Conhecimento – Direito ao conhecimento e modos de conhecer: novas condições
Knowledge – Right to knowledge and modes of knowing: new conditions
Developing the affective ZPD
Holbrook Mahn & Vera John-Steiner, University of New Mexico, New Mexico
As we look to the future of education in the 21st century, becoming more effective teachers of linguistically and culturally diverse students and creating teaching/learning environments that foster mutual respect, trust and concern are goals that will demand our ongoing attention. While there has been increased attention given to linguistic and cultural diversity, not as much attention has been paid to the role of affective factors in learning in a new language and culture. This is something we want to explore in our contribution by drawing on Vygotsky's (1999) work on emotions and, in particular, the relationship between affect and thought. Examining the role of affective factors in the learning process deepens the understanding of Vygotsky’s (1978) best-known concept – the zone of proximal development (zpd). An expanded understanding of the zpd that includes affective factors reveals it as a complex whole, a system of systems in which the interrelated and interdependent elements include the participants, artifacts, the environment or context, and the participants' experience of the interactions within the zone. We use this expanded notion of Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development as well as some of his unfinished, yet seminal, work on emotions, as a theoretical frame to explore affective factors in learning. We hope to illuminate the complexity of learning when thought, emotional experience, and practical action are integrated in the analysis.
That emotional factors govern the character of the learning taking place in the zpd is a given. Children who come to school suffering from the effects of dysfunctional families, who lack self-esteem and self-confidence, who are full of fear and anxiety are not going to learn as effectively. The challenge for teachers is to understand their students' emotional or affective reactions to classroom interactions -- an important, yet often neglected, aspect of learning. What are the ways through which teachers gain an appreciation of their students' life experiences and students’ experiences of classroom interactions? Vygotsky (1994) provided a starting point in this search through his concept of perezhivanie. This concept which some equate with lived or emotional experience describes the role of affect in the process through which cognitive and affective interactions in the zpd are individually perceived, appropriated, represented, and expressed by the participants.
The role of emotions in learning and in the formation of the personality has received increasing attention recently as can be seen by Fernando González Rye's (2000) presentation on emotions and personality at the Third Conference for Sociocultural Research. This attention has resulted in emotion and reason no longer being automatically counterposed. Antonio Damasio (1999), in his most recent book on the role of emotions in the making of consciousness, acknowledges that both neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience have finally endorsed emotion and that a new generation of scientists is making emotion its elected topic. The relationship between affect and thought was at the center of Vygotsky's work in the last years of his life. At the end of Thinking and Speech, his analysis of thought led him to ask what it is that lies behind thought. He writes:
[Thought] is not born of other thoughts. Thought has its origins in the motivating sphere of consciousness, a sphere that includes our inclinations and needs, our interests and impulses, and our affect and emotions. The affective and volitional tendency stands behind thought. Only here do we find the answer to the final “why” in the analysis of thinking. (Vygotsky, 1934/1987, p. 282)
We were both drawn to Vygotsky’s work on affect because of our own individual research and writing projects -- John-Steiner’s research on affective factors in creative collaborations among adults (2000) and her writings on feminist and sociocultural theory that explore the relationships between emotion and cognition (1999), and Mahn’s research on affective factors in the learning process of linguistically and culturally diverse students learning to write in English (1997). There is a rich and diverse literature on dialogic, interactive, and collaborative learning in the classroom that focuses on cognitive aspects. By looking at learning through a different theoretical lens, provided by Vygotsky’s work on emotions, we attempt to enrich or make explicit aspects of the zpd that have not yet received as much attention.
This focus on the interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics in the creation, appropriation, and expression of emotion governs our own discussion and helps in the analysis of an expanded notion of the zone of proximal development. Our investigation of it is guided by the realization that human beings come into existence, attain consciousness, and develop throughout their lifetimes in relationship to others. Social interdependence that provides the foundation for human connection and caring support and that fosters the development of competence is key to our discussion of the role of affect in transformative educational practice. The issues of particular concern to us are the ways in which competence is built through supportive, dignified, caring interaction, and collaboration, whether between scientists and artists or teachers and students. One way to look at creative collaboration and cooperative learning is to envision them as dynamic systems between individuals linked by shared objectives.
The Cubist painters Pablo Picasso and George Braque shared a powerful vision; they aimed at revealing the interlocking of phenomena and depicting processes instead of static states of being (Berger, 1965). The joy of discovery, the commitment to remain open to one another's ideas, and a temporary erasure of individual egos, were all necessary to their work, which transformed established views of painting. During their most intensely collaborative years, the two painters chose similar scenes and incorporated innovations by one into the painting of the other. Picasso later recalled: "Almost every evening I went to Braque's studio or Braque came to mine. Each of us had to see what the other had done during the day. We criticized each other's work. A canvas was not finished until both of us felt it was" (Gilot & Lake, 1964, p. 76). At one point, they actually succeeded in exchanging artistic personalities. Picasso was painting with a sensuousness usually associated with Braque, while Braque appropriated his partner's incisiveness and sharp focus.
In long-term relationships of partners who work and live together, an even greater degree of emotional appropriation can take place (John-Steiner, 2000). Will and Ariel Durant, the authors of the popular multi-volume work The Story of Civilization, differed in age, family background, and temperament at the time of their marriage. At first, Ariel's assistance to her husband was clerical, but as she came to participate more fully in the writing of their books, their relationship changed, and their roles became increasingly equal. At the same time, each appropriated some of the other's emotional patterns: Ariel developed a quieter side, while maintaining the zest and enthusiasm her husband cherished, and Will Durant took on some of her emotional daring and joie-de-vivre.
Looking at the highly developed zpd that existed between the Durants and between Picasso and Braque can shed light on the zpds that can exist between teacher and student. The collaborations between creative adults and between teachers and students both represent the power of joint activities whose effectiveness is enhanced when supported by the gift of confidence. In providing emotional support to partners in collaboration -- whether they are novice learners of a new language or individuals engaged in novel, creative endeavors -- there is a dynamic interplay between the interpersonal aspects of the interaction and the ways in which emotional support is individually appropriated. In collaboration, partners create zones of proximal development for each other where Vygotsky said intellect and affect are fused in a unified whole. Emotional scaffolding includes the gift of confidence, the sharing of risks in the presentation of new ideas, constructive criticism, and the creation of a safety zone.
By understanding students’ lived experiences, knowledge, and emotions, teachers are able to collaborate with them in creating environments conducive to transformative teaching/learning. Moll and his colleagues have shown that one way to accomplish this is by building on the funds of knowledge and the culturally shaped ways of knowing that children bring to the classroom (Moll & Greenberg.1990; Moll & Whitmore1993). In addition, though, we need to examine how students are experiencing the interactions between their funds of knowledge and the school curriculum, between their language and classroom discourse, between their culture and the school culture, reflecting values and beliefs of the society as a whole. The students' emotional experience of these interactions or perezhivanie is often not manifest in observable ways.
To gain an understanding of his students' perezhivanija Mahn (1992; 1997) used dialogue journals with his high school and university ESL students in which they wrote for 10-15 minutes at the beginning of class on whatever topic they chose. They were encouraged not to worry about mistakes and instead to focus on authentic communication and were free to jump from topic to topic and to draw on their own interests and experiences. Through the dialogic interaction in journals, Mahn became more aware of his students' lives and their perezhivanja. Students gave salience to experiences that shaped their identity and revealed ways that their affect, ethnicity, culture, gender, and class status shaped their educational experiences. The relationships developed in the journals became an important part of the culture of the classroom as the confidence that students gained through their journals carried over into the academic writing they did in Mahn’s and other classes. The collaborative aspect of the journal writing and the creation of a relatively risk free environment also carried over into the course as a whole and contributed to the construction of a collective zpd. Looking at dialogue journals both as a pedagogical device and as a lens through which to view students’ perezhivanija, shows ways in which students develop emotional and cognitive mutuality in educational settings.
Through the frequent references they made to their fear of making mistakes, students revealed the inhibiting effect anxiety had on their writing and their ability to communicate ideas. In a reflective piece of writing in her journal, one student wrote "Because I could not express my feelings completely, I feel heavy pressure in my chest." Another student added, "the grammar ghost was present in every sentence and between the lines." A number of students related that their anxiety was heightened by pedagogical approaches that put the major emphasis on form and mechanics rather than on communicative intent. When meaningful communication instead of mechanics was emphasized they felt relieved. "For the first time in my life I see English teacher who want his student to be released from the verbs and tenses prison and to wake up from the grammar nightmare." The genuine caring support teachers can offer a student is especially important in high anxiety activities such as writing in a second language. As students became less anxious about their writing, they reported that they became more fluent. When they edited and reedited in their head before committing words to paper, students reported that their ideas would slip away from them but when they wrote more rapidly, they could get their thoughts down on paper instead of losing them. "The good strategy that really helped was writing without stopping and always having my brain and my hand connected to each other." "My hand and mind work without thinking about it." By "learning to write as I'm thinking, the journal makes my thinking flow and helps my idea run smoother." One student wrote:
I realized that journal really help me to write down my idea without any blocking into my elbow. When I have idea in my head and I start to make it go down my arm to the paper, if I think about grammar, structure my idea blocks into my elbow and never goes to the paper.
These comments offer powerful metaphors of thought stuck between mind and hand, slowly released through supported interaction.
The emotional fine-tuning that occurred in dialogue journals helped to establish relationships that became the foundation for the collective class zpd. In the process of creating zones of proximal development through the dialogues in the journals, students also learned about themselves as writers. Without understanding the students’ perezhivanija and the ways that their zones of proximal development are affected, it is difficult for teachers to offer the support that will motivate developing writers and help diminish the affective factors that cause anxiety.
In her study of beginning writers and the zone of proximal development Petrick-Steward (1995) suggests that we think of the zpd in the activity of learning and teaching as being mutually and actively created by the child and the teacher and not "as a characteristic, of the child or of teaching, but of the child engaged in collaborative activity within specific social environments" (p.13). Establishing classroom environments in which teachers and students create opportunities to understand their experiences with language and literacy acquisition, their interaction with parents and peers, their value systems and beliefs, and their ways of making meaning of the world should be an important consideration in educational reform. Such knowledge can be revealed through dialogue journals, interviews, class discussions, learners' narratives, cooperative small group projects, and other activities that promote conscious awareness of the learning process. Because knowledge is conveyed and shaped by language, Vygotsky (1934/1987) ascribed a central role to language in the making meaning process. His evocation of the dense textures of language as motivated by feelings, enriched by previous experience, and focused by volition, are key to his analysis of perezhivanie. The distinction he drew between word meaning and word sense, in which he approached the hidden, complex dimensions of thinking and speech by studying the emotional subtext of utterances, is also central to his analysis of perezhivanie.
He described word's sense as the aggregate of all psychological facts that arise in our consciousness as a result of the word. While meaning was more fixed, he described sense as a dynamic, fluid, and complex formation that has several zones that vary in their stability. Although meaning is often conceptualized as external and sense as internal, there is a social aspect to sense. The individual sense of a word has attributes that are shaped by culture and appropriated through social interaction and in this context one could refer to a social sense. In producing shared texts, collaborators expand their partner's early drafts; they strive to give shape to their communicative intent by combining precision -- or word meaning -- with the fluidity of the sense of words. They live, temporarily, in each other's heads. Partners who have been successful in constructing a joint system of language use are sensitive to the sense as well as the meaning of each other's language. They also draw on their mutuality as well as their differences in knowledge, working styles, and temperament.
Second language learners face the challenge of reconciling their developing word sense and word meaning in English with the word sense from their native language, what the word evokes for them personally. Word meaning in English will predominate over word sense until they develop fluency, until words sound right, until they get a feeling for the language, and until they develop the systematicity and automaticity required to convey profound ideas in English--all facilitated by their use of dialogue journals. Through the interaction in the journals and by shifting the focus from form and structure to meaning, students reflected that they could think better in English, i.e., that they could use inner speech more effectively and draw on word sense to better express complex ideas. They also felt that purposeful, functional writing was more meaningful and that such writing increased their confidence.
This holds with younger learners as well. An elementary teacher whose ESL students exchanged journals with adults in an ESL summer institute described the impact the experience had on her students.
There was more willingness to write in their journals, not caring about their mistakes. The students’ willingness to write during other classroom activities increased. The use of English increased. The journal entries gave students a functional purpose to read and write. Their awareness of text increased, as they were not only reviewing their own writing, but also their partner's. What really mattered was the confidence in communicating with someone else, especially in his or her second language.
Affording students opportunities to reflect on their learning and providing them with the vocabulary to express their experiences in the classroom will help the students and teachers achieve their educational goals. Doing so will help make explicit the affective factors that are at play in a student's zpd and give direction to changes in instructional practice. The relationship between the students and the teacher clearly determines the character of the context for language use and acquisition. In both of our studies, we saw the power of caring support in instilling the confidence to meet difficult challenges, to sustain creative endeavors, and to attempt something new. We hope that our contribution has underscored the importance of studying affective factors in learning and will stimulate teachers, researchers, and scholars to visit or revisit Vygotsky's writings on affect and see their value as we work to shape education to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
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Developing the Affective ZPD
A centerpiece of Vygotsky’s work is his investigation of the role emotions play in the development of thought and language, yet this aspect of his work is relatively unknown. In this chapter we explore the ways in which some of the key tenets of his work relate to this work on affective factors in learning. The issues of particular concern to us are the ways in which supportive, dignified, caring interaction, and collaboration build competence. To examine these issues we draw on the work that John-Steiner has done on creative collaborations among highly accomplished adults and Mahn’s study of students learning to write in English as a second language. The theoretical framework is provided by several of Vygotsky’s key concepts – the zone of proximal development, the exploration of the relationship between word meaning and word sense, and that of perezhivanie. The latter concept, not as well known as the other two, helps provide a lens to examine the relationship between affect and learning by looking at the ways in which social interaction is perceived, experienced, and appropriated. Drawing on lessons from our individual studies, we look at the ways in which the gift of confidence can help students of all ages as well as adults engaged in creative enterprises. Finally, we look at ways in which the gift of confidence can provide an important component of educational reform efforts.