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Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies




Summer Institute

Vygotsky Seminar

Spring 2003

Instructors: Vera John-Steiner & Holbrook Mahn
Credit Hours: 3
Place: Dane Smith 232
Vera John-Steiner
Office: Hokona 222
Office Hours: Mon. 1:30-3:00, Th. 3:30-4:30
Phone 277-4324
Holbrook Mahn
Office: Hokona 212
Office Hours: Tues. & Thurs. 1:00 - 2:00 & TBA
Phone 277-5887; home: 881-7981

Course Homepage:

Course Description and Rationale:
This course will give participants the opportunity to study the work of Lev S. Vygotsky in depth. While Vygotsky has received increased attention recently, much of his work has remained inaccessible to the English speaking world. In the last few years, three volumes of his collected works were published. This seminar will give participants the opportunity to read these works as well as selections from his seminal pieces that have been available for a longer period of time. While there have been multiple interpretations of Vygotsky's work, this seminar will emphasize reading his work. There will be occasional readings of other authors, especially in the beginning when we examine Vygotsky's theoretical foundations, but in general, we will be reading his writings and discussing them in class. A focus for the seminar will be an examination of Vygotsky's seminal concepts and their implications for education.

Course Assignments:
On-line discussion (20%)
-- Regular participation in an on-line discussion set up for this course which is accessible by clicking Here. This on-line discussion allows us to ask questions, make comments, respond to questions, raise concerns, in essence to carry on a dialogue with our peers and the instructors.

Peer Exam (30%) -- Students will be asked to choose a topic of interest to them, do some additional reading/research on that topic and help lead a class discussion on it. (See the end of the syllabus for a more complete description of the Peer Exam)

Term Project (50%) -- This project will give students the opportunity to explore an aspect of Vygotsky's work that is of particular interest to them. It is hoped that the product in this project will be of use in the classroom or in your research. This project will be open-ended and will allow for considerable creativity on your part. We will discuss the project at greater length in class. (See the end of the syllabus for more details.)

Required Texts: Mind in Society ,Vygotsky (1978), Harvard University Press; Vygotsky's Psychology: A Biography of Ideas, Kozulin (1990), Harvard University Press.
Recommended Text: Learning for Life in the 21st Century,Wells & Claxton (2002), Blackwell Publishing.

Other articles on-line or distributed in class.

Individuals with special needs
Students with special needs should contact us as soon as possible to ensure that appropriate academic adjustments are met in a timely manner.


Nate Schmolze's Homepage -- One of the best sites on the internet for information on  Vygotsky

XMCA Online Discussion --  A discussion connected to a course on Cultural Historical Activity Theory

Links on Sociocultural Theory

The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia

Microsoft's Encarta Encyclopedia and Dictionary

One Look Dictionary -- Searches 663 On-line dictionaries

Principia Cybernetica Web -- An interesting site with its own theory, but useful resources

Course Schedule

Week One -- 1/21 -- Introductions & quick write on expectations and goals for the seminar.

1/23-- Vygotsky's life and times
Reading -- "On Vygotsky's Research and Life" Ghita Vygotskaya;
"His Life" -- Ghita Vygotskaya (Scroll down at this site for the link to this article)
"The Historical Context of Vygotsky's Work: A Sociocultural Approach" -- Rosa & Montero (especially pages 65-78)
Supplemental --
History of Russia pre-1917

Week Two -- 1/28 --  Overview of Themes in Vygotsky's work -- Background to psychological work
Reading -- "Prologue" -- Kozulin; "The Mozart of Pychology " -- Toulmin;

1/30 --
Reading -- Sociocultural Approaches to Learning -- John-Steiner & Mahn (Scroll down the site to find this article)

Week Three -- 2/4-- Methodological Approach -- Dialectical Materialism.
Reading -- Mind in Society (MIS) -- Introduction, Chapter 5, Afterword,
The Science of Dialectics -- Engels
Dialectical Materialism -- a short overview

2/6-- Historical Materialism
Reading -- "Vygotsky's Use of History" -- Scribner;
Selections from Vygotsky on Historical Materialism.
Historical Materialism
-- Engels
Historical Materialiam -- a short overview

Week Four 2/11-- The State of Psychology in Vygotsky's Time --
Reading -- Kozulin, Chapter 3, "The Crisis in Psychology"

2/13 -- Reading --Vygotsky's "Crisis in Psychology" Sections 1-4
Supplementary: Vygotsky's "Crisis in Psychology" Sections 12 &13
"Consciousness as a Problem for the Psychology of Behaviour" -- Vygotsky

Week Five --Psychological Analysis of Learning and Development and Implications for Teaching
2/18 --
Reading -- Mind in Society, Chapters 6 & 7.

2/20 --
Reading --- Wells & Claxton, Chapter 7, "Teaching, Learning, and Development: A Post-Vygotskian Perspective" -- Stetsenko & Arievitch

Week Six --2/25 -- Concept Formation
Reading -- Kozulin -- Chapter 5 -- "Thought and Language"

2/27 ---- Concept Formation
Reading --Thinking and Speech -- Chapter 6, Sections 1-3


Week Seven
-- --3/4 --Concept Formation
Reading -- Thinking and Speech -- Chapter 6, Sections 4

3/6 -- Thought and Language
Reading -- Vygotsky -- Thinking and Speech -- Chapter 7, Thought and Word, Sections 1-3

WeekEight -- 3/13 -- Thought and Language (cont'd)
Reading -- Vygotsky -- Thinking and Speech -- Chapter 7, Thought and Word, Sections 4 & 5

3/15 -- PEER EXAM

SPRING BREAK -- 3/18 & 3/20 --Presentations begin week after next

Week Nine -- 3/25 --A Functional Systems Approach
Reading -- Reading -- "A Functional Systems Approach to Concept Development" -- John-Steiner, Meehan & Mahn.
Reading - "Sociocultural Contexts for Teaching/Learning" -- John-Steiner & Mahn -- Pages 131-135 (Note: This article is the assigned reading for 4/29).

3/27 --
TURN IN PEER EXAM PAPERS. Each team will make a short 6-8 minute presentation on the activity. Topics for Class Presentations will be finalized. Teams or groups can meet to plan their presentations.

Week Ten --4/1--Development of Higher Psychological Processes
Reading -- MIS -- Chapters 1-4

4/3 -- Development of Higher Psychological Processes (cont'd)
Reading -- "The Problem of the Development of Higher Mental Functions" -- Vygotsky

Week Eleven -- 4/8 --Play
Reading -- MIS -- Ch. 7

4/10 -- Creativity
Reading "Imagination and Creativity in the Adolescent" -- Vygotsky
"Creativity in the Making" --Moran & John-Steiner ??

Week Twelve -- 4/15 -- Psychology & Art
Reading-- Vygotsky's The Psychology of Art -- Preface & Chapter 11 -

4/17-- Reading -- Kozulin, Chapter One, "Toward the Psychology of Art."

Week Thirteen -- 4/22 -- Literacy
Reading -- Mind in Society, Ch. 8, "The Pre-history of Written Language"

4/24 -- Affect
Readings -- Vygotsky, "The Problem of the Environment" and Mahn & John-Steiner, "The Gift of Confidence: A Vygotskian View of Emotions."

Week Fourteen-- 4/29 -- Special Education
Readings -- Vygotsky, "Introduction: The Fundamental Problems of Defectology"; Gindis, "Vygotsky's Vision: Reshaping the Practice of Special Education for the 21st Century."

5/1 -- Bilingualism
Reading -- John-Steiner -- "The Road to Competence in an Alien Land: A Vygotskian Perspective on Bilingualism."

Week Fifteen -- 5/6 -- Review of Basic Concepts covered in course.
Reading -- "Sociocultural Contexts for Teaching/Learning" -- John-Steiner & Mahn

5/8 -- Class Presentations -- FINAL PAPERS DUE

Week Sixteen -- 5/13 -- Class Presentations

5/15 -- Class Presentations -- Extended Class -- Potluck at Holbrook's home.


Peer Exam -- A peer examination is designed to give you the opportunity to seek out and reflect upon an issue of particular importance to you. It is an opportunity to explore and develop ideas that are meaningful to you and also of interest to your partner. The process requires that you combine individual research and discussion/negotiation with a partner (chosen in class) over a three-week period. During this time you will generate what you consider to be a major question regarding Vygotsky's cultural-historical framework. You and your partner will both be working on different issues; however, you will be formulating each of your questions collaboratively. The steps are:
* Select your partner by
* Meet outside class with your partner to discuss and negotiate question/topic (each of you has a
separate question).
* Inform professors of two questions/topics.
* Conduct research and prepare notes illustrationg the development of your ideas.
* Bring notes on peer exam date (
3/15) to use in discussing question/topic with your partner.
* You and your partner each will be given 15 to 25 minutes to discuss your answers.
* Write a short summary (3-5 pages) of conclusions from peer exam, which is due on
3/27. All references to materials outside the course syllabus need to be noted.

Suggestions for Term Project:
Your term project should address one of the following areas to which Vygotskian ideas have been applied. They may include areas covered in the syllabus, ones in which you have a particular interest, or one from the list below:
* literacy
* math education
* learning and development
* cultural psychology
* creativity
* bilingualism
* American Sign Language
* Language Acquisition
You may do either a literature review, report on empirical studies that have revealed aspects of the area through a Vygotskian lens, or conduct a pilot study using a Vygotskian framework.


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