The overall aim of the study was to examine teacher-student interactions and the role of scaffolding as a tool for teaching and learning within the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). In particular, the study sought to examine how teachers use culturally appropriate scaffolds to promote learning in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at Beenleigh State High School.
The study uses Vygotsky's concept of teaching and learning within the ZPD which is central to his position that learning moves from an initial form of guided learning to later independent learning, Vygotsky proposed that there are two levels of development. The first he termed actual development and defined as the level of development a child's mental function can determine by independently solving problems. The second level is referred to as potential development. This can be achieved if the child is given the benefit of support while carrying out a task. That is, potential development is the child's ability to solve problems while under the guidance of or in collaboration with a more capable peer. Vygotsky suggests that there is always a difference between these two forms of development and that this gap is an indicator of the functions that have not yet matured but are in the process of maturation. It is this Zone of Proximal Development that is critical for teaching and learning.
This study will serve as a guide in exploring some of the reasons why the education system has failed to meet the needs of Indigenous students in contemporary schools. If we are to improve the performance of Indigenous students, we must re-evaluate the way we teach these students. Approaches to teaching and learning must change so that Indigenous students are allowed to actively participate and be involved in constructing their own knowledge and understanding.
This study begins with a brief overview of the reasons for undertaking this work. The underlying concern in all of the issues addressed within this study is a distinct sense of unease and uncertainty about an educational system that is meant to provide the necessary skills and qualifications to Indigenous students. If we intend to increase educational provisions in the future with the idea that more education would lead to many other social benefits such as increased economic success, greater social harmony, less poverty and less crime, and that our current investments must bring the anticipated results in the Indigenous education system, then we must re-assess the way educational provisions are delivered today (Groome, 1995).
The second chapter places this research into context, with an in-depth examination of current debate within Australian literature on the nature, relevance and significance of Indigenous learning styles. This chapter outlines theories of learning styles and cultural settings, and questions the effect of individual differences on the efficacy of teaching and learning. It also highlights the notions of children of differences and educability. Previous studies have attempted to theorise and describe the intellectual characteristics of children and adults of different gender, class and race. Aspects of these much-explored individual differences relate to differences in learning styles, strategies and conceptions of learning. Such differences present a profound challenge for researchers to understand and analyse how students learn. At the same time, researchers much acknowledge and attempt to understand the culturally-conditioned knowledge students bring to the classroom. Chapter Two also highlights the key principles of Vygotsky's sociocultural theory of cognitive development. The power of Vygotsky's ideas lies in his explanation that every function in the cultural development of the child comes on the stage twice: first in the social, later in the psychological; and in two respects: first in relations between people as an interpsychological category, and afterwards within the child as an intrapsychological category. All higher psychological functions are internalised relationships of the social kind, and constitute to the social structure of personality. Vygotsky's theory emphasises the importance of learning in action and recognises the cultural embeddedness of action. It also stresses the central role of the cultural artefacts that are used to mediate the achievement of action goals and to solve the problems that quite frequently arise in dealing with the particularities of specific situations.
A hypothesis for the study is formulated in Chapter Three. We are guided in this work by sociocultural approaches to the study of educational environments, constructivist approaches to learning, and an analytical perspective of students' interactions in various classrooms. Chapter Three also outlines the manner in which data was collected, examines the different methodologies used in gathering information and discusses why interpretive methods are most appropriate for assessing the manner in which teachers and students interacted. The chapter also explains why the focus group was selected as the preferred method of collecting data. It then examines the number of steps involved in the research and discusses questions and issues of validity and ethics, before providing a brief outline of the methods of analysis.
Chapter Four examines and analyses the results obtained through the fieldwork component of the study.
The research concludes in Chapter Five with an overview of the main findings, plus recommendations and a summary of implications of this study for the future