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[xmca] A bit more on Dynamic Assessment and second language development

Hello, All

One final set of thoughts on the recent Dynamic Assessment paper in MCA, as
work and discussions are moving on...

What we think is problematic about the discussion on language learning is that
we are talking about adults learning language in a classroom and Mike and David
are talking about children learning/using language in everyday settings. These
are, on our view, very different cognitive processes. Indeed, this is why we
frame our arguments in the paper as we do, because many in applied linguistics,
such as Long, assume that processes of acquiring a second language unfold in
the same manner regardless of context (schooled or unschooled). Our point is
that this does not need to be the case, and that instructional settings need
not be organized to recreate the everyday world but can instead be organized to
allow for a particular kind of development, as Vygotsky suggests. This is the
reason we reference Vygotsky’s characterization of schooling as artificial
development. Having said this, we will try to respond to some of the points you
both make regarding our earlier posting on consciousness and control.

1.We have no problem at all allowing for little Sasha to exercise control over
his avoidance of Yukky for fear of being the brunt of adult laughter. Again
perhaps we are at fault for not fully specifying our position on consciousness,
control and adult language learning in tutored settings. We will try to clarify

2.The example of knot-tying that David cites from chapter 6 or TS doesn't tell
the full story of what Vygotsky is getting at re. consciousness and it is the
full story that we are making use of with regard to instructed L2 learning in
adults. V. contrasts what David says with "conscious awareness". According to
V. the reason one cannot say how one precisely ties a knot is because "my
action, which is conscious, turns out to be lacking in conscious awareness
because my attention is directed toward the act of tying, not on how I carry
out that act Š the actions that I carry out in tying the knot -what I am doing
- is not the object of my consciousness. However, it can become the object of
consciousness when there is conscious awareness. Conscious awareness is an act
of consciousness whose object is the activity of consciousness itself." In the
next paragraph he continues: "To perceive something in a different way means to
acquire new potentials for acting with respect to it. At the chess board, to
see differently is to play differently." (p. 190, The collected works, volume
1). Finally, V. writes: "Thus, the foundation of conscious awareness is the
generalization or abstraction of the mental processes, which leads to their
mastery. Instruction has decisive role in this process. Scientific concepts
have a unique relationship to the object. This relationship is mediated through
other concepts that themselves have an internal hierarchical system of
interrelationships. It is apparently in this domain of the scientific concept
that conscious awareness of concepts or the generalization and mastery of
concepts emerges for the first time. And once a new structure of generalization
has arisen in one sphere of thought, it can - like any structure - be
transferred without training to all remaining domains of concepts and thought.
Thus, conscious awareness enters through the gate opened up by the scientific
concept Š Conscious awareness and the presence of a system are synonyms when
we are speaking of concepts, just as spontaneity, lack of conscious awareness,
and the absence of a system are three different words for designating the
nature of the child's concept" (p. 191-192).

Apologies for the extended quote, but it does reflect what we are attempting to
do in deliberate explicit instruction of an L2. We think adults function with
far greater control, again, not necessarily in the same way that a native
speaker does, of the new language, if they achieve conscious awareness of the
full system. As in the example of tense/aspect used in our previous posting,
they can "break the rules of the game" to achieve a specific communicative
intention. They do not have to be infantilized, as many teaching methodologies
have done over the years, to become sophisticated users of a language. Mastery
of language by children as spontaneous knowledge is very different from the
kind of mastery of language by adults that we are trying to help bring about.
In fact, one very important form of development, in our view, is that through
learning an L2 in a tutored setting, individuals may come to better understand
(i.e., develop conscious awareness of) their L1, as occurs when learners draw
connections between formal grammatical features in the two languages or how
metaphors function in both languages. 

While learning a foreign language can be different from learning scientific
concepts, as for instance happens in immersion situations in the everyday world
or in so-called communicative classrooms as prescribed by Krashen, we don't
agree that it must be different. Why must we assume that language cannot be
scientifically presented to adult learners in the same way as other schools
subjects such as math, physics and biology? Just because, as David says, every
foreign language is someone else’s native language, there is absolutely no
reason to think that adult learners cannot understand even the most complex
feature of any language, if it is presented in a coherent and systematic way
and then linked to practical communicative activities. Linguists do indeed work
to develop systematic (scientific) knowledge of language, and in our view this
expertise is very much relevant to establishing curricula for L2 learners. Many
of the studies we and our colleagues have undertaken over the last few years
draw specifically on research in cognitive linguistics to establish the
scientific concepts that are the object of instruction. 

3.We couldn't disagree more with David's attempt to rework our analysis. First
of all, we have no idea how "elle a dit" resembles the English "imperfect." If
anything it resembles the English "present perfect", which of course can be its
function in French. As for the supposed "mistranslation" in line 5, we opted to
render "a ete" as a present perfect to give the reader a sense of the
difference between was, and was, given that English doesn't have a
morphological way of distinguishing imperfect from preterit. It is not a

The reason the mediator chose to adopt the so-called "echo chamber" role is not
because he didn't know what he was doing, but because he knew precisely what he
was doing. To make the choice for Donna would not have been instructionally
useful. By echoing he allowed her the opportunity to continue to work through
the problem and to bring out her own agency. Of course, there are often several
options that a mediator can deploy when attempting to help students. Indeed,
during the enrichment period the mediator provided the kind of instruction
suggested by David. The goal here was to see if the student had benefited from
the instruction. Allowing the learner to struggle somewhat as she worked
through the problem was crucial to diagnosing her understanding of the concept
of verbal aspect. In fact, in a more recent analysis of the interaction, we
noted that Donnna’s gestures and eye gaze played a central role in her
struggled to resolve the problem. One of the things this analysis shows is that
she used her hands to imitate the visual model the instructor provided students
for helping them understand verbal aspect. Donna "gets it right" precisely
because she is thinking.

If David’s argument that aspect is a complex and not a concept is meant to
relate to what a native speaker might exhibit if asked to overtly explain how
aspect functions in her or his language, then we would agree with him. If
however, his comment is intended as a claim about what linguists know about
aspect and tense, he is simply wrong. Have a look at any linguistic book that
deals with semantics, e.g., Frawley (1992) Linguistic Semantics.  Evans (2005).
The Structure of Time. Comrie’s respective books on Tense and Aspect. 

Finally, to assert that tense and aspect have nothing to do with time and at
the same time argue that they emerge from narrative use is contradictory.
Narratives have everything to do with temporally organized events. Indeed, some
in psychology use event schema or temporal schema to refer to the knowledge
that people internalize about a narratively organized world (e.g., Brunner,
Kintsch, Mandler)

4. One of course can reject anything, as David has done with regard to
Paradis's model. However, Paradis is not alone in proposing such a model of the
separation of declarative and procedural knowledge. Michael Ullman,
neuroscientist at Georgetown U. has come to a similar conclusion. We agree that
first language knowledge can be made explicit but it takes special
circumstances [education] for this to happen. According to Paradis and Ullman,
lexical knowledge in any language is declarative because we can without too
much reflection bring it to explicit conscious attention. However, not matter
how hard we may try, we are not going to be able to bring to conscious
attention the implicit knowledge we have for use of aspect, mood, anaphora,
particle verbs, etc. With regard to second language learning, what we said in
line with Paradis and Ullman is that declarative knowledge cannot become
implicit/procedural knowledge, although of course second language learners can
become very quick at relying on declarative knowledge during performance, and
thus may behaviorally resemble native speakers. Indeed, Ullman and Paradis have
made extensive use of fMRI scans to empirically support the differences between
native speakers of a language and second language learners, even when their
observable performance appears to be the same (i.e., different parts of the
brain are active, notably, in the case of second language learners, those areas
associated with declarative knowledge). Furthermore, we didn't say that one can
never learn an L2 implicitly. It is possible, but rare. However, it is far more
difficult and more likely to result in gaps and incorrect knowledge. So reject
if you must, but the evidence is otherwise. 

Jim and Matt

Matthew E. Poehner
Assistant Professor, World Languages Education and Applied Linguistics
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Affiliate, Center for Language Acquisition
159 Chambers Building
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802
office phone: 814-865-2161

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