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Re: [xmca] Zone of Proximal Development
This isn't brief. But I hope it's clarifying. It was clarifying for me.
The reason it's not brief is that the sentences in it (particularly in the data) are very short. When there are lots of short sentences, the steps in the argument are easy to follow.
But for that very reason there have to be many steps. The process of development in language (and also to a certain extent in thinking) is the process of taking shortcuts.
One of the shortcuts we learn to take is to combine many short steps into a long one. In other words, the many short sentences of inter-mental interaction become a long leap of intra-mental thought.
Scollon talks about how this happens in his wonderful book "Conversations With a One Year Old". The child repeats what an adult says and then responds to it. So the inter-mental becomes intramental.
Vygotsky would not have been surprised by this: not at all! It's just one more example of the genetic law: everything we find within the mind, that is, internalized, was once something we found between minds, that is, between people.
In a very real sense this is not a law at all: it's just a DEFINITION of what internalization really is. It's not a matter of representing social relations in some kind of psychological language. It's not a matter of remembering things instead of perceiving them.
I don't even think it's a matter of "interiorization", where the architecture of the inner rooms of the mind can be altered to fit the new interior decorating (because it's not at all clear to me what "exteriorization" might mean).
It's a matter of doing things autonomously which you could only do collectively before. In other words, it's a matter of increasing human freedom.
Yes, it's a matter of "scaffolding", of taking off the dog collar and leash or cutting the apron springs, or "breaking away", as Yrjo Engestrom puts it. But that's a relatively trivial side of things.
I think that there's a more important (ontogenetically and socioculturally) sense in which development is freedom that doesn't negate the collective at all. On the contrary, development is freedom which ensures that the collective iteself can develop, because development enables the collective to make things that nobody else has made before.
I think THAT is the sense in which the zone of proximal development (which I'm going to start calling the "next zone of development", as Seve does) really does mean an amplification and not a quickening of development. THAT is the sense in which it represents not only a link between microgenesis and ontogenesis, but even a link between ontogenesis and sociogenesis, that is, human progress.
And I think THAT sense is totally different from what Piaget called "the American Question", namely, how can we do the same thing we are doing now only faster, farther, higher, better, and more profitably. I think that Vygotsky (particularly pre 1931 Vygotsky) would have answered the American question like this: sometimes the "best" way to develop is slowly.
But of course we DO find passages in Vygotsky post 1931 that really do suggest that he was thinking about the American question. Here's one that greatly impressed Mike when we were working on an article together.
"The fundamental characteristic of any structure is that it is independent of the materials that form it, of the concrete material that provides its basis. Its fundamental characteristic is its potential for being transferred to other material. Thus, if the child forms a structure or learns an operation in the course of instruction, he has acquired more than the potential of reproducing that structure or operation. He has acquired much greater potentials that extend to domains of other strucures. We have given a penny's worth of instruction and teh consequence has been a dollar's (sic) worth of development. A signle step in instruction can represent a hundred steps in development. This constitutes the most positive featuer of this new theory." (Thinking & Speech, Minick trans., pp. 197-198).
Notice that last sentence! What LSV is REALLY saying here is that this is NOT his theory. This is actually a little clearer in the original, because Vygotsky is paraphrasing Koffka--and Koffka uses pfennigs and marks rather than pennies and dollars. But Minick's translation does give an American flavor to the passage which Piaget would have associated with the American question. (Thanks to David Kirshner for first drawing my attention to the anomaly of pennies and dollars in a passage about Koffka's work.)
Like Mike, when I first read this, I was excited. But now I find this "American" passage of LSV a little depressing. If we look at the essay on Makarenko that Achilles just sent us, we notice on that on p. 1 Filonov pays tribute to Krupskaya, Lunacharsky, and Blonsky--but not Vygotsky.
We also read on p. 2 that Makarenko was a harsh critic of the "paeocentrism and underestimation of the educational role of the teacher" and the deterministic, pessimistic methods of the paedologists, i.e. Vygotsky. This was written in 1981.
What this suggests to me is that the "Ameican Question" was not just American; it was also Soviet, and after 1931 there was terrific pressure on Vygotsky to introduce educational methods that were "faster, further, higher, better". He maneuvered adroitly in the new current (renaming them "preconcepts"), but he couldn't save all of his precious work on complexes from destruction.
I think another thing he had to downplay, in order to get a hearing, was the key transformative role of creativity, and in particular the emergence of VOLITIONAL creativity out of NONVOLITIONAL creativity.
When we look at that quote from p. 197 of the Minick translation, we are struck by the reference to the independent of structure from material. This was code for people who knew the work of the Russian formalists, and Vygotsky was certainly one of them: the "form" of a work of literature is the style, the "content" is the actual plot and characters, but the "material" is language.
I think Vygotsky saw creativity not in a romantic sense as being confined to form or content; he saw it as an inseparable part of the material, sometimes volitional and sometimes not. For schoolchildren, the struggle was to make nonvolitional creativity (that is, error) into volitional creativity; to achieve mastery and awareness over error to such an extent that error become a volitional part of the process of bringing new things into language.
Let me show you a rather mundane example of what I mean. Here are some fifth graders. They are about to listen to the following dialogue, in English:
Nami: What a nice day!
Ann: Yes, it is.
Nami: Let's go on a picnic.
Ann: Sounds good.
T: (pointing to the first picture of "Look and Speak") Let's talk about the picture. Look! Look! What do you see?
T: Girls. How many girls?
T: Two girls. Who are they?
S: Mina, ...
T: Who, who are they?
Ss: Nami ! Nami! Nami!
T: Yes, she's Nami. And she is ... ?
T: Ann. What are they doing?
Ss: Talk/ Play/
T: They are ... ?
Ss: Talk/ Play.
T: They are....talking about ... ?
T: The sky. How is the sky?
S: What a nice day !
T: What a ... ?
Ss: Nice day.
T: Nice day. It's nice. It's a nice day. So ... ? So ... ?
T: So ... they want to go ..., they want to play ..., they want to go ... ?
T: Picnic? Do you think they will ... they want to go on a picnic?
(after watching the video clip of the dialogue)
T: Ah! It's a very short dialogue. Who can tell me about the dialogue? Tell me about the dialogue. What did you hear? Da-in?
S (angrily, because the teacher has forgotten his name) : Dayeong!
Dayeong: There is a nice day.
Dayeong: There is a nice day.
T: Ah, they say it's a nice day.
Dayeong: So they want to go ...
T: So they want to go ...?
T: On a picnic. Good job.
T: How about you, Micheong? Can you try to tell me one more time, like Dayeong?
Micheong: That is a nice day.
T: It's a nice day. So ... ?
Micheong: So they want to go to the picnic.
T: So they want to go on a picnic.
You can see that BEFORE they listen to the dialogue, they have the language correctly: "What a nice day!" and at least a passive grasp of "go on a picnic" ("No!"). This is the target language that the dialogue is designed to reproduce, and they have it before they even listen.
But AFTER they listen to the dialogue, the target language is incorrect! The kids say: "There is a nice day" and "That is a nice day" and "go to the picnic" instead of "go on the picnic". Because of the limitations of their short-term memory, they are forced to use involuntary creativity when they want to reproduce the dialogue, and the result is error.
Let's look at this second dialogue from Scollon's point of view, the point of view that says that children build up intra-mental grammar by trying to reproduce inter-mental discourse. Right away, we notice that the sentences that the kids are producing are a LOT longer than the dialogue: "That is a nice day ...so they want to go to the picnic".
The short steps have become a much longer stride. Of course, that longer stride contains errors; it's not at all suitable for the American/Soviet goal of error elmination. But in a very important sense, the errors are the most promising thing about it: a pfennig's worth of error can become a mark's worth of socio-cultural and not simply ontogenetic progress.
Seoul National University of Education
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