[xmca] Unfinished Symphony

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Mon Jan 14 2008 - 21:15:55 PST

Toulmin's comment about "the Mozart of psychology" notwithstanding, LSV was a late starter. (LSV also seems to sympathize with Salieri and not Mozart in his comments on the Pushkin short story!) But LSV did leave us something like the mysterious unfinished Requiem Mass, namely the book on Child Development sketched and begun in Volume Five of the Collected Works.
  Mike, Pentti Hakarainnen, Eugene Subbotsky and Yrjo Engestrom gave us a thought-shaking but distinctly unfinished discussion on this work in November, and my ex-grad students have tried to add a few bars with real data. I've got a kind of "executive summary" of what we came up with below, and you can also download our powerpoints and watch our presentations at:
  1) (Questions raised by Mike Cole)
  a) What are these 'parts' and 'wholes' of which Vygotsky speaks when he describes how in non-critical periods the growth of parts determines the configuration of the whole whle in critical periods the relation is reversed?
  b) What are the 'peripheral' and 'central' functions and how do they reverse places? What would be evidence that this is taking place?
  c) Is there slippage from a 'social situation of development' in which the child is an active participant to one which is simply given, and happens to the child from without?
  2) (Questions raised by Pentti Hakarainnen)
  a) How does Vygotsky's view of development agree with and differ from that of Leontiev and Elkonin? In particular, is the ¡°neoformation¡± the same as the 'leading activity'? (Olga Vasquez)
  b) Is play a 'realistic' activity directed towards the imitation of adult activities (Leontiev) or is it chiefly sense-making?
  c) How do children progress from one period to another? If, as Leontiev says, the 'crisis' is unnecessary, don¡¯t we need some kind of ''transitional activity system' which takes its place?
  3) (Questions raised by Yrj&ouml; Engestr&ouml;m)
  a) Is there a parallel between the phylogenetic development of societies and nations and the ontogenetic development of individuals or is it simply a stretched metaphor?
  b) How do we theorize the destructive element of crises and the collaborative component of crises without minimizing the damage they do or patronizing the participants?
  c) How does the zone of proximal development itself develop?
  Some answers suggested by our data (Yongho Kim, Hyosun Cho, Seonmi Song and Ji-eun Shin):
  1) (to questions raised by Mike Cole)
  a) We think that the 'whole' Vygotsky refers to is the whole child, the historical child, the child across the lifespan. We present VERBAL data from different periods of the lifespan showing that it can be understood as the whole child being shaped by various changes in speech, and speech being shaped by various changes in the whole child.
  b) We think that the central and peripheral functions may be understood as SPEECH functions, e.g. Vygotsky's 'indicative', 'nominative', and 'signifying' functions (infancy and early childhood). Within the signifying function, other subfunctions develop. For example, in Yongho's data we see that the four year olds are CENTRALLY concerned with the esthetic response and only peripherally concerned with ethical responses. This may change! His data from fifth graders shows children who are concerned with RULE BASED games (where fairness is a central concern) rather than ROLE PLAY (where esthetic responses may predominate). Interestingly, RULE BASED games show less developed, more inter-mental language than ROLE PLAY.
  c) We think that since even understanding is inherently responsive, a speech-made world can never be something that simply 'happens' to a child. For example, in Hyosun's data, we see a much higher level of understanding in the role plays of a 'Caillou' cartoon than in the teacher-student discussion, but even in the teacher-student discussion we see analysis of language which will be deployed in the role play. Similarly, in Seonmi's data we see the children taking exchanges and 'digesting' them into words or sometimes whole utterances. But the exchanges are never simply regurgitated undigested, and the variability of processing visible in the 'Word Race' results is a clear sign of the variability of the child's contribution to the social situation of development (in this instance, the classroom discourse).
  2) (To questions raised by Pentti Hakarainnen)
  a) We agree that there are real and substantive differences between Vygotsky and Leontiev, particularly on the question of the inevitability of crises. We think that neoformations are not the same thing as leading activities, at least not in the critical periods, because neoformations in the critical periods completely disappear. Neoformations from previous non-critical periods (paleoformations?) do not disappear, but coexist with newer neoformations in our data. For example, in Yongho's data we see play (the neoformation of preschool) within schoolwork (the neoformation of school age children). Within that play 'rule-based' game is more of a leading activity (and thus produces much less coherent and complete language) while the role play is the main activity (and thus less challenging and developmental). Similarly, in Hyosun's data, we see the teacher-student discussion playing the role of leading activity, but the role play represents a main activity. In Seonmi's data
 we see use of whole utterances in exchanges as the main activity and the study of fully decontextualized individual word meanings (on the Word Race) as the leading activity. In Ji-eun's data, we think that the novice teacher develops her greeting skills in a satisfactory way, but not her overall ability to construct 'tall and thin' discourse with the children. The greeting, then, is a leading activity for this novice teacher because it leads development.
  b) We agree that, contrary to what Leontiev contends, play is not chiefly an attempt to take part in adult activities; it is not, therefore, inherently realistic or based on 'meaning-making'. For example, in Yongho's data we see two very close friends role playing perfect strangers. Similarly, in Hyosun's data, the children role play YOUNGER children (Caillou is only four years old). Seonmi's data alone can be seen as the attempt by children to derive meaning from sense: the children begin with a situation-based and ever-changing whole utterance and end with a dictionary definition on the Word Race; but of course the Word Race is not imaginative play, but something more like a test. Even within the Word Race, the most easily memorized words are often those having to do with sense-making, not meaning-making (names of games and individual experiences; numbers were well memorized when they are part of a recent memory game).
  c) We agree that if one does away with the 'crisis', as Leontiev apparently wished to do, there must be some kind of transitional activity system that provides a springboard from one relatively quiescent period to the next. But why do away with the crisis? As Professor Engstr&ouml;m indicates, the solution to an undertheorized crisis is to theorize it, not dispose of it.
  3) (to questions raised by Yrj&ouml; Engestr&ouml;m)
  a) We think that in many ways the 'development as increased productivity' is the very opposite of what Vygotsky meant. In Yongho¡¯s data we see increased diversity rather than increased overall productivity as children move from role-play to rule-based games. On the other hand, the 'development' of language teaching in Korea has tended to follow a model which reduces diversity and enforces the uniformity of a native-speaker American model. Often this involves introducing anti-developmental material (e.g. using preschool materials from America in elementary schools in Korea).
  b) We think that foreign language teaching in Korea presents a kind of case study of the destructive nature of development, because, as Ji-eun's data shows, we are replacing highly developed Korean teacher expertise with novice foreign teachers, simply because the native speaker model represents the kind of development as increase in productivity rather than diversification that Rist is talking about (e.g. Oxford University Press's introduction to Korea of teaching materials from science education in American elementary schools in English, apparently an attempt to induce the kind of language acquisition that immersion programmes in Canada have achieved).
  c) We think that one obvious way in which the zone of proximal development itself develops (intra-individually) is with foreign language learning. It is well known that vocabulary learning in one¡¯s native language tends to level off with early adulthood. But foreign language learning brings the learning of vocabulary (and associated concepts) to a new developmental stage&#8212;on condition that we conceptualize foreign language learning the way Vygotsky did, with the foreign language building onto the most advanced elements of first language acquisition rather than starting all over again from the beginning. An inter-individual way in which the zone of proximal development itself develops is the the development of teacher expertise, described by Ji-eun.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Mon Jan 14 21:18 PST 2008

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