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Re: [xmca] LSV- Dynamic Assessment
Dear Professor Wells:
First of all, let me just say how much we admire your work here in Seoul. One of my graduate students recently had a "dol" ceremony for her son. This is the first birthday party, where the child performs an oracular choice from a tray with a pencil (for the scholar's life) a roll of money (business), a string (longevity) etc. You are supposed to bring a gold ring to the ceremony, but I bought a copy of "The Meaning Makers" to give to my grad student instead. (She FORCED the poor child to choose the pencil, I'm afraid!)
It seems to me that there are (at least) three concepts that need to be distinguished: a zone of proximal LEARNING, and two zones (or perhaps an objective and a subjective view of a single zone) of proximal development. The zone that people like to talk about is the really a zone of proximal learning: it's a spatial zone (like a classroom), it involves people being proximally close (ditto), and the question of what the learning is for is left up in the air (you can even set up ZPLs for losing weight and make lots of money touting Vygotskyan diets on the internet). This is what we inevitably get when we define development, as Poehner and Lantolf do, as simply being able to take something that other people are doing, do it with their assistance, and then do it on your own.
The zone people don't like to talk about is ontogenetic, and not microgenetic at all. It's a a TEMPORAL zone; the word "proximal" means "next" rather than "intimate", and it is linked to a very precise and well elaborated set of age periods, with associated central neoformations, main lines of development and shifting social situations of development that Vygotsky was working out in a book to be called "Child Development" when he died. But this zone is what Seth Chaiklin (2006) means when he says (in his paper in the CUP volume Vygotsky's Theory in Cultural Context) that the meaning of the ZPD can be made MUCH more precise and powerful. Vygotsky explicitly says he is not just making the banal observation that people do more with others than they can do alone.
Now, Chaiklin also distinguishes between an "objective" zone of proximal development which is the same for all children, and a "subjective" one which is what a single child is ready to do with assistance. I am unsure whether these are two zones, or just the inside and the outside view of the same zone. But when Vygotsky says that some skills do not develop children (typing, golf, riding a bicycle, but also ALL of Thorndike's so-called "intelligence" tests, such as estimating line segments, and seriating angles), I think he is talking about an objective zone which is the same for all children. On the other hand, when he is comparing two ten year olds who have eight-year-old scores on the Binet-Simon tasks, one of which performs at the nine-year-old level with assistance and the other of whom performs at the twelve-year-old level (p. 86 of Mind in Society) then I think he is talking about the subjective zone.
What you say about whole class discussion, to me, strongly suggests a single zone: one child makes a point, and because it is just the right point, it spreads like wildfire to transform the discussion, and even the underlying thinking as a whole. I too have seen this, and even if I had not, there are plenty of examples in your book "Dialogic Inquiry" and in your article with Hossein Nassaji ("What's the Use of Triadic Dialogue?", Applied Linguistics, 21 ). So I believe in it.
But by the same token, we have to say that WITHIN a particular discipline, there are many subskills and moments of developmentally inert learning, which do NOT spread like wildfire and do NOT transform anything. For example, I think that in my (primary English as a foreign language) classrooms, ANY form of imitation that does not involve ROLES, that does not involve the children in asking the question "WHO says WHAT to WHOM and WHY?" is simply a lower level, perception based form of copying. It is not intelligent imitation, and it is probably, in developmental terms, inert.
Take the exercise "Listen and Do". Are the children listening, or are they just looking? If they are doing it as a whole class activity, then it's probably the latter and not the former. Are they working in pairs, with one as a "General" and one as a 'Soldier", one as a "Master" and one as a "Slave"? Then it's probably the former and not the latter.
Or take the game of "I am Ground". The children chant a pattern and name the next player, like this:
S1 (playing the textbook character Minsu): I am Minsu; you are Peter!
S3: I am Peter; you are Zeeto.
S2: I am Zeeto, etc.
Now, in the advanced form of this game (when the kids play it in Korean), they try to "fake each other out". Minsu looks at ZEETO and says Mina's name. That makes the game listening based, and also role based. Therefore it develops the child's concept of ROLE, which at this age (third grade) is a neoformation, particularly if it involves foreign language concepts.
So it seems to me that the "wildfire" whole class phenomenon you mention is linked to something more ontogenetic, more precise, and more powerful than simply the DA without the A. It seems to me that DA without the A is also DA without a D, because it dissolves development into scaffolding, it reduces ontogenetic growth to simply learning to do things independently that you could once do with assistance.
In what I do, we need a CONTENT-based, CURRICULUM-based specification of development, and not simply a formal, intra-action or interaction, based one. To use Chaiklin's terms, a zone must be not only subjectively but also objectively the next moment of development.
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Sun, 11/28/10, Gordon Wells <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Gordon Wells <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] LSV- Dynamic Assessment
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Sunday, November 28, 2010, 12:00 PM
I have been following the discussion of Poehner and Lantolf's paper on dynamic assessment with interest. but discussion on xmca goes so fast that by the time I have read a message there have been many responses and the thread switches to some other (related?) topic. However, I'll risk going back upstream to comment on three issues.
SCT v. CHAT. I suspect that one of the reasons that Lantolf and his colleagues choose SCT (apart from publishers' preferences) is that their work is somewhat restricted in scope when compared with the range of topics that CHAT proponents address. While second/foreign language learning is of great importance in today's world, it is nevertheless a small part of the learning that we all engage in in the course of a day, month, year or 'stage of development'. And when this topic is addressed largely from a psycholinguistic perspective, there is less likely to be a concern with the activity systems and communities of practice in which using a second/foreign language plays a part beyond the classroom. Activity in the sense of A in CHAT is not brought into question; rather, it is taken for granted.
That being said, I really appreciated the examples of DA that P&L included and the discussion of guaging the level and kind of support that each student seemed likely to benefit from. Important, too, was their recognition that there is no single best answer, since every learning-teaching event is unique. But I think this point can be extended to recognize that learning is always multidimensional and that, therefore, there are many ways in which a learner can be assisted, but which may seem tangential if the focus is restricted to the task in hand. This is perhaps where the wider perspective provided by CHAT is relevant.
P&L raise the question of how to incorporate a DA approach when a class of 20 or more students is involved. Assuming that DA is applicable beyond language learning, this is an issue that is relevant in all learning-and-teaching situations in schools and universities. Here the current attempt to focus on formative rather than summative assessment is asking similar questions and leading to some interesting attempts by some schools to use the analysis of students' answers to district 'benchmark' tests to make teaching more responsive to the needs of individual students or groups of students who might benefit from similar supportive assistance. Might this be a move in the direction of DA?
In one of his posts, David suggested that P&L are blurring the distinction between learning and development, adding that much of what students learn in school remains inert and does not lead to development. This is certainly true but at the same time it is important to recognize that an event that may result only in inert knowledge or skill for one student may lead to an important breakthrough for another student, making possible development that the teacher could not have foreseen or planned for. In my experience, this is more likely to occur when the topic being studied is approached through inquiry. When what is being discovered/learned by one student or group of students is discussed by the whole class, someone (student or teacher) may ask a question that shifts the inquiry to another level for all concerned or may lead a previously unengaged student to become more self-directed in her or his participation. In either case, what started as simply
increasing understanding of the selected topic may become truly developmental for one or more of the participants. Would you agree, David?
Gordon Wells <firstname.lastname@example.org> http://people.ucsc.edu/~gwells/
Department of Education
University of California, Santa Cruz.
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