[xmca] Subjective Objective

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Fri Aug 01 2008 - 07:00:33 PDT

I remember starting a rumpus on this list with a post based on Leontiev 1978 on "Inside Outside" where I argued that the problem of dualism is not so much positing a separate layer of experience (which every child does as part of personality formation) as making ontologically sure that it is not just on the receiving end of the environment like a mud puddle under an animal's foot. 
I think I want to continue the rumpus,  but this time from the angle of Chaiklin 2003 (also available on Discussion Papers http://communication.ucsd.edu/MCA/Paper/index.html). Chaiklin makes a distinction between the subjective zoped and the objective one, but he clearly says that the former is part and parcel of the latter.
The subjective zone of proximal development consists of the psychological processes that each individual child has which are still maturing and which by maturing are bringing into being the neoformation required by the next age level. To the extent that these functions are not yet fully interiorized, they can only be deployed with the help of others (and thus can only be assessed by assessing assisted performance), but to the extent that they are peculiar to each child they do a great deal to explain individual variation between learners.
These maturing functions, together with the cultural endowment bequeathed to the child in the present age level and the demands being levied by the next age level, create a trichotomous “objective” zone of proximal development:
"The 'objective' zone is not defined a priori, but reflects the structural relationships that are historically-constructed and objectively constituted in the historical period in which the child lives. One can say that the zone for a given age period is normative, in that it reflects the institutionalized demands and expectations that developed historically in a particular societal tradition of practice. For example, school-age children are expected to develop capabilities to reason with academic (i.e., scientific) concepts. Individuals who do not develop this capability can be said to have a different intellectual structure than most school-age children. Reasoning with concepts is a specific manifestation of the new-formations for this age, which Vygotsky suggests are conscious awareness and volition. (Chaiklin, 2003: 49)"
LSV says that the learning of foreign language word meanings is closely analogous to the learning of foreign language concepts; foreign languages, unlike some (but in Korea not all) forms of the native language, must be learnt volitionally and consciously, with exacting and even scientific awareness (1987: 220-221).
Since the subjective zone of proximal development is part and parcel of the objective one, why is Chaiklin’s distinction between a subjective and an objective zone of proximal important? Well, linguists and language teachers find it notoriously difficult to understand each other, although we are allegedly working on the same problems, and this distinciton actually goes a fair ways to explaining the difference in point of view.
Applied linguists are often struck by the discrepancy between the apparently universal success rate in first language learning and the much lower success rate in foreign language learning. Many have sought to explain this by the different amounts of exposure. Yet as Turiel et al. have written:
"To explain development it is necessary to elucidate specific propositions regarding processes of acquisition and examine those propositions through close analyses of changes in children’s judgements and actions. It is also important to avoid a common pitfall in this kind of work which we refer to as the ‘exposure fallacy.’ The simplest form of this fallacy is the assumption that if children were exposed to that which they acquire, then it was acquired through direct learning or internalization. (…) The fallacy is in translating differential exposure into an explanation of developmental processes. Exposure can both serve to stimulate the interactive process and provide material for cognitive processing and comprehension—which in turn can lead to its acceptance, partial acceptance or rejection on the part of the child.” (Turiel, E., Killen, M. and Helwig, C.C. (1987) Morality: Its Structure, Functions and Vagaries. In Kagan, J. and Lamb, S.
 (eds) The emergence of morality in young children. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. p 221.)
Sure enough, foreign language teachers are often faced with cohorts of language learners who have more or less exactly the same amount of exposure to the foreign language (such as those in the data presented below) and who nevertheless still exhibit widely varying degrees of success.
As applied linguists, we face clear differences in the objective zones of proximal development: First language learning is an absolutely central line of development without which children even at the preschool level must be said to have a different intellectual structure from their peers. But foreign language learning is, at least in most school systems, a more peripheral line of development which is, as part of the school curriculum, organized around a more central line of development, viz., thinking in concepts. As Vygotsky remarks, “Different developmental paths, followed under different conditions, cannot lead to identical results. (1987: 179).”
As foreign language teachers, however, we are centrally preoccupied with heterogeny in the subjective zone of proximal development. In some learners, the learning of foreign language words and the underlying process of thinking in concepts seems more mature than in others, and the individual learner’s volitional control of attention, memory, and thinking appear to be inextricably implicated. From a Vygotskyan point of view, this disparity is unsurprising.
Foreign language instruction is a case study in volitional, conscious, even scientific teaching/learning. As such, it can function as a clear litmus test of the hidden molecular changes by which the child’s developing will develops the potential to restructure the very medium through which learning takes place.  
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education
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Received on Fri Aug 1 07:02 PDT 2008

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