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Re: [xmca] The strange situation

Hi All,
you may be interested in this text, co-authored by Luis Radford and me, which addresses issues Dot raises in an upcoming editorial of MCA:

Roth, W.-M., & Radford, L. (2010). Re/thinking the zone of proximal development (symmetrically). Mind, Culture, and Activity, 17 (4).

You can download it from 


On 2010-04-15, at 9:28 AM, Dot Robbins wrote:

Dear Helen, Martin, Larry, and All,
Here are some comments on obuchenie from a draft of a chapter to be published....it draws on Jaan Valsiner's 1988 book (truly an excellent book), listed below...also, there is a draft of a paper on the Golden Key school (it is not published), if anyone wants it personally.
“Obuchenie” (Unity of Teaching and Learning)
The Russian term obuchenie offers a perfect example of the type of unity that is used as an ideal image within the Golden Key schools, and much of Russian educational theory. This term actually represents the unity of the teacher and pupil. “The translation problem of ‘obuchenie’ lies in the reference to the interdependence of individuals involved in the learning process that the Russian term implies…. ‘obuchenie’ transcends the exclusive teacher/learner separation that other terms carry” (Valsiner, 1988, p. 162). This Russian term refers to “active teaching,” with the realization that teachers can only teach when pupils are able to learn, and the teacher and learner are both “intertwined within a mutually dependent relationship, and the process side of that relationship is what ‘obuchenie’ means in Russian” (Ibid., p. 163). It is interesting to note that there have been many problems of translation of this term, and this
problem has led to confusion about the Zone of Proximal Development in the West. To date, there has been no discussion in English among Vygotskian scholars and teachers,  I know of, trying to understand the “unified” approach of obuchenie within the Russian, Vygotskian frame of reference related to the ZPD.  Even within a Western view of the ZPD, the teacher is normally viewed as an atomistic figure (particularly in relation to other teachers and their own classrooms); and, the teacher normally functions at a level higher than the pupil. Within the tradition of the Golden Key schools a true community is formed, where all are viewed as partners, and all are necessary for the educational experience to be successful, which also includes the parents.
Valsiner, J. (1988). Developmental psychology in the Soviet Union.  Bloomington/Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

--- On Wed, 4/14/10, Helen Grimmett <helen.grimmett@education.monash.edu.au> wrote:

From: Helen Grimmett <helen.grimmett@education.monash.edu.au>
Subject: Re: [xmca] The strange situation
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Wednesday, April 14, 2010, 10:19 PM

That is the very question I would ask him if I could invite him round
for dinner! 

> From what I can gather, the Golden Key Schools (Elena Kravtsova) are
working it out in the Russian context, and I'm trying to start my
research on how teachers could use Lois Holzman's (and others) idea of
teaching/learning as collective improvisation to see if that helps throw
up some answers in our local context.

Will be interested to hear what else you can dig up!


----- Original Message -----
From: Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu>
Date: Thursday, April 15, 2010 12:48 pm
Subject: Re: [xmca] The strange situation
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>

> Good point, Helen (and Andy). I was changing my mind as I was 
> writing about obuchenie being first social, then individual. But I 
> still would say that LSV actually tells us very little about what 
> obuchenie looks like, or how it has the effects he attributes to 
> it. 
> I will dig back into the archives, though, to see what people have 
> said about this.
> Martin
> On Apr 14, 2010, at 7:10 PM, Helen Grimmett wrote:
>> Interesting points Martin, but don't forget that Vygotsky used 
> the term
>> "obuchenie" which, despite its translation as 'instruction', is 
> not at
>> all the same as our usual English definition of instruction. When we
>> think of obuchenie as the joint activity that students and teachers
>> participate in together then it is not at all hard to think of
>> 'instruction' as something that starts off as social and then 
> becomes> psychological.
>> It is the failure of the English language (in not having a word that
>> describes this joint activity of teachers and learners) that 
> requires> this extra leap of understanding Vygotsky's definition of 
> instruction> (or rather, obuchenie) before us English speakers can 
> even try and
>> understand Vygotsky. 
>> It will be interesting to see if your students are able to put aside
>> their previous conceptions of instruction to reconceptualise it 
> in this
>> new way - or is it easier to introduce the 'new' concept of 
> obuchenie?  
>> "But it is easier to assimilate a thousand facts in any new field 
> than> to assimilate a new point of view of a few already known facts."
>> (Vygotsky, Vol 4 CW, p.1)
>> Cheers,
>> Helen
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> From: Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu>
>> Date: Thursday, April 15, 2010 8:23 am
>> Subject: Re: [xmca] The strange situation
>> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
>>> My last comments about chapter 6 of T&L sank without trace like 
> a 
>>> small bead (or is it a large bead? I refer of course to p. 235). 
>>> But since all is quiet on the xmca front, I'll try tossing in 
>>> another pebble, and see if it skips or plunges once more to the 
>>> silent depths.
>>> What strikes to me when the concept of the zoped is introduced 
> in 
>>> chapter 6 is how  very little it adds to what LSV has been 
>>> emphasizing throughout the book, namely that what the child 
> first 
>>> does with others they later become able to accomplish themself. 
> As 
>>> we know, LSV has gone so far as to call this the General Genetic 
>>> Law of Cultural Development. He has in addition put the same 
> point 
>>> in Hegelian terms (or at least Hegelian-sounding terms): the 
>>> child's speech, for example, is first in-self, then for-others, 
>>> finally for-self. In chapter 5 he has made the same point more 
>>> specifically about concept development: the pseudoconcept is 
>>> important because it seems to be a true concept to an adult. 
>>> Phenotypically the child's pseudoconcept and the adult concept 
> are 
>>> identical, but genotypically they are significantly different; 
> as 
>>> Paula has pointed out, he calls this a wolf in sheep's clothing. 
>>> The importance of this surface (functional) similarity lies in 
> the 
>>> consequence, LSV explains, that the adult responds to the 
> child's 
>>> use of the pseudoconcept *as though* it were a concept, and as a 
>>> result the child is *as it were* using concepts. And as a result 
> of 
>>> in effect using true concepts, the child becomes truly able to 
> use 
>>> them.    In fact, when LSV first introduces the zoned, on page 209, 
> he 
>>> immediately "cite[s] the well known fact that with 
> collaboration, 
>>> direction, or some kind of help the child is always able to more 
>>> and solve more difficult tasks than he can independently. What 
> we 
>>> have here is only an example of this more general rule." He adds 
>>> that an explanation must go further than this, but he goes 
> further 
>>> by developing his analysis of instruction. The zoped doesn't 
> seem 
>>> to have, for him, much explanatory value. It is only a familiar 
>>> fact, an example of the more general rule that he stated as the 
>>> GGLCD. 
>>>     What is new in chapter 6, IMHO, is not the zoped. LSV has been 
>>> talking about zopeds all through the book even though he didn't 
> use 
>>> the term. Nor is it the introduction of a new factor, 
> instruction, 
>>> that occurs in the school classroom, for by the end of the 
> chapter 
>>> LSV has stated clearly that instruction occurs in preschool too, 
>>> that in fact at every stage of development there is some kind of 
>>> instruction, each of them qualitatively different according to 
> the 
>>> child's capabilities (and needs and interests) at that stage.
>>>     No, what is truly new in chapter 6, that is to say truly new 
> when 
>>> the child goes to school (for this is LSV's focus in this 
> chapter) 
>>> is surely the capacity for conscious awareness and voluntary 
>>> control. Really I'm just stating the obvious here, since he 
>>> actually calls them "neo-formations"! You can't get much more 
>>> obviously new than that. LSV has emphasized the importance of 
> these 
>>> earlier in the book, but here they move to the fore. In chapter 
> 5 
>>> he has said that true concepts become possible only when the 
> child 
>>> (or actually the adolescent as he has it there, though he 
> changes 
>>> his mind in chapter 6) is able to deliberately (voluntarily) 
> direct 
>>> his attention to specific features of an object. This becomes 
>>> possible, LSV suggests in chapter 5, when the child "uses a 
> word" 
>>> to control his attention.
>>>     In chapter 6 voluntary control is again emphasized as an 
> important 
>>> part of the transition between what are now called everyday 
>>> concepts and scientific concepts, but the explanation has 
> changed. 
>>> Now LSV suggests that "instruction" in school plays a central 
> role 
>>> in bringing about tthe transition. To explain this, it helps to 
>>> consider his analysis of writing (or "written speech," he calls 
> it, 
>>> rather quaintly). While oral language is automatic, preflexive, 
>>> situated and concrete, writing requires conscious awareness of 
> the 
>>> rules of grammar and spelling, and voluntary control of their 
>>> application. Writing is abstracted both from the sounds of oral 
>>> speech and from the situation of communication. 
>>>     It might seem, then, that before instruction in writing can 
> begin, 
>>> the teacher should wait for the child to develop the capacity 
> for 
>>> conscious awareness and voluntary control. But LSV insists that, 
> on 
>>> the contrary, it is *in and through* instruction in (for 
> example, 
>>> but not only) writing that the child develops these capacities. 
>>> Instruction and development are "knotted" in complex ways, he 
>>> proposes. They are neither identical, nor at they completely 
>>> separate. Of course this is what he has been saying about each 
> of 
>>> the various pairs of processes or phenomena that he has dealt 
> with 
>>> throughout the book. Most centrally, of course, he has argued 
> that 
>>> thinking and speaking are neither identical nor completely 
>>> separate. In either of these cases, he was said repeatedly, 
> there 
>>> would be no question of a "relationship" between the two terms, 
> and 
>>> so nothing to study and nothing to write about. (Of course this 
>>> hasn't stopped the psychologists who he has critiqued from 
> writing 
>>> a great deal, despite their inadequate conceptualizations!)
>>>     So here again we have a pair - development and instruction - 
> which 
>>> LSV says are related but not identical. This raises the question 
> of 
>>> whether this pair might be the central pair - thinking and 
> speaking 
>>> - in disguise. And certainly in instruction we have at least the 
>>> teacher speaking, and probably the student too. And in 
> development 
>>> we have thinking (though not alone). But I think the resemblance 
>>> stops there. When LSV considered speech, it was as something 
> that 
>>> starts off as social and then becomes psychological. It is hard 
> to 
>>> think of instruction in those terms. But let's not abandon that 
>>> proposal so quickly, for this consideration raises the important 
>>> question, what *is* instruction for LSV? We have a pretty good 
>>> sense of how he understands development, since indeed the whole 
>>> book has been telling us this. But in chapter 6 the term 
>>> "instruction" appears without a formal definition. In the same 
> way 
>>> that we end chapter 5 without being entirely sure what a concept 
>>> is, I think we end chapter 6 without being sure what instruction 
> is.>>     I've asked my students to try to figure this out. What I 
> hope they 
>>> come up with is the notion that, whatever instruction is, it 
> must 
>>> involve a transformation in which conscious awareness and 
> voluntary 
>>> control are first in-self, then for-others, and finally for-
> self. 
>>> That's the only formulation that would make any sense, isn't it? 
>>> Martin_______________________________________________
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