signs and symbols

As you begin to approach the study of ‘quantitative’ methods, prepare yourself for the challenge, but more importantly, put yourself at ease. Consider that each of us is competent. Humans have created systems and symbolic languages to help us understand one another more clearly. Descriptive and inferential statistical methods are human-made systems, that make use of specific signs and symbols that ‘represent’ various relationships and ideas. Unless you are in the practice of using these signs and symbols on a regular basis, they will not be familiar to you. But do not let this trouble you. Do not think that you are not capable of learning or understanding. First, understand that there are these symbols, and acknowledge that you will need to get to know them better, and with time, and practice, (and desire) you will develop your skill at reading and using them.

© 2012 Suzanne Flannery Quinn

Froebel’s notion of the spiritual quality of play

Friedrich W. A. Froebel was a 19th Century German educationalist, and founder of the ‘kindergarten’ (c. 1840). His ideas about early care and education have a legacy that has spread throughout the world. Based on his writing in the Education of Man, Froebel ‘yearned’ to foster a harmonious development of young children. This harmonious development was centred around the concept of spiritual – physical – intellectual ‘unity.’

Froebel saw education as an interaction with the environment/surroundings. He believed that the natural environment had a special significance to a person’s unfolding understanding of the unity and harmony of all things. Froebel believed that an essential means of engagement with the natural environment was in the form of ‘play.’ He accorded play as an expression of our spirituality, and is well known for articulating the following sentiment:

 

‘Play, then, is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in the child’s soul. It is the purest and most spiritual product of the child, and at the same time it is a type and copy of human life at all stages and in all relations. So it induces joy, freedom, contentment, inner and outer repose, peace with all the world. From it flows all good. A child who plays vigorously, freely, and quietly, and who persists till he is thoroughly tired, will of a certainty grow into a capable and quietly persistent man, ready to sacrifice his own present ease when a higher good for himself or for others demands it’ (Forebel, c. 1826, trans 1912, pp. 50-51).

 

Froebel F. (c1826, trans. 1912). Froebel’s Chief Writings on Education (Rendered into English) S. S. F. Fletcher and J. Welton (trans). London: Edward Arnold.

 

©2012 Suzanne Flannery Quinn

Vygotsky’s ‘ZPD’

Vygotsky is well known for proposing the concept of a ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ which is a concept of how (in Vygotsky’s view) a child’s disorganized and ‘spontaneous’ concepts are met by or joined up with an adult’s systematic and logical ideas.
 
Vygotsky describes the ZPD as ‘the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers’ (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86).
 
The concept of ZPD was adopted most notably by American Psychologists Rogoff and Wertsch (and many others) to explain how a child’s development is assisted by adults and more experienced peers.
 

Vygotsky, L. (1978) edited by M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman. Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. London: Harvard University Press.

©2012 Suzanne Flannery Quinn

 

A Vygotskian perspective on children’s thoughts:

According to Vygotsky, children’s thoughts begin as practical ‘concepts’ and undergo changes as the child acquires the ability to use words to ‘think.’
 
He explains: ‘the most significant moment in the course of intellectual development, which gives birth to the purely human forms of practical and abstract intelligence, occurs when speech and practical activity, two previously completely independent lines of development, converge’ (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 24)
 

Vygotsky, L. (1978) edited by M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman. Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. London: Harvard University Press.

©2012 Suzanne Flannery Quinn

‘Words cannot be put on by thought like a ready-made garment’

‘A child’s thought, precisely because it is born as a dim, amorphous whole, must find expression in a single word. As his thought becomes more differentiated, the child is less apt to express it in single words, but constructs a composite whole. Conversely, progress in speech to the differentiated whole of a sentence helps the child’s thoughts to progress from a homogeneous whole to well-defined parts. Thought and word are not cut from one pattern, In a sense, there are more differences than likenesses between them. The structure of speech does not simply mirror the structure of thought; that is why words cannot be put on by thought like a ready-made garment. Thought undergoes many changes as it turns into speech. It does not merely find expression in speech; it finds its reality and form’ (Vygotsky, 1986, pp. 219-220).

Vygotsky, L. trans A Kozulin (rev. ed. 1986) Thought and Language. London: MIT Press.

The relationship between thoughts and words

The relation of thought to word is not a thing but a process, a continual movement back and forth from thought to word and from word to thought. In that process, the relation of thought to word undergoes changes that themselves may be regarded as development in the functional sense. Thought is not merely expressed in words; it comes into existence through them. Every thought tends to connect something with something else, to establish a relation between things. Every thought moves, grows and develops, fulfils a function, solves a problem. This flow of thought occurs as an inner movement through a series of planes. An analysis of the interaction of thought and word must begin with an investigation of the different phases and planes a thought traverses before it is embodied in words’ (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 218).

Vygotsky, L. trans A Kozulin (rev. ed. 1986) Thought and Language. London: MIT Press.

 

Vygotsy’s thoughts on concepts and words (in his words)

‘The child becomes conscious of his spontaneous concepts relatively late; the ability to define them in words, to operate with them at will, appears long after he has acquired the concepts. He has the concept (i.e., knows the object to which the concept refers), but is not conscious of his own act of thought.’ (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 192).

Vygotsky, L. trans A Kozulin (rev. ed. 1986) Thought and Language. London: MIT Press.

Vygotsky’s ideas and legacy

Some aspects of Vygotsky’s theorising about Thought and Language (one aspect of his theorsing):
–Language is a tool of culture
–Language is used to communicate ideas
–Communication requires thought
–Language (as a tool of culture) is a mediator between constituents in a communication act
 
•Language allows us to take a ‘symbolic inventory’ of experience (citing Saphir, see Vygotsky, 1986, p. 8)
 
•Words are not symbols of singular sensations, but of ‘concepts’ (again borrowing from Saphir, see Vygotsky, 1986, p. 8)
 
•You must understand a concept in order to have a word for it… (or to understand the word for it…) but you must have the words to be able to manipulate the concepts.
 

Vygotsky, L. trans A Kozulin (rev. ed. 1986) Thought and Language. London: MIT Press.

©2012 Suzanne Flannery Quinn

 

Vygotskian theory: How is cognition developed in children?

Another major theorist in the area of children’s cognitive development was Lev Vygotsky.
 
Vygotsky and Piaget were born the same year, but Vygotsky lived a shorter life (he died in 1934; Piaget died nearly 50 years after that).
As a result, Vygotsky had much less time to write!
In addition, he lived and worked in Russia, and the global political climate in his era was not as conducive to the sharing of his ideas as it was for Piaget.
 
Still, his ideas are well known and widely used.
 

©2012 Suzanne Flannery Quinn

(going beyond) Piaget’s ‘stages’

Piaget (and his colleague Inhelder) are well known for proposing a detailed series of stages of cognitive development. These stages are based on close observations of children. The stages represent qualitative changes in children’s ability to use operations and schemas in the process of cognition.
 
Piaget’s theory of stages is well known, and widely criticized.
The ‘stages’ are described (and oversimplified) in most introductory textbooks on child development.
 
It is important to read primary sources to get a feel for the complexity of the theory:
 
–Inhelder, B. And Piaget, J. trans A. Parsons and S. Milgram (1958). The growth of logical thinking from childhood to adolescence: An essay on the construction of formal operational structures. New York: Basic Books.
 
–Inhelder, B. And Piaget, J. (1965). The early growth of logic in the child: Classification andseriation. New York: Norton.
 
–Piaget, J. trans. M. Piercy and D. E. Berlyne (1950). The Psychology of Intelligence. London and New York: Routledge.
 
–Piaget, J. trans. M. Cook (1953). The origin of intelligence in the child. London: Routledge.

©2012 Suzanne Flannery Quinn