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Learning how – or how not – to carry out an activity by watching others is a very common way of learning. Taking a cross-cultural perspective on human development, Barbara Rogoff (1) argues that in cultures where home and work are not separated, children are able to learn life skills through direct observation and participation, what she calls ‘pitching in’. Ethnographic studies have shown that by watching a range of ‘mature’ activities within the context of productivity for which the activity is being taught, children in indigenous communities of the Americas seem to show keener attention and collaboration than their middle-class Western counterparts (1).
The importance of watching others in order to learn is just as critical for expert teachers too. In an interview for the journal Reflective Practice, diving coach Andy Banks spoke of the benefits of seeing and watching what other coaches do, filming it, and bringing it home to discuss with other coaches (2).
Even as an expert, he recognised that the process enabled him to gather new perspectives on ways of doing things. In vocational education, it will often be the case that a teacher will want to combine a short expert demonstration of skill with other more experiential methods which enable practice and trial and error (3). Ultimately, a useful vocational pedagogy will provide pointers as to when and why such compilations of teaching and learning methods are best deployed.
(1) Rogoff, B. (2007). The Cultural Nature of Human Development The General Psychologist [Online], 42(1) Retrieved on Aug. 2, 2012, from (http://people.ucsc.edu/~brogoff/William%20James%20Award.pdf)
(2) Dixon, M., Lee, S. & Ghaye, T. (2012). Coaching for Performance: An interview with Olympic diving coach, Andy Banks. Reflective Practice: International and multidisciplinary perspectives, 339-354.
(3) Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S. & Sheridan, K. M. (2007). Studio Thinking: The real benefits of visual arts education. New York: Teachers College Press.
Lucubrate Magazine August 2019
The picture on top by Inti St. Clair