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Re: [xmca] The strange situation

It's a very old thread--it goes back to 2007 or 2008. The subject line refers to Bronfenbrenner's caustic remark about developmental psychology:
"...(D)evelopmental psychology, as it now exists, is the science of the strange behavior of children in strange situations with the strange adults for the briefest possible periods of time." (Ecology of Human Development, p. 19).
It also refers to an experiment that goes back to roughly 1962, when I was a three year old participant in research, where a child was left in a strange situation with a strange adult for a brief period of time and watched to see how he or she coped with the tension. 
This kind of experiment is still being done, despite some ethical problems with the design and all the external validity problems that Bronfenbrenner points to. (See, for example, Bellas, V.M. and McHale, J.P. "A Microgenetic Look at the Microgenetic Analysis of Toddlers' Affective Processing", in Innovating Genesis, Abbey and Diriwachter eds. 2008: Information Age Publishers).

My original question was whether Paula's work on the blocks, and the work of Vygotsky and Sakharov before her, qualified as a strange situation and was subject to all the validity criticisms that Bronfenbrenner raises. I thought, and I still think, that the answer is yes. 
I think that Vygotsky too thought that. There is, after all, the critique of Chapter Five in Chapter Six (p. 231 of your Minick, but this is our translation):
"It remains still for us to say that the study of real concepts led to the presence and later to identification of the components of the entire chain of the relations of passage from one step to another in the process that interests us. We spoke above (i.e. in Chapter Five--DK) of the connection between the complexes and the syncretisms upon the transition to the pre-school age from early childhood and about the connection  between preconcepts[predponyatiy] and concepts in the transition from the schoolboy to the adolescent. The present investigation (i.e. the more situated, classroom study of Chapter Six--DK) of scientific and everyday concepts reveals the missing middle link. It, as we shall below, makes it possible to explain the same dependence upon the transition from the general ideas of preschooler to the preconcepts [predponyatiyam] of schoolboy. Thus, the problem of the connections and passages between the separate steps in the
 development of the concept, i.e. the question of the self-propulsion of the developing concept which we could not solve in our first study, proves to be completely solvable."
Vygotsky goes on to talk about the "labor of Sysyphus" that would occur if the child had to begin all over again each time a preconcept turns out to be an inadequate solution of a problem involving the formation of a new concept, which is what happens in the blocks experiment, and even in Paula's strange situation. So instead, he proposes that each stage is a REWORKING of the previous stage; the preconcept is reworked as a concept, and the everyday concept reworked as a scientific one. 
There are a lot of questions that arise here. First of all, Vygotsky moves the problem of concept formation from adolescence to elementary school (by using the "preconcept" instead of the "pseudoconcept"). Did he do this as a concession to the Pedology Decree and the Stakhanovite winds sweeping Russian education, or did he genuinely believe that his previous work had been too conservative? 
Secondly, what was the scientific status of Chapter Five and Sakharov's experiments for Vygotsky when he was writing Chapter Six? It's important to note that LSV not only criticizes Chapter Five ruthlessly, he also uses the end of Chapter Six to side with Piaget against Chapter Six itself (p. 240 in Minick)! What is going on here?
I think that David Bakhurst can really help us here. Bakhurst points out that ALL experiments were not so much empirical investigations as demonstrations of theories for Vygotsky (see, for example, the remark on psychological experiments as "empirical philosophy" by one of Ach's subjects which Vygotsky chuckles over on p. 79 of your Minick). 
I also think that Vygotsky was too canny and too restless to rest his theories on a single method, or even a single "ontology": he is ALWAYS approaching his data from three different ponts of view simultaneously (usually structural, functional and genetic, all at the same time). In that sense, Chapters Five, Six, and Seven are, like the phenomena they describe, linked but distinct but linked, and thus complementary, so long as we remember that in Vygotsky when things are complementary they don't quite fit.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education   

--- On Wed, 4/21/10, Jay Lemke <jaylemke@umich.edu> wrote:

From: Jay Lemke <jaylemke@umich.edu>
Subject: Re: [xmca] The strange situation
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Wednesday, April 21, 2010, 3:51 PM

>From time to time I realize that I was not around when "the strange situation" thread got started ... what was it all about, and is it time we put a new subject line up?

Anyway, I just wanted to remark in response the the recent discussion about more symmetrical interaction in the ZPD that it may not just be, as Larry suggests, that both interactants take both roles (teacher, student), but that both those roles are superseded by new modes of participation and new kinds of relationship to one another. Freire famously used the terms teacher-student and student-teacher to name the new roles in his literacy education project in Brazil (the one that got him chased out of his own country). He meant, I think, something more than a combination or alternation of the old roles, but you'd really need to read a couple chapters of Pedagogy of the Oppressed to form your own impression of what he did mean.

In the US we often hear the phrase "more experienced peer" for the senior partner in the ZPD. What term did LSV actually use, in Russian, and what is it likely to have meant for him?

Of course presumably he was thinking more in terms of development rather than education, but I wonder if there is any tradition in CHAT-based educational models of re-defining the roles?


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Apr 21, 2010, at 9:15 AM, Larry Purss wrote:

> Philip and Jay
> This notion of symmetry seems to pivot around the theme of engagement and the students taking BOTH the "teaching" and "learning" positions and also the teacher taking BOTH the "learning" and "teaching" positions and each person in the activity MUTUALLY engaging and "moving" the others in the shared narrative.
> Philip, in your last sentence you mention you didn't say anything to the group of 5. It wasn't that I decided not to say anything.  It's just that I brushed it aside.
>  This sentence speaks to the novelity and uncertainty of mutually engaged communication where BOTH self and other are radically implicated in each others consciousness [some call this intersubjectivity] 
> The context structures what is PERCEIVED and "understood" but their is a basic unknowability in where the converstion will go next [it's conceptual construction] 
> however
> the quality of the "engagement" [when symmetrical] affords the opportunity for BOTH teacher and student to take turns "LEADING" the dialogue.  Philip, if you had decided to tell the group of 5 the conceptual construction would have changed BUT the MUTUAL engagement would have been deepened.
> Larry
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Jay Lemke <jaylemke@umich.edu>
> Date: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 8:16 pm
> Subject: Re: [xmca] The strange situation
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
>> Philip and all,
>> Yes, I think your example does illustrate a number of the points 
>> I was making, and I think that Michael Roth was also trying to 
>> make, about symmetry in the ZPD. Certainly as the teacher here, 
>> you are scaffolding for the students some canonical aspects of 
>> naming, spelling, etc., but you are buildiing on their interests 
>> and contributions, what is important to them and comes from 
>> them, and so is unpredictable for you. You are remaining open to 
>> them, even if, as you say, always imperfectly understanding 
>> exactly what they are on about in some moments. And we see here 
>> successful convergence on the short timescale of such an 
>> episode, but you allude to the fact that other convergences may 
>> take much much longer (weeks) to happen, if they do. And of 
>> course things/themes/learning paths branch off, and come back 
>> again in new guises (like the Diego Rivera book and murals).
>> And maybe one day you will share your story of your own young 
>> cousin's death, when you feel right about it. There is an old 
>> wisdom about seizing the "teachable moment", and these 
>> especially stand out ... but in another sense they happen all 
>> the time if we let them (symmetry) and when we recognize that we 
>> help to make them happen (obuchenie as our joint construction), 
>> and professionally we come to understand that we help them 
>> happen more often by what we do when they do happen.
>> I think this is one of the deepest mysteries of good teaching: 
>> how we overcome the seeming contradiction between passing on 
>> useful elements of past culture and yet letting everthing that 
>> happens in the classroom or the interaction with/among students 
>> emerge naturally and symmetrically. It seems like we have to 
>> choose: either transmissionary teaching or student-centered 
>> exploratory learning. But we don't. Real life is far too complex 
>> to be subject to such dichotomies. I think that LSV understood 
>> this very well, but our own difficulties in understanding it are 
>> part of what can make his ideas seem strange or even 
>> contradictory at times.
>> Thanks for the richness of these examples,
>> JAY.
>> Jay Lemke
>> Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
>> Educational Studies
>> University of Michigan
>> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>> www.umich.edu/~jaylemke 
>> Visiting Scholar
>> Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
>> University of California -- San Diego
>> La Jolla, CA
>> USA 92093
>> On Apr 18, 2010, at 9:37 AM, White, Phillip wrote:
>>> Jay, you wrote:
>>> But I can't help thinking that much as it is true that 
>> successful teaching always depends on the teacher being truly 
>> responsive to the student, that is, to the cues the student 
>> provides about what more they need to take the step the teacher 
>> is hoping to see them take, that this inherent symmetry of 
>> successful communication still does not overcome the fact that 
>> the teacher really seems to be leading the students down a pre-
>> determined garden path that leads to a pre-determined end. It's 
>> looks like transmission still, asymmetrical in power and ends 
>> and means still. And it's NOT, I hope, what LSV had in mind. 
>> Thought I might be wrong about this last point.
>>>  when i think about your comment here - as well as 
>> Bateson's recognition that "the map is not the territory" - and 
>> that for me a theory is at best a map, certainly _not_ the 
>> territory, i also take into consideration that, again, accoring 
>> to Bateson, that learning is stochastic.  Whatever LSV had 
>> in mind, for me, my understanding is always an approximation - 
>> though i attempt to get as close to it as i can.
>>>   as a teacher i cannot accurately predict 
>> what individual students will learn, nor can i accurately 
>> predict when they will learn particular understandings - further 
>> more, how each student will formulate her learning, verbalize 
>> it, etc., i can't even come close to anticipating.  much of 
>> my job is, i think, maintaining a recursive feedback loop in 
>> which i approximate my understandings of the student's 
>> understandings.  and out of this emerges common 
>> understandings, most of the time.
>>>    below is an example of a small group 
>> reading lesson with third graders who are also learning 
>> english  i believe that it fits with what you are 
>> expressing.  in the reading group we have been discussing 
>> Frida Kahlo's work when Jorge gets up from his seat and returns 
>> with a book we had read earlier.
>>> _________________________
>>> I turn now to Jorge, who has gotten the book on Diego Rivera. 
>> He has turned to a photograph of a mosaic of a traditionally 
>> dressed Mexican couple dancing.  
>>> The woman’s hair has been parted in the middle, and hangs down 
>> in two braids in which red ribbons have also been braided.  
>> She’s wearing a white blouse with what looks like embroidered 
>> flowers at the top, and her hands are lifting up a bright red 
>> skirt with what also looks like embroidered flowers.  A 
>> fancy lace slip shows below the skirt.  She is dancing on 
>> the brim of a wide hat, like a sombrero, but with a flat 
>> crown.  Her partner is mostly cut off in the 
>> photograph.  We can see not even half of him.  He 
>> sports long sideburns and a thin moustache.  He has a red 
>> scarf tied around his head.  He’s wearing a fancy vest and 
>> a red tie.  His gaze is on his partner, while her eyes are 
>> downcast towards the hat.  To my eyes they look as if they 
>> might be Gypsies or Mexican Indians.  I remember that I had 
>> been taught the Mexican hat dance as a fifth grader, and wonder 
>> if this is an example of that dance.  Jorge has a point to 
>> make, now that he has redirected us and gotten all of our attention.
>>> 1. Jorge – And, um, I think that, too, sometimes murals can 
>> tell stories because, watch this one.
>>> 2. T – I see you went and got the book on Diego.
>>> 3, Jorge – Yeah. Right here. I imagine that they are dancing, 
>> and that guy threw his hat – and the girl’s real, cause it has a 
>> girl’s dress from Mexico, and they do them.
>>> 4. T – And they do what like that?
>>> 5. Jorge – Their dresses.
>>> 6, T – Okay, so you’ve seen people like this dressed in Mexico?
>>> 7. Jorge – And I think they, murals, tell a story.
>>> 8. T – What kinds of times have you seen, when have you seen 
>> people dancing like this in Mexico?
>>> 9. Dolores – Guadalajara.
>>> Jorge wants us to understand that murals tell stories, and has 
>> gotten one of the cultural artifacts to illustrate his 
>> point.  He knows what this mural is telling because he has 
>> seen similar behavior in Mexico.  He knows that the hat 
>> didn’t just appear on the floor, but rather that the “guy threw 
>> his hat.”  He also recognizes the girl as “real” because he 
>> recognizes the dress from Mexico.
>>> At the time he was talking I didn’t notice, but when I 
>> transcribed the tape, I realized that he used the verb 
>> “imagine”, which was earlier used by Miranda when she had 
>> announced that her sister had “imagination”.  During the 
>> tape transcriptions I have noticed that the same word will 
>> appear in close groups, as if each one of us is practicing using 
>> the word.  I think that this might be something to return 
>> to in the action research that might begin to demonstrate how 
>> vocabulary is appropriated.  But for now, what is most 
>> fascinating to me, was his understanding that the girl is real 
>> because her dress is from Mexico, and that this activity is 
>> found in Mexico.  I ask questions to elicit additional 
>> information, and then asking about times and places when Jorge 
>> has seen dances like on the mural, Dolores interjects, 
>> “Guadalajara.”  However, Jorge ignores Dolores’ 
>> contribution, and instead initiates a narrative.
>>> 1. Jorge – Like when they, um, go to, like in my grandpa’s bed 
>> and someone takes that thing I told you that round thing and it 
>> has sticks like that.
>>> 2. T – Tell me more. What does that round thing with sticks do?
>>> 3. Jorge – It, it has flowers.
>>> 4. T – You want to make a drawing up on the board? Okay.  
>> You guys, watch what he’s doing to see if you can figure out 
>> what he’s making a drawing of.
>>> 5. Jorge – Flowers like this, I told you.
>>> 6. T – Oh!
>>> 7. Elizabeth – Oh, he showed us once.
>>> 8. T – Oh, for when people die?
>>> 9. Jorge – Yes.
>>> 10. T – Okay, a wreath. It’s a flower wreath. Uh huh(I write 
>> “flower wreath”).
>>> 11. Elizabeth – sometimes they can make heart-shapes.
>>> 12. T – Heart-shapes.
>>> 13. Elizabeth – And like, when, my cousin died and they make, 
>> they make one like this (draws on the board).  A heart like that.
>>> 14. T – They made a heart like that. (I restate and confirm 
>> what I see.)
>>> 15. Elizabeth – and they do that, and that, and it has flowers 
>> all around like that.
>>> 16. T – How old was your cousin?
>>> 17. Elizabeth – thirteen.  She wanted to get to fifteen.
>>> 18. T – She wanted to get to fifteen. (I repeat her statement.)
>>> 19. Elizabeth – Yeah.
>>> 20. T – But she only made it to thirteen.
>>> 21. Elizabeth – yeah.
>>> As he tells this narrative, Jorge employs a teaching strategy 
>> that I often use.  When I’m not sure that the students are 
>> understanding a word or a phrase that we are using I will often 
>> draw a picture on the chalk board.  Similarly, when Jorge 
>> notices that we can’t figure out “that round thing” with 
>> “sticks” and “flowers”, he stands up, moves over to the board, 
>> and begins drawing.  It is then, at turn number 6 that I 
>> understand what it is he is drawing.  Elizabeth at turn 
>> number 7 informs us that we’ve been told about this 
>> before.  Which is true.  Jorge tells lots of stories 
>> about his grandfather and his death and the work they did 
>> together on the farm in Chihuahua.  At turn number 10, I 
>> label the picture, and then Elizabeth recalls other shapes for 
>> flower displays in funerals.  Elizabeth then steps up to 
>> the board and draws a heart-shaped floral display, and begins 
>> her own story about her cousin that has died.  This is a 
>> new story, and will be returned to for the next few weeks.  
>> The narratives ends poignantly for me when it is revealed that 
>> the cousin was only thirteen when she died, though she had 
>> wanted to live at least until she was fifteen.  
>>> As Elizabeth tells her story, I thought about my own cousin, 
>> Judy, who died when she was fourteen.  I remembered her 
>> three younger brothers at the funeral playing catch between the 
>> grave stones with an enormous yellow chrysanthemum.  I 
>> remembered what a cold foggy day it was.  I remembered how 
>> angry I was.  But I didn’t say a word about this to the 
>> Group of Five.  It wasn’t that I decided to not say 
>> anything.  I just brushed the story aside.
>>> _____________________________
>>> Phillip White, PhD
>>> University of Colorado Denver
>>> School of Education
>> phillip.white@ucdenver.edu_______________________________________________> xmca mailing list
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