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Reframing the Novice ersus Expert Roles of Children, Parents, and Teachers from a Cultural ... - page 5 / 22





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Co-Constructing the Transition to School


different access to resources; differing values, beliefs, and practices; and differing identities of themselves, they also constitute different cultures. The same argument, of course, applies to Blacks or members of any specific ethnic group from different social classes.

For Bronfenbrenner, then, research on any aspect of human development, including development across important ecological transitions such as the transition to school, re- quires focusing on the mutual interplay of individual activities and interactions on the one hand and cultural contextual features on the other. A similar claim can be made in terms of Vygotsky’s theory. Vygotsky is probably best known, at least in educational circles, for his concept of the zone of proximal development, which is typically equated with scaf- folding (Berk & Winsler, 1995; Bodrova & Leong, 1996; Brown & Ferrara, 1985). How- ever, Vygotsky never meant for this concept to stand alone, nor did he view it as central to his theory. Rather, it is a theory in which the types of interpersonal interactions that occur within a zone of proximal development can only be explained through reference to aspects of the individual and to the broader context, specifically the cultural–historical context, that gives meaning to the interactions (Hogan & Tudge, 1999; Tudge & Scrimsher, 2003).

However, given that teachers often try to scaffold children’s learning and, although the term is not typically used in this context, scaffold parents’ understanding of what is expected of their children in the classroom, it is worth examining Vygotsky’s view of the zone of prox- imal development in more detail. As has been pointed out elsewhere (Bodrova & Leong, 1996; Tudge & Scrimsher, 2003; Van der Veer & Valsiner, 1991), it is important to note that obuchenie, the key Russian word Vygotsky used to describe the concept, has been translated in very different ways by different translators. Some have translated this word, in the same sen- tence, to mean “instruction” (e.g., Vygotsk , 1934/1987) and others to mean “learning” (e.g., Vygotsk , 1935/1978) although these words have quite different meaning in English. The problem stems from the fact that, in Russian, obuchenie means “teaching/learning,” treating this phenomenon as an integrated whole. Vygotsky (1934/1987) wrote that:

[Teaching/learning] is only useful when it moves ahead of development. [When it does,] it im- pels or wakens a whole series of functions that are in a stage of maturation lying in the zone of proximal development. (p. 212)

Clearl , the meaning varies greatly if either “instruction” or “learning” is substituted for “teaching/learning.” When translated as “instruction,” the concept lends itself well to a more teacher-focused unidirectional flow, the sort of process that is often found in teacher-directed scaffolding. When translated as “learning,” the concept appears to markedly reduce the role of the teacher. However, when translated more appropriatel , the concept carries the idea of both teacher and child engaged in a joint activity that can create a zone of proximal activity:

We propose that an essential feature of [teaching/learning] is that it creates the zone of proxi- mal development; that is, [teaching/learning] awakens a variety of developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and in collaboration with his peers. (Vygotsky, 1935/1978, p. 90)

In other words, what Vygotsky was calling for was neither a didactic approach to teach- ing, in which the teacher’s job is to discover what the children’s zones of proximal devel- opments are and provide appropriate instruction, nor an approach that put the onus on children, but, rather, a collaborative process between teachers and children.

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