[xmca] Re: And Franklin??

From: Ana Marjanovic-Shane (ana@zmajcenter.org)
Date: Wed May 31 2006 - 08:07:23 PDT

Mike and all,
The "Franklin" example is really a great example of the zone of proximal
development is several ways.
First and very important: it show us that learning (even in the sense of
merely becoming aware of a content of learning) cannot take place in any
type of interaction with anybody and in any type of a situation. This is
especially true for learning social relationships and self-awareness. As
we see from the example, Franklin had repeated experiences of
unsuccessful play in the block corner -- and he did not "learn" anything
from them. The teacher (V. Paley) who observed his interaction in the
block corner, first tried to make him realize what he was doing to the
other children through talking to him, but he did not "listen", or learn
(demonstrate that he did hear and thought about it) anything from the
Why was pretend-play so successful? And how is this an example of the
"zone of proximal development".
It seems that for this type of learning, just understanding the "issue"
or even letting your self to see the issue, cannot happen in a direct
observation and often not even in a direct statement from the others.
Self awareness and self perception are probably among the most touchy,
emotional subjects of attention, especially if one feels in opposition
to the others. It is very hard to make a distinction between social
relationships as a "subject" of conversation and the actual social
relationships of the conversation. That is why talking about who did
what to whom, and what does one think about another, is so difficult
even for the adults and for whole social groups: it often leads to
further perpetuating the same type of behavior and to calcifying same
oppositional relationships, and most often leaves the self in the blind
There are two processes going on when the teacher in V. Paley's example
puts on a play to "show" Franklin how he looks like to other kids and
why his behavior was so hard on them.
First, she creates a cooperative community for the activity of
generating a make-believe play. The relationships between the members in
that community are relationships of joint trust and friendship --
necessary for building a play together. Therefore -- they are
non-oppositional, non-judgmental and inviting. This is like inviting
someone into a membership of a "secret society" -- you become "one of
us". That is a pre-condition to introducing the subject-matter which is
in any way problematic, hard, and potentially threatening to the image
of the self. In other words -- this kind of relationship is a necessary
condition for reorganizing relationships between existing psychological
functions -- always a potentially threatening loss of the existing "self".
The second activity is the actual play that the teacher creates with
children -- a play which portrays Franklin as he is seen by the others.
By creating a play, she succeeds in refocusing Franklin from his
preoccupation with a perfect block-structure to seeing his social
interactions. V. Paley says something very important: "'Pretend' disarms
and enchants: it suggests heroic possibilities for making changes..." --
Creating a pretend play "disarms" -- because it is a cooperative
activity of building together -- a person is put in a position of an
equal partner, even better, an esteemed partner. Second, the world of
"pretend" lets you "see" into it in a different way than the world of
direct engagement because you have a control to stop it, to start it, to
change it. More importantly, it is a joint construction ABOUT another
world ("reality"), while at the same time not being it. -- Therefore it
contains a POINT OF VIEW which is being communicated within the
community of players and by the community of players to everyone else.
This characteristics of the pretend play -- its directionality, the fact
that by constructing it one must have a point of view, one must throw a
particular light on something from "reality", that is what makes pretend
play the prime zone of construction -- i.e. reconstruction of the
psychological functions and their relationships. It is the addition of
the reflexive perspective that gives one control over and the awareness
of psychological processes.
Franklin, therefore, is enticed and involved into focusing on his own
social relationships and how they affect the other children. The teacher
used Franklin's strongest and most developed psychological function and
need: to create the works of art -- and gave him different "blocks" to
build with -- blocks made of pretend play relationships instead of wood.
Once he sees his task as being a builder of social relationships instead
of building blocks -- he is able to fully focus on changing his own

We usually associate zone of proximal development with the academic
learning -- science and math concepts, knowledge of geography, history,
other languages etc. This example shows us (like Vygotsky's example of
the two sisters who played to be "sisters") the other side of learning
and instruction -- social learning and construction of self. However, I
think the two are not only related but involve the same processes --
with a little bit different "accent" in the subject-matter. Pretend play
is a very important method in learning and developing the self and it's
social relationships. And imagination is absolutely necessary for
learning academic subjects. Play and imagination are intrinsically
related types of activities. In Vygotsky's opinion, imagination is
nothing but play without action! Therefore, as teachers, we still have
to construct "pretend play" type of activities when teaching anything.
What comes across as especially important from this example, is the
atmosphere of joint building, of trust and equality which are
prerequisites both for play and for joint imagination. In that sense, I
think it is useful to say that "pretend play" activity either
presupposes or carries in itself a quality of egalitarianism in the
relationships between the participants, a quality of relationships which
are also a prerequisite of any learning. Being able to take the
teacher's (or anybody's) critique not as a confrontational,
self-denigrating act, but as an invite to change perspectives and see
new aspects in the shared topic, is a prerequisite of meaningful
learning and development. Pretend play is a "natural" -- an activity
with these social interactional aspects of learning built-in by default.


Mike Cole wrote:
> Ana-- And Franklin? Does the idea of zoped apply to that play example?
> or not?
> mike

Ana Marjanovic'-Shane,Ph.D.

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Philadelphia, PA 19144

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ana@zmajcenter.org <mailto:ana@zmajcenter.org>

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