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

Date: Tue Nov 28 2006 - 11:45:20 PST

I apologize about the bad reference. The quotation from Vygotsky is taken
from page 27 of "The Collected works of L.S. Vygotsky. The history of the
development of higher mental functions." Sorry about any confusion.


                      ERIC.RAMBERG who-is-at spp
             To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
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                      xmca-bounces who-is-at web Subject: Re: [xmca] Does Vygotsky Accept the "Assistance Assumption"?
                      11/28/2006 01:20
                      Please respond
                      to "eXtended
                      Mind, Culture,

As far as I can tell the "forbidden color" experiment is the only
referenced experiment that Vygotsky credits with helping him formulate his
zone of proximal development theory. In this experiment the adolescent
group depended upon the "forbidden color" card. Vygotsky writes, "The
research we have in mind is always an equation with two unknowns.
Developing the problem and method proceeds, if not in parrallel, then in
any case, by jointly moving forward (p.27 of the Kozulin edited version of
"Thought and Lanuguage"). The previously mentioned experiment is an
example of how the semiotic aspect of physical objects (the colored cards)
fulfill both of Vygotsky's requirements, what unit of human behavior
(understanding the social roles) to study and with what instrument (a
physical symbol representing that social role). Vygotsky points out that
consiousness is both attention and being able to master the processes that
direct one's own behavior. Therefore, the presentation of the same
psychological tools but varying the ages of those being studied could
provide a picture of the genesis of semiotic mediation's influence over a
person's attention and ability to focus that attention based on age.

That all sounds really good and being a great fan of Vygotsky I want to
believe it but in the only documented experiment conducted in the manner
explained by Vygotsky, R. Van de Veer found there to be no difference in
the use of the "forbidden color" card by adolescents than the other two
groups. Hmmmmmmmmmmm, something to be said about the different cultures
and different protocols used but still results are results.



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                      11/27/2006 05:04


                      Please respond

                      to "eXtended

                      Mind, Culture,


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
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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