Re: [xmca] Social situation, zpd and Franklin

From: David H Kirshner (
Date: Mon Jun 05 2006 - 03:27:00 PDT

Mike, thanks for your extended reply to my post. I'll try to summarize and
then respond to each of the concerns/questions you raise.

1. What's wrong with psychological theories, such as Vygotsky's, that are
dialectical in nature, that attempt to treat together "as two sides of a
single coin" aspects of learning that are metaphorically distinct.

As psychological theories, there is nothing wrong such attempts. However,
the crossdisciplinary approach I am developing distinguishes between
psychological theorizing and educational theorizing in a new way. The basic
idea of crossdisciplinarity is that there are certain culturally given
metaphorically distinct interpretations of learning that constitute our
cultural commonsense about learning and that circumscribe our educational
motives for student learning: Learning as habituation; learning as
(conceptual) construction; and learning as enculturation. These relate,
broadly, to the educational interests in teaching skills, concepts, and
dispositions, respectively. From here, education and psychology part ways.
Psychology, as a preparadigmatic science, has as its primary raison d'etre
the eventual forging of a paradigmatic consensus. There are some branches
of psychology, like behaviorism (informed by learning as habituation) and
developmental psychology (informed by learning as construction), that tend
to be unifocal in their metaphorical interpretation of learning. These
approaches work outward from locally coherent intuitions within their
"home" metaphor to try to subsume the other metaphors (e.g., the attempt by
behaviorists in the middle of the last century to subsume concepts in the
form of linguistically mediated behavior). Other approaches within
psychology like sociocultural theory, situated cognition theory, and social
constructivism are integrative in that they attempt to span more than one
metaphorical interpretation of learning. In a sense, the challenge for
these integrative theories is the inverse of their unifocal counterparts.
They already encompass broad concerns of the field. Their challenge is to
coherently articulate principles of learning that span metaphors. Each of
these approaches (unifocal or integrative) is a legitimate effort toward
the historically inscribed imperative of achieving a paradigmatic consensus
for psychology.

What crossdisciplinarity does is to forge a new relationship between
psychology and education. In the current hierarchy of disciplines,
education is a client discipline to psychology, uncritically adopting the
perspectives of the psychologists within the various schools. In the past
behaviorism was the dominant psychological paradigm, and educators bought
the claim that behaviorism could account for learning overall. In the
current era, the integrative theories hold considerable sway with
pedagogical theorists despite the fact that the integrative insights are a
research agenda, not an established accomplishment. (My point in the last
posting in contrasting the TRANSFORMATION of conceptual structures with the
DISCONTINUITY of modes of participation was to highlight the enormous
challenges that remain in framing a coherent and comprehensible synthesis.)

The crossdisciplinary approach is the hard-nosed recognition by educators
that, yes, psychology does have some local insights to share with us about
how people learn skills, concepts, and dispositions, but there is no grand
synthesis. So crossdisciplinarity abandons as unfeasible the current
interest in articulating notions of "good teaching" that are general,
seeking, instead to formulate independent accounts of good teaching indexed
to the separate notions of learning. For pedagogical principles that
explicate how teaching supports learning depend on having a notion of
learning that is theoretically coherent.

2. How does Vygotsky's notion of imitation come in for special criticism,
given a crossdisciplinary viewpoint?

Imitation, in its usual sense, already relates to learning as habituation
(refinement of skills through repetitive practice) and to learning as
enculturation (through emulation of culturally more central participants).
Vygotsky commandeers the construct of imitation to load it down, also, with
some kind of conceptual baggage: "[For Vygotsky] imitation presupposes some
understanding of the structural relations in a problem that is being
solved" (Chaiklin, 2003, p. 51). Given these triple affordances, it's not
surprising that Vygotsky would want to make imitation central to his model
of learning/development in a ZPD. Unfortunately, the enculturational
interest is sadly underrepresented by a notion of imitation (with its
attendant implication of volunteerism), to the extent that the ZPD itself
is much diminished as a resource for thinking about instruction.

As a dutiful crossdisciplinarian, I set out to examine the metaphor of
enculturation independently, noting that (unlike the other metaphors) it
really hasn't received unifocal attention in any psychological school. My
own examination suggests there are two separate and distinct processes
typically associated with enculturation. One is a kind of cultural
immersion, in which, somehow, the dispositional traits of a community are
adopted without conscious intent by the neophyte. My paradigm example is
proxemic dispositions ("personal space") which children adopt in the
context of a national culture without conscious intent, or even notice.
(But proxemic dispositions do vary from one national culture to the next.)
The second process is related to acculturation in which an individual
self-selects into a subculture by consciously emulating dispositional
traits that are distinctive to that subculture. But the more basic of these
two processes is the first, as conscious strategies of acculturation always
are embedded in an enculturationist process (one can only consciously
emulate a limited number of cultural traits).

What I've found is that pedagogically, these two processes subserve
distinct pedagogical methods for promoting enculturational learning in the
classroom: Enculturationist teaching relates to (surreptitiously) growing
target dispositional traits into the classroom microculture;
Acculturationist teaching relates to developing subculture identity (I'm
attaching a brief 2004 paper that explores these issues). Taking imitation
as central to the ZPD, tends to conflate these two pedagogical approaches,
and to diminish the first.

3. Does this shed any light on Franklin's learning to play nice with the
other kids? ("Franklin cannot remember 5 seconds after he has driven his
friends from the block corner what he has
done. ... NOW he can remember!!")

>From a crossdisciplinary perspective, I see the Franklin episode as related
to enculturational learning. Franklin has adopted a new form of
participation within the context of a cultural milieu. The emphasis on
remembering and understanding in Paley's account and in Mike's question
seem to me to be a red herring--the sort that can swim out too easily from
an integrative perspective on learning. What seems to be going on in the
episode is that Franklin's identity undergoes some sort of transformation.
He previously had been interested in cultivating an identity as an
"expert." Within that identity construction, he focussed on certain aspects
of his behavior and performance, and had a particular way of evaluating the
responses of others (let's face it, experts aren't always that popular).
It's hard to analyze exactly what happened to change his identity structure
without more data than is provided in Paley's report--several possibilities
come to mind. For instance, the teacher talking about him publicly in the
3rd person may have embarrassed/punished him, and suggested that being an
expert can carry a steep price. Or seeing the skillful way in which his
teacher imitated him, might have intrigued him into thinking that being a
famous actor might be a more rewarding identity to pursue. In any event,
changes in remembering and understanding, which certainly did transpire
within the episode, seem to be only artifactual to the dynamic change in
social positioning and identity that this episode is really about.


(See attached file: PMENA04.pdf)

                      "Mike Cole"
                      <lchcmike who-is-at gmail.c To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
                      om> <>
                      Sent by: cc: (bcc: David H Kirshner/dkirsh/LSU)
                      xmca-bounces who-is-at webe Subject: Re: [xmca] Social situation, zpd and Franklin
                      06/04/2006 02:09
                      Please respond to
                      mcole; Please
                      respond to
                      "eXtended Mind,

You introduce a lot of important issues into the discussion, David. Clearly
everyone should
go back to your paper if we are not engage them properly. At the same time,
I am struggling
with the previously existing poliphony of voices concerning learnng and
development and the
question of whether and if so when it makes sense to believe that play can
create a zone of
proximal development (where issues of learning and development bring
round of difficulties).

When you write: Vygotsky (and sociocultural theory more generally) as
struggling between
two basic metaphorical interpretations.... I come away wondering what you
mean about struggling
between. Here, an echo of Lois' comment yesterday, I have always thought of
the processes under
discussion as two sides of a single coin in dialectical relationship to
other. On the one hand, the
active subject must operate on the world using "auxiliary means" by means
which the problematic
situation is transformed and on the other hand must appropriate those means
in the act of transformaion.
Do transformation and discontinuity stand in opposition to each other in
some way as you seem to imply below?

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).

I am unclear here.

The questions you raise about LSV's use of imitation also caught my
attention. It has taken me a very long time to get at all interested in the
issue of imitation, but it is currently one of THE hot topics in research
the nature and presence of culture in chimpanzee social groups (culture is
defined in this literature as presence of behavioral patterns across
generations achieved by a mechanism of social learning-- but what is that
mechanism, and here is where imitation comes in. The following indicates
distinctions currently in fashion:

This brings us to the question of how cognition and culture are related
among non-human primates.

Attempts to answer this question have focused on the question of the
cognitive mechanisms of social learning. The general answer given is that
social learning requires some form of mimesis broadly interpreted as a
process in which the behavior of one individual comes to be like another
through some form of contact. But this broad an understanding of mimesis
little more than restating what one means by a social tradition, since many
different processes can lead to behavioral conformity. Consequently, the
task of further specifying the processes of mimesis has garnered the bulk
scholarly attention (Byrne, 2002; Metzoff & Prinz, 2002; Tomasello &
Rakoczy, 2003; Valsiner, 2000; Whitten, 2000).

At the most elementary level, groups of the same species living in
locales may behave differently from each other, but in conformity with each
other, because of differences in their local ecology. Each animal may be
discovering the solution for itself, by this account.

In addition, situations may arise when members of a group are attracted to
the location of conspecifics and, on their own, learn the behaviors that
others have learned in the same circumstances. For example, they may learn
that grubs are located in the area, and learn to find the grubs and eat
them, without any special orientation to the behavior of others. This
of social learning is termed stimulus* enhancement*.

A slightly more complex form of social influence is referred to as
learning*, which occurs when, for instance, an infant chimpanzee observes
its mother turn over a log and sees that there are grubs under the log.
However, in such cases, the infant is not focused on the goal-directed
intentions (strategies) of the mother, but the infant learns something
objects in the environment and can then, itself, learn about attaining such

The most complex (and most controversial) claims about the source of
acquiring social traditions in non-human primates are *imitation*, when the
infant attempts to copy the goal-directed strategies of the mother. There
as yet no consensus on whether non-human primates raised in the wild engage
in this form of mimesis (Byrne, 2002).

Sorry about the wobbly font.

LSV appears to go further to link imitation to conceptual understanding
will support success in
copying goal directed actions. I cannot imitate a calculus teacher teaching
calculus. My grand daughter
stuggles to "follow directions" in a closely constrained effort to work
through an elementary
algebra problem.... she tries to "imitate" the sequence of actions, she
understands some of the
principles required, but not enough to be able to do it on her own. Over
succeeding sessions, with
varied examples, the range of problems she can solve by "imitating" what I
am doing expands and the amount of filling in I have to do decreases. If
continues to improve, it will not be long before our roles are reversed.
Zoped? Imitation?

Franklin cannot remember 5 seconds after he has driven his friends from the
block corner what he has
done. He hotly denies Vivian's verbal description. She acts it out. NOW he
can remember!! Not only
can he remember, he can play Franklin being a social cooperative child in
the block corner" Imitation?
On 6/4/06, David H Kirshner <> wrote:
> What stands out most sharply for me in Chaiklin's summary of Vygotsky's
> 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
> a TRANSFORMATIVE process. The enculturational metaphor, reflected in,
> 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
> 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
> 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
> (p. 54).
> As I discuss in my 2002 paper, from a constructivist perspective
> supporting
> students' conceptual construction implies the need to "read" the
> current conceptual configuration and to develop tasks and engagements
> are coordinated with the limitations of the current conceptual structures
> (as a way to promote transformation of those structures). But, despite
> 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.
> 54).
> 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
> AM
> Please respond to
> "eXtended Mind,
> Culture,
> Activity"
> 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' :-)
> Cheers,
> Phil
> P.S I copied the following from the chapter and somehow feel it is
> relevant:
> 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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