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RE: [xmca] MARKED activity within a Dynamic Systems Developmental Model
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- Subject: RE: [xmca] MARKED activity within a Dynamic Systems Developmental Model
- From: "White, Phillip" <Phillip.White@ucdenver.edu>
- Date: Mon, 11 Apr 2011 17:22:11 -0600
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- Thread-topic: [xmca] MARKED activity within a Dynamic Systems Developmental Model
Martin, at the elementary school i'm most closely involved with, while once we used the metaphor "scaffolding", now we talk about 'gradual release of responsibility', particularly around questioning strategies (beginning what a broad, open question ("What are you working on here?", to, say, "What might happen if ...."). We think of this as an activity of providing momentary supports through, most usually, language - but also physical models, pictures, sign language and movement can be used as supports.
i'm also thinking that for many teachers, 'scaffolding' isn't so much as a concept, as it is an instructional strategy... as in "What supports did you provide for the student? How did you scaffold her learning?" (do you think that this is a function of English?)
i recognize that a scaffold is seen as a rigid structure, yet for a teacher in the moment, a scaffold is put into place in an ephemeral moment - and then it's gone - disintegrated. just as you steady a companion who steps on a slick bit of pavement. a support at the elbow, and then a release.
i think that much of Gordon Wells' work that he did in OISE are great examples of these kinds of activities wherein teachers - as well as fellow students - are negotiating and renegotiating shared and not so shared understandings/learnings.
(gads, i cringe using the term "activity" because i know how fraught the conversations have been regarding activity, action, goals and all that. luckily this conversation is being woven through email and so one doesn't have to so concretely nail down terms. [more mixed metaphors here?])
Phillip White, PhD
University of Colorado Denver
School of Education
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [email@example.com] On Behalf Of Martin Packer [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, April 11, 2011 4:25 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] MARKED activity within a Dynamic Systems Developmental Model
On the one hand, the "scaffolding" concept is an interesting one to me, because its value seems to stem entirely from its metaphorical character. When Wood, Bruner & Ross coined the term in 1976, in their paper on tutoring, they provided no definition. They introduced the term in the following way:
"More often than not, it [tutoring] involves a kind of 'scaffolding' process that enables a child or novice to solve a
problem, carry out a task or achieve a goal which would be beyond his unassisted efforts. This scaffolding consists essentially of the adult 'controlling' those elements of the task that are initially beyond the learner's capacity, thus permitting him to concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within his range of competence" (p. 90). This is one of several metaphors in the paper - they write also that "The tutorial function... withers away" (96), and at times they mix their metaphors, as when they write that "scaffolding begins by luring the child into actions that produce recognizable-for-him solutions" (96)., or when they analyze the "functions" of scaffolding in terms of the sequence: "recruitment," "reduction in degrees of freedom," "direction maintenance," "marking critical features," "frustration control," and "demonstration," few of which are things that any of us would imagine that scaffolding -- in the dictionary sense of a temporary platform from which to erect or repair a building -- can actually do. The conclusion of their paper includes the statement that they have been describing "an interactive system of exchange" (99), and makes no mention at all of scaffolding.
In short, scaffolding functions in their paper solely as an everyday concept, not as a scientific concept. Yet it has evidently stuck in the memory of readers of the article (though why it gets attributed to Vygotsky, who was not even cited in this paper, is another question), presumably because of the graphic image it supplies - even though the image actually runs counter to any proposal that tutoring is "an active system of exchange."
This is a good example, then, of a concept that is memorable (though perhaps it doesn't explain very much) because of its 'inner image,' its 'sense.' The importance of sense is something Vygotsky returns to repeatedly in T&S, and the persistence of scaffolding could be taken to illustrate his point.
On the other hand, scaffolding strikes me as completely inadequate as a concept, even as an everyday concept, for the function it is supposed to perform. I completely agree with you that we are trying to understand fluid, dynamic systems. Scaffolding is a static, rigid concept. Scaffolding isn't even a mechanical system, it is merely a mechanical structure. Mechanical systems move through defined states. But they don't do what organic systems do, which is evolve, and grow. What do psychological systems do? They develop, and they are tutored, of course, and we need to find concepts that are adequate to grasp and articulate these processes. 'Tutoring' is itself a psychological-system concept (Bruner was after all an Oxford don at the time) that might be defined in such a way as to have explanatory value. But to try to explain tutoring in terms of scaffolding is to reduce the psychological to the mechanical.
As for eliminating the concept of 'concept,' as you pointed out, concepts are interrelated in complicated ways, and our concept of 'concept' is related to our concept of mind, of thinking, of intelligence, and so on. There is certainly to much 'Cartesian' theorizing, but I don't see that removing one of these concepts is going to make any difference. Certainly not if the plan is to replace it with "thematic node"! We need to work to change the whole structure of generalization, and Vygotsky's approach of, as David K puts it, hollowing other people's concepts out and putting new content in seems to me a far more workable approach.
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