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SCHOOL AND INSTRUCTION - ARE THEY REVOLUTIONARILY
Nowadays the discussion about schools and instruction is a major
theme in reflecting the applicability of the cognitive
approach. Most texts are based on specific empirical studies,
and try to describe and understand some particular learning
or educational question. Despite many attempts, there has not
been very remarkable success: "... no revolutionary improvements
in the design of instruction have as yet been derived from such
research (Ohlson, 1990, 561)."
The Gibsonian ecological psychology has radically criticized
cognitive approaches (Gibson,1979, 238-263; Turvey, Shaw, Reed &
Mace, 1981), but one might also ask, if it has anything to offer
with regard to the practical questions of behavior. However, in
this paper, I shall take the Gibsonian approach as a starting
I shall begin by reflecting on the ecological conception of
learning and proceed to questions of social perception and,
especially, social affordances. These work as inspirative
instruments in an effort to critically surmise today's school
and produce fresh ideas for developing the school system and
LEARNING: WHAT IS IT
When we try to examine school and instruction, it is natural to
start with the question of learning. The task of school and
instruction is to help and support students to learn. The
question is: what is learning and what kind of learning does
school and instruction afford?
Within the ecological interpretation, learning, as a quality of
the human being, is an ecosystemic phenomenon (Michaels &
Carello, 1981; Turvey & Shaw, 1979). Learning takes place in a
human - environment system. It is not an event, which goes on
inside the individual. The human environment is primarily
social. There are, of course, physical and natural surroundings,
but they are normally encountered with other people.
As social event, learning can be compared to evolution (Michaels
& Carello, 1981). It is not a long-term event such as evolution,
but it lasts throughout life, in that he/she participates in
his/her community and society. As an evolution-like phenomenon,
learning is an adaptive process in(side) the social environment
that the individual takes part in (Johnston & Turvey, 1980).
Learning can be defined as an adaptive and social process in the
human-environment system. As social beings we interact with
other people. It is our normal every-day situation. In the
interaction we perceive, first and foremost, what is most
essential to our adaptive activity. For instance, anger and
anxiety are perceived first, because they are most essential to
a person's adaptive behavior (McArthur & Baron, 1983, 219-220).
What is essential to our adaptive behavior, depends on the
culture and social setting we are participating in. In addition,
the significance of adaptation is in maintaining survival to
carry out the goal attainment of the individual.
But what do we mean by saying that learning is social and
adaptive. To answer that question one has to examine and focus
on the ecological conception of social perception and social
affordances. Thematically it could be suggested that adaptive
learning is learning to perceive and use social affordances.
(People, of course, perceive natural objects and events and
also those made by themselves, but the human situation is that
normally people perceive them in a shared social environment).
In the educational context it could be said that school and
instructional instruments, operations and processes are social
affordances which students learn to perceive and use.
SOCIAL PERCEPTION AND SOCIAL AFFORDANCES
Social perception might be understood in two ways: 1) as
perception of other people (visual aspects, age, gender,
movement etc.; the intentions and attentions of others; emotions
etc.), 2) as a socially constituted phenomenon (perceiving takes
place in a particular society, in specific communities, social
groups and in interaction with other people) (cf. Valenti &
Social perception is perceiving of social affordances. In the
following I shall concentrate on the description of social
A classic example of social affordances is Gibson's (1979) post-
box. It is an affordance which includes the whole postal system
from writing a letter to receiving and reading it. Initially
little children do not perceive it as a postbox, but learn it
through enculturation (see Smith & Ginsburg, 1989, 36).
Actually all human made products are social affordances like
the postbox, their systemic expanse may vary, but they remain
It is possible to state that all physical cultural objects,
places and events are social affordances, and to perceive them
directly, without mental mediation. Together with physical
products one has to think of other people as social affordances,
Ecologically oriented research has perceived that there are
individual and interaction aspects within people, which can be
directly perceived (reviewed for instance in McArthur & Baron,
1983; Baron & Boundreau, 1987; Smith & Ginsburg, 1989; Valenti &
Good, 1991). They are social affordances, which can be detected
via invariants in faces, postures and gestures, behavioral
movements, voices, and in interaction and cooperation
These studies have also revealed that the perceiver can pick up
the age, gender and the style of movement (walking for instance)
from the stimulus information the person offers. It has also
been indicated that the perceiver can detect what a person is
going to do (intentions) and on what he/she has focused his/her
Emotions are also social affordances, i.e., anger affords avoid-
ing and joy encourages approaching. Also personal abilities or
dispositions are detectable: dominance, shyness, aggressiveness,
nurtureness etc. However, the detection of these dispositions
is possible only in dyads or groups, not in single persons.
When a person is perceived as an affordance, it might be
possible that the personal type could also be picked up
directly from the stimulus array the person includes in himself
(Baron & Boudreau, 1987). Baron and Boudreau also suggest that
it might be better to see attitudes as affordances, when
considering their function in social interaction. It could be
intuitively asked, if values are also directly detectably from
the stimulus array that the person contacted affords.
Linguistic expressions could also be interpereted as
affordances (see Verbrugge, 1985; Chapter III). It could be
suggested that they are primarily social affordances. The
understanding and use of language have developed and develop in
social settings, where people have learned and learn to detect
the associations of perceptual-actional objects, places and
events, and the linguistic expressions that indicate them, and
then, gradually learn to use them predicatively (see also Dent,
1990 and Zukow, 1990). Words and sentences are the same kind of
social affordances as for instance "Gibson's postbox". They are
more or less complex social arrangements, and are perceived
directly (if they are!) as the postbox is perceived as a whole
In social encounters we interact and cooperate with each other.
In these encounters we perceive the dynamic structure of
intentions, attentions, emotions, personality expressions etc.
Through perceiving those social affordances, their structure and
changes, it is possible for us to detect the interaction and
cooperation that the situation requires, and to adapt ourselves
to them. It could be said that interaction and cooperation are
also social affordances that the person in interaction and
cooperation is able to perceive and then to behave in accordance
with his or her perception.
Using language - speaking, asking, answering etc. and
discussion - is an essential part of communication. It might be
thought that linguistic communication as a totality is also a
social affordance. It affords something and can be detected
from the social setting, where the communication takes place.
What it might afford, is a research question, which has not yet
been - as far as I know - answered.
However, it could be suggested that communication affords that
specific linguistic society or community, wherein the
individuals are participating, and it's manner of perception
and behavior. Using "Gibsonian jargon" it could be said
that communication affords the perceptual-actional attunement of
the linguistic community. Linguistic communication in some
science society, the way of discussion in some industrial work
society, and the language of instruction and studying in some
school affords it's perceptual-actional attunement.
The description of social affordances can be summarized by the
┤ ┌──────────────────────────────┐ │
│encounters in │ physical objects, places │ │
│social context │ and events in social setting │ │
│(adaptation) <─>└──────┬─────┬─────────────────┘ │
│ │ │ │ │
│ ┌──────────────────┴─────┴─────────────────┐ │
│ │ people/companions │ │
│ │ in social setting │ │
│ │ -intentions - interaction and │ │
│ │ -attentions cooperation │ │
│ │ -perceptual structures │ │
│ │ awareness to be - communication │ │
│ │ realised in structures │ │
│ │ language use │ │
│ │ -emotions │ │
│ │ -personality │ │
│ │ dispositions and │ │
│ │ type │ │
│ │ -attitudes │ │
│ │ -values │ │
│ └──────────────────────────────────────────┘ │
Figure 1: The complex of social affordance.
This summary is to be interpreted as the physical environment
and social reality being perceived directly as they objectively
exist, and they are used to adapt to that social situation,
which is formed by those specific physical and other people's
social affordances that the social setting includes.
The nature of social affordances
Affordances are historical and contextual, especially social
affordances (Reed, 1989). This means that when considering the
nature of social affordances, one has to study their involvement
with the developing and actual culture. They are culturally
mediated, which does not mean mental mediation.
On "a macro level" social affordances and their perception is
entangled with the existing culture, for instance, western. A
book, for instance is quite a different social affordance for
an American and a Finn than for a member of some primitive
culture. But it might be different for an American and Finn,
too. In American and Finnish culture the book might have a
different status for the average person, and for that reason
the perceptual-actional attunement to the book is dissimilar
for Americans and Finns.
On "a middle level" the attunement to social affordances is
bound to a real and actional functional gathering of interacting
people. It could be called the attunement enveloped by the
community. Let us take a book as an example again. In an
university community a book is a part of the scientific system:
research, reporting, popularizing. As an instrument of
university work a book is encountered for instance in
preparing for exams (reading), in making summaries, as a
source of studies etc. They all form the perception and use of
a book in a way that is specific to the scientific community.
In every-day use, in life or residental communities, a book is
a social arrangement, which includes a writer, printing house,
bookshop, library etc. For the average person a book might be a
status object, it is associated with free time, for instance.
This kind of aspect might form the perception and use of the
book, which is specific to the inhabiting communities of
In school communities a book has it's own "habitus". It is part
of the whole school system: an instrument for teaching and
learning, a source of tasks, a substance for exams etc. For a
student it is mainly a given object of the school system, not an
object of self interest. It is a tool for studying and
especially for spending time with homework. These
characteristics constitute the perception and use of the book,
which is particular to school communities.
When a social affordance is examined from within some social
group, on "a micro level", its perception receives finer
substance for attunement. If we imagine that there are three
subgroups in the classroom - those who conscientiously
participate in formal instruction, those who are interested in
the subject outside the school (e.g. rock-fans) and students,
for whom sports is "a question of life", and think what kind
of affordance a book might be afforded to them, we could get the
The concientiously participating perceive and use a book as an
important working instrument, rock-fans perceive and use it as a
belittled tool and athletes perceive and use it as a selectively
interesting instrument. These are presumed descriptions only,
but it is possible to show by them, how the social affordances
are constituted in particular social groups or subgroups.
Personal values, intentions, emotions etc. also "colour" the
attunement to perceive and work with affordances. You might see
a book as an object into which one enters into. It might be an
object in which one sinks emotionally or reads as an outsider.
The book could be glanceable, utilizeble etc.
THE ORIGIN OF SOCIAL AFFORDANCES
In the previous chapter I described how social affordances are
contextual and historical. In brief this means that social
affordances are born and develop in historically changing
interaction and cooperation situations, in which people take
Human interaction and cooperation are behaviors which might be
called intentional. They are not activity in itself, but
activity which somehow is directed to something. The goal of the
activity might be unconscious, but it has some more or less
obvious goal. And when the task is to consider the origin or
genesis of social affordances, attention has to focus on the
question of intentions and intentionality.
Intentionality contexts as roots for social affordances
According to Reed (1989), and Turvey and Kugler (1987)
intentions can be crystallized as follows: intentions are
realized in the relationships of agent and his/her task
environments, they are the processual ability of the agent, who
is perceiving and performing in some task context. The essential
thing in trying to define intentions is the content of
intentions (see Searle, 1983: "conditions of satisfaction"). As
an experienced phenomenon intentions are some kind energy or
force, which individuals have, but that does not tell much about
the substantial quality of intentions. It has to find out, what
really is the content of intentions.
In this paper I will just present a definition of intentions as
a given thing (for a more detail reflection, see chapter IV;
about the question of the intention to use affordances, see
Reed, 1989). The content of intentions is the activity, which
individuals alone or as social partners or groups maintain in
the human-environment system.
For instance, when I intend to write about social affordances,
the content of my intention is the process of the activity,
which I carry out when I read texts about social affordances,
when I think about them, and when I write about them. The
content of my intention to write about social affordances is
also formed in the discussions and cooperation which I have
with my colleagues, and in the communicative interaction in
conference groups or the like, in which I participate to deepen
my conceptions about social affordances.
These more or less social situations, in which activities
happen, are intentionality contexts, in which social affordances
are born and develop. If we think about ecological social
realities in which people participate - especially family, peer
and interest group situations, and school, work and free time
communities - they are those intentionality contexts, mentioned
above, and social affordances are firmly established in them.
Cultural and communal environments, and social settings have
to be examined as situations, which "create" both the
observeable social affordances and the attunement of individuals
to perceive and use social affordances. The former are examined
earlier in this paper, and I shall now briefly consider the
The content of the activity (or the actual interaction and
cooperation or the intentionality context), might be the kind
that constitutes the perceptual-actional attunement of
aspirement or creating a career and competition. This kind of
attunement contributes to the perception, action, interaction
and cooperation, in which the affordances are encountered. For
instance a colleague might be perceived as an opponent, not as a
partner of cooperation.
Intentionality contexts might also constitute the attunement of
reclaiming expectations or established aims, the attunement
of finding and developing oneself, the attunement of
indifference or insignificance etc., and these attunements are
the basis for encountering other people for example as
authorities, companions or "non-persons" etc. Of course it is
possible to see a different kind of attunement than the
previously mentioned. They are my personal examples of
attunement that intentionality contexts might "produce".
After this general discussion about intentionality contexts as
the origins of social affordances, I will proceed to the
contemplation of schools as intentionality contexts, which
constitute social affordances of the school today.
THE SCHOOL AS AN INTENTIONALITY CONTEXT: THE QUALITY OF SCHOOL
It might already sound tautological to say that school - as
every other social institute - basically grows from the
interaction and cooperation people implement, and it might be
claimed that the interaction and cooperation people upheld in
school has to made explicit. This is worth doing, but in this
presentation I will not concentrate on it and just take for
granted that interaction and cooperation are the basis of
intentionality and social affordances.
The school is a culture institute, and has especially developed
in the industrial world. It is an essential part of industrial
(division of labour) societies. One of the important features of
industrial societies is that all segments of life are
institutionally distributed: the school is a place for education
and training, work places are a habitat for survival and produc-
tion, free time events are also diverged as many kinds of
institutional spheres which try to uphold a meaningful life
that has a tendency to disappear in the scattering process of
the industrial (modern) life style.
As a fragment of industrial life, school retains the
splintering of society. School has the interaction and
cooperation forms, which are specific to the schools of the
industrial world, and that is why the school can or has to be
apart from the other spheres of society. That means that,
interpreted as intentionality context, the content of
interaction and cooperation, which goes on in the schools,
creates and develop social affordances, which afford
differentiateness. The perception and use of these affordances
educates attunement, which has the quality of spliting and
Interpreted as a culture institute the school is part of the
whole industrial world. The school can also be interpreted as a
social institute, which means that the interaction and
cooperation that takes place in the school maintain the economic
and ideological purposes the society has. In western societies
these goals are the reproducing of the labour force, the
retaining of the existing power and submission relationships,
and the isolation of teachers and students from the external
society and their preservation into an "introvert" school.
The interaction and cooperation forms that function as means of
economic and ideological purposes of western societies, generate
and elaborate the intentionality contexts of the school in the
western industrial world.
The reproduction of the labour force and the interaction and
cooperation forms included in it create and develop an
intentionality context that can be described as a maintenance
of the dominating society and the relationships in it. This kind
of intentionality context is the basis on which social
affordances arise, and where one perceives and works with them.
There are, of course, many social affordances in this kind
social context, but their quality could be defined as following
the social behavior of previous generations: school as a social
institute affords the repeating of the existing social
The retaining of the existing power and submission relationships
produces and keeps up social layers, and preserves authority
structures that are included in society. As an intentionality
context the interaction and coordination activities, which these
power and submission relationships constitute, can be depicted
as the supporting of inequality and the demanding of obedience.
The social affordances, which rise from this kind of activity,
have the character of subserviency. It is also the sound of the
attunement or resonation, which this kind of intentionality
The isolation and preservation means that the interaction and
cooperation is directed at the internal processes and problems
of the school. The orientation to the external questions of the
society is only a curiosity. Students, for instance, might have
a task to analyse and describe the content of a newspaper.
The activities in the situation of isolation and preservation
maintain artificial group coherence, because "the work, which is
done at school", has no relevance to real activities in
society - school work is almost always some kind game of
outsiders. Artificial coherence is actually real anguishing
loneliness, and there are also many students and teachers, who
are in fact alone in the schools today.
It could be noted that schools, which have a stutus of isolation
and preservation, are the intentionality context of a solitary
and individual (private) interaction and cooperation. In fact,
it means that the activity, which occurs in an atmosphere of
isolation and preservation affords no interaction and
cooperation, but privateness. It is also the "colour" of
attunement, which this kind of intentionality context
After describing the school as an intentionality context of the
existing culture and society, I will proceed to the study of the
teaching and learning situations of the school.
The school includes two main interaction and cooperation
processes: the mediation of a subject matter (knowledge) and
social participation (see for a more detailed examination
chapter II). I suggest that they are fullfilled as unconnected
processes. It can be observed for instance by examining how they
go on in the structures of the work at schools. The mediating of
subject matter happens in accordance with the structure of the
curriculum: periods of teaching of some subject. The social
participation in school life takes place in accordance with a
timetable structure: lesson, break, lesson etc., school day,
school week etc. This means that mediating the subject matter
and participating in school life do not run into each other;
they proceed in different cycles.
These two interaction and cooperation processes of schools are
the basis for my interpretation of the intentionality contexts
which the teaching and learning situations of the school might
generate (see Chapter IV for the more detailed treatment of the
It might be felt that the primary activity of school is mainly
focused on mediating subject matters or social participation.
The first mentioned is a situation, where the teacher
transmits the teaching substance (knowledge) to the students,
who are the objects of transmitting. The teacher is the
distributor of knowledge, and his/her task is to carry out the
cognitive instruction. The teaching is teacher-centered. I call
this kind of interaction an event of distribution of know-
The student's activity might be more durable than that which
takes place during instruction, which barely transmits
knowledge. The students can acquire the required knowledge by
themselves. The teacher's duty is to put forth materials for
acquiring knowledge and to guide students. The teaching is
student-centered. This kind of interaction I call an event of
The interaction might also have a content, by which there is an
attempt to mediate the cognitive substance through social
interplay. In a way a teacher is the leader of a social group,
and the task of the students is to handle the cognitive matter
in social events. This kind of interaction I call an event of
social interaction, which is cognitively oriented.
If the focus of interaction is on social cooperation and
interplay, it means that the teaching situation is understood as
one event in a shared social life among teachers and students.
The cognitive aims and activity do not have a specific purpose;
they become the content of interaction, if the situation allows
it. The teacher is an equal adult member of the group, and the
primary task of the group is the developing of social relations
and group forming. This kind of interaction might be called an
event of social interaction, which does not have a specific
The described types of teaching and learning interaction (of
course they are mixed many ways in real settings) are the field
for intentionality contexts that the school settings include.
The instruction, which transmits knowledge can be characterised
as repeating and imitating. The students are mainly passive.
The participation is external: a teacher repeats the given subs-
tance and students are subjectless objects. Sociability is not
permitted into a teaching situation. Both the teacher and
students have to mask it in their behavior which means the
denying or nullifying of oneself as a social being. The
interaction is mainly the encountering of the things to teach
and learn, not human intercourse.
This kind of relationship between agents and their interaction
environment creates an intentionality context, which is possible
to define as extinguished reactivity to "ready offered" teaching
substance. Teaching is a reacting activity to fulfil the trans-
mitting of the required knowledge. Studying is a reacting
answering and the like to the reactions of a teacher. The
reactions of teachers and students are extinguished, because
they do not have internal motivation to interact.
The extinguished reactivity is the basis for social affordances
of school events, which only transmits knowledge. It also gives
the quality for the attunement of individuals and the social
setting they establish.
In instruction, in which knowledge is acquired, the activity of
teachers and students is not independent, but controlled. A
teacher's activity is directed by cognitive aims, and the
actions of students by operations of the teacher. The social
events are used to implement instructional aims.
This kind of interaction and cooperation creates an
intentionality context, which I define as directed activity,
which is concentrated on tasks. It is the basis for social
affordances and attunement to them.
In instruction, which can be characterized as social
interaction and cognitively oriented, social participation is
the basis of the instruction. The instruction does not have an
"open" character, but there is an attempt to utilize it in
practicing cognitive instruction. Social participation is
manipulative and supervised.
This conflict between real and instrumental participation
creates an intentionality context, which might be defined as
social cooperation, which takes place in the tension between
real and instrumental participation or in other words
conditional cooperation. This is the field where social
affordances develop, and they are perceived and used. It is
also a context wherein attention can be educated and attuned to
encounter social affordances.
In instruction, which takes place as social interaction, but
has no special cognitive function, social events are to be
participated in as they are happening. There is no attempt to
utilize them. The participation is personal, and cognitive tasks
and problems are born in this real participation.
This kind of interaction and cooperation generate an
intentionality context, which could be defined as social
cooperation which is maintained by personal interaction or in
short as authentic cooperation. It is the basis for social
affordances and the perceiving and using of them.
The social settings in teaching and learning activities are
nowadays- I would suggest - mainly the ones of either
transmitting or acquiring of knowledge. This means that the
intentionality contexts which take place in the school settings
are mostly ones which can be characterized as extinguished
reactivity to "ready offered" teaching substance and directed
activity which is concentrated on given tasks. They give the
quality for social affordances in these settings: the afforded
interaction and cooperation is external, passive, repeating and
controlled. If the interaction proceeds in trying to establish
real social participation, there is a tendency for it to be
realized as an instrumental activity and utilized for cognitive
It is now possible to draw a picture of social affordances
within the schools of today. As a culture and society institute,
the school affords differentiateness and attunement for
splitting and shattering oneself, the repeating of the existing
social arrangements, and the subserviency and privateness (not
interaction and cooperation). And the singular social settings
of schools afford only external, passive, repeating, controlled
and instrumental activity.
When considering the social affordances of the school developed
over the previous pages, it is essential to notice that they are
nested. What a single setting affords is nested in the
affordances the school has as a cultural and social institute.
All these social affordances are directly perceivable. They
might be only perceptual awareness, not conscious experience,
but they are - in any case - the world, which the teachers and
students encounter in their everyday life at school. They are
the social reality which educate the attention and attunement of
people who participate in today's schools.
Social affordances of the school and the hidden curriculum
The situation of the school described above from the perspective
of social affordances is examined especially by educational
sociologists (see Giroux, A., Penna, A., 1979; Apple, M., King,
N., 1977; Jackson, P., 1968). They point out that existing
social and economic institutions are maintained by the
curriculum system, classroom teaching and evaluation of today's
school (hidden curriculum).
The normative and dispositional social and economic meanings
(affordances) in the hidden curriculum are communicated to
students by the forms of interactions of school life. Students
internalize (become attuned to) the values of respecting
authority, punctuality, cleanliness, docility and conformity.
They learn to be members of crowds, potential receivers of
praise or reproof, and pawns of institutional authorities.
This all happens in the life of today's school, which affords
waiting to use resources, posponing or giving up desires, being
quiet, being isolated in a crowd, being patient with respect to
authority, suffering in silence, and bearing the continued
delay, denial and interruption of personal wishes and desires.
Is it possible to see an alternative? Educational sociologists
(see e.g. Aronowitz, S., Giroux, H., 1991) have tried to
approach the solution of school problems by developing a new
image of the teacher. S/he is especially a public intellectual,
who tries to be a critical member of the whole society, not only
a participant in a school institute. This work is to be done by
using border pedagogy, which educates critical and independent
citizens. But what would be the alternative, and having it's
roots in the ecological conception of learning and sociability?
I will next proceed to examine that question.
LEARNING AND INSTRUCTION RESTATED
The ecological conception about learning rests on sociability.
Learning is a social phenomenon, which happens in all those
interaction and cooperation situations where people are and
work together. The social situation determines what kind of
learning could take place. In the previous pages I have provided
a brief outline of learning situations which are common in the
western school system of today.
The interpretation of school affordances has been critical. Is
it possible to see some other alternative? Could the ecological
point of view offer new social situations and contexts, where
pedagogy inspired by the Gibsonian approach could take place.
The modification of the Zone of Proximal Development
My starting point in this work is the idea of the Zone of
Proximal Development. It's origin is in the Vygotskian
tradition (Vygotski, 1978; Wertsch, 1984; Valsiner, 1984). Reed
(1989) has given new substance to it from an ecological
perspective. I will now proceed first to briefly describe the
Vygotskian conception of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)
and then present the modulation of it made by Reed, and finally
my own interpretation.
Vygotsky (1978,86) defines ZPD as "the distance between the
actual developmental level as determined by individual problem
solving and the level of potential development as determined
through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration
with more capable peers. The Zone of Proximal Development
defines those functions that have not yet matured but are in the
process of maturation, functions that will mature tomorrow but
are currently in an embryonic state. These functions could be
termed the "buds" or "flowers" of development rather than the
"fruits" of development."
In the neo-vygotskian movement Wertsch (1984) for instance has
focused on the problem of guidance carried out by adults and
cooperation with more capable peers. He proposes that to
understand the mechanism of guidance and cooperation, it has to
comprehend the situation definition, intersubjectivity and
semiotic mediation, which takes place in learning and
instruction processes inside the ZPD. The development through
the ZPD can be explained as redefinition of the situation. It
happens through intersubjectivity of learners and adult and
peers. The intersubjectivity, in which the redefinition occurs,
is carried out through semiotic mediation.
Tharp and Gallimore (1988, 33-39) examine ZPD in the school
context. They describe four stages of ZPD, through which
assisting performance develops. In the first stage, performance
is assisted by more capable others, and the task of that stage
is the transferring from the regulation of others to
self-regulation in assisting. During the second stage, the
performance is assisted by oneself (speaking aloud for
instance). However, this does not mean that performance is fully
developed or automatized. In the third stage, the performance is
developing and automatized. It is not dependent on others or
self-assistance. Inside the fourth stage, the performance
might de-automatize, which leads to falling to previous stages.
Tharp and Gallimore note "that de-automatization and recursion
occur so regularly that they constitute the fourth stage in the
normal development process".
Valsiner's (1984, 66-67) model of ZPD has connections to the
Gibsonian approach. He writes that the idea that "the structure
of child's environment defines the set of possible actions that
are available to the child at the given state of environment ...
is closely related to the concept of affordance in contemporary
ecological psychology." According to Valsiner "the major
function of adult-child interaction from the perspective of
child development lies in the regulation of child-environment
Valsiner develops Vygotskian ZPD as following: it consists of
the Zone of Free Movement (ZFM) and the Zones of Promoted
Actions (ZPA). The ZFM structures the child's access to
different areas in the environment, and it is a changing and
socially constructed structure of the child-environment
relationship. Inside the ZFM it is possible to specify subzones
that organize the child-environment relationship further. These
are the ZPA, where assistants attempt to promote certain actions
with particular objects and events.
Reed (1989, 36) takes the previously mentioned concepts of
Valsiner as starting points, when he develops the ecological
modification of the Zone of Proximal Development. He enlarges
them to systemic human-environment fields, inside which
development goes on. He calls them Field of Promoted Action
(FPA) and Field of Free Action (FFA).
The FPA encompasses the affordances to which a child`s (or
adult`s) attention and activities are directed by others. The
orientation is done through encouragement and indication that
ones fellow men carry out in social interaction. The FFA
encompasses affordances and activities, which the individual is
capable of working on by himself/herself, and which one is
permitted to do by social circumstances.
The FPA and FFA comprise the Zone of Proximal Development.
Learning and development happen inside that zone, when the FPA
attains more refinement and sophistication and, at the same
time, there is an overall increase in the FFA. It is essential
to notice that FPA and FFA are indistinguishable. They are
fields, which are interlocked in the social intercourse of -
conscious or unconscious - assisting performance.
Although Reed has been positively influenced by the Vygotskian
concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), he also
criticizes it. He notes (1989, 37) that from an ecological
point of view, the notion of ZPD as a general range, reflecting
the general difference between a child`s individual cognitive
function and that same child`s ability to function with
instruction, is not viable. He thinks that ZPD emerges only
in highly channelled and specialized environments. The emergence
of ZPD is dependent on different skills, and it is strongly
affected by ecological, cultural and individual factors.
For these reasons he argues that "there is no general ZPD, only
specific ZDPs for different skills, reflecting particular
relationships that emerge between FPAs and FFAs".
Could the ZPD be connected in natural situations of intercourse?
When learning is understood primarily as adaptation to life and
activity surroundings, the idea of ZPD has to be considered in
customary social environments: family, groups of interest and
free time, work communities. Could they be environments, which
are both highly channelled and specialized?
A family as a social environment is not a specialized learning
environment. However, from the point of view of the growth and
development of a child, s/he is continuously - consciously or
unconsciously - guided to learn new values, norms and habits of
behavior. The fields of free and promoted actions are not always
conscious, but in any case, they are the reality of every-day
activity, according to which the quality of interaction (free
and to be promoted or promoted) is constituted.
Interest and free time groups, and communities are also environ-
ments for new learning. Purposeful instruction and learning
situations might be part of interest groups, and also within
the environs of free-time social intercourse learning might be
the existing reality. In other words, also the interest and
free- time surroundings can comprise unique ZPD, in which free
and promoted actions are interlocked as a developmental
In work communities the assisting of new and inexperienced
comrades in performing assignments is a natural phenomenon. Also
in them the "to be able to" and "to be learned" comprise a zone,
where interaction of employees is realized. The work activities
might of course be boring routines which will mean that the
willingness to promote and to receive support will weaken,
and then the existing intercourse could be depicted as "a field
of being prevented"
Through these discussions I have tried to show that the
dependence of the ZPD on highly channelled and specialized
environments does not mean only specific instruction and
learning situations. The ZPD can be realized in natural
interaction environments, or it might even be suggested that
authentic learning in social environments really happens in the
ZPDs, regardless of being labelled ZPDs. But how can Reed's
modification be connected to school learning?
I feel that Reed`s conception about the uniqueness of ZPD is
very essential, when considering pedagogical and instructional
consequences. Before considering this I would like to comment
briefly on the developmental substance included in the ZPD.
The substance of the Zone of Proximal Development
Vygotskian tradition has employed the ZPD primarily from the
perspective of cognitive or intellectual development. In Reed`s
modification the substance of development is the perception and
use of affordances, the education of attention to affordances
and the activities that the affordances of the situation could
In the ecological view the affordances and the use of them
already consist of emotions and different kind of social
activities and phenomena. Despite this, I think, one has to
emphasize that the development through ZPD is not only the
development of cognitive problem solving and the like, but it is
the developing of the entire person, wherein intellectual or
"cognitive" and emotional, actional and social factors belong as
a comprehensive unity.
From the perspective of thinking, feeling and doing, the unity
of a person (a student and a teacher, for instance) can be seen
as abilities of analysing, joining in and performing. Analysing
is a developing ability of perceiving and using "cognitive-
like" affordances. Joining in is a developing ability to be ac-
quainted with the emotional affordance structure of people and a
situation. Performing is a developing ability to work with
natural, human-made and social affordances.
Inside the field of free action, we encounter, or it is possible
to encounter, the abilities of the individuals, and the group
they constitute, to analyze, join in and perform. This FFA is
the basis for perceiving the potentionalities of people in the
situation to analyze etc., and to try to create the field of
promoted action for the development of the personal unity of the
abilities of analyzing, joining in and performing. The
realization of FPA takes place through assisting procedures
performed by the participants and the assistants in the
The Zone of Proximal Development as a teaching and learning
The Zone of Proximal Development is always unique. It always has
to discover and recreate. It has to find out what is the field
of free action in the situation; what is the free individual and
joint attunement or state of intentionality, and the ability to
perceive and use affordances. Through this it is possible to
try to enter into and observe the potential attunements and
abilities, and then to realize and establish the field of
promoted action. Let us take an example.
There is a group of students, who have to study the philosophy
of education. The realization of the FFA can take place as
follows. The teaching and studying begins with discussions about
personal experiences and views on the topics or themes which
have influenced students to form their conceptions about man,
reality, education, encountering other people etc. The students
tell about their feelings and impressions when reading
scientific literature and belles-lettres, enjoining and
consuming art and music presentations, familiarizing themselves
with educational thinkers, philosophers etc.
This kind of discussion reveals the field of free action, when
the purpose is to study the philosophy of education, for
instance. It also tells something about the possibilities to
proceed in trying to refine and sophisticate the conceptions of
the questions of the philosophy of education: the vista for the
field of promoted action. Together they are the unique zone of
the proximal development in the mentioned situation, and the
task of pedagogical efforts is to obtain it as conscious and
flexible as possible.
The example shows, I suppose, that the pedagogical or
instructional ZPD has to be created in a unique and authentic
social setting. In the school it is especially the task of
teachers. I shall try to reflect on that process briefly.
The first thing is to encourage the students (people) to "open"
or explicate their individual FFAs, and through that process to
focus on the FFA of the group in question. This cannot happen by
beginning to teach directly, but by encouraging the individuals
to express their acute and developmental states which they
brought to the studying situation. This might take place through
discussions, free performances and exercises, in an atmosphere
of open, unprejudiced and reliable interaction.
By this process of free expression, the FFA becomes public and
shared, which means that the attunement of the group and it`s
members, and shared social affordances are explicitly known. The
established FFA is the basis for a growing FPA. The expressions
of one member or a teacher might attune in another person
something, which for him/her means a promoted perception and
action. Through development - fast or slow - the grown FPA
changes into FFA, which is the ground for the growth of a "new"
FPA. Together they form the instructional ZPD.
The first phase in the creation and realization of instructional
ZPD is the explication of the FFA of the social setting in
question. The second phase is the recognition of the FPA
situation which happens through the definition of task of the
existing social setting.
For instance in the social setting of studying the philosophy of
education this transition, i.e. the task definition, might take
place as follows. On the basis of the discussed conceptions of
man, reality, education etc. the teacher can indicate how they
are individual views of the same questions that the philosophy
of education handles. S/he fixes the individual views to general
problems and concepts in the philosophy of education, and in
that way shows the study procedure. The content of the FFA is
already implicitly part of the common discussion of the
philosophy of education, which will be the substance of the
study course. The teacher makes public the FPA of the situation.
It has to be noticed here that the "creation" of FPA happens all
the time on the basis of students' authentic conceptions and
opinions (FFA), not programmatically on the basis of the
teacher's repertoire of questions about the philosophy of
The third phase is individual and shared working with tasks
discussed during the phase of task definition. It can take
place by individual and shared reading, and making references,
presenting papers and discussing relevant questions, debating
about them etc. During this working phase FPA might change into
a FFA (and that is the aim of the studying), which is the basis
for further FPAs.
During and after the working phase the evaluation of the
studying and learning processes takes place. It is not
evaluation from outside, e.g by exams or the like, but
discussion about the acute social biography of the participants
and the unique study group. The content of that discussion grows
from personal and shared views, how opinions and conceptions
explicated in the first phase have been refined and become more
sophisticated during the task definition and working phases.
This evaluation processually defines and redefines the actual
FFA and the growing FPA.
However, every teaching and learning situation is always unique.
For instance, the studying of the philosophy of education is one
entity. The course consists of separate settings, all are
unique, which means that the ZPD has to be created or realized
again every time the study group is together. If that is not
done, it means that the social setting cannot be a real setting
of studying educational philosophy (or some other subject), but
something else, which has (unconscious) aims and an
intentionality of it's own.
The realization of ZPDs is rooted in the intentionality context
that the quality of interaction and cooperation maintain. I have
discussed earlier about the intentionality contexts that are
common in the schools of today. I now claim that the ZPDs,
described above, can not be established in the intentionality
contexts of extinguished reactivity to "ready offered" teaching
substance and directed activity, which is concentrated on given
tasks. It is impossible, because there is no room for
broadcasting/announcing the individual and shared FFAs in them.
The social cooperation, which takes place in the tension between
real and instrumental participation, does allow the formation of
ZPDs, because of the free sociability of the starting point.
However, there is a risk that FFAs and FPAs are forced to be
established by the advice of a teacher. This is also a problem
in the previously mentioned example of the study group of the
philosophy of education.
If the teacher "compels" the students to direct their social
participation to some intellectual aims, it would mean that the
authentic ZPD, including emotional and social factors, cannot
emerge. An intentionality context of social cooperation, which
is maintained by personal interaction does not have that risk.
It might, however, cause an ZPD, inside which it is impossible
to handle the problems of the philosophy of education, for
instance. Nevertheless, it means that the established ZPD can
exist; it gives room for the "real" FFA, and the instruction
(e.g. social interaction and cooperation) has to proceed
according to it.
THE ZONE OF PROXIMAL DEVELOPMENT AND THE SCHOOL
From an ecological point of view the school situations are
contexts where teachers and students encounter and work
affordances which are not only explicite knowledge, but a
variety of all kinds of social phenomena. This means that there
is a conflict between creating an instructional ZPD and ZPD,
which is constituted by the authenticity of the situation. Is
this conflict possible to solve?
It is tempting to cry out a solution that pedagogically meaning-
ful ZPDs are out of question in the schools today. The school is
too formally defined (forms and contents of instruction, the
progress of instruction) that a successful ZPD could take place
and grow as a purposeful instructional ZPD. This extreme outcry
would mean that the whole school system must be modified. I
think that this kind of conclusion is justified. The school of
today has to be put under scrutiny.
However, I do not want to blunt myself by such an enormous task.
I should like proceed with small steps and to think that it is
possible to be directed towards the solution of the conflict
between authentic and instructional ZPD. It might simply be
that one can learn to perceive authentic ZPDs and then promote
them into instructional ZDPs inside the existing school system.
This will, however, require that the relationship between
teacher and students is seen in a new way.
The traditionally understood teacher-student relationship is
based on a situation, where a teacher has the knowledge and
skill of the subject or activity to be taught. By different
kinds of teaching methods s/he tries to teach them to students,
who do not have the knowledge and skills in question. This
arrangement includes a double dualism: 1) a teacher possesses
knowledge and skills separated from the environments where the
knowledge and skills do exist, 2) that possessed by a teacher
can be transferred to be possessed by students. This kind of
conception is criticized by a Gibsonian ecological view.
The application of the Gibsonian subject-environment reciprocity
or oneness to teacher-student relationships means that they can
be understood only as a unity, which is born and maintained by
the interaction and cooperation between teacher and students.
The teacher-student relationships are based on shared
affordances in the social settings in question. A teacher does
not distribute or mediate something which s/he has, but in
teacher-student relationships the shared perception and use of
(social) affordances of the situation is realized.
The shared encountering situation of affordances is based on the
practice of interaction and cooperation, which comes true in a
setting (see intentionality contexts above). The ability of a
teacher and students to analyze, join in and act receive their
expression in this interaction and cooperation practice.
However, they are not private properties of subjects, but unique
shared abilities constituted by the authenticity of the
situation. In this shared encountering of affordances the
solitary Zone of Proximal Development is born.
From the ecological perspective the basis of the encountering
of a teacher and students is not a teaching and learning
relationship, but the shared performance of a task, which takes
place in the situation. There is tension between the more
experienced (a teacher) and less experienced (a student).
Inside this tension a common activity is materialized as a
cooperation of individuals with different experiential
abilities, not as a distributing and receiving of possessed
knowledge and skill.
If we think of a class teacher activity in a classroom
situation, the shared task is primarily the participation in
social interaction. A teacher is more experienced in carrying
out the sociability, and in the living of the social life of the
class, the teacher`s behavior gets the students to perceive new
social affordances and to perform according to them.
The shared social activity develops individual and group
attunement of all participants to meet and act with more
sophisticated and multiplying affordances relevant to the
situation. In a situation of this kind, the teacher does not
teach, but the less experienced (students) and also the more
experienced (a teacher) learn in a shared activity.
The situation described reveals that learning takes place in an
authentic cooperation of more and less experienced
participants. Defined as a teacher-student relationship it is a
question of a master-apprentice relationship during
apprenticeship, in which the learning of students does not
happen specifically by teaching, but by cooperating with a more
experienced adult or peers (see Reed, 1991).
I have so far spoken only of the social intercourse as school
work and shared tasks. Is it not true that certain specific
learning tasks are proper school work, which take place in
social contexts? I think that this question in particular
includes the core of problems of traditional teaching and
The primary tasks of school work are not the specific learning
tasks, but the learning of sociability during cooperation. The
specific learning tasks are included in it, but they have to be
seen as subordinate to social cooperation.
When beginning school and during the class teacher system, a
teacher is primarily a master or expert in carrying out the
sociability (or s/he should be). Secondly s/he is an expert in a
subject matter of the school. How then does the "teaching" of
a subject matter take place?
When the basic task of a class teacher is putting social
expertise into practice, s/he becomes orientated to the subject
matter only through it. The mutual cooperation of a teacher and
students defines how the expertise and experience of a teacher,
with regard to reading, writing, counting, biology, geography,
history and natural sciences, becomes the content of the social
interaction and cooperation. For example, the teaching of
reading cannot be formed by specific learning tasks, but the
social intercourse arouses the cooperation, in which a teacher's
ability to read and to indicate affordances, which includes
reading, is the "substance" for learning. Students can learn
reading in cooperation, which has somehow focused on reading,
but which is not specifically teaching.
Nowadays it is a common phenomenon that many children learn to
read in natural interaction settings of homes and other environ-
ments without specific teaching. In principal school work
should be the same kind of natural cooperation without the
specific purpose to teach the subject matter by certain
What would this mean for the learning of contents of different
traditional school subjects is of course a difficult question
dealing with the developing of school practice. But it is a
question worth looking into, and there are some references in
the literature, in which learning and cognition taking place in
natural interaction settings are studied (see Lave, 1989).
The previously mentioned examination of the teacher-student
relationship as an expert-apprentice cooperation taking place
primarily as social participation, belongs mainly to the inter-
course inside a class teacher system. When subject teachers are
the more experienced experts in the mutual cooperation of
teacher and students, the implementation of a sociability is not
a teacher's basic task any more (although it is always very
essential). A subject teacher is an experienced performer of the
work tasks of his or her own knowledge and skill disciplines.
What does this mean in school practice?
Traditionally subject teachers teach their subject matters to
students in specific teaching situations. They are artificial,
although. For instance a biologist cannot be a biologist in a
teaching class, but only in performing the tasks of a biologist.
This means that subject teaching (e.g. biology) should be
developed in a direction that could occur in natural task
environments and situations.
The primary task of subject teachers should be the performing of
work tasks of his or her own discipline, and students would
participate in it as less experienced work comrades. This would
mean that learning would not happen by teaching, but by
cooperation, in which a teacher is an expert of her or his work
field, and where students would learn from the more experienced
when they perform shared tasks. This kind of arrangement could
also connect the school and the rest of society closer to each
other, because the shared tasks might somehow be associated to
needs and problems of the near-community and the whole society.
The teacher-student relationship has been defined as a master or
an expert-apprentice relationship, which takes place during ap-
prenticeship (e.g. school time). In addition it is based on coo-
peration, and not on the separateness of a teacher and students.
The developmental continuity is essential to it. It does not
commit itself only to separate teaching situations.
To summarize, the expert-apprentice relationships of the school
might by their content be of two kinds: they root themselves 1)
to a social intercourse, in which a teacher is mainly a social-
ly more mature and competent adult (a class teacher), 2) to
professional expertise, in which a teacher is mainly an
experienced professional of his or her knowledge and skill
discipline (a subject teacher).
The transformation of a teacher-student relationship from
social intercourse to cooperation based on expertise of some
discipline cannot happen radically. It can take place since
students have a need to proceed from school work, based on
social intercourse, to cooperation, based on professional
competence. This means that tight age and class levels, and
group forming has to be more flexible.
BACK TO BASICS
This examination has proceeded from studying social affordances
to a critique of the western school system, and beyond to the
searching for an alternative, inspired by Gibsonians, for the
arrangements of school and instruction. The Zone of Proximal
Development, modified from the neo-vygotkian conception, and the
regestalting of the teacher-student relationship, have been
established for the foundation of the instruction, which has its
roots in real socialility. Before ending this paper, I would
like to comment on the Gibsonian psychological basis of
interaction and cooperation, which takes place inside the Zone
of Proximal Development.
According to the cognitive conception the mental construction
made by agents is the basic event in teaching and learning (cf.
Aebly, 1991). The Gibsonian basic event is resonation or
attunement. The question of attunement is not examined
explicitly inside the ecological movement, but implicitly it is
always present, when the ecological way of thinking is
contrasted with the cognitive one. What does attunement mean?
It means the state of an organism in an organism-environment
system. If we think of a student in the learning situation, the
attunement means his/her actual state in the encountering of
the affordances relevant to him/her in the social setting, and
in the working and cooperating with them. I think that the
attunement is the same as the intentionality (see the systemic
definition of the intentionality chapter IV) in every acute and
longstanding social event, in which an individual participates.
The attunement or intentionality is not a phenomenon outside
social settings but becomes realized only in them. It is not the
processing and constructing taking place inside the individual,
but the ability to perceive, know, feel and act, which is
realized and changed in the social field of individuals.
The systemics of an attunement is fulfilled as a oneness of
affordances, which have a structure and function (meaning), and
a person, who is picking them up and putting them to use.
Picking up and using is a changing and developing energetic and
living state, which, however, cannot exist without affordances.
Or, it might be said that the attunement is a part of
affordances or vice-a-versa. In a way the attunement is an
unstructured state, because it is changing and developing all
the time according to affordances (structures, meanings) that
the subject is encountering and learns to encounter. But because
it is impossible to examine the attunement apart from
affordances, it also includes the structurality. As an
experience the affordances are structural energetic formations,
while the attunement is, as an experience, an energetic and
unstructured structurality of affordances.
The phylo- and ontogenetic history of man is the developing of
attunement, and when teaching and learning is examined
attunement is studied. How can pedagogy and instruction support
the development of attunement? Previously it has developed the
idea of the Zone of Proximal Development for the pedagogical
context for the attunement taking place in the immediate social
environments, and the teacher-student relationship gestalted as
an activity oneness between the more and less experienced, in
which the attunement can change and proceed.
If teaching is examined from the perspective of attunement,
its task is to support the attunement towards more
sophisticated affordances of objects, places, events, humans,
interaction and cooperation. The previously mentioned aspect can
be non-linguistic. The task of instruction is also to support
the attunement to linguistic affordances. What would the support
be as a pedagogical practice?
I have earlier noted that school work has to give up the
traditional instruction and proceed towards natural
cooperation, in which it is learned without particular teaching.
And I think that it could be assumed that natural cooperation
is also the basis for supporting attunement.
The starting point of a teacher's activity to support the
attunement of students to different affordances cannot be the
implementing of the plan of instruction or something else. This
is impossible, because the activity that takes place according
to a scheme does not make room for the publishing and sharing
of the authentic individual and social attunement.
The basis of the activity of a teacher has to be his/her social
expertise to work in the jungle of immediate social affordances,
and his/her ability to allow the attunement to social
affordances to grow as an attunement to affordances of contents
of subject matter.
This is also the basis for developing of linguistic
attunement, because the authentic sociability is the "cache" for
shared linguistic affordances. The verbal sociability produces
and refines the attunement to words and linguistic events, which
are shared and explicit instruments of communication included in
social interaction and cooperation. I have dealt with use of
language based on the theory of affordances in detail in the
text "The perceptual language and instruction" (Chapter III).
Despite the fact that attunement is examined as a phenomenon in
the organism-environment system, it, however, clearly refers to
an individual. As a psychic basic event it is still "the back-
ground" of a comprehensive basic process, which, according to
the Gibsonian view, is the continuum of perception and action
(including cognition) which takes place in the social context.
The essential thing of the perception-action unity is the
uninterruptedness: there is no different perceptions and actions
The continuity of cognition (perception and action) means that
individuals and groups of people in certain social environments
are more or less actively in contact with their own history of
close and long-term experience or attunement, and also with
their future experiences.
With respect to pedagogy and instruction this means that, to be
successful, they cannot withdraw from the uninterrupting process
of experiencing, which in certain social settings happens to be
realized at that moment. This processuality is the basis of the
idea of a unique Zone of Proximal Development elaborated. So
that the pedagogy and instruction could lean on the
processuality of perception and action, and to support it, it
has to "grow" from the authenticity of the existing social
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