[xmca] Empirical Support for the ZPD?

From: david kellogg (kellogg@snue.ac.kr)
Date: Sun Oct 15 2006 - 19:20:01 PDT

I'm a little leary of applying the ZPD to university students. It seems to me that Vygotsky intended to describe something rather specific to child development--the ability of learning to completely restructure the way the child learns. Not sure that happens at university level; alas, I'm quite sure it doesn't happen in my classroom.

I HAVE been having a very cognitively restructuring discussion with Mike about the cross-species ZPD, though. Since inter-species communication is probably a specialized interest, we took this off-list. However, empirical support for the existence of a ZPD is obviously not a specialized interest, so Mike suggested we take things back to you.

Rather than recapitulate our discussion of whether monkeys and people play really play together, I'd like to tout a paper co-authored with one of my grad students (to be published in Applied Linguistics in either March or June of next year).

(I'm a little unclear about the legality of distributing the article pre-publication, but if people want I'll send it off line or I can somehow figure out how to store it in the classroom Zopeds section if I can square the editors.)

The argument is roughly as follows. Ontogenetically, children appear to develop from rote babbling, to role-based play (such as "House") to rule-governed games. Microgenetically, language appears to develop from complex discourse (such as the explanation of rules or the assignment of roles, both of which take many, usually short, turns) to complex grammar (e.g. "So the student who has the most cards will win the game.")

If we take the SAME group of fifth graders, and we play rule-based games with them, we'll find a "tall and thin" type of dicourse, because the children are really on the leading edge of their zone of proximal development, and new language is being inter-mentally co-constructed. In contrast, when we set them to role-play, we'll find a "short and fat" type of grammar, because the kids are externalizing already grammaticized language.

That's exactly what we DO find: the same children rely on more "frozen pairs" ("Hi!" "Hi!"), more "preferred responses" ("How are you?" "Fine.") and more independent initiates ("Why do you say that?") in role plays. But in rule-based play there are more "melted pairs" ("How are you?" "Terrible!"), more dispreferred responses ("You are bad!") and more dependent initiates ("Why?"). So, rule-based games create taller, thinner, more inter-mental, vertical constructions, and role-based play creates a shorter, fatter, more intra-mental externalization of long horizontal constructions.

Yes, I admit, the methodology is a little dodgy. In particular, it does appear to assume that cross sectional differences have developmental (and not simply cross sectional) significance. I know that it's not empirical PROOF of a ZPD. But I think it is empirical SUPPORT, something that suggests that the zoped is not simply a cute metaphor or a collective hallucination.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education


A rather desperate question for the list. Van der Veer and Valsiner claim that Vygotsky always referred to the idea that intra-mental phenomena like grammar have an inter-mental origin such as discourse as "Janet's Law", in honor of Freud's nemesis, Pierre Janet. But here's the closest thing I've found. As you can see, it's not very close!

Ą°DĄŻailleurs, y-a-t-il une grande difference entre une function et une idee? La function est comme lĄŻidee un systeme dĄŻimage associees etroitement les une avec les autres de maniere a pourvoir sĄŻ evoquer lĄŻun lĄŻautre. La seule difference, cĄŻest quĄŻune function comme celle du language est un systeme beaucoup plus considerable que celui dĄŻun idee, elle contient des millier de termes au lieu du petit nombre des images que nous avions reunie dans le polygone constitutive dĄŻune idee. La seconde difference capitale cĄŻest quĄŻune idee est un systeme recent que nous avons forme dans le cours de notre vie, tandis que la function est un vaste systeme etabli autrefois par nos ancetres. Une idee est une function qui commence, une function est une idee de nos ancetres qui a vielli.Ą±


Janet, P. (1909) Les Nevroses. Paris: Flammarion. P. 87


Does anybody have a better quote or a more precise place to look? Janet's writing is voluminous, but almost entirely clinical, as far as I can tell!

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