[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[xmca] Dynamic Assessment in L2

We appreciate the discussion that has been swirling around our MCA article. It has been informative for us and we would like to offer, perhaps a bit belated, some commentary on what people have said so far. We are not able to respond to all of the comments but will address some of the major points that have caught our attention. Neither of us is able to follow all of the contributions to each thread. The list below is not in any particular order of importance.

1. SCT-CHAT. When Frawley and Lantolf began to look at L2 learning from the perspective of Vygotsky's writings back in the early 1980s the common term used was SCT. We were faced with the task of confronting a research culture that had little or no appreciation for "mediation" and what this could mean for learning and teaching of language (L1 or Lx). It was a tough slog to get the field of applied linguistics/SLA to pay attention to our arguments. Every time we submitted a manuscript or gave a talk at a conference, we had to spend a great deal of time explaining the theory, leaving little time or space to consider the data we were addressing. Often issues such as differences between mediation and input (in the very popular input-processing views of L2 learning) or the ZPD versus i+1 (in the work of Stephen Krashen) required repeated explanation. Eventually some of the more mainstream SLAers (e.g., Merrill Swain, Rod Ellis, Lourdes Ortega) began to find our work appealing and began themselves to explore the implications of the theory for L2 learning and teaching. We no longer had to spend as much time and space explaining the theory and could make some assumptions of shared knowledge with the audience. When CHAT became the coin of the realm outside of applied linguistics we considered switching from SCT to CHAT, but decided against it (perhaps a mistake, but so be it). We did not want to have to re-explain things to the applied linguistics audience, which was finally beginning to accept SCT as a legitimate approach to understanding L2 learning. As Chris and Luis point out in their introductory piece to the special issue, there was resistance from publishers to introducing a new term, to be sure, but this was not our reason for sticking with SCT. Our continued use of SCT in no way implies a rejection or criticism of the term CHAT. Indeed, Lantolf and Thorne's 2006 book addresses 'activity' throughout and dedicates two chapters to activity theory.

2. With regard to the 11th Thesis and the centrality of praxis in Vygotsky theory, we are not suggesting that theory/philosophy is unimportant or should be abandoned. Indeed, many of us in applied linguistics are rooted in the humanities as much (or perhaps more) than in the social sciences. We continue to read and rely on modern philosophers, especially philosophers of language to inform our work. Lantolf and Thorne (2006) integrate Wittgenstein's notion of "language game" as well as Voloshinov's notion of utterance and sign in theorizing language. Most recently, the new monograph by Searle "Making the Social World" has some very important things to say about the role of language in social formation that we think resonates well with Vygotsky's views on thinking and speaking. Having said this, we don't agree with Andy's comment to the effect that practice is the truth criterion of theory is not Marxism. Rather than launch into a lengthy explanation, we will mention some interesting works written in the 1970s that address the topic far better than we could here: Adolfo Sanchez Vazquez (1977). "The Philosophy of Praxis." Richard Bernstein (1971). "Praxis and Action." Alan Buss (1979). "Dialectic Psychology." We also find support for our position in the more recent writing of Anna Stetsenko.

The early research on SCT and L2 primarily used the theory as a lens for investigating L2 learning and use inside and outside of classroom settings. However, more recently research has focused on changing pedagogical practice to enhance the learning process. Several studies, including doctoral dissertation in particular, have demonstrated that following principles of the theory, especially as reflected in the work of Galperin and Davydov, it is possible to significantly improve learning of languages beyond the first both in terms of learners explicit understanding of how specific features of a language function and in their performance in various communicative (written and oral) activities. A searchable bibliography is available for those interested the topic: http://language.la.psu.edu/ (at the moment our server is down).

3. Dualisms in SLA might indeed be valid, as Andy points out; however, they might equally be invalid. The point we are trying to make is that it is important to question them and to examine potential consequences of thinking dialectically. SLA has worried a great deal, for instance, about whether implicit teaching of a language is more effective than explicit teaching and has spent a great deal of time and effort in trying to answer the question, only to come to the conclusion that maybe explicit teaching is somewhat more effective than implicit teaching in some circumstances. The position that we proposed - proceeding from a dialectical perspective based on our reading of Vygotsky on the ZPD - in a 1994 article (Aljaafreh and Lantolf) is that both forms of instruction are necessary for any given learner depending on their level of ability in the L2. Similarly, the areas of language testing and language teaching remain separate sub-fields within applied linguistics, and members of both fields regard these as distinct and perhaps even incommensurable activities. Again, this may be the case, particularly in some instances such as high-stakes standardized testing, but our work in Dynamic Assessment has followed a commitment to viewing teaching and assessing as together forming a dialectic unity. The paper under discussion reports the consequences of this perspective in classroom practice, although we are also currently exploring the use of DA in a more formal testing situation (see below).

4. By talking about cultural concepts and social interaction as different forms of mediation, we were not attempting to justify our use of SCT. We are also not trying to "back door" a dualism. We do say in the paper that concept-based instruction in school does involve social mediation by a teacher. We do want to stress that not all interaction will necessarily involve scientific concepts. We also want to point out that cultural concepts can mediate an individual without social interaction, at least, without overt social interaction, as we normally construe it in something like a dialogue between two interlocutors. This happens, in our view, for example, when someone is engaged in intramental activity as when independently working through a problem. We of course acknowledge that this can be, and should be understood as social, and we have argued this in several places in our own writing. But it is a different kind of social dialogue from the "I-You" dialogue that most people consider to be social interaction. It is, as Donna Vocate (1994) posits, an "I-ME" dialogue that of course has its origins in "I-You" interaction.

5. Our reference to Vygotsky's characterization of education as "the artificial development of the child" is not intended as a negative stance on education. We interpret V's use of "artificial" (assuming the translation from the Russian is accurate) here as a way of distinguishing development through participation in cultural activities and through the appropriation of (cultural) concepts from natural processes of growth. Indeed, we believe that it might be possible to construe V's use of Education in the passage we cite as referring not only to formal education but to all forms of education provided by a society whether in or out of places recognized as school.

6. We want also comment on Mike's recent remark with regard to the need to come to grips with "the impact of computation on conceptions of mind". While it might be useful to model things on computers, we would not want to argue, as some have, that the mind itself is a computational device. Frawley in a 1997 book entitled "Vygotsky and Cognitive Science" attempts to reconcile SCT/CHAT with a computational model of the mind. A recent book by Evan Thompson, a philosopher, at U of Toronto, entitled "Mind in Life" makes a very nice case against the computational theory of mind that has been the received view in cognitive science for several decades. While we are not sure if DA can be automated, we would like to mention that we are in the final year of a grant project that is developing an on-line DA in Chinese, Russian and French reading and listening ability. We have had to make some important compromises in the kinds of DA procedures reported in our article when designing the instruments; most notably, this has involved construing mediation as scripted prompts that learners can access while engaged in the language tests, and it goes without saying that the flexibility of dialogic mediation (as in the paper under discussion) is sacrificed. Nonetheless, we see it as a first step in what is likely to be a lengthy process of working out a viable way of achieving a modicum of efficiency (i.e., enabling large numbers of students to be assessed, perhaps simultaneously and perhaps repeatedly) while remaining committed to the notion that learner responsiveness to mediation is a crucial feature to diagnosing development.

7. Acquiring a second language can in our view result in development if we focus not on the acquisition of new forms but on the development of new conceptual knowledge. This extends from new vocabulary to new ways of profiling events in the world to metaphorical concepts and even to the dialectic of speaking and gesturing, as proposed in the world of David McNeill. To date, most of SLA research, including much of our early work, has addressed the acquisition of form and has paid precious little attention to meaning and conceptual knowledge. For the past five or six years, however, we have shifted our attention to what learning another language means for mediating an individual's thinking process. Currently, we are focusing on metaphor ability (and metaphors of course vary from one language/culture to another and draw attention to certain features of experience and phenomena while backgrounding others) and the interface between speech and gesture. We do not believe that the learning exhibited by the learners under study in our paper was "inert". The fact that in some cases they were not only able to function independently following mediation but were able to extend control of the relevant feature to new communicative activities shows that they have indeed developed real control over the feature.

Jim & Matt

James P. Lantolf, Greer Professor in Language Acquisition & Applied Linguistics http://lals.la.psu.edu/
Director of the Center for Language Acquisition http://language.la.psu.edu/
Co-Director CALPER http://calper.la.psu.edu/publications.php
305 Sparks Building
Penn State University
University Park, PA 16802
xmca mailing list