University of Leiden - The Netherlands
'Approach behavior' is a 'fuzzy concept' that provides information on how students handle a (learning) task. In the paper, an holistic Vygotskian operational definition is developed for facilitating the objective description and measurement of approach behavior in its totality for different learning tasks. This operational definition is based upon (1) the three-part interactionmodel of action psychology, (2) diagnostic application of concepts used by Gal'perin. In the paper the emphasis is on the intellectual aspects of approach behavior. We discuss the function of the operational definition for the study of personality and learning.
In this paper the emphasis is on the theoretical and methodological aspects of the proposed general operational definition (section 2). We show how this general operational definition is worked out for the taskdomain of mental arithmetic and we discuss as an example some results of an empirical investigation in this taskdomain (section 3). In the last section (section 4) we discuss the function of our operational definition for the study of personality and learning.
'Approach' or 'approach behavior' is a 'fuzzy concept' that provides information on how students handle a learning task. The terms 'approach' and 'approach behavior' are used in information processing psychology as well as in action psychology (Van Parreren, 1951; Span, 1974; Veenman & Elshout, 1990). 'Approach' or 'approach behavior' refers to cognitive and metacognitive processes which take place when students are engaged in working on a problem. In this paper an holistic operational definition is developed for facilitating the objective description and measurement of approach behavior in general, i.e. in different learning tasks, for instance in mental arithmetic, spelling and reading. This operational definition is based upon the theoretical framework of action psychology. Action psychology, as we use the term here, will be understood as a psychological approach that studies all human attempts to deal meaningfully with material or mental objects in order to change them according to a certain goal. This psychological theory has been developed in Eastern Europe by Vygotsky, Luria, Leont'ev and Gal'perin, and in Western Europe by Lewin and Van Parreren (Lewin, 1926; 1935; 1942; Van Parreren & Carpay, 1972; Van Parreren, 1978; Van Oers, 1990). The influence of Vygotsky's legacy on our research on approach behavior can be summarized in two points:
It is important to notice that the person is not reacting directly to the objectively given objects in a situation. The relevant objects in a situation on the contrary have a particular meaning or sense (Leont'ev, 1979) for the actor, and it is just this meaning that is determining activity. "Therefore, it is not any of the factors in themselves (if taken without reference to the child) which determines how they will influence the future course of his development, but the same factors refracted through the prism of the child's emotional experience [interpretation or appraisal]" (Vygotsky, 1994, p. 340, between brackets added by MvdH). In the model this refractioning- or appraisal-process is indicated by a lense.2)
Kossakowski & Lompscher describe the process of interiorisation with respect to approach behavior as a process of the formation of solid habits: "Wenn gleiche oder ähnliche Besonderheiten im Ablauf der psychischen Prozesse in der Tätigkeitsregulation wiederholt auftreten, verfestigen und verallgemeinern sie sich allmählich, d.h., sie werden für den Prozessverlauf bei dieser Persönlichkeit typisch und treten als individuell typische Fähigkeiten oder durch andere Verlaufsqualitäten psychischer Prozesse in unterschiedlichen Situationen mit hoher Wahrscheinlichkeit wieder auf. Man kann die Entwicklung aktueller psychischer Prozessqualitäten zu verfestigten Eigenschaften der Persönlichkeit in gewisser Weise auch als einem Vorgang der Interiorisation (Verinnerlichung) ursprünglich äusserer und äusserlich bedingter Tätigkeitsformen zu psychischen Verlaufsqualitäten charakterisieren" (Kossakowski & Lompscher, 1977, pp. 133-134).
From an action-psychological view learning is understood as a process of qualitative improvement of human actions as a result of both social intercourse with cultured others, and as a result of manipulations with culturally designed objects in a socio-historic environment (Van Oers, 1990; Tomic & Span, 1993).
Gal'perin makes a distinction in the first place between:
On the basis of a literature study regarding the approach behavior of students with learning problems (Van der Heijden, 1993), we here add the following two properties, namely:
In process-assessment, or qualitative assessment, description of cognitive and metacognitive processes is emphasized in contrast to assessment of achievements in performance testing (Holowinsky, 1980; Meyers et al., 1985). Already in the twenties Lewin pleaded for using process-concepts rather than performance or achievement-concepts: "The danger of using performance-concepts ['Leistungsbegriffe' in German] can not be taken too seriously" (Lewin, 1926, p. 18, transl. MvdH; see also Lewin, 1935). Process-assessment in comparision with performance testing is characterized by a higher degree of relevance for instruction and remediation (Van der Heijden, 1993). Ysseldyke and Algozzine put in this respect: "Why is it that school personnel administer so many tests in order to make decisions about students? Is it because they learn so much about the students and how to teach them? Apparently, educational personnel believe so. We think, however, that there is much evidence to indicate that assessors learn very little about students from the students' performances on standardized tests" (Ysseldyke & Algozzine, 1982, p. 127).
In action-psychological oriented process assessment or qualitative assessment actions performed by a student in a concrete tasksituation are retrieved (or properly speaking re-constructed) by combining data originating from retrospection with data originating from behavior observation (Van Parreren, 1981). Combining data from these two different sources is often found in practical process- diagnostics, but rarely applied in scientific research. Process assessment is already in 1944 described by Cattell as interactive measurement (see figure 1) as opposed to normative measurement: "measurement in terms of the actual physical and biological effects of behavior, usually, in test situations, within a restricted framework defined by the test. It recognizes the onenes of the organism- environment and pays tribute to the oft-forgotten fact that a trait is never resident only in the organism but is a relation between the organism and the environment" (Catell, 1944, p. 293; italics MvdH). Catell continues: "interactive quantification is the queen of measurement" (ibid., p. 299).
In dynamic assessment, the student is helped or given instruction in order to determine the degree of independence of the student's activity: can a student who is unable to perform a certain activity spontaneously manage to do so when aided by an adult? Dynamic assessment can be regarded as the determination of 'the zone of proximal development' (Vygotsky, 1978).
The above general operational definition of the concept of approach behavior was worked out for the task domain of mental addition and subtraction up to 100. This yielded the Leiden Diagnostic Arithmetic Approach Test (abbrevation: LDRT), a process-diagnostic instrument for assessing aspects of approach behavior in mental arithmetic. In mental arithmetic students actions are for a great deal abbrevated and automatic. With our test we were able to measure the following eight aspects of approach behavior:
We here give as an example a short description of our empirical study: a description of the instruments and especially a description of the operationalisations of the eight aspects of approach behavior, some information of the design and research questions and a summary of some of the results of our empirical investigation.
The problems of the LDRT are classified according to three criteria:
Secondly the qualitative retrospection-protocols are scored quantitatively. This results in several variables for eight aspects of approach behavior in mental arithmetic:
In the LDRT the degree of orientation is defined on the basis of the degree to which handy arithmetic problems are solved in a handy instead of a standard fashion. The handy approach is based on a 0/1 scoring of the retrospection-protocols. Some examples are given below.
Problem Handy approach 18+14+2=? student restructures problem (does first 18+2) 15+17-15=? student does first 15-15=0
Verschaffel et al. (1992) demonstrated the validity of retrospection with these 'clever strategies' by using eye movements in combination with retrospective data.
By applying stepwise structured help with students that did not display the handy approach spontaneously, scores for the degree of independence of the handy approach were ascertained as well (zone of proximal development). Van der Heijden (1993, pp. 330-332; 1994) describes the procedures for help as used.
A variable consciousness verbalisation of executive actions is based on a quantitative judgement of the quality of the verbal retrospection protocol. How well the student is able to account for his or her computational actions is diagnosed on the basis of a scoring of several aspects of the protocol:
In the third place the students are questionned about the kind of errors they made. On this basis a variable consciousness of type of errors is defined as an indication of the degree to which the students are able to say something about this aspect of their computational activity.
In our study the above three consciousness-variables are treated separately and a single composite score indicating 'consciousness' is computed as well.
The reliability of the LDRT approach-variables was investigated in two ways:3)
(1) By a separate generalizability study in which the LDRT was administered two times with one student by two assessors. Assessor 1 interacted actively with the student (and made a protocol) and assessor 2 only made the protocol passively. The roles of assessor 1 and 2 were alternated.
(2) By analysis of assessor effects in this study (N=174), which was conducted by 7 assessors.
Both reliability studies revealed no significant assessor effects (Van der Heijden, 1993, pp. 150-151).
Validity of the approach-variables was investigated on the basis of correlational analyses between LDRT approach-variables and respectively (1) LDRT-achievement variables, (2) the two mathematics achievements tests, (3) the indices for verbal and non-verbal intelligence (see section 3.2). The results of these analyses show a satisfying convergent and discriminant validity (Van der Heijden, 1993). Correlations with the schoolnotes suggest ecological validity as well.
Schoolnotes for mathematics were obtained from the teachers. Also a measure of the educational and occupational background of the parents (SES indication) was obtained (Van Westerlaak et al., 1975).
In addition a instrument was developed by the author in order to measure the prior knowledge needed for computation of the problems of the LDRT:
The results on reliability (Van der Heijden, 1993, p. 130-131) of the prior knowledge scores express a satisfying reliability.
Because we in the first instance did not want to make assumptions about the approach variables higher than on a ordinal level we did nonparametrical analyses in the first place. However comparing nonparametrical results with results of parametrical analyses did not lead to different interpretations. The following statistical analyses were executed in order to answer questions about the following subjects.
Consistency of approach behavior in mental arithmetic
In this paper we presented a holistic operationalisation of the concept op approach behavior based on: (1) the three-part interaction-model of action psychology, (2) the conceptual framework of Gal'perin, and (3) practical process assessment and dynamic assessment procedures. We presented as an example some results of an empirical study in the domain of mental arithmetic. In this section we want to discuss the function of the proposed operational definition for the study of personality and learning in the following four points: (1) domainspecific research, (2) extension of our model with non-intellective factors, (3) cross-situational consistency of approach behavior, and (4) relevance for instruction and remediation of learning problems.
To begin with we discuss a possible objection against our approach: the atomistic or elementaristic character of the proposed operationalisation. It may be contented that our approach is violating the meaningful character of activity by 'counting actions' with certain properties and doing statistical analyses on these separate elements. We would like to answer this objection in the following way: In the first place our approach presupposes that meaningful wholes of activity are analysed, for instance the solution of a mathematical problem, the reading of a text etc. It is important that the task situation (as well as the duration of time of the units of analysis) is precisely described and consists of a meaningful piece of activity (Tolman, 1932). Secondly our smallest units of analysis (or elements of our analysis) consists of the actions that are part of a meaningful activity. The aspects of approach behavior have to be considered as sides of this phenomenon that can be distinguished (or constructed) by the observer. In the third place we think that the results of our statistical analyses (see section 3) indicate that meaningful results can be obtained.
Our empirical study produced reliable and valid data and our study produced some interesting results in the field of mental addition and subtraction up to 100. So application of our approach to other fields (i.e. reading and spelling) may be fruitful as well.
In addition the proposed operationalisation facilitates research into the relationships between the structure of psychological processes (approach behavior) and psychoneurological activity of the brain (Luria, 1973; Eccles, 1994).
At the moment we are working out the motivational and emotional aspects of approach behavior on the basis of motivation theory (Heckhausen, 1980) and emotion theory (Frijda, 1986). This opens up possibilities to study the relationships between the intellective and the non-intellective aspects of approach behavior and to test for example the following hypothesis: "emotional insecurety ... is the basic cause of most educational disabilities and learning failures, which are not due to mental defect" (McCarthy, 1948; cited in Wechsler, 1950, p. 84).
However much work has to be done to work out theoretically as well as instrumentally these non-intellective aspects of approach behavior.
One of the as yet unresolved fundamental issues in learning as well as in personality psychology is the person/situation controversy: to what extent is behavior determined by personality characteristics, by the properties of situations, or by person/situation interactions? A related, and sensitive issue in assessment is whether, when dealing with a student with learning problems, one should set up and test diagnostic hypotheses regarding personality traits relevant to learning (such as intelligence and cognitive style), or situation characteristics (such as the didactic method used) or interactions between the two (Sundberg, 1977). In the classic psychometric approach, judgments regarding students' personality traits are based on the administration of standardized psychological tests. In the (more modern) behavioral approach to assessment, the tendency is to limit oneself to situation specific judgments based on direct observation of a given learning behavior (Shapiro, 1987). The two approaches, viewed theoretically, are at odds with one another and do not do justice to the variety and complexity of the phenomena. On the one hand are students whose action repertoire reveals fundamental shortcomings. Such students demonstrate an adverse approach to all sorts of school tasks; that is, they have an inadequate work attitude that is more or less interiorised in their personality. On the other hand, however, are children who merely demonstrate domain specific deficiencies in one or a few subjects.
In Van der Heijden (1993), an initial impetus is given to what we have called a process-consistency approach to personality. Conclusion of a certain personality characteristic is based on determining the degree of consistency of approach behavior across different learning tasks. This diagnostic decission procedure is, as it were, diametrically opposed to the reasoning in which behavior in a given classroom situation is predicted on the basis of a psychometric test score.
If we have determined that Sylvia demonstrates a great deal of consciousness in approaching an arithmetic task, a reading task, and a spelling task, then we may state that Sylvia's personality is characterized by a high degree of consciousness.
If we have diagnosed a lack of insight in Karl's approach to an arithmetic task, a reading task, and a spelling task, then we may state that Karl's personality is characterized by a lack of insight.
If Erica demonstrates a lack of attention in approach behavior with regard to all sorts of arithmetic problems, but works intently at other learning tasks, then we may state that a lack of attention does not typify Erica's personality but, rather, that the lack of attention is situation specific: it remains confined to one task domain, namely arithmetic.
Determining the degree of consistency of approach behavior (or speaking with Vygotsky the degree of interiorisation) is important in diagnosing learning problems because the more different learning task domains there are in which a student demonstrates the same inadequate approach, the less a plan of treatment can restrict itself to task specific subject deficiencies. In such instances, diagnostic hypotheses must also be formulated and tested regarding the fundamental shortcomings in the action repertoire and their possible causes.
The proposed process-consistency approach makes use of common processes in various learning tasks in order to describe aspects of the personality structure. Cattell indicates a similar approach when stating: "The objective location and measurement of common processes (...) is practically unrepresented in psychological research at the present time. (...) Despite this methodological neglect it is obvious that processes, for example, typical processes of learning (...) are important structures. They are structures in the sense of recurrent patterns of behavior, but even less than traits are they to be considered as definable entirely in the individual. They are joint structures in the individual and his physical environment" (Cattell, 1979, p.33). In the same vein, Bem states in the framework of the person/situation controversy: "Our fundamental scientific task is to convert observations of particular persons behaving in particular ways in particular situations into assertions that certain kinds of persons will behave in certain kinds of ways in certain kinds of situations, that is, to construct triple typologies or equivalence classes - of persons, of behaviors, and of situations - and to fashion theories of personality that relate these equivalence classes to one another" (Bem, 1983, p. 566). The process-consistency approach suggested here reveals similarities to the 'act frequency approach to personality' propagated by Buss and Craik within the psychology of personality (Buss & Craik, 1986).
A number of conceptual, methodological, instrumental and empirical conditions must be met in order to conduct research into the cross-situational consistency of approach behavior across different learning task domains (Van der Heijden, 1993).
In practical work with children with learning problems holism is a conditio sine qua non because one always deals with the total personality of the child, including his or her history. Many remediation programms for children with learning problems exclusively focus on the exucutive aspects of approach behavior neglecting orientation, consciousness and control, and also neglecting the motivational and emotional aspects. A holistic approach is also important because in remediation one has to base a programm on the weaknesses as well as on the strengths of the child (Vygotsky, 1993).
1) From an epistemological point of view Toulmin puts forward in a comparable line of reasoning that the idea that mental life or the 'psyche' resides in our heads has turned out to be incorrect. And that we don't realize enough that mental life stems from practical live that we have internalised in one way or another (Toulmin cited in Kayzer, 1993 p. 262 and 276).
2) So the concept of 'situation' we use here has not to be confounded with the concept of 'situation' used by Lewin. Lewin's concept of 'situation' includes the subjective appraisals of the individual (Stadler, 1989).
3) In terms of test-reliability the high degree of consistency (see section 3.4) can be interpreted as a satisfying reliability as well.
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