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RE: [xmca] Might we pause to consider? Imitation and the Zoped

I just read this really interesting post on Bayesian analysis by a very interesting political analyst named Nate Silver.
Putting aside the actual subject of the analysis (The validity of the charges against Julian Assange) it made me think a great deal about this conversation about what Vygotsky may have meant by imitation and zone of proximal development/zoped - and perhaps the differential between what Vygotsky might have meant by imitation in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and what we often mean by imitation when we use it in the United States at the turn of the millenium (not to mention what Piaget and Inhelder meant in Switzerland in the 1950s).
So what is the context of Vygotsky's use of imitation that can give us some clues.  I think it is safe to say that he was influenced by Marx (whether he could actually be considered a Marxist may be up for more discussion).  We know that he was committed to a developmental/evolutionary perspective of the human condition.  We know that he thought there was a strong social component to development.  At least those are the things that I tend to posit reading Vygotsky.
My thinking is that a developmentalist would not equate their use of imitation with mimicry because there really is no developmental component to mimicry.  My thinking also is that living through the revolution and understanding the revolution/evolution of human activity he would not think of imitation as mimicry or anything close.  If something doesn't have an adaptive component (which current interpretations of imitation do not) then it has little applicability to change and human development.  Also, and maybe Andy would be able to speak to this better, our current understanding of imitation is conservative and oppressive - something a ruling class might impose to control a populace that should be overcome rather than embraced.
What then would be the meaning of imitation from a Vygotskian perspective.  Well it probably has something to do with appropriation of information  (pace Peter) that allows us to branch off in our thinking in a productive and safe way.  In other words imitation is more of a starting point than an end in and of itself - the proverbial finding of home plate.  I think of Peter's coaching example, where imitation needs to be a starting point but the coach is constantly reminding the player to be adaptable, to "look in their opponents eyes, watch their habits, find their weak points" as they move forward.


From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of Peter Smagorinsky
Sent: Tue 12/28/2010 2:29 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Might we pause to consider? Imitation and the Zoped

I can't claim any kind of definitive understanding of terms from a language I can't even read (Russian), but I'll try to outline what I understand by "imitation" as available to me in translations of LSV's work.

When I first came across his references to imitation, I was pretty puzzled, because mimetic education is not what I usually endorse, i.e., teaching students to mime or copy other sorts of performances. For instance, in teaching writing, it's common to provide students with model essays to imitate. I tend to avoid this approach because it tend to produce very formulaic writing with little variation from the model.

And yet, I know that imitation is part of many learning experiences. As a basketball coach, I would demonstrate a technique and have the players try to incorporate it into their own games by means of drills. Much sports learning is based on such demonstration and then repetition by the learners with corrective feedback from coaches (not always gentle or supportive, but coaching styles no doubt affects how learners accept teaching).

What seems to matter is how the act of imitation involves modification as the understanding of the action and its conceptual basis is internalized. That's what I understand "appropriation" to involve: not mindless imitation, but taking a modeled action, going through its motions, and adapting it to one's own capabilities and needs and to the affordances and constraints of new applications. So, while in basketball most efforts to "box out" or "take the charge" or use any other technique all look more or less the same, each involves an adaptive process to suit each player's body type, skill set, athleticism, and so on, and the situations in which the technique is applied.

So imitation is actually a constructive process, and so, I think, is relevant in discussions of the ZPD in that it is relational, involves adjustment, is reciprocal, involves new constructions, relies on intersubjectivity, and so on. Just as the ZPD is often characterized as a flat, one-way instructional process moving easily from here to there, imitation can be pretty static. But not if the act of imitation is part of a more complex process of appropriation.

Imitating the Style of the Spectator by Benjamin Franklin
About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With that view, I took some of the papers, and making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by for a few days, and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. I then compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults and corrected them. But I found I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using them, which I thought I should have acquired before that time if I had gone on making verses; since the continual occasion for words of the same import, but of different length, to suit the measure, or of different sound for the rhyme, would have laid me under a constant necessity of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that variety in my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore I took some of the tales and turned them into verse; and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again. I also sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and compleat the paper. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts. By comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discovered many faults and amended them; but I sometimes had the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small import, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to think I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious.

From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of mike cole
Sent: Monday, December 27, 2010 11:13 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity
Subject: [xmca] Might we pause to consider? Imitation and the Zoped

Hi David, Andy and Peter -- I have been in airports and other family homes
for a while which makes time to participate in the conversation for a while.
I was wondering if you might find it interesting to pause a bit and expand
on the issue of the inter-relationship between imitation and the zoped. Here
is why.

First of all, each of these terms is used in a variety of ways in academic
discourse, and I am not always clear what people are gesturing at when
they use either term. I think it would be helpful to figure out if different
senses of  "imitation" are in any way related to different understandings of
the term "zone of proximal development."

Here is another example to add to David's language learning one. It involves
learning arithmetic in a Liberian rural school in the 1960's. It is
published somewhere in an early report of our work on mathematics learning
acurately, but this is what I recall.

Observing in the schools, my colleague, John Gay, heard the children
intoning their times tables (think here of the intonation, as in David's
example, la da da da da ; la da da da da,,,,,,,,,,,, The children speak
little or no English, and Liberian English is, to American ears, rather sing
songy. John asked a child what he was doing. "Singing, was the answer. I
know the tune I do not know the words." These same children, when I helped
them with their homework, would complain that the teacher was unfair. He
gave examples like 2+2=4 and 3+6=9 but on the test he put 5+3=? and 6+4=?
How are we supposed to know that if he didn't teach it to us." We would
ordinarily refer to this as "rote" learning.

In the context of this discussion, it might be thought of as forms of
imitation in instruction.

My hope would be that by pausing to dig more deeply into this combination of
concepts, we might learn a lot about where we are slip sliding around
without even noticing it.

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