[xmca] Does Vygotsky Accept the "Assistance Assumption"?

From: Kellogg (kellogg@snue.ac.kr)
Date: Mon Nov 27 2006 - 15:04:12 PST

Sorry to drag the discussion back to Chaiklin 2003 again, but on p. 270 of Lantolf and Thorne's 2006 "Sociocultural Theory and the Genesis of Second Language Development" (OUP), they summarize the three heterodox assumptions that Westerners often make when using the ZPD.

For those who don't have immediate access to either source, these are:

a) "generality" (the ZPD describes all learning and not just child development),
b) "assistance" (learning depends on assistance from more capable individuals) and
c) "potential" (there is some mysterious potential within the child awakened by the ZPD).

Lantolf and Thorne accept that two of these three assumptions (viz, a and c) are not what Vygotsky had in mind, but they think that new formulations of the ZPD have proliferated, and not all of these are theoretically fatuous. (In particular, they make fairly extensive use of a in their discussion of adult second language learners, and of c in their discussion of private speech). But L &T appear to think that Vygotsky found b), the assistance assumption, uncontroversial (and thus uninteresting).

I'm not so sure. Yes, Vygotsky does describe assistance in pretty clear terms, at least in his "testing" formulation of the ZPD (p. 86 of Mind in Society, of course). But they are also pretty off hand terms ("Different experimenters might employ different modes. Some might...some might...").

Elsewhere LSV gives a number of examples of the ZPD which clearly do NOT imply assistance (e.g. imitation, play, the child's initiation into written language through drawing). At least not to me, they don't!

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education



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