RE: Bakhtin: Toward a methodology for the human sciences

From: White, Phillip (
Date: Sat Jan 17 2004 - 15:40:38 PST

  Eugene, you wrote:

“The teacher’s ZPD is about providing sensitive guidance for the student that is impossible without help of “more knowledgeable” other – the student, who guides the teacher about his/her own subjectivity. I think Seth’s very correct point about cultural “function” is complementary to Mike’s (and his colleagues’: Denis Newman and Peg Griffin). Since cultural practices are aching in the history of the society, cultural “functions” also have their own ZPD. This leads me to a participatory approach to ZPD developed by Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger and Barbara Rogoff.”

    (not sure what you mean here, Eugene, when you write "...cultural practices are aching...")

     But, in general what you describe here, this coincides closely with what I see happening with the teachers, and teacher-candidates that I am working with. The ZPD provides for them a conceptual figurative framework for the teacher’s understanding in determining an instructional position working with students – and I might add that even for myself working with adults the concept of ZPD serves the same purpose.

     I continually stress that what the child is learning is not just the information or processes that the teacher is teaching, but rather the student is learning about the entire process embodied within the activity of teaching – how particular tools are used, the implicit and explicit value of the tools, who gets to use the tools, etc., as well as gender, class and ethnic relationships within the activity, the implicit and explicit emotions demonstrated, and so on and so forth. In short, the dense, rich, socio-cultural-physical contexts of the teaching/learning activity.

I have seen demonstrations of the ZPD as an open cylinder with learning poured in, and the empty space just above the poured in learning being labeled as the ZPD - this was a metaphor used by a Russian professor at a local city college. I have also run across computerized reading programs that after a students had been ‘tested’ printed out the instructional grade level of the student ZPD.

But even for all of the stupidities that I’ve seen in how the ZPD has been used – I still find the ZPD an extremely useful metaphor for teachers when deciding on where to go instructionally with the child - it can support them in paying attention to what the child is actually doing, rather than what the textbook or curriculum says should be happening next. It can support a teacher in strengthening and practicing her/his own professional expertise.

And certainly what we know about individual construction of learning is that individuals don’t learn the same things or arrive at the same understandings of a subject. Of course, practices of rote memorization and dogma are two attempts to deter the practices of multiple and diverse understandings of concepts/theories/beliefs/values, etc.

now what'cha thinking?


phillip white
university of colorado at denver
school of education

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