Re: [xmca] Dynamics of Learning and Development

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Tue Nov 27 2007 - 15:27:02 PST

Dear Paul:
  I once had a neighbour and close friend who played harmonica with Mick Jagger (you can hear him on the track "Some Girls"). He was REALLY salt of the earth (they met while he was busking in Paris), and the Stones treated him...rather shabbily, actually.
  I think one of the dangers of pursuing etymology is that vocabulary becomes radically decontextualized--there is this overemphasis on historical meaning rather than situated meaning. The meaning I was pursuing had to do with a passage of Vygotsky where he says that all the crises are INTERNALLY determined. I was trying to make sense of this.
  I make sense of it by saying that Vygotsky is responding to a set of writers who are extreme EXTERNAL determinativists. But then it's MY turn to do some radical decontextualization: I assume that people who take a Brunerian line to the ZPD, who equate it with the kind of "scaffolding" that happens between mother and child, or researcher and experimenter, are ALSO external determinativists.
  In the data (which is LONG and therefore attached below in the form I presented it in class) the initial response of the children is literal (what LSV would call empty verbalism). They repeat "I'm sick. I have a cold" correctly, but with no indication of understanding, and in fact considerable indications that they do not understand (they ask in Korean whether they are supposed to count the number of people in the textbook picture).
  As the teacher goes through the dialogue, first repeating it, then sharing it by casting herself in the role of the doctor and the children as patient and finally by reversing roles, there is considerably MORE understanding and LESS grammar. We have "mutant" forms such as "I'm is sick" and "I have sick" (this is very common in French and Spanish but here it is caused by a recombination of "I'm sick" and "I have a cold") and "Where is sick" (this IS caused by mapping English words onto a Korean utterance).
  We can call these "mutant" forms because they are creative. But as we know, creativity in nature is not a matter of intelligent design. It is random creativity, and the mechanisms of selection are also nonintelligent. Intelligence occurs when the RESULT of creativity is moved backwards in time and becomes the REASON thereof; that is, when creativity becomes deliberate and volitional.
  This DOES happen in the data, but it is clearly NOT the result of direct teaching (nor could it be, because the direct teaching of creativity is no longer creative). Instead, it is the result of something quite "internal", not in a biological sense, but in a sociocultural one. The children take some utterances which are funny and amusing but not grammatical and other utterances which are grammatical but not very funny or amusing and produce a synthesis that is both amusing and grammatical. This "intelligent design" is, exactly as LSV would have predicted, first a group enterprise and only then an individual conquest.
  Maybe the reason the Stones treated their blues patrimony with such cavalier musical and financial disrespect (c.f. Willie Dixon) is that they were too focused on the individual conquest ("Identity") and not sufficiently interested in the group enterprise ("personality"). I'd take Jagger's toast to the salt of the earth with a block of salt.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education
  Ms. Yi Myeong-hyeon is a Seoul teacher. Yesterday the kids had a short dialogue about going to the doctor. Today, she is teaching the children another short dialogue about going to the doctor. This is presented orally, with the teacher first taking both parts (Teacher to Teacher, or T-T), then the teacher taking the role of the first speaker (the doctor) and the children taking the role of the Korean patient, In-ho, (T-S). Then the roles are reversed (S-T). Finally, the children try to recreate (from memory) a written version of the dialogue. Here they are sharing their work with each other. There are still some problems, but fortunately the teacher's there to help.
  First, she sets the scene, using a picture to “mediate” the situation, the characters, and even the dialogue! (Which do you think is most difficult? Where do you think the level of assisted performance will end?)
  T: How many people can you see in this picture? Yes, Hi-hun?
  S: 사람요?
  T: Yes.
  S: (unintelligible)
  T: 뭐라고, 인호가 약 받고 있어요. 그러면 자, Maybe, maybe you can discuss what they are talking now (sic). In the first picture, we do this (sic). “Wake up Inho.” We did this on last time (sic). (pointing to a picture in the previous page) The story goes on. 이야기가 계속되고 있죠? Inho is in the hospital now. What dialogue are they talking now (sic)? Can you guess?
  Notice how many mistakes there are in the TEACHER’s language! It’s not really her fault. In fact, it’s a sign that she’s paying attention. She can see that the kids are not following, and that is occupying all her attention, so her English is slipping a bit.
  Well, it doesn’t seem to be working. She can’t use either the picture OR the previous day’s lesson (“Wake Up In-ho!”) to wake them up. She tries to go ahead and get the dialogue without establishing the characters and the situation, and that’s even worse.
  At last she uses one child’s OWN experience, like this:
  T: Su-yeon said…Su-yeon went to the hospital She is sick. She has a cold. When you arrive at the hospital, 병원에 도착하자마자, you open the door and what does the doctor say?
  Now the situation is clear. So they then construct a kind of dialogue in Korean. And NOW it’s time to put it in English.
  T: 희정아. 의사선생님이 처음에 들어가시면 뭐라고 하시지?
  S: 어디가 아프냐고 물어봐요.
  T: 어디가 아프냐고 영어로 어떻게 해?
  S: May I help you? Where is sick? (sic)
  (The teacher doesn’t like this!)
  T: Where is sick/ 뭐가 잘못됐지 그러쟎아 What's wrong
  S: What’s wrong
  (The teacher decides to start over.)
  T: Can I help you?
  S: Can I help you?
  T: Yes. Please.
  S: Yes. Please.
  T: What's wrong? 그랬더니?
  S: I'm sick. I have a cold.
  And that was the WHOLE dialogue from the previous day! Notice how DYNAMIC the zone of proximal development is&#8212;at first the children can’t even interact with the picture. Then they could only translate what the teacher said in Korean. Then they could repeat what she said in English without any translation. Then they could actually ANSWER!
  (Can you find where in the transcript the children go from “Listen and translate” to “Listen and repeat”? Where do they go from “Listen and repeat” to “Listen and respond”?)
  Merrill Swain argues that this dynamism&#8212;this unpredictability&#8212;is absolutely central to the zone of proximal development. The zone of proximal development is not something that a teacher can take into the classroom with her&#8212;it’s something that involves the creation of opportunities that were basically unanticipated when the lesson began. In that way, the zone of proximal development is very much like dialogue itself (Swain, 2000).
  So the children have now reviewed the whole dialogue of the previous day. They are feeling pretty confident. The teacher wants to stretch the children a bit and see if they can continue on their own. So:
  T: 열이좀 나요.
  S: I'm hot. I'm head&#8212;(sic)
  That’s interesting. They just said “I’m sick” and “I have a cold”. “I’m hot” is obviously a correct extension of this. “I’m head” is an INCORRECT extension of this&#8212;at least, if we consider it as grammar. But if we look at it from the point of view of what the teacher is asking, it’s really quite CORRECT. The teacher wants the kids to IMPROVISE&#8212;to contribute their own ideas. And that’s exactly what they are doing. The teacher asks them to say “fever”, and they not only express the idea of fever grammatically, they contribute new information about where the fever feels worst! Perhaps Ms. Yi doesn’t quite see it that way, though:
  T: 희훈이가 뭐라고 하냐면 I'm hot.이라고 하지 열나요, 승겸이가 뭐라고 하냐면 My head hot. (sic)
  S: I have a fever.
  T: 그런 다음 다른 증상을 말해야겠지?
  S: Headache.
  T: I have a headache.
  S: 목감기
  T: 또 다른 얘기, 무슨얘기 할까 의사선생님에게---
  S: I'm nose hurt. (sic)
  T: My nose hurt. (sic!) 코가 줄줄 나와요
  T: 나는 이 뭐야. 나는
  S: I have a runny nose
  T: 또
  S: I'm is cold. (sic)
  Notice how the children said “I have a cold” perfectly well when they were going over yesterday’s dialogue. Then they worked on extending yesterday’s zone of proximal development, creating new sentences, using various patterns (“I’m hot.” “My nose hurts.”) And how they’ve apparently lost the ability to say “I have a cold”!
  There are several possible explanations, of course. Vygotsky tells us that when children learn new things (“I have a cold”) the old structures don’t disappear, but persist alongside the new ones. So perhaps when the children are paying attention to all the new things that they can say, they forget about the new way of saying it (“I have a cold”), and they just slip back into previous transitional forms (“I’m is cold [sic]”). In the same way, when Ms. Yi is worrying about whether or not the children can understand the setting and the characters, she slips back into HER transitional grammar forms (which are still WAY over the children’s heads!)
  All that could be true, but there’s an even simpler explanation: we’re not talking about one child here. Although our transcript treats the children as “S”, only one person, in fact there are MANY children here. One child knows the sentence “I have a runny nose”! Another child can’t really tell the difference between “I”, “I’m” and “me”: “I’m nose hurt” (sic).
  The presence of very different levels is often seen as a terrible weakness of Korean English classes, and as you can see, it really can make life difficult for teachers. It’s hard on the kids too! While one student is saying “I have a runny nose” and feeling quite bored with the easy level of English, another child is saying “I’m nose hurt” and feeling very frustrated that being sick in English can be so difficult.
  If we view the zone of proximal development as simply a “teacher-learner duet”, then the teacher is in an impossible situation. It’s quite impossible to go through the students one by one and find their level of unassisted performance and then offer perfectly designed help which does not create an answer for the child but instead guides the child to creating his or her own answer. There simply isn’t time for all that.
  But let’s suppose that the zone of proximal development is bigger than just one teacher and one student. After all, Vygotsky originally based his idea of the zone of proximal development not on an individual “level of unassisted performance” but rather on the very generalizable idea of “mental age” (specifically, he was interested in why two disabled children with the same “mental age” behaved very differently when they were offered the same kind of help).
  In that case, we’ve got something very different. The teacher is creating a very large number of possible answers to the problem of what the patient might say to the inquiring doctor. Some of these are grammatically correct. Some of them are just funny and interesting. The teacher and the children then select the ones that are interesting and make them correct, and select the ones that are correct and make them interesting. In a way, what is happening here is not that different from what happens when the child learns to select random motions and create a pointing gesture, or when the child learns to repeat and vary scribbling motions into coloring, or when the child learns to create pictures, and not just patterns. The children are learning, through selection by the social environment, which kinds of answers make what kind of sense.
  Let’s get back to the lesson. Ms. Yi has generated her dialogue. She’s even done it T-S, with herself as the doctor. But now it’s the CHILDREN who get to play doctor!
  T: This time, you'll be the doctor, I'm the patient.
  S: Yes.
  T: I'm so scared. Wait! 선생님이 해 볼테니까 잘 생각해봐. You have to be a good doctor. I'm Inho. You're a doctor. I'm so scared.
  S: Can I help you?
  T: 야, 도데체, 내가 무섭다는데 Can I help you는 뭐냐? 걱정하지마 진정해 해야지
  S: Don't worry. I'll show you.
  Notice how the teacher uses Korean to comment on the action&#8212;it’s almost like a Korean speaking director directing herself in an English-speaking movie. But the teacher is also able to control the children’s reactions more indirectly, through her acting&#8212;she says that she is frightened, and she is able to get the children to say “Don’t worry!” which is part of the language they are supposed to learn today.
  T: Oh, I'm sick. I have a fever.
  S: Let me see. Say Ah!
  T: Ah!
  S: It's 충치. Let me see your stomach. 수술해야 되요, 선생님 올리세요 올려요 변태들. 그 다음 의사선생님이 하시는 말씀? Take a medicine. And drink orange juice and brush your teeth.
  Precisely because the children are at different (but overlapping) levels, the result is a LOT of good English (but perhaps not good medical practice!)
  Now, this teacher is a “Whole Language” teacher&#8212;she believes in teaching listening AND speaking AND reading AND writing all together. So she has another task in store&#8212;dictogloss! How will she get the children to go from listening and speaking to reading and writing?
  T: This time your group try to do the dialogue with your friends.
  S: Dialogue??
  T: 친구들과 공책에 꺼내서 write the dialogue between the doctor and Inho. 자, 못써도 좋으니까 친구들과 같이 의논해서 공책에
  S: 인호만 써요?
  T: The dialogue between Inho and doctor.
  And now the children have a REASON to write. Here’s what they do:
  S1: Doctor 점점... Doctor가 뭐야...D, O, C, T, O, R....
  S2: 아냐 어제 알려 줬쟎아
  T: 야, 의사선생님하고, 인호하고 하는 이야기를 너희들끼리 대화를 해봐.
  S3: 처음에요, 처음 글자가 뭐예요?
  S4: 인호 처음 글자가 뭐예요? (What do the children mean by “글자”? Letter or syllable?)
  T: I, N, H, O. (Why does the teacher spell the whole word?)
  Ss: I, N, H, O.
  T: 의논해서 해봐!
  Notice that the children just ask for the FIRST letter, but the teacher goes quite a bit farther. By doing this the teacher is really substituting herself for the children&#8212;what was a learning activity becomes merely a copying activity. This isn’t really consistent with the proven level of independent problem solving that the children are displaying&#8212;after all, one of them just correctly spelled the word “doctor”, which is quite a bit more difficult than “Inho”!
  Children certainly DO consult each other about spelling!
  S1. 인호가 In 짝대기 하고 ho야, (explains how to write In-ho) 짝대기 해야되 옆에다가
  S2: 아∼알겠어.
  (Notice that the way in which the children help each other with spelling is quite different from the way the teacher uses. The teacher uses "spelling", which is really a synthetic, bottom-up method, adding the letters together to get the whole word. The children, however, begin with the whole word, break it down into the syllables "In" and "ho", and only then spell it out. Is the method "bottom up" or "top down"? Is it synthetic or analytic?)
  The children DO have a need for and an interest in sharing their work. They are going to perform! The teacher, however, has a different interest. In their speaking, the children have had a big problem mixing up "I'm sick" and "I have a cold". They had a very hard time with it when they were listening to the dialogue and when they were learning to say it. They tended to say "I'm cold (sic)" or "*I'm have a cold (sic)." The written work has helped the children straighten this problem out--on paper, at any rate. But will they get it right when they return to spoken language again? Here’s the performance.
  S3: 내가 Doctor 한번 해 볼게. Can I help you?
  S4: I'm sick. I have a cold.
  나는 어떻게 하냐. 밑에다 흘려 놓고.
  니가 흘려 놓은 거지. 내가, 아. 내놔 아 그만해.
  S3: Can I help you? Yes I'm a doctor. Yes. I'm a doctor.
  How to explain this? When the children were repeating after the teacher, they got it wrong. (“I’m a cold.”) When they were replying to the teacher, they got it wrong. (“I’m a cold.”) And now it's right. (“I have a cold” but “I’m a doctor.”)

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Received on Tue Nov 27 15:30 PST 2007

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