The educational process in modern pedagogical practice is usually constructed out through either learning through information, or based on learning through activity. “The traditional didactic system sees its global task in introducing students to the generalized and systematized experience of humanity” (Schwanenflugel & Knapp, 2015). As such, theory, particularly in the context of scientific inquiry and theory formulation, is essential to the modern concept of education, often taking a central role. On the contrary, contextual learning should be attributed to educational technologies, whose main task is to optimize teaching and learning based not on the processes of perception or memory, but, above all, on creative, productive thinking, behavior, communication. In the contextual approach, a special role is played by active and intensifying methods and forms of education, or even whole technologies that ensure the intensive development of the personality. In particular, the contextual approach can be successfully applied in early learning to read – the corresponding case is considered in this paper.
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The Experiment Description and Design
The need to combine two, at first glance, contradictory components, an increase in the quantity of knowledge that students learn and the assurance of their healthy physical and mental growth, poses difficult tasks before educators and other stakeholders. They need to develop new approaches and organize optimal conditions for the child’s development throughout their formative period. The didactic content of the technology of contextual learning provides for the formation of preschoolers’ ideas about oral and written speech as an integral system, mastering the skills of initial reading. The didactic principles that inform the teaching process enable the reconciliation of these two concepts, creating conditions for actual and immediate improvement in children, forming their understanding of speech phenomena, which, having scientific content, are assimilated by students through a figurative, sensually perceived process. The technology of teaching reading to a child of middle preschool age (the son of the author of this paper) is based on the following didactic principles (Schwanenflugel & Knapp, 2015):
- The principle of focusing the training on solving problems of education, upbringing, and development in their relationship;
- The principle of availability and sufficient load;
- The principle of systematicity and consistency;
- The principle of the consciousness and activity of children in the learning process with the leading role of the teacher;
- The principle of visualization of teaching;
- The principle of scientific education;
- The principle of positional reading;
- The principle of the primacy of the phoneme to the letter;
- The principle of the integrity of the game content;
- The principle of using the acquired knowledge and formed skills in the main activities of children.
The methods and techniques of teaching implemented in this technology are based not only on the possibilities of the actual development of children but are also guided by the needs of the immediate development of children 4-5 years old. Exercises presented in technology and aimed at the formation of fundamental reading skills also contribute to the improvement of perceptual actions, their interiorization, the development of perception, memory, attention, thinking, and volition. For the implementation of context learning, the appropriate book was chosen – Lovereading View on the Adventures of Lillicorn in Woowoo Land. As the author claim, “this book is underpinned by a belief that children learn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills best when these skills are approached within a storytelling context” (Moss, 2020, p. 1).
The Design of Experiment
In reading, as in any activity, such basic components as motivational-target, executive, and control are distinguished. The motivational-target element is understood as the ability to determine the purpose of one’s work with a book, to set specific tasks when reading educational literature. The executive component includes the technique of reading and processing the information perceived from the text (memorization, comprehension, understanding of reading). The ability to correlate the obtained result with the set goal is the essence of the control component. The level of mastery of reading in the broad sense (as educational and speech activity) determines the success of the assimilation of knowledge by children in various subjects of the primary school course.
The process of forming reading skills, according to Egorov, goes through three stages: analytical, synetic, and automation stage (Schwanenflugel & Knapp, 2015). In the analytical phase, children master the parts of the whole. First, based on sound analysis, a word is learned by sound-letter designations, and the mechanism of reading a syllable is mastered, then – by combining syllables into words (syllable reading). The conscious goal of the student, which the teacher sets for him/her and for the achievement of which he gives the student the appropriate techniques, is to recreate the sound form of a syllable and word according to a graphic model. Reading comprehension acts here not as the main task, but rather as a way to control the correctness of the action: if a child understood, then he/she read it correctly. Thus, at the analytical stage of mastering reading, this action acts only as a subject of instruction. For the child in the described experiment, it served as a means to achieve some kind of play goal following a specific page of the book used. In this case, the play goal, in addition to focusing on mastering reading skills, served the purposes of learning STEM skills.
The synthetic stage of mastering reading consists of two phases. The first stage is characterized by the formation of holistic reading techniques at the word level, and then phrases (sentences). The action of recreating the sound structure of a word, which was realized at the previous stage of learning to read, gradually folds, goes into the inner plane, turning into an operation as part of a new conscious action – the comprehension of a sentence; this is the beginning of phrasal reading.
The next stage of synthetic reading is contextual reading, in which there is an intonation combination of sentences. Here, students’ efforts are aimed at comprehending a coherent text. In the classical pedagogical theory, it is noted that only starting from the synthetic stage of mastering reading, when the child masters the continuous reading of a word and the smooth reading of a sentence, this action can be used as a teaching tool. It is argued that only by mastering integral reading techniques, a child is able to comprehend the text of a mathematical problem, a question or task, or other content (Schwanenflugel & Knapp, 2015). However, our experiment showed that the mathematical, graphic, and other tasks not directly related to reading themselves could serve as an effective tool for teaching reading. During the exercises, the child independently switched to a coherent interpretation of the sentence.
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The tasks associated with the process of reading during preschool childhood are as follows: to gradually master new words, the meaning of which is revealed by other, often non-verbal means; fix what is visually perceived in the name; contribute to the accumulation of vocabulary for colloquial speech (Schwanenflugel & Knapp, 2015). All these tasks were successfully solved in the process of analytical, synthetic, and automation stages, respectively. In the analytical phase, the assimilation of new words took place with the help of syllabic reading of terms used to describe the task of the quest and find a way to solve it. At the synthetic stage, the visually perceived results of STEM quests were consolidated in the form of learned holistic words, with a deep understanding of their meaning and the possibility of applying them in different situations. At the stage of automation, further vocabulary accumulation took place in an “algorithmic” form – there was no longer a need to focus on syllabic reading. During the passage of the quests, the child quickly read and learned new words, the meaning of which the author of this paper explained to him in the context of STEM.
The Results Observed
The experiment showed the child’s exceptional interest in solving STEM quests. At the same time, the acquisition of reading skills took place naturally – the child considered the need for reading as an important element of the quest passing algorithm. In our opinion, this eliminated the perception of learning to read as a boring learning task and removed the corresponding barriers. The reading lessons themselves were offered to the child as a suggestion to play exciting quests. We can say that the process of teaching reading, in this case, was based on the implementation of the 4Cs model – critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication (Bybee, 2013).
In turn, in the process of developing reading skills, in accordance with our observation of the process over five months, four main stages can be distinguished:
- Mastering sound-letter designations.
- Mastering the merging of letters into syllables of varying degrees of difficulty.
- Mastering the ability to read and comprehend the meaning of the material being read simultaneously.
- Mastering the ability to read and perceive the read words as parts of a semantic whole: phrases, sentences, text.
During the perception and reproduction of each letter sign, the child practiced recognizing the form, differentiating signs by structure. Distinguishing one symbol from another, the child singled out the individual elements of the sign, their location in space. Teaching the most difficult skill is focused on the mental processes already formed in the child – the means of perception. Psychological development, in this case, occurs through the improvement of observation, perception, all types of memory, thinking, imagination (based on material accessible to children).
Theoretical Background and Implications
The process of finding solutions to the problems mentioned above in preschool didactics involves a theoretical background that outlines the proposed method, the creation of initiatives, technologies and teaching approaches based on it, then their testing and introduction into practice. Physiology and medicine are the sciences central to the development of appropriate methods, and their latest results correspond with new ideas in the discipline. The formation of speech-thinking processes through physiology was discussed by I.M. Sechenov, I.V. Pavlov (Bindu, 2017). To study the possibilities of early learning to read as a component of speech development, the conclusion of physiologists that the physiological basis of speech is the temporary connections formed in the cerebral cortex due to the impact on a person of the surrounding reality and the words by which these objects and events are designated. The concept becomes a conditioned stimulus for the child at 8-9 months of their life.
Vygotsky conducted research into the age-related psychophysiological characteristics of children, the conditions and patterns that characterize their growth, and the relationship between a variety of influences and an infant’s personality, drawing the attention of psychologists and teachers to the two-way relationship between children’s learning and their mental development and formulating the basic principle of developmental education: “learning should lead development forward, and not trail in its tail” (Vygotsky as cited in Bybee, 2013, p. 32).
Leontiev, Wenger, Zaporozhets, Galperin, Elkonin, and others created an understanding of the processes of perception, memory, attention, thinking, speech, the main activity of preschoolers – play, as well as the influence of learning on child’s development. In the works of Merlin, Mukhina, Ilyin, the patterns of formation, development, and age characteristics of the motivational sphere of the child’s personality are revealed (Schwanenflugel & Knapp, 2015).
The contextual reading teaching method used in the described experiment was based on learning STEM skills as well as the 4Cs – critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication (Bybee, 2013). STEM quests, as the form of play, were used as a context for learning to read. Contextual learning in such a plane is based on learning principles such as:
- The principle considering the student’s characteristics and his abilities to include in educational activities;
- The principle of problematic content in education;
- The principle of selecting the optimal forms of organizing the training system;
- The principle of correlation in the use of innovative and traditional educational technologies;
- The principle of considering the role of joint activities and interpersonal interaction in the learning process;
- The principle of dynamism;
- The principle of pragmatism (Kosassy et al., 2018).
Verbitsky’ Theory of Contextual Learning and Its Implications
Initially, the theory of contextual education was developed by Verbitsky as applied mainly to the problems of higher education and was called the theory of contextual learning. In recent years, theoretical and experimental data have been obtained, indicating that this theory and the corresponding pedagogical technologies are actively penetrating the general education school. They can be considered as a conceptual basis for the implementation of the competence-based approach while achieving the unity of teaching and upbringing at all levels of lifelong education.
In addition, Verbitsky scientifically substantiated the need to introduce the meaning-forming category “context” into the categorical structure psychology and pedagogy. He was one of the first to write about the need to develop the psychology of education as a new branch of psychological science, more adequately than the psychology of teaching, explaining the laws of modern education and upbringing. He analyzed the understanding of the category of “action,” and not “object action,” as a unit of educational and any other activity that ensures the already mentioned unity of teaching and upbringing. The psychological and pedagogical theory of contextual education, developed by Verbitsky, his students and followers, is positioned by him as the conceptual basis of modern practice-oriented lifelong learning based on fundamental scientific content. The contextual approach itself and the pedagogical technologies of contextual education are increasingly being used in the lifelong education system.
Contextual learning features multiple didactic approaches that result in different degrees of activity and independence in learners (Jilin, 2018):
- The explanatory and illustrative method, typically used for explanations;
- The reproductive method, which teaches students to solve problem categories by replicating an established model;
- The method of problem statements, which is advisable when solving problems aimed at synthesis and obtaining an optimal solution;
- The heuristic, or partial-search, method, which is used to address complex issues by combining knowledge from several areas;
- The research method is a further evolution of the above, applied at the final stage of training and used to find optimal solutions through an extensive review of the problem. In addition to combining information from various fields, the participants also need to be psychologically and pedagogically competent in both theory and practice, so this method was not used even at the late and final stages of the experiment (Jilin, 2018). We have used all of the above methods except for the last one.
The theory of contextual learning combines a variety of topics and situations. Its source is, first of all, social experience assimilation. According to this theory, a person can fully form, develop, and manifest himself/herself only by participating in a personally significant activity (Suryawati & Osman, 2018). Researchers claim that contextual learning helps to resolve a number of contradictions between traditional and innovative forms of knowledge (Bindu, 2017). It helps develop an integral personality, possessing not just information (a given semiotic system, a structure, and means of representing a theory according to Verbitsky), but knowledge (a reflection of the reality reflected in a person’s consciousness), used dynamically in time and space. The primary function of the contextual approach is to create conditions for the transformation of educational and cognitive activity into social, by modeling the educational environment, as close as possible in form and content to the social activity, as well as social development of the individual. Learning in such a model becomes more meaningful.
Analysis of the results of contextual learning showed the effectiveness of mastering the skill of early reading using this technology. Cognitive process and fundamental reading skills formation diagnostics in two children (one, the son of the author of the work, completed a reading course using the presented technology at 4-5 years old, and the other – a daughter of friends – at six years old) highlighted how learning to read more effectively improves cognitive process development and the formation of fundamental reading skills.
Thus, it can be assumed that the described experiment lessons scenario allows providing motivation in the learning process to read, organizing the learning process, taking into account the psychophysiological capabilities and developmental needs of children 4-5 years old. Due to their high speech and motor activity, predominantly involuntary forms of memory, attention, behavior, role-playing, dramatized, and directorial games are the optimal contexts for the learning process. The reason is that children’s actions are limited only by the framework of the game plot, as a result of which children do not overwork themselves and retain an interest in their studies. The use of play in the form of STEM quests as a learning tool for teaching reading contributes to the development and enrichment of the game itself as the leading activity of preschoolers. In the classroom, children understand the evolution of game content at a basic level and comprehend the experience of interacting during the game. This experience assists in the formation of a developed and harmonious personality. The didactic content of the technology presupposes the awareness and assimilation of elementary linguistic patterns by children, provides suggestions for the relationship between written and oral communication and creates conditions for further improving speech skills.
The topic of the research is an integrative model of learning to read based on a contextual approach to learning reading. Learning to read in theory and practice will be considered from an interdisciplinary perspective. A pilot study will show the possibility of combining learning to read and acquiring STEM skills. Based on the conclusions obtained as a result of the analysis, a model of teaching reading will be developed and described as a component of the competence model for the middle preschool age (represented by cognitive, motivational, activity, axiological and social aspects), which has the following elements: purpose, principles, content, learning structure.
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Contextual learning is a method in which the subject and social content of future competence are consistently modeled in the language of sciences and supported by the practical underpinnings of education. The activity approach proposed in the study manifests in the organization of the teaching process, its focus, and the target setting. Thus, the pedagogical process should be based not only on the transfer of information to the student but also on the task of developing the student into someone capable of carrying out complex activities. In addition, contextual learning is closely related to the communicative approach. This approach assumes the speech orientation of teaching as a means of communication and interaction between people. Training, built in accordance with the communicative approach, is characterized by situationality and functionality (Bindu, 2017). These traits mean that, in the lesson, situations are created that are as close as possible to the real conditions of communication.
The research aims to develop a model of contextual learning, demonstrating that contextual learning helps to resolve multiple contradictions between traditional and innovative forms of learning and performs the following functions: creates conditions for the formation of not only cognitive but also personal motivation; helps students see the connection, as well as systematically use the knowledge gained from different disciplines; enables the growth of a holistic personality.
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Jilin, L. (2018). Curriculum and practice for children’s contextualized learning. Springer.
Kosassy, S., Gistituati, N., Montessori, M., Jama, J. (2018). The implementation of contextual learning approach in E-learning based on weblog toward students learning achievements. Journal of Counseling and Educational Technology,1(2), 59-74.
Moss, L. (2020). Lovereading view on the adventures of Lillicorn in Woowoo Land. QuestFriendz.
Schwanenflugel, P., & Knapp, N. (2015). The psychology of reading: Theory and applications. The Guilford Press.
Suryawati, E., & Osman, K. (2018). Contextual learning: Innovative approach towards the development of students’ scientific attitude and natural science performance. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 14(1), 61-76.