Re: [xmca] Empirical Support for the ZPD?

From: Kellogg (
Date: Mon Oct 16 2006 - 17:50:31 PDT

Dear Wagner:
    I think you should reply in the language in which you are most comfortable, and let me worry about how to understand what you say. I read German badly, but that is hardly your fault. (It's my GRANDMOTHER's fault; she was a Yiddish speaker, but she always yelled at me in English so that I would understand and not learn.)

Dear Andy:
     I'm a semi-fanatical devotee of your work at, and so I'm a little surprised that you of all people should come up with an interpretation of the ZPD that is so obviously gradualist, individualist, and non-revolutionary (and thus, to link this to Wagner's objection, non-dialectical).
    Yes, of course, we all know that on p. 86 of Mind in Society, LSV talks about the difference between assisted and unassisted performance and gives us a definition of the ZPD that is dangerously close to scaffolding any old skill you like.
        But look at the context. He's actually not discussing teaching at all, much less ontogeny. He's talking about alternatives to IQ testing for the mentally retarded.
    Is THAT all there is to the ZPD? Of course not. For one thing, we know that Vygotsky is a PUBLIC school teacher, and not a private tutor. Elswhere, he talks about the ZPD of whole groups (Collected Works, Vol. 5: 204). More importantly, we know that Vygotsky distinguishes between learning and development, and the ZPD is clearly aimed at describing the latter. Finally, we know that Vygotsky does not believe that development is a linear process of acquiring skills; it is more like a revolutionary civil war followed by reconstruction than a market of environmental demands and internal resources in stable equilibrium.
     Consider, for a moment, how a child might GET from other-assistance to self-regulation. Being non-developmentalists, the usual way we think of this is simply as a big leap over an empty void (hence the rather sinister metaphor of scaffolding, which leaves the child dangling by the rope of other assistance over an empty space). But the ZPD considered this way is the ZPD gutted of anything except teacher mediation (in the case of liberal humanists, they are sometimes willing to grant a "more capable other", in the interest of reconciling the ZPD with groupwork).
     Imagine instead that the ZPD is filled with all the various forms of mediation that humanity has ever devised: from other people, to tools, to signs, and all the various complex combinations of people, tools, and signs that are possible.
     The child, for example, replaces teacher mediation with peer mediation (by playing a game or working with peers). There might even be various forms of peer mediation (older siblings, more skilled peers, and even LESS skilled peers, which help the child make explicit the self-regulatory knowledge obtained).
     But when the child plays without assistance, this other regulation has to be reconstructed anew. Let us say that the child moves on to the use of various tools. For example, games rarely come without objects of some kind: balls, dice, spinners, boards, cards, etc. In Hopscotch the rules are codified in the form of a physical tool (that is, the hopscotch itself).
    Once the external tools are mastered, the whole process is reconstructed AGAIN, this time in the form of sign mediation (We argue in our article that this takes two different forms, depending on the child's level of development: either a situation in which roles are explicit and rules are implicit, or a situation where rules are explicit and roles are left tacit.) Only when sign mediation has been fully "interiorized" (and can be externalized too, for the benefit of LESS skilled peers) can we say that the knowledge is fully unmediated.
     There's a lot more here than "scaffolding". Mike points out that as long ago as 1984 he and Peg Griffin warned against equating the ZPD with scaffolding. But it seems that everybody would rather read Bruner than Mike!
    The most scandalous effort to saddle poor LSV with scaffolding is one of the most recent: Peter Langford's 2005 anti-Vygotsky diatribe Vygotsky's developmental and educational psychology (Psychology Press). Langford claims that Vygotsky invented scaffolding (2005: 126-127, 140-141, and elsewhere). But then Langford also claims that Vygotsky was a careerist, an philsophical opportunist who tried to set Hegel against Marx, that he betrayed socialist education, that socialist education doesn't work anyway, etc. etc. etc.
     Now, Langford reads Russian, and I don't. But I have read the Collected Works at least twice, as well as everything else published in English (even Educational Psychology, which Julia Gillen claims is not available). As far as I can figure out the only place LSV even mentions a scaffold is on p. 205 of Volume Four--and he's talking about a building site in Berlin!

 David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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