Contexts for Learning: Sociocultural Dynamics in Children's Development

By Ellice A. Forman; Norris Minick et al. | Go to book overview

5
Creating and Reconstituting Contexts for Educational Interactions, Including a Computer Program

PEG GRIFFIN, ALEXANDRA BELYAEVAI, GALINA SOLDATOVA, and the VELIKHOV-HAMBURG COLLECTIVE

The sense of a word . . . is the sum of all the psychological events aroused in our consciousness by the word. It is a dynamic, fluid, complex whole, which has several zones of unequal stability. Meaning is only one of the zones of sense, the most stable and precise zone. A word acquires its sense from the context in which it appears; in different contexts it changes its sense. [ Vygotsky, 1986, pp. 244-45]

We take Vygotsky's description of sense as a suggestion, perhaps an invitation, to study context carefully. Vygotsky argued for the importance to educators of the relation between the contexts in which children participate and the concepts they acquire ( Vygotsky, 1986, pp. 190-209). The other members of his troika during the early part of this century, Luria and Leont'ev, produced works rich in descriptions of context in which the practical activities of the researcher and the subjects and pragmatic realities from the wider world intermingle with basic theory: Luria's "romantic science" ( 1979) and Leont'ev's "leading activities" ( 1981) can hardly be considered without evoking images of Zasetsky and World War II ( Luria, 1972) or the day-today jokes and bickering as families and peer groups shop, play, and face homework assignments ( Leont'ev, 1981, Section 3). Vygotskians of the next generation (e.g., Davidov, 1988a,b,c; El'konin, 1975; Meshcheryakov, 1979) have concentrated on contexts within which children grow and develop through play and learning activities, necessarily including detailed descriptions of specific content domains, concrete cultural artifacts (e.g., materials and equipment), and the sociohistorical situation. In a framework that emphasizes sociogenesis (the origin of an individual's psychological functions in the social, cultural, and historical world), it is not surprising that Vygotsky, his colleagues, and his followers called on contextual variations as they studied human development and remediation. This framework has influenced our work, leading us to examine more closely the state of research involving contexts and to become involved in the specific details of con-

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