Studying the Process of Interpretation on a School Task : Crossing Perspectives
Résumé We are interested in the relation between the expected interpretation of educational tasks and the actual interpretation by students performing the task. In educational settings, it is indeed common for a task designer to set specific expectations in terms of task’s interpretation and in terms of what students should produce as answers or solutions. However, students do not always succeed in inferring the designers’ intentions and expectations. In this case, the responsibility of this failure is generally attributed to the students, and considered as a lack of knowledge or skill. Yet, before attributing students' failure in a task to their lack of knowledge or skill, one must verify wherever the task has been understood in the same way as intended. Otherwise, there is a risk to attribute a cognitive deficit to students who are actually answering a different question or problem. In this case, the failure of the task is due to a situation of misunderstanding rather than to a lack of cognitive ability.

In this paper we will analyze such situation of misunderstanding, by the mean of two analytical models that allow for detailed descriptions of the mismatch between the expected inferences and the actual inferences made by students. For each analytical approach, we will present one example.

The first example provides an analysis of students’ answers in an item of mathematics from the survey PISA. The analysis is inspired by the pragma-dialectical model proposed by Van Eemeren and colleagues and serves to shed light on the diversity of students’ arguments as opposed to the arguments expected by PISA designers. The second example provides an analysis of a peer argumentation in a group of students solving a problem in mechanics. Grize’s logico-discursive operations permit a micro-scale description of a misunderstanding between two students about what they should be doing. We’ll show how this situation of misunderstanding accounts for the argumentative episode.

These examples call for an investigation of the process of interpretation about specific tasks and in specific educational contexts. We observed, for instance, that students may provide the expected answers or solutions and still interpret the question or problem differently from the designer. The meaning of language and other signs, such as graphs or mathematical symbols, cannot be taken for granted when several interlocutors are involved : Each one may have a different interpretation of the same signs, and probably will. A psychological investigation of interpretation processes can only be carried in relation to specific tasks and specific contexts as the meaning is not contained in the signs interlocutors are interpreting, contrary to the information processing metaphor. The interpretation process itself may be approached as situated and socially negotiated inference process. In this sense, argumentation theories are useful, but must also be adapted to the specificity of a psychological investigation of (inter)subjectivity, e.g. articulating several perspectives on the same task.
Citation Kohler, A., & Mehmeti, T. (2017). Studying the Process of Interpretation on a School Task : Crossing Perspectives. Presented at ECA2017 – 2nd European Conference on Argumentation, Fribourg.
Type Présentation (Anglais)
Date 23-6-2017
Evénement ECA2017 – 2nd European Conference on Argumentation (Fribourg)