Re: [xmca] Social situation, zpd and Franklin

From: David H Kirshner (
Date: Sun Jun 04 2006 - 02:40:47 PDT

What stands out most sharply for me in Chaiklin's summary of Vygotsky's ZPD
is the highly specialized and non-intuitive notion of imitation that
grounds Vygotsky's approach to learning/development:

"Imitation ... is not a mindless copying of actions .... Rather Vygotsky
wants to break from a copying view to give a new meaning to imitation --
reflecting a new theoretical position -- in which imitation presupposes
some understanding of the structural relations in a problem that is being
solved" (p. 51).

From my "crossdisciplinary" perspective (which I've discussed before
here--my 2002 paper is still in the papers archives for XMCA), I see
Vygotsky (and sociocultural theory more generally) as struggling between
two basic metaphorical interpretations of learning: (conceptual)
construction and enculturation. The construction metaphor, most often
associated with Piaget-inspired psychological constructivism (e.g., von
Glasersfeld), sees cognitive structures as developing and maturing through
a TRANSFORMATIVE process. The enculturational metaphor, reflected in, say,
Leont'ev's notion of appropriation, sees a DISCONTINUITY between prior
structures and new ones (as Newman, Griffin, & Cole pointed out in The
Construction Zone). One comes to appropriate new modes of participation by
adopting those practices anew rather like donning a new coat. Vygotsky's
notion of imitation seems to reflect a desire to capture both of these
senses of learning within a single theorization. By opting for the term
"imitation" Vygotsky buys into its traditional sense of mindless
coparticipation, even as he attempts to twist the meaning to include
conceptual structures that come to be transformed. The problem is that
these metaphorical interpretations are "incommensurable" with one another
(see Sfard's, 1998, discussion of "acquisition" and "participation"
metaphors), and hence not subject to successful integration.

I see this basic problem with sociocultural theory as filtering down into
incoherent or impotent guidance for educational practice. Consider the key
notion of collaboration, as discussed in Chaiklin's chapter:

"Vygotsky often used the term collaboration in his discussion about
assessing the zone of proximal development. The term should not be
understood as a joint, coordinated effort to move forward, in which the
more expert partner is always providing support at the moments when
maturing functions are inadequate. Rather it appears that this term is
being used to refer to any situation in which a child is being offered some
interaction with another person that is related to a problem to be solved"
(p. 54).

As I discuss in my 2002 paper, from a constructivist perspective supporting
students' conceptual construction implies the need to "read" the students'
current conceptual configuration and to develop tasks and engagements that
are coordinated with the limitations of the current conceptual structures
(as a way to promote transformation of those structures). But, despite his
interest in fostering conceptual restructuring, Vygotsky wants to hang on
to a mode of collaboration in which coparticipation, itself, is
sufficient--a mode of engagement characteristic of the enculturationist
pedagogical approach (Kirshner, 2002). My argument in the 2002 paper is
that principled pedagogical methods only can be articulated relative to a
single metaphorical interpretation of learning. As I see it, this is why
"Vygotsky does not seem to have any systematic principles, methods, or
techniques that should guide how collaboration should be conducted by a
person who is assessing a zone of proximal development" (Chaiklin, 2003, p.

David Kirshner

Kirshner, D. (2002). Untangling teachers’ diverse aspirations for student
learning: A crossdisciplinary strategy for relating psychological theory to
pedagogical practice. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 33
(1), 46-58.

Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing
just one. Educational Researcher, 27(2), 4-13.

                      Phil Chappell
                      <philchappell who-is-at mac To:
                      .com> cc: (bcc: David H Kirshner/dkirsh/LSU)
                      Sent by: Subject: [xmca] Social situation, zpd and Franklin
                      xmca-bounces who-is-at webe
                      06/03/2006 07:15
                      Please respond to
                      "eXtended Mind,

Dear All,

I have just finished reading the Chaiklin article (at about 10 feet
above seal-level, bb), which I read about 18 months ago without the
focus-prompt given by Mike - "Did Franklin participate in a zoped?"
I'm always surprised at the new meanings I construct with texts when
I revisit them after some time!

So, Did Franklin participate in a zoped? Not an easy question! And I
don't have an answer, but...

As another thought to add to Althea's issues, Chaiklin (p. 47) talks
about a) the social situation of development ("the child's specific
but comprehensive relationship to its environment") and b) the
demands of the environment, which contradict the child's needs and
desires, as well as c) his/her current capabilities. Working to
overcome this contradiction in order to participate in a given
activity, the child "engages in different concrete tasks and specific
interactions, which can result in the formation of new functions, or
the enrichment of existing functions. The central new-formation
produced for a given age period is a consequence of the child's
interactions in the social situation of development with relevant
psychological functions that are not yet mature".

I contend, put crudely, that Franklin can regulate his relationship
with his environment in goal-directed activity that does not involve
collaboration at the art table and the wood bench (self-appointed
tasks where he concentrates intensely), as well as in the blocks
corner, but in none of these contexts has he demonstrated the
presence of the buds of development of ability to engage
independently or assisted in cooperative activity with his peers.
Franklin does not "yet have" the "democratic spirit" (p. 84 - Paley)
that his teacher sees as necessary in building blocks activity that
requires co-labouring.

Althea, while contemplating the task of seeing how Vygotsky defined
learning and development (a task that I am very interested in), has
the idea been raised of theorising whether or not there were maturing
psychological functions in the social situation of development, or
identifying Franklin's current state in relation to developing these
functions needed for a transition? This seems to me crucial in
Chaiklin's interpretation. If the answer is no, then do we say that
Franklin was not participating in a zoped?

Just some initial thoughts to add to Althea's as I have another read
of the chapter and also work back through parts of Collected Works
Vol. 4.

Looking forward to others' responses - even the oldtimers' :-)



P.S I copied the following from the chapter and somehow feel it is

The crucial assumption is that imitation is possible because a)
maturing psychological functions are still insufficient to support
independent performance but b) have developed sufficiently so that c)
a person can understand how to use the collaborative actions (e.g.
leading questions, demonstrations) of another. The presence of these
maturing functions is the reason the zone of proximal development
exists. (page 52)

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