Re: [xmca] Empirical Support for the ZPD?

From: Kellogg (
Date: Tue Oct 17 2006 - 17:33:54 PDT

Dear Em:

Sorry. I'll try to be a little clearer this time. Part of the problem is that I deleted your message before I hit the reply button. This meant that you didn't have the context of your OWN remarks when you were reading my remarks on your remarks.

Here's what you said:

"Personally, I don't think that learning takes place outside the zpd. Period."

(I rather like the rather tentative "personally" which becomes a very conclusive "period", and of course I also know the feeling of the defnitiveness which builds as we speak. However, as you point out, it is sometimes built on confusion!)

You also said this (in your most recent):

"I would wonder what learning is without development and how development occurs without learning."

Then you ask (also in your most recent):

"I'm not sure why you would see the activity of learning, which precedes development, as the same thing."

Well, I don't see them as the same thing at all. It seemed to me that you were seeing them as the same thing. It seemed to me that you don't think that learning takes place outside the ZPD. So, at least viewed from outside the ZPD, learning and development are really the same thing. This also follows from your statement that you find it hard to conceptualize learning without development and development without learning.

For my part, I find it quite easy to think of learning without development. If a child learns to play baseball in Korea, and then moves to England and learns cricket (and forgets how to play baseball) we can say that learning has taken place. But we would be very hard put to say that a child who plays cricket is more developed than a child who plays baseball.

Vygotsky himself uses a number of examples of ordinary skills whose learning he does not think leads to development; for example, learning to ride a bicycle, or learning to type, etc. Development, for Vygotsky, involves the restructuring of the relationship between mental functions; it's not simply the gradual, additive accretion of particular life skills.

Finally, it seems to me that things that we learn and then forget (which for me constitutes a rather distressing amount of my learning these days) almost by definition do not result in development. To presuppose otherwise is to imagine that learning can be somehow unconscious, and this goes against Vygotsky's concept of internalization, which involves moving volition to the beginning of a particular process (for example, when the child sits down to draw something, instead of doodling and allowing it to emerge). That is what Vygotsky really means by development; the revolutionary reorganization of higher mental functions, and in particular the subordination of one function (e.g. memory) to another (e.g. conscious will).

I find it slightly more difficult, but by no means impossible, to think of development without learning. The child does not "learn" acne, puberty, or any of the other hormonal delights of adolescence. (You can see, though, that this is not really what Vygotsky mean when he uses the term development.) The reason I find it more difficult to think of development without learning is that I have an almost visceral aversion to innatist ideas about language.

But a lot of people don't have this problem. According to the Chomskyans, the child's first language similarly "develops" and is not learnt, and many people (certainly NOT including me) believe that second and third languages are "acquired" rather than learnt in exactly this way (and this is why I have always balked at using "appropriation" as a substitute for "interiorization"; both "appropriation" and "acquisition" seem to me to savor of a non-restructuring, incremental acquisition of private property, and imply that language is stored in a kind of external drive, or at least a drive that is external to the will!)

I think that Vygotsky's position on the connection between learning and development, and also the connection between ontogenesis and socio-historical development, and even the connection between socio-historical development and biological evolution is that all of these things are indeed linked, but nevertheless distinct. Linked but distinct.

When an individual (say, Vygotsky) dies, their learning does indeed come to an end, and so does their development. It is true that socio-historically, their ideas may continue in some form (although looking around at the way Vygotsky's ideas have been "continued" I am sometimes inclinded to doubt this), but that is a socio-historically continuity and neither microgenesis nor ontogenesis.

Finally, I'm not really sure what it means to say that Vygotsky teaches us what it means to be human. I guess I think that being human is a rather larger notion than meaning itself. This is why I disagree with Halliday that information is a kind of meaning; I tend to think of meaning as a kind of information; specifically, the kind of information that has been refracted or reflected in human consciousness.

For me, Vygotsky is much more interesting and immediate than that. In about fifty minutes time, I have to go and teach a group of physical education majors what Vygotsky means to them. I will, of course, show them how to use "open questions" (e.g. "what do you see in this picture?") to generate a number of nouns, and how to link these nouns together into a context ("Good. It's a chair. Whose chair? The prince's or the pauper's?") and how the context gives rise to a complex text ("So who says 'Sit down!' and who says "thank you?'") I am supposed to be teaching them how to teach English.

But I could also show them how Vygotsky believes that even PHYSICAL development, after a certain point, depends on volition, consciousness, and of course the zone of proximal development. Physical weight and strength, after we take away the contribution of evolution and genetics, are dependent on diet and exercise. So physical development is linked in two directions--to the biological endowment, to be sure, but also to the cognitive one created in the crucible of the ZPD. Yet when we say it is linked, we are also saying it is distinct.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Emily Duvall" <>
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
Sent: Tuesday, October 17, 2006 11:24 AM
Subject: Re: [xmca] Empirical Support for the ZPD?

> Hi David,
> I must admit some confusion with your comments. I'm not sure I
> understand why you would see the activity of learning, which precedes
> development, as the same thing. Yes, there is a process underway which
> is the activity that is the zpd, in which both are implicated, but if
> you do not see them in 'realtionship' to each other then do you see them
> as apart? I would wonder what learning is without development and how
> development occurs without learning? Conceptualizing them as 'things'
> may be part of the difficulty?
> I'm also not sure that I understand how language development comes to an
> end if there is a connection between language, history and culture. I am
> also not sure what you mean by language mastery in this context. Perhaps
> it is the framework in which we understand Vygotsky's work? I see his
> work more broadly as an explanation of human development rather than a
> theory of teaching and learning. As such, Vygotsky presents to me a way
> of understanding what it is to be human.
> ~ Em
> Kellogg wrote:
> >Dear Em:
> >
> >I agree that the crux of the problem is the relationship of learning to development.
> >
> >The problem is that if you say that learning does not take place outside the ZPD, it appears that learning and development are the same thing after all. So there is no relationship between the two things, simply because there are not two things, but only one.
> >
> >I agree in theory that development never ends (and that death is, at least in evolutionary terms, a form of development). But that is only true from the point of view of evolution. From the point of view of ontogenesis, death most certainly is the end.
> >
> >Language development too comes to a virtual halt, at least in terms of grammatical learning. This is not only true of my learning of a foreign language; it is even more true of my mastery of my own language.
> >
> >I think that Vygotsky did not end his work with child development, or even begin there. He really wanted to link FOUR things: evolution, sociocultural history, child development, and learning. He considered that Darwin and Marx had more or less provided a theory that explained and even linked the first two.
> >
> >He probably initially thought that people like Bekhterev, or Kornilov, or later Piaget could account well enough for the third, and he really dreamed of devoting his whole short life to teaching and learning.
> >
> >But I think he soon found that the psychology of the time was profoundly non-developmental and quite inadequate to provide a foundation for the description of teaching and learning. So instead of becoming the Marx of microgenesis, he had to transform himself into the Darwin of ontogenesis. And that is OUR tragedy--because today we still have that huge gap when it comes to understanding the specific link between ontogenesis and microgenesis.
> >
> >It won't do to say that microgenesis is really the same thing as ontogenesis. That's essentially what Piaget said, and that's what got LSV started.
> >
> >David Kellogg
> >Seoul National University of Education
> >
> >------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
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> >
> >
> >
> >
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