).
Although Sunny’s topic [“Solar cell efficiency”] was intrinsically difficult, the ZPD (or mutual ZPD) was easier to define due to the required engagement on behalf of the researcher. Working with Neil [“Satellites”] also brought proximity within the zone into focus, as he was initially highly dependent on the researcher, and then increasingly independent in pursuit of his goal.
Development within the ZPD involved careful discussions about the refinement of individual topics for both Magnus [“Electromagnetic fields”] and Molly [“Molecular naming conventions”] when their topics became increasingly specialised. For Ingrid [“Stringed instruments”], the change in topic was a complete departure from her original choice. Giving Ingrid the formula for the frequency of vibrating strings essentially defined the outer limit of her ZPD. Ingrid’s explanatory task was then a conscious path towards this boundary. Choosing an appropriate metaphor was a pivotal decision for Ryan [“Stadium design”] as the ZPD was not evident until he began to explore the affordances and limitations of the two different metaphors that he incorporated into his animation. Maria’s [“Sol feige”] progress was also dependent on choosing an appropriate metaphor. For Maria, her conceptual breakthrough surfaced the diagnostic dimension of the learning affordances evident during the construction of the aeroplane metaphor during the explanatory animation task.
These three montages illuminated aspects of the ZPD but the eight portraits also resonated with some key premises of the dual stimulation method. One premise is that the second stimulus is used as a tool to solve the first stimulus. The conceptual journey section within each child’s portrait was structured to address this issue. The unity between task and tool was further developed by Vygotsky when he stated that the dual stimulation method is “simultaneously prerequisite and product, the tool and result of study” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 65).
Another premise is that the specific path of the resolution throughout the first stimulus (established by the second stimulus) will chronicle the formation of concepts (Vygotsky 1987). Again, the conceptual journeys within each portrait were chronological in relation to the various problem-solving events. This notion of conceptual evolution has been further developed by Daniels (2012) who noted that the historicity of development is an importantly component of the dual stimulation method. Vygotsky (1978) drew upon the writing of Blonsky (1930) when stating that “behaviour can only be understood as the history of behaviour” (p. 65) further adding, “this idea [of historicity] is the cardinal principle of the whole [dual stimulation] method” (ibid). Vygotsky was not talking about behavior but, rather, referenced Blonsky’s thesis to explain his own developmental perspective about the nature of conceptual change.
In the current study, conceptual consolidation was also understood as a history or chronology of development. An affordance of the dual stimulation method was that it created both the conditions for conceptual change and also provided the means to document conceptual change. This was achieved through the evolving, date-based multimodal animation artefacts and the proximity afforded to me as the researcher through the ZPD.
(1) I also contemplated an extension of this metaphor where the quadrilateral shapes are viewed as people engaged in the act of rock climbing where each point (i.e., limb) moves towards the unknown and is then stabilised as a new spike is secured to the rock.
(2) Montage is used here figuratively to continue the portrait theme as the montages will take the form of written text.