Re: [xmca] The Strange Situation

From: Carol Macdonald <carolmacdon who-is-at>
Date: Mon Oct 20 2008 - 22:54:20 PDT

>From Carol
Excuse my exasperation David, but just how do you think the children going
to solve the task without somebody setting up with abstract concepts needed
for its solution? Otherwise why not let them name large blocks of the
different shapes and let the child loose on them and do whatever they want
to do with them. What would this tell us about the nature of conceptual
development? The primary role in LSV's theory (the pedagogical one) is *
mediation.* Pray, who is going to do that if it isn't a more able peer or an
adult? I really think you should consider reading more about Vygotsian

2008/10/21 David Kellogg <>

> On Saturday I went to the "dol chapki" ceremony for the little boy of one
> of my grad students. On the child's first birthday, the proud parents throw
> a big party and then seat the child in front of a divination tray, on which
> they put various auspicious and meaning-laden artefacts (usually thread, for
> long life, a pencil, to become a great scholar, a wad of banknotes, whose
> meaning is obvious, a plastic stethoscope, etc.). The child then reaches for
> the objects. As soon as the child picks one up, the child's fate is sealed.
> With so much at stake, the parents frequently try to rig the outcome. I
> remember one of my grad students holding her daughter in her arms and
> pointing her relentlessly in the direction of the pencil. The pencil,
> although outsized and strategically placed, was a dull grey, and my
> student's husband had placed a brightly colored toy golf club on the far end
> of the tray, which attracted Yumin's eyes like a magnet. Finally, my grad
> student, cradling Yumin tightly with one hand, reached out and grabbed the
> pencil for her and placed it in her reluctant hands. Now THAT'S moving
> meaning to the fore; I bet I'll be seeing Yumin in our grad school before I
> retire.
> On Saturday, though, little Kyuseong couldn't stay awake. When his mother
> finally managed to wake him up, he was very taken with a bright yellow
> baseball, and picked it up right away. When his mother gave a gasp of
> annoyance, he turned to her and dropped it in her appalled hands. As I went
> out, she expressed some disappointment at the outcome of the ceremony, and I
> told her that the ball really represented the earth. Today I got a copious
> thank you note from her, likening my rather lame metaphor to the gold ring
> that guests are required to bring to the ceremony.
> I guess that was my point, Paula. Yes, you DID answer almost all of my
> questions in your previous very generous e-mails. But when you describe the
> many potential solutions intrinsic to the block problem you only highlight
> my central problem: adults have already assigned the meanings; they
> have selected and predetermined the "correct" solution. That solution is
> already present in the blocks, waiting to be discovered. So there IS adult
> intervention at every point. It even takes the canonical form of adult
> intervention; not direct teaching, but the one-sided "interpretation" of
> meaning coded in artefacts (usually tendentiously aimed at social
> reproduction rather than innovation).
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> --- On Mon, 10/20/08, Paula Towsey <> wrote:
> From: Paula Towsey <>
> Subject: RE: [xmca] The Strange Situation
> To: "'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'" <>,
> Date: Monday, October 20, 2008, 4:47 AM
> David and Steve
> I think that I've answered some of the issues raised by both of you here in
> previous postings, albeit in a different framework. Could I suggest that
> you put your questions here alongside my responses dated 10-07 and 09-24
> (my
> response to you and the study group, David - and please look the other way
> when you read what my pc did to "a la"), because these fairly
> detailed
> postings of mine deal with a whole host of issues arising out of this very
> strange (and wonderful) situation. I've also attached a document that has
> the transcripts from the DVD.
> In this email I will answer David's last question first. And then, later
> this afternoon, I'll write some notes on each of the stages in response to
> Steve's posting.
> Because I break the question into two parts, in answer to your last
> question, David, I would say yes and no.
> Part One - Yes, too many
> Yes, the whole procedure is a problem of very many variables. Now that
> you've seen the video, the blocks are familiar to you (if they weren't
> before), and you 'know' what the solution is. You've had it the
> easy way
> and it is possible that you don't appreciate how fortunate you are because
> many adults are easily lead astray by these variables and possibilities
> (just ask Carol Mac how she responded to the blocks, and then, too, was
> Alex
> Kozulin's story at ISCAR about how he recently took his set of blocks off
> to
> a conference and one of the delegates volunteered to engage with the blocks
> and showed such lovely chains and associations and solutions involving
> combinations of characteristics). I really do believe it is a necessary
> part of these blocks to appreciate how marvellous the deceptively simple
> solution is - and perhaps a way to get around your 'knowing' the
> solution is
> to get a set of the blocks and a group of volunteering colleagues and then
> see for yourself how articulate, scientific thinking adults function amid
> the myriad of confusing possibilities. What do you think?
> Part Two - No, not too few
> No, because in answer to 'holding onto two ideas at the same time',
> there
> have to be one or two before there can be too many. And the ability to
> coordinate abstraction and generalisation in hierarchical prominence, and
> to
> do this consistently, is an acquired taste, like spinach and scientific
> thinking and being logically consistent and using a system systematically.
> As I said in my response to Eric (10-07), an adult would never (in my
> experience with the blocks) do what the S810M did - adults might form
> chains, they might come up with the most elaborate diffuse complexes, they
> might get lost in the myriad of possibilities, but they give an indication
> that they 'know' they're not being consistent or logical or
> whatever.
> Whereas, when you listen to S8's explanations, it's apparent that he
> isn't
> aware of his inconsistencies - read the transcripts on pages 4 and 5 while
> you listen again (Steve, I'm having your copy made this afternoon).
> Conscious awareness and mastery, David? Just by the way, in Meshcheryakov's
> 2007 paper, this 4th law was apparently mistranslated and reads as "the
> law
> of realization and acquisition": even though it's a mistranslation, I
> think
> it's a graphic depiction which resonates well with me. (Meshcheryakov, B.
> (2007). Terminology in L. S. Vygotsky's Writings. In H. Daniels, M. Cole,
> &
> J. Wertsch, (Eds). The Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky. (pp. 155-177).
> Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)
> I have to sign off for now, but do have a look at your questions side by
> side with a reading of the two postings from me - 09-24 and 10-07?
> I think watching the DVD over dinner is an inspiring activity - how
> wonderful!
> Paula
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On
> Behalf Of Steve Gabosch
> Sent: 20 October 2008 11:54 AM
> To:; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] The Strange Situation
> David,
> Your discussion of heaping, then looking at measuring, measuring by
> comparing, and then chaining is very helpful. It is what the boy in
> Paula's film indeed seems to be doing. Are there other little steps?
> Perhaps this kind of sequence is already articulated by Paula, or in
> Vygotsky or Sakharov, and it just hasn't sunk in for me yet. Anyway,
> would you please, if you can - or Paula, same question to you, if you
> like - write up little "explanations" as you see them of the
> categories Vygotsky introduces - syncretic thoughts (that is heaping,
> right?), the 4 or 5 complexes (chaining, etc.), the pseudoconcept, the
> potential concept, the everyday concept, and the scientific concept?
> (Did I forget any?) The role of heaping, measurement, comparison and
> other techniques in forming the chaining complex seems like a very
> helpful way to get a better understanding of the similarities and
> differences between all these kinds of thinking. I would love more
> along these lines.
> Thanks!
> - Steve
> On Oct 19, 2008, at 4:16 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
> > Dear Paula:
> >
> > I got it! We watched your DVD over dinner and discussed it at some
> > length (although we're not up to Chapter Five of Thinking and Speech
> > in our translation). It's a very clear presentation of Sakharov's
> > work, and made it thoroughly comprehensible, for which copious
> > thanks from afar.
> >
> > Here's what still bugs me. LSV says the experiment is a
> > hypothetical: the purpose is to tell us how children would reason in
> > the absence of adult intervention. So presumably kids would begin by
> > heaping, and then look at measuring, and measure by comparing, and
> > then start chaining. That's what they would do WITHOUT adult
> > intervention.
> >
> > But of course there IS adult intervention, and in fact the
> > intervention takes the shape that MOST adult intervention does: in
> > the design of artefacts for the child's use rather than in direct
> > instruction in how to use them. What Vygotsky's experiment really
> > shows us is that this form of intervention is logically primary:
> > designed artefacts are quite useful in solving the problem without
> > direct instruction, but direct instruction would be utterly useless
> > without the designed artefacts.
> >
> > Vico points out (somewhere!) that we find it easier to understand
> > our social environment than our natural one because it's
> > recognizeably made of the same stuff that we're made of. (The
> > natural environment is too, but it's pretty hard to see that.) This
> > is, certainly, an important part of learning to understand a foreign
> > language; it's why the idea that people can somehow learn languages
> > through "input" only hasn't worked, and why the truth seems
> to be
> > much closer to what Cazden's argued: performance comes to us before
> > competence does, and we understand input by making output, and we
> > learn to understand the potential through the real.
> >
> > The child tackles the problem with that general strategy in mind; I
> > can understand what I make. And sure enough as long as the kid is
> > making stuff with the blocks, he's understands what's going on
> very
> > well. The only problem comes when he has to master what the adult
> > has made out of them.
> >
> > But this too happens through what LSV would call "imitation":
> > invoking triangles, circles, colors, etc.. This is what LSV calls
> > "imitation in the broad sense", which (LSV reminds us) includes
> the
> > child at home solving a homework problem that he has received in
> > school, without the teacher standing over his or her shoulder. This
> > is STILL imitation.
> >
> > At one point you say that the child cannot hold two different
> > features of the blocks in his mind at the same time. But the child
> > has the concept of circles and triangles, which he uses to name and
> > indicate the objects to great effect. The child also knows the
> > names, which are (to him) as yet only another feature. And colors.
> > And positions. Isn't it really a problem of TOO MANY features and
> > not TOO FEW?
> >
> > David Kellogg
> > Seoul National University of Education
> >
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Received on Mon Oct 20 22:54:37 2008

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