Pedagogical situations: interpretation difference

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Taking into account the need to clarify the terminological framework of modern pedagogy, the concept «pedagogical situation» in general and its place in the pedagogical discourse in a cross-cultural aspect is discussed. Today, the concept of «situation» gains a general methodological significance though lacks a clear definition. Based on the analysis of interdisciplinary research, we concluded that the integral concept of “situation” includes: presence of subjects, dynamism, external conditions, causal relations, chronotope. The analysis of scientific sources proved that in pedagogical discourse of Russian- and English-speaking authors the term “pedagogical situation” is used incorrectly, the concept of “pedagogical situation” is mistaken for other pedagogical categories at the theoretical level, there is no unified approach to its definition. Thus the pedagogical situation analysis in Russian language pedagogical discourse is centred on the formulation of a pedagogical task, and in the English-speaking pedagogical tradition it is based on the triangle diagram that includes a teacher, a student and content. In the conducted cross-cultural and partly interdisciplinary study, a “pedagogical situation” is conventionally understood as a process of interaction of subjects of pedagogical activity (educational process) with a certain task in a certain place and time.

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Trends in the development of modern education are directly reflected in its complex conceptual system. The conceptual system of science serves as an instrument of knowledge, as the concepts defined by terms, reflect the essence of processes and phenomena and underlie the ways of presenting the reality under study, comprising the quintessence of the given science.

Pedagogy by now has a largely developed conceptual and terminological apparatus. However, many scientists like V. Kraevsky [1], B. Likhachev [2], V. Veidt [3], M. Galaguzova [4] note the problem of methodological ambivalence of the conceptual and terminological system of modern pedagogy). At the same time, «terminological accuracy, elimination of uncertainty and confusion in terms and concepts is one of the most important conditions for productive search and mutual understanding of researchers and practitioners» [5, p. 35]. Therefore, clarifying and defining the conceptual apparatus of pedagogy and improving its language are extremely relevant nowadays.

Taking into account the need to clarify the terminological framework of modern pedagogy, the concept “pedagogical situation” in general and its place in pedagogical discourse in a cross-cultural aspect is relevant and necessary.

Today, the concept of “situation” gains a general methodological significance, as it is one of the main categories in pedagogy, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, culture studies, logic, and other sciences of man and society. However, in our opinion, it is more interesting to compare the notion of “pedagogical situation” in pedagogical discourse of Russian and English-speaking authors. Such cross-cultural consideration of the conceptual foundations of the category “pedagogical situation”, in our opinion, allows us to identify, analyse and differentiate this category as pedagogical proper, to reveal its systemic nature.

1. Literature review

Human life consists of a huge variety of fragments – situations. Being in one situation or another, a person interacts with the world around him. Situations open the field of activities and experiences for a person, fill his existence with meaning [6]. The category of “situation” is actively used both in pedagogy and in other sciences of social-humanitarian and even technical direction. At the same time, despite the accumulation of rich empirical material in these sciences concerning the phenomenological features of situations, the concept of “situation” itself was and still is insufficiently defined.

In modern times, the concept of “situation” is one of the most popular in the cycle of scientific disciplines related to the analysis of the processes of reality reflection. It is used in pedagogy, linguistics, psychology, literature, artificial intelligence theory, logic, cognitive science and other branches of science. As far as scientific research is concerned, the use of the term “situation” in different contexts shows that scientists and practitioners do not yet have a consensus on what should be considered a situation.

In the linguistic works of Y.D. Apresyan [7], I.A. Melchuk [8], I.M. Kobozeva [9], E.V. Paducheva [10], V.S. Khrakovsky [11], N.D. Arutyunova [12], R. Abelson and R. Schenk [13], C. Fillmore [14], J. Barwise and J. Perry [15] this term is used in different meanings, referring either to extralinguistic reality, or to the ways of its mental reflection, or to the semantics of language. Within the framework of linguistic research, interacting subjects, the presence of causal relations and actions, and chronotope are distinguished as characteristics of a situation.

In psychology, a situation is represented as a totality of elements of objective reality that have a stimulating and corrective effect on a subject independently of the individual, determine his activity and simultaneously define the spatial and temporal boundaries of its realization [16, p. 14]. Within the framework of the psychodynamic theory and the theory of traits, the “situation” is considered a construct of the individual’s consciousness [17]. K. Lewin believes that a subject’s behavior at any given moment is determined by a specific holistic system that includes both the subject and his or her actual surroundings [18]. According to this understanding, the situation includes subjective characteristics (peculiarities of perception, experience, the subject’s attitude towards others and himself, as well as ways of reacting to it) and objective characteristics (a complex of external, environmental conditions that may be to some extent significant for a person).

Based on the analysis of interdisciplinary research, we can conclude that the integral concept of “situation” includes: presence of subjects, dynamism (interaction of subjects), external conditions, causal relations, chronotope.

When considering pedagogical discourse, the theoretical essence of “the pedagogical situation” is poorly elaborated, but a lot of research is devoted to the problems of various practical aspects of the content of “the pedagogical situation”. For example, such aspects as the emergence of pedagogical situations at different levels of education [19, 20], problems of teacher training [21, 22], etc. are studied. The same situation can be noticed in a foreign context. Though there are a lot of practical studies of pedagogical situations, such as the research on tact [23], prior expectations [24], intuitive understanding of pedagogical situations [25], the choose of information in pedagogical situations [26], reasoning in pedagogical situations [27], etc., the theory of pedagogical situations is poorely considered.

The analysis of scientific sources proved that the term “pedagogical situation” is used incorrectly, the concept of “pedagogical situation” is mistaken for other pedagogical categories at the theoretical level, there is no unified approach to its definition.

2. Materials and Methods

The presented research was carried out in 2010–2021 as a part of a complex study of pedagogical semiology integrating the methods and results of pedagogy, semantics, cognitive psychology, cognitive linguistics, philosophy. The cross cultural content analysis and literature review methods were used to analyze various sources of information; comparative and qualitative analysis were used to understand and interpret definitions; meta analysis was used to increase the validity of the conclusions. For the decision of tasks of the study we used methods of theoretical analysis (retrospective comparative) of linguistic and psychological works, cross cultural content analysis of pedagogical literature, and generalization of scientific data in pedagogical sources to determine the status and theoretical study of the key concept of the research.

3. Results

In pedagogy, the pedagogical situation is traditionally considered to be the unit of both the teaching and the educational process. The pedagogical situation is an integral part of the pedagogical process, a pedagogical reality through which the teacher manages the pedagogical process and the pedagogical system. The pedagogical process can be seen as a continuous chain of interconnected, mutually continuous pedagogical situations. These are the most flexible, fast-changing elements of the learning process. Modern education process is characterized by a variety of situations that can arise spontaneously or be created purposefully [28].

However, despite the importance of the category itself, the definitions of the pedagogical situation found in the pedagogical literature vary not only in Russian-language but also in English-language pedagogical discourse, without a clear basis.

The concept of “pedagogical situation” is defined by different authors from different positions, such as:

–a moment of interaction between the educator and the pupil in the conditions of the educational process, which aggravates the contradictions of the educational process [29, p. 89];

–a unit in the educational process that is realized by participants as a significant one, that actualizes the restructuring of the established norms and values, habitual stereotypes of behavior and activity, and reshapes systems of relations for the better or for the worse [30];

–a set of conditions and circumstances specially set by a teacher or arise spontaneously in the pedagogical process, which prompt the child included in it to demonstrate, confirm or change his or her own behaviour [31];

–a short-term interaction of a teacher with a student (group, class) on the basis of opposing norms, values and interests, accompanied by significant emotional manifestations and aimed at restructuring the existing relations [32, p. 598];

–a specific fragment of teachers’ practical activity, a certain real observable phenomenon or event, a set of circumstances in all their richness of concreteness [33];

–circumstances arising in the pedagogical process and without a correct solving of which the further effective activity of any of its participants is impossible [34].

It is evident from the above list that there is no uniform interpretation of “the pedagogical situation” in the available definitions as it is presented like a moment of interaction, a unit in the educational process, a specific fragment of teachers’ practical activity, circumstances arising in the pedagogical process, etc. Any pedagogical category can be defined and analysed in three aspects: as a phenomenon, as a process and as an activity. The existence of these three aspects in itself generates a large number of definitions of pedagogical categories. It seems to us important to define pedagogical categories in a dynamic aspect, based on the understanding of educational activity as a dynamic process, to see not just objects and subjects, but processes, changes, events, situations occurring with them.

Now let us consider the basis of “pedagogical situation” recognition that provoke reasons for such a heterogeneous definitions of “pedagogical situation”. In the tradition of Russian pedagogical discourse the components of “pedagogical situation” are: content (essence), participants (pedagogical process actors), participants’ actions (reactions), the nature of pedagogical situation. At the same time, the development of a pedagogical situation depends entirely on the correctness of its analysis and the decisions made as a result. Exploring different variants of the analysis of pedagogical situations [35], we can state that its generalized algorithm, in spite of insignificant differences in transitional moments, looks like this: primary analysis of the situation → task formulation → problem solving (decision making) → analysis of decision making. At that the task formulation is considered to be the main point. Thus the pedagogical situation analysis in Russian language pedagogical discourse is centred on the formulation of a pedagogical task, a semantic structure containing an attitude to finding a result. In the majority of cases this is the reason why the pedagogical task and the pedagogical situation are identified.

In English-language pedagogical discourse, the pedagogical situation is also a rather vague concept and is referred to as educational, pedagogical, learning, etc. situation. A pedagogical situation is defined as:

an educational setting, a particular instance of education [36, 37];

–a situation in which one person, a teacher, chooses information for the purpose of helping another person, a learner, arrive at some belief [24];

–circumstances or conditions that constitute the site of pedagogical actions and that make pedagogical experiences between adults and children possible [38];

–a specific case that occurs in the life of a school with participation of pupils, teachers and other persons who educate pupils [39].

Thus, here too, we see a lack of a clear basis in the definition of “pedagogical situation”.

In the English-speaking pedagogical tradition it has been classical to analyse pedagogical situations through a triangle diagram. According to Houssaye [40], “a pedagogical situation” can be defined as a triangle that is composed of three elements: knowledge, teacher, and learners. In other words, the pedagogical triangle is an elementary, heuristic structure that is used to analyze the specific interrelationships and interactions between a teacher, a student and content in a given pedagogical situation (Fig. 1). On this triangle, сontent represents the knowledge, discipline, programme, etc. Student refers to learners, pupils, trainers, students, etc. Teacher refers to the lecturer, trainer, educator, initiator, tutor, accompanist, etc.


Fig. 1. The pedagogical triangle: 1. Triangle outline: Teacher-student-content in relation; 2. Circle: The pedagogical situation; 3. Vertical, dashed line: The influence exercised by the teacher on the student-content relation. (from [23])


This triangle is essentially based on three pedagogic relations:

The learning process relation that shows the direct relationship between student- content. The teacher than is the organizer of external learning processes, a mediator, and there is a stronger bond between the students and content.

The teaching process relation or the teacher — content relationship, when the teacher structures lessons and choses contect for the student.

The training process relation that is centered on the relation teacher — student. The teacher and the student are constantly interacting: the teacher presents situations for the student to resolve, and if the student fails he turns to the teacher for remediation.

Muth [41] considers each element in the pedagogical triangle to be connected to another in multiple senses. Each of the three relations or connections of this triangle has different emphasis: student and content are linked through learning, study and work; teacher and content are linked both through preparation and instruction. The student and teacher, finally, are connected through the much-studied student-teacher relationship, or the “pedagogical relation”. The dashed vertical line and arrow in the middle of the triangle indicates that the teacher affects the student relationship to content. In the pedagogical situation, the teacher intends to change the student relation to content from confusion and unnecessary uncertainty to confidence and clarity.

As one can see, in its most elementary form, the pedagogical triangle can be readily identified in the widest range of pedagogical situations [23].

Discussion and conclusions

One of the essential tasks for a research is to define pedagogical concepts. To distinguish something as “pedagogical” or “educational” requires an adequate theory of contextualisation. In this regard, theorists of pedagogy often speak of a “pedagogical situation”. The concept “pedagogical situation”, in our view, can and should be defined. It seems to be helpful for any pedagogical reflection on the international level to try to find out a common phenomenological basis and a shared terminological apparatus because the theory of pegagogy and the practice of national structures of educational disciplines have rather different profiles mainly according to the specific languages used. In the conducted cross-cultural and interdisciplinary study, though explanatory in nature, it was found out that the concept “pedagogical situation” indicates the subject area within which the situation is analysed and can be defined on the basis of the integral characteristics of the concept “situation” highlighted within other sciences. A “situation” becomes a “pedagogical situation” if the objectives of teaching, education and development of a pupil are set in it. Based on the general cross-cultural definition of a “situation”, a “pedagogical situation” can be conventionally understood as a process of interaction of subjects of pedagogical activity (educational process) with a certain task in a certain place and time.


About the authors

Victoria V. Dobrova

Samara State Technical University

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3037-4797

Candidate of Psychology, Head of Department of Foreign Languages

Russian Federation, Samara


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Supplementary files

Supplementary Files
1. Fig. 1. The pedagogical triangle: 1. Triangle outline: Teacher-student-content in relation; 2. Circle: The pedagogical situation; 3. Vertical, dashed line: The influence exercised by the teacher on the student-content relation. (from [23])

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