What I do when I disappear

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Oh that crazy Dawn", I hear you all say in my imaginary place in my head....

"She puts something good up and then disappears for weeks! What in the name Canadian Thanksgiving is she doing!"

I am sitting in a chair. Reading. And Typing. And Reading some more. And walking around looking for a pencil that isn't broken or mysteriously out of lead (Damn you ten year old child using up all my pencils!). And then buying more coffee. And sitting down to read. And write....or pretend to write. But really play "farmer jane" on my computer.

What is it about these damn virtual farming games that turn my crank?

And sometimes....yes, sometimes, I do write something.

Lately, my professor has been looking for ways to break me out of a bit of academic paralysis that I seem to be experiencing. My comp questions, which were approved at the end in July, should have been mostly written by now. But with family stuff, and parenting, and then school starting and the US economy tanking ( and ergo Terrance's client base)...I just sort of froze up.

Teresa ( my professor, supervisor and now research lead) looks for ways to get me to say what I know.

Bizarre, I know. Getting me to shut up is usually the problem. But good Christ - you should see my amazing disappearing and silence act when Teresa starts asking me about Vygotsky. So she has broken this into smaller tasks. Dawn must read and produce an abstract of a chapter of her reading every week. 2 or so pages. Written with an eye for my research topic. Looking to clarify and pull out the minute threads of what it is I am saying - what I know.

I owe her 4. She has gotten 2 so far.

Some of this is an odd fear of assuming the grown up mantle of professor. I think that I have a fear that I will be expected to know everything... and I don't. I never will. So I freeze up. My bar is set so high for myself that it becomes impossible to jump.

I also ( and we don't need to tell Terrance) don't want to leave Montreal. I fear that finishing will make Terrance uproot me again - and I am not sure my psyche could take another move...not when I am still in love with Montreal. Not when I am finally comfortable. But he is restless and itchy. Wanting me to finish so we can move on - he can move on. We joke that I will stay here and he will go south and the more we say it, the more I am thinking it is not so much of a joke. That possible ending scares me terribly too. Even if it may be for the best.

So. This is what I write - in these in-between days.

This is what Academic Dawn sounds like:

While the author, Margaret Grendel, does an excellent job of trying to synthesize Vygotsky's 2nd and 3rd Laws of the Development of Higher Psychological Processes, it is the issue of culture that I find of particular interest. While Vygotsky states that Yes, Humans have some “primitive” or “elementary” cognition which is biologically driven and universal across cultures, he also emphatically states that it is the “higher mental functions” that develop within a specific cultural context. These functions, Vygotsky asserts, are NOT universal and therefore, one would not expect to see the same types of systems develop in every culture. The developments of higher mental processes would be , by definition, culturally constructed.

Every function in the cultural development appears on the stage twice, in two planes, first, the social, then the psychological, first between people as an intermental category, then within the child as an intramental category.”(Vygotsky/Grendler pg.80.)

Vygotsky was one of the first theorists to extract the cognitive development of a child out from the sole domain of individual development. The idea that from the Social comes the Cognitive is, and I posit, remains a bit revolutionary.

Vygotsky states that each mediation of symbol use in higher mental processes was once an interaction between people. This is a bit stunning. The implications are that every system that we have in place – as humans, as academics, as individuals, can be distilled to initial interactions between people. To extrapolate, this would mean that without the support of the social, one could never develop the knowledge base needed for higher complex thinking.

Furthermore, Vygotsky noted that the importance of complex symbol systems are on an equal footing with the internal mental processes. These symbol systems, for the child, represent an immersion and by-product of the social system in which the child is growing. Writing, for example, represents an external line to watch the development of the internal systems. It is not, and should not be thought of as, a finite skill set which once learned can be tucked away in the dusty attic of things one knows.

Technical knowledge is not enough. If you consider a fairly abstract line of thinking, such as writing dialogue between characters, the technical knowledge of writing words or that quotation marks must precede and follow spoken statements is not enough for a child to construct the meaning of dialogue. The child must be able to conceptualize a discussion, project outwards as to personality, character and theme of discussion, and then distill it out into a cohesive piece of writing. It is far more than checking off “competencies” in a classroom.

The other most important piece that I clarified from this chapter was around Vygotsky's ideas of teaching and learning.

Vygotsky's assessment of most traditional designs of curriculum was that it was designed with a child's weaknesses in mind rather than his or her strengths. Without an initial individual assessment of each child's baseline problem solving ability, Vygosty contends that the core curriculum then must be designed to meet the needs of no one in particular. Furthermore, this curriculum does not challenge those students who may be ready and waiting for more nuanced information, nor does it provide the atmosphere for the children not yet ready to gain more than a memorization ( or surface, primitive) understanding of a concept.

Vygotsky wrote that memorization was a very immature cognitive way to learn something. It did not reflect a true understanding of a concept, but rather a mid-step, somewhat lower than the idea of spontaneous imitation. At least with imitation, the child shows that he or she has absorbed enough of the surrounding culture to reflect an action as dictated by situation. Memorization, on the other hand, reflect no absorption of surrounding culture of the problem to be solved, but merely the ability to parrot an answer.

Finally, within this chapter was the first discussions of the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD). Vygotsky wanted to be clear that his view of the ZPD was not in line with Montessori's “sensitive periods” or Piaget's definitive spans of cognitive development (pre-operational, operational). The concept of ZPD does not lie in lock step with developmental stages.

However, the ZPD does form a major cornerstone of Vygotsky's theory of education as it pertains to a formal instructional environment. Through observation of a child at work, a sensitive teacher can determine the level of problem solving ability in the individual child. It is from that observation of tasks that the child can complete with assistance (emphasis mine)that a teacher can determine how to structure the curriculum in order to stimulate the upcoming growth within the child. Imitation, as mentioned before, is an important cue in this development, as it signals the integration of certain knowledge being brought to bear in particular situations.

5 Baleful Regards:

Anonymous said...

Damn, woman. You're one smart cookie.

Fraulein N said...

Wow. I think Academic Dawn scares me a bit, but only because she's so damn brilliant.

We are seriously maybe a little kind of contemplating moving to Canada if this election ends in disaster.

Mitzi Green said...

i'm sorry to say academic dawn had me for about 3 sentences before my ADD kicked in and it all started to run together much like my husband's sports writing used to blah blah blah. (no offense to you, of course. i'm sure i could learn much from you, if only i could manage to not see shiny things in my peripheral.)

don't leave montreal. if canada were a warm climate instead of the godforsaken tundra it is, i'd live there, too.

Anonymous said...

We LOVE your website, even though we have cats instead of children!

The Midlife Gals are here to hope that you might want to grow up to be just like us. Otherwise, we'll just serve as a horrible warning.



KK and SalGal

Anonymous said...

I want --R E A L L Y want--to read more of the academic Dawn....where can one find more of this?

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