RE: [xmca] Streamed Discussion of Development in CHAT theory

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Mon Nov 19 2007 - 15:34:35 PST

Dear Em:
  Thanks for your note, which (as you can see from the follow up!) really did get to the heart of what I wanted to talk about.
  But first a short note on the means of talking. I like apples too, and I particularly like the Biblical phrase "apple of my eye" because it is a mistranslation of a Hebrew phrase (the original writer, God if you are Jewish, wrote "pupil of my eye"). The general point is that (Mike's fondness for etymology notwithstanding) meaning is not in words, but rather in the process of using words to point to shared understandings (even where these shared understandings still lie in the future).
  If I say "assessment" and you say "test" and we are both talking about the same thing, it is much as if I said "this" and you said "that". In fact, the book which I have on DA (Sternberg and Grigorenko) is entitled "Dynamic TESTING", not assessment. But I'm not really enamoured of either word; we could call it "agency", just so long as we mean the same thing.
  The heart of my criticism is really the distinction between development and learning. It seems to me that many of the problems that we have had operationalizing the ZPD stem from the (understandable) desire to equate them. But I think development cannot be directly measured, precisely because it has to do with the relationship between psychological functions). Learning, in contrast, can actually be observed, because it takes place inter-mentally. So discussions inevitably end up emphasizing the latter at the expense of the former.
  As you correctly point out, objective psychology by is objective because it focuses on this external, intermental reorganization of functions and tries to understand the internal, intramental reorganization of functions on this basis. In so doing, the chasm between subjective and objective experience is not obliterated, but it can be partially filled in and bridged with language.
  Early on in the San Diego-Helsinki discussion, Mike expresses some perplexity about a passage of Vygotsky where he discusses:
  a) the REVERSAL of central functions and peripheral ones during periods of development.
  b) the REVERSAL of the role of the whole and the parts during crises of development
  Now, it seems to me that these are two different things. But they both part of the intramental reorganization of functions, and therefore they are both not susceptible to direct observation. Some examples of a) might include (off the top of my head):
  1) a toddler who goes from collecting large numbers of stuffed toys just for the purpose of handling them and peripherally gives some of them rather boring, object-oriented names (e.g. "Kitty" for a stuffed cat) to a smaller collection of stuffed toys that have elaborate names, personalities, and life stories. Concrete objects were central; now they are peripheral. Imaginary situations were peripheral; now they are central.
  2) a school child who goes from a form of speech where sound is central and visual meaning-making is quite incidental (gesture during speech) to a form of speech where visual information is central and the sound is purely a resonant afterthought (i.e. written language). Once again, what was central becomes peripheral, and what was peripheral is now central.
  3) an adult who learns a foreign language without daily use of that language. In the native language, we begin with a situation, which gives rise to discourse, which may be written down, if we choose, as text, but the textfulness of daily discourse is not a necessary precondition. In learning a foreign language, we reverse the whole process, and it is precisely this which gives it a more deliberate, volitional (and less fluent) quality. (Indeed, the use of a foreign language is simply the exercise of deliberate choice at the scale of a whole language instead of at the scale of a sound, a word, or a phrase.) Once again, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
  I think that b) is a linked but distinct process. It's far more general, and it's even more clearly embedded in the cultural organization of the child's education (the sort of thing we read and write Bildungsromans to describe). Here the whole structure of the personality undergoes reorganization and the development of the component parts of the personality (volition, attention, memory, etc.) is decisively subordinated to their reorganization (and indeed we see that in periods of crisis volition, attention, and memory may be degraded rather than improved). And here Mike starts to get cold feet, because the resulting schema of child development is simply too schematic and cannot take into account the myriad processes we see in a).
  This schematic quality of b) bothers Mike because the idea that there is a single, unique structure for each period seems to contradict the multiplicity of the examples (and the different time scales that they appear to occupy) we observed with process a). It is also what Professor Subbotsky seeks to explain by referring to the homogenous quality of education in Vygotsky's time (I have my doubts about this, based on my experience in China!) and I think it's what Professor Hakarrainen means when he refers to Elkonin, and the "periodization" problem (which LSV also delves into in his essay 'The Problem of Age').
   LSV is rather ambivalent on the problem of periodization: as Professor Hakarrainen points out, he denies that chronological age is the same thing as either physiological age or mental age (and this is also implicit in his use of learning disabled children in his examples). He also DENIES at one point that school year can be used, but then he asserts that because development is bound up with the educational experience of children, school grade levels do "roughly" correspond to developmental periods. Chaiklin gets around this problem by giving us TWO ZPDs, a subjective and an objective one, but some people, including me, feel this solution leads to dualism.
  Examples of b) appear to include:
  1) The transition from a newborn infant to a toddler. For the infant, the "leading activity" is contact with the care-giver and the baby's own movements are peripheral (as LSV points out). For the toddler, the relationship is quite the reverse. (I got into trouble with Paul because I tried to argue that the infant's manipulation of adults by the control of his/her own crying is a form of agency, and in this sense Paul is quite right; an infant is not a toddler.)
  2) The transition from toddler to preschooler. For the toddler, the handling of concrete objects is a leading activity, while the creation of imaginary situations is implicit in this as an afterthough, while in the case of the preschooler, the relationship is quite the reverse. That is why we have the transition described under a) 1) above.
  3) The transition from preschooler to schoolchild. Professor Subbotsky and Professor Hakarrainen BOTH suggested that this involves the replacement of play with learning. My ex-grad Yongho Kim has argued that it is not so simple: what LSV really says is that school is a continuation of play based on abstract rules rather than imaginary situations, and this is why children will very often conceptualize their whole schoolday around competitive playground games (as we see when we ask them what they did all day at school). This can be observed in their language: the language of role play is really an extension of referential language to imaginary situations, but the language of rule play is quite different, involving conditionals and embedded clauses.
  Professor Vasquez raised the question of whether this was a matter of change in the "neoformation" (that is, the unique structure that Vygotsky was talking about) or in the "leading activity" (which Leontiev and Elkonin, but not Vygotsky, highlight). This question was never answered. It seems to me an absolutely key question, though!
  The problem I have with DA is this: whether we are looking at a) or b) (and I think that a] is often nothing more than the phenotypic manifestation of the genotypical transformation described in b), neither one is directly measurable. BOTH are going lead to "U shaped" curves of development, that is, crises. In a crisis, whether the child is interacting with a more able peer or not, there is a degradation and not an increase in performance. You can't have a crisis and keep on learning linearly at the same time.
  How can ANY form of assessment, dynamic or static, distinguish between those degradations in performance that are developmentally progressive (nay, decisive) and those which are due to poor learning? It is like trying to predict the DIRECTION in which this thread will develop on the basis of reading the past postings. We may predict footsteps from footsteps, but we can't predict future turnings, future trails.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Mon Nov 19 15:36 PST 2007

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