Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 21

p .


as a Method of Psychological

“Stage-by-stage formation of mental actions and concepts” usu-

ally works as a pedagogical method or, at best, a method of
educational psychology. If one is thinking only of the final, fully
formed procedure of formation, on the one hand, and its results,
on the other, this is valid. But if one considers what the develop-
ment of such a method entails, on what it is based, by what it is
constrained, and what changes the “mental actions and concepts”
being formed or cultivated undergo, then, clearly, a system of
requirements is in operation: disclosing to the subject the objec-
tive grounds with regard to which he must orient his actions,
reorganizing accordingly the material to be learned, and outlining
a series of rigorously sequential changes (of both actions and the
concepts of the objects of those actions) to the point even of
forming new, strictly mental phenomena. In this its true content,
stage-by-stage formation reveals itself to be a method of com-
plex, developed formation, open to observation, of new, concrete,
mental processes and phenomena-a method of psychological

Russian text 0 1978 by Moscow University Publishers.

From P.Ia. Gal‘perin, A.V. Zaporozhets, & S.N.Karpova, Aktual ’nye pro-
blemy vozrastnoi psikhologii. Materialy k kursu leksii [Current problems in
developmental psychology. Course materials]. Moscow University Publishers,
1978. Pp. 93-1 10.

investigation. Let us try to demonstrate this, using as an example

a few phenomena that are especially difficult to explain: e.g.,
“pure thought,” attention, the basic types of leaming, and the
connection between leaming and mental development.

But first let us point out that the term stage-by-stageformation is

by now somewhat conventional. It was first used a long time ago
when it was proposed by D.B. El‘konin in referring to its most
marked component, but now it no longer reflects the whole con-
tent of the method: “stage-by-stage” refers to only one part of the
method; there are also other, though less important, components.
The complete method consists of three parts: subsystems of con-
ditions for the correct accomplishment of a new action (on the
basis of which new images and concepts are also formed); sub-
systems of conditions for cultivating (or, as we say, “refining”)
the desired properties of these images and concepts; and, finally,
subsets of conditions for assimilation, for “internalization”
(which is all the term stage-by-stagenow means).
Thus, it is not merely this stage-by-stage quality but the entire
set of conditions enabling us to determine unequivocally the
course and results of the formation of new actions and concepts
that is important. In general, it would be correct to call this sys-
tem planned (i.e., in accordance with a plan), not just stage-by-
stage formation. The existence of such a system, i.e., a complete
and sequentially realized system, enables us to establish unam-
biguous relations among certain conditions, the orientation of the
subject toward these conditions, his actions, and the results of
those actions-the causal relations among all the elements. Of
course, this is a binding condition for all scientific investigation,
but in psychology such possibilities should be especially valued.
The practical possibility of confidently acquiring “mental ac-
tions and concepts” with prescribed properties is a matter of no
small importance. But it is even more important for knowledge
of mental processes to follow those successive changes that the

initial form of a process undergoes until it is completed and

acquires a final form. The picture of these changes, seen as a
whole, gives us a glimpse of the process of formation of new
mental phenomena. Let me stress: not ‘‘mental phenomena in
general,” but specific mental phenomena.

The starting position with which the formation of a new action

begins in this method (and through that action, the formation of
ideas and concepts about its objects) consists in the following:
the schema for a complete orienting basis for the new action is
explained to the subject and presented to him written on a card;
then he is given tasks that he must accomplish using this schema.
Thus, from the very outset, the two basic parts of any human
action are separated in the process of formation: an orienting part
(prescribed by the schema of the orienting basis of an action and
its connection with an object) and an executing part, which real-
izes the content of the orienting card in the process of performing
the action. Thereafter, as more and more of the tasks are accom-
plished, these parts become increasingly united; and by the time
the entire schema of the orienting part shifts to the mental level,
they are so fused into a single process that they are almost indis-
tinguishable by the “naked eye.”
As an action is formed, each of the parts undergoes various
changes. In the orienting part, inasmuch as it is applied to a
variety of materials, the key attributes are differentiated from
attendant attributes, and the essential attributes are united into a
stable system, into a visual image or a concept. Thereafter, the
object is readily recognized on the basis of a characteristic com-
bination of attributes; for this reason, the orienting activity is
sharply abridged, to the point of immediate mxgnition. However,
this recognition and later operations ax still subject to checks in
that the subject “feels” whether a process is going correctly or
incorrectly: if things are not all right, the process is held up, an
orienting activity unfolds, and the “snag” is investigated anew.

These changes occur in the formation of any action, but the

results vary according to the nature of the action. If an action is
perceptual, not only the orienting but also the executing part is
abridged, although in different ways: the successive transforma-
tions of the object are replaced by “movements of the gaze” from
the initial position to the final one. If, on the other hand, what is
being formed is a mental action that cannot be constituted with-
out its first being shifted to the level of objectively, i.e., socially,
full-fledged speech, then the following changes inevitably occur:
The verbal foundation of the action begins to be reduced (the
further it goes, the more this occurs, since its articulated nature
impedes the flow of the process); and as this reduction takes
place, verbal significations begin to succeed one another auto-
matically without their being separated by symbolic and speech-
motor supports. A rapid and unarticulated flow of significations
fuses into a continuous flux, which is revealed to self-observation
without its symbolic and speech-motor supports, and thus repre-
sents “pure thought.”
If we know the process by which this phenomenon is formed,
we shall understand that pure thought is nothing but a subjective
phenomenon of latent and automatic speech. But formerly, when
the process of formation of pure thought was unknown and only
its final product was revealed immediately to self-observation as
a primary “phenomenon of consciousness,” the phenomenon of
pure thought caused innumerable misunderstandings and dis-
putes, and no explanation could ever be found.

This explanation of pure thought was obtained, so to speak, unin-

tentionally: we were not looking for it-we simply discovered it,
by following the changes an object-related action regularly un-
dergoes when it is first transferred to the verbal level and then to
the mental level. But two components are clearly differentiated in
the very movement of thought: its objective content and the
subject’s attention to that thinkable content. This brings up the

problem of attention. Attention is the most difficult of all cogni-

tive phenomena to decipher. People have long attempted to clar-
ify its processual content, but no one has succeeded. At one
point, people began to reduce it to other processes; and there was
no mental process or phenomenon, from consciousness in general
to muscular exertion, to which attention was not reduced. How-
ever, such explanations have always been unsatisfactory. For ex-
ample, needs, interests, feelings, and the will elicit attention and
guide it, but they do not constitute attention. The processual con-
tent of attention has remained unknown, unexplored, and this has
left us powerless when faced with the tasks of cultivating or
recultivating attention.
The difficulty of the problem of attention is made even more
acute by the fact that, unlike other mental processes (whose con-
tent is also unknown, but whose existence is proven by the pres-
ence of a characteristic product), attention has no separate
product; it only improves the results of any activity to which it is
joined. Hence, once the opinion was widespread that attention
was not an independent process, but an “aspect” or characteristic
of any mental process, its directedness (selectivity) and concen-
tration. But again, people tried to explain selectivity in terms of
diverse causes: emotions, interests, the will, etc. As for concen-
tration, psychologists have merely noted that it occurs to differ-
ent degrees, but are unable to explain of what it consists and how
it is organized. Attention can only be described as a mental phe-
nomenon, but there has been no success in elucidating its pro-
cessual content.
If, however, one approaches the “phenomenon of attention” in
a different way and regards attention, following the model of the
formation of “pure thought,” as a result of the internalization of
some external activity, the problem of deciphering attention is
put in a different light. Then our first task becomes determining
the particular external activity that improves every other activity,
but does not have its own separate product. At first this require-
ment seems paradoxical-after all, any action has a product! But
it is not at all difficult to fiid among external human actions

some paradoxical action: a check of some sort is necessary for

any productive activity, and that check is distinguished by the
fact that it is necessary as a basic action, but does not produce
another separate product. If we look at attention from the stand-
point of such an idea (the idea of a checking action), it is easy to
discover something in it that is closely akin to a checking action.
Taking this as a clue, let us formulate our task: to begin with an
external, objective form of checking (on some other productive
activity); to translate it into an ideal form, perceptual or men-
tal; and, finally, to obtain attention-i.e., attention as it is
known on the basis of the findings of external and internal
That hypothesis was verified only ten years later.
Schoolchildren in the second and third grades who were conspic-
uous for being especially inattentive were recruited for an experi-
ment. We first tried to ascertain the reason for their
inattentiveness and discovered that how the children were ori-
ented to the general meaning of a text, to words or an arithmetic
expression, was this cause. The children would catch this mean-
ing and, satisfied with it, would “disregard the details” (just as
we ourselves sometimes do not notice a proofreader’s errors in a
text). This suggested the next task: to overcome this global per-
ception, to develop a check on the text, and to learn to read
taking into account the elements against the background of the
meaning of the whole. The children were asked to read an indi-
vidual word (to establish its meaning); next, to divide it into
syllables; and then, by reading each syllable, to check separately
whether it corresponded to the word as a whole.
The most diverse words were chosen (difficult and easy
words, words of moderate difficulty). Initially the syllables were
divided by a vertical pencil line; later, no lines were drawn;
instead, the syllables were pronounced aloud with a clear separa-
tion, and then verified. The auditory division of the syllables
became progressively shorter, and was soon reduced to the ac-
cents on individual syllables. Then a word would be read aloud
and checked against itself syllable by syllable (“The first is right,

the second is not. Here something is omitted, here something is

changed . . . ”). It was only in the next stage that we managed to
get a child to read an entire word to himself and to give it a
general assessment (correct or incorrect and, if incorrect, then to
explain why). After this there were no special difficulties moving
on to reading an entire sentence and writing it, and then, later, an
entire paragraph (also with an evaluation).
This stage already provided us with a generally satisfactory
answer to our initial question. But it still left the practical task of
eliminating a number of quite special difficulties. For example,
insufficient reduction of checking in the stage of loud socialized
speech introduced an element of instability into the results, which
at first had seemed to be completely satisfactory. Another diffi-
culty was that the children became attentive only in tasks involv-
ing the experimenter; in the classroom and in homework, they
continued to make mistakes. A special generalization of the ac-
tion (checking) with regard to the situations in which it was used
was needed. In addition to “checking by writing out,” we also
perfected “checking in terms of meaning” (connecting individual
words to the general meaning of a sentence) and then, later,
checking the correctness of pictures, designs, sets of letters or
numbers (the Bourdon test), etc. The development of these varie-
ties of checking was much faster and took place in an abbrevi-
ated way.
We obtained stable and quite generalized attention in children
who previously had been marked for being just as constantly and
distinctly inattentive. The attention we developed in these chil-
dren did not differ in any way from classic descriptions of atten-
tion in terms of its external expressions and the way it was
subjectively experienced. But we now knew what was behind
this “phenomenon”; we had no need to explain it in terms of any
other (no better understood) function and, what was most import-
ant, we were able to offer substantive, practical recommendations
on how to correct shortcomings or how to develop attention with
desired properties (e.g., with a span that exceeded considerably
its usual average magnitude).

Observations on the formation of thought and attention enabled

us to draw one more conclusion. Boththought and attention are
mental phenomena revealed through self-observation, and as
such head the pyramid of forms of the same action at the basis of
which a developed, objective, material-or materim-form
of the same action is found. Increasingly abbreviated forms, de-
veloped in intermediate, verbal stages, are situated between the
base and the apex of this pyramid. Upward as well as downward
connections are established among all these forms. The neural
models and mechanisms of these “traversed” forms of an action
are not effaced, but are preserved at a subthreshold level and are
retrieved again mentally only in cases of difficulty.
Thus, a multistory pyramid of “functional systems” (P.K.An-
okhin) is to be found behind the “phenomena” of thought and
attention in the neural substance of the brain; these systems con-
stitute the physiological substrate of an action at each level of its
stage-by-stage formation. The general neural mechanism of both
thought and attention is formed by this pyramid, not just by those
nervous processes that are the direct physiological substrate of
the “phenomena” themselves.
In this extensive, hierarchically structured, functional system,
in its neural processes, the actual psychological content is only
one “aspect,” namely, an informational complex. When excita-
tion passes from the level of automatic processes to the level of
mental reflection, this informational content is recoded and is
revealed as the content of mental phenomena (as a “phenomenon
of consciousness” in self-observation).
Thus, mental phenomena ~ I Clinked not just to some underly-
ing nervous process but, precisely, only to its informational con-
tent. The mind is produced by the brain. It is not cerebral
processes, however, but only the objects and the processes of the
external world coded in them that are reflected in the mind. The
processes of higher nervous activity and their strictly physiologi-
cal characteristics are not represented in the “phenomena of con-

sciousness.” Although we say that we have a perceptual image,

we do not see an image, but rather the objects represented in it;
and the “phenomena” we observe (ideas, attention, etc.) are “phe-
nomena” not of the corresponding neural processes, but only of
some meaning of objective actions represented by the informa-
tional content of these processes. If we had wanted to investigate
mental activity from the standpoint of the brain (which was the
obsessive idea of “physiological psychology,” and is the same for
any parallelist conception of the relationship between mind and
brain), we should have to find a way to record not these neural
processes themselves, but indeed the informational content latent
in them, in coded form, that expresses the content of some other
objective, and consequently mental, activity.
But if we were successful in doing this, the informational con-
tent of neural processes would, in turn, refer us to what was
reflected in it, to the external world and the actions of the subject
directed toward getting his bearings in that world, represented in
this informational content. Thus, even successful attempts to ex-
plain mental activity in the “depths of the brain” would take us
back to the external environment of the subject, to the subject’s
orientation in problem situations, and to the purposeful actions
conditioned by that orientation. Even in this ideal case, psycho-
logical explanation comes full circle with orienting activity: the
psychophysiologist begins his search for the mechanisms of mind
at its “physiological substrate” and the latter, once decoded, re-
fers us to orienting activity, which determines the informational
content of these physiological processes. This “vicious circle” of
explanation tells us that orienting activity (based on mental re-
flection in a problem situation) is a “new quality,” a new type of
activity, which, once it has come about, can no longer be reduced
to physiological self-regulation. Hence, attempts at a physiologi-
cal explanation of orienting activity return us again and again to
its objective content. Of course, acknowledgment of the indepen-
dence of psychological explanation in no way denies the import-
ance of studying the physiological foundations of mental activity
in the narrow sense, as the other aspect of the processes of higher

nervous activity. But this reveals the fundamental erroneousness

of a physiological explanation of nonphysiological phenomena
and of the reduction of strictly psychological processes to physio-
logical processes, even if only processes of higher nervous activ-

The divergence between the views of Vygotsky and Piaget is

very instructive for the present status of the question of the rela-
tionship between learning and mental development. Vygotsky
says that good learning should be in the forefront and carry de-
velopment with it, whereas Piaget, on the other hand, assumes
that good learning should be based on the already attained capa-
bilities of thought, for otherwise it becomes “formal.” According
to Piaget, “formal learning” is a negative phenomenon; Vygotsky
thinks it is the natural initial stage of development of scientific
knowledge, which becomes complete only when combined with
real experience. Unfortunately, we are compelled to admit that if
we restrict ourselves to the experience of learning that Vygotsky
and Piaget had, each of them is, in his own way, right, and the
problem has no objectively convincing solution.
The reason for the universal domination of the type of learning
that, in innumerable variants, revolved around the conceptions of
Vygotsky and Piaget was clarified only after the possibility of
learning when a complete system of conditions existed for the
formation of new knowledge and abilities had been experimen-
tally established. Only then did it become clear that the most
diverse methods and procedures of school learning and labora-
tory formation of concepts took into account only part of the
necessary conditions, which would differ, in many respects, from
one case to another, but were always substantially incomplete. It
was just such incompleteness of the essential conditions that had
also been the source of the characteristic features of traditional
learning: always trials and errors, more or less numerous, gradual
selection of a “correct” composition of actions or attributes of

concepts, and the gradual evolution of their internal organization

and connections with other concepts and actions, and gradual
generalization. What is correct is established mainly on the basis
of the fiial result, without the subject’s becoming aware of the
process itself, and with considerable expenditure of time, effort,
and materials. This was the least efficient means of learning with
respect to these (and many other) important indices. Its only,
though truly priceless, advantage was that it did not require from
teachers more knowledge about the process itself, and that it was
accessible at all levels of understanding of the laws of learning.
Hence, it always, in all cases, precedes learning based on a com-
plete orienting basis for actions, although this universality ulti-
mately has meant that the trial-and-error method has been
recognized as lawful and intrinsically necessary, various explana-
tions and even logical grounds being given for its justification.
We call this type of learning the first type, since it usually pre-
cedes any other type. In this type, relations between learning and
mental development remain so remote and hidden that they per-
mit the most diverse interpretations, which therefore are based
not so much on facts as on an author’s general conceptions.
However, another type of learning has already been long fa-
miliar: immediate acquisition as a result of “sudden perception”
of the essential relations in a task by means of insight. But insight
is more a discrete, felicitous event than a controlled way of ac-
quiring new knowledge, and it cannot be ranked among the basic
methods of systematic learning, at least for the present.

When there is a full set of conditions present, both the process

and the result of the formation of knowledge and abilities be-
come substantially different. Trial and error practically disap-
pear-or at least become rare and incidental. Each action obtains
its justification in the objective relations of the material to which
the subject is oriented, and the use of a schema for the complete
orienting basis of an action with regard to different types of

material ensures differentiation of those relations from special

characteristics of the material and flexibility in applying an ac-
tion in different circumstances. Thus are the rationality of an
action and its empirical generalization cultivated. An action is
formed not bit by bit, but immediately, with a complete and
correct composition of its individual units and in a correct rela-
tionship with other actions (and concepts are formed with the
correct composition of elements and relations with other con-
cepts). Even in face-to-face instruction (in a classroom), the
range of variation in achievement is limited to a small percent-
age, and then only in the higher indices. A quick transition to
problem solving based on an externally represented schema en-
abling the pupil to exclude preliminary learning of new howl-
edge by rote (and, consequently, separation of its learning from
its subsequent application) greatly facilitates the development of
new knowledge and abilities, while making the learning accessi-
ble at a much earlier age as well. Thus, it has been found that
many restrictions on learning, which are usually linked to age-re-
lated characteristics of the mental development of children, are in
fact due to methods of learning of the first type, i.e., learning
under substantially incomplete conditions for carrying out learn-
ing exercises.
However, the relationship between the second type of learning
and mental development is also not simple. Using this type of
learning, we invariably obtain concepts that must be regarded as
excellent in terms of school requirements, but that are not related
to other school subjects or other conditions of a child’s life. They
are not sufficient to replenish life material (Vygotsky’s term);
and in Piaget’s terms, they are simply formal. We were able to
observe this in an experimentally pure form. Using planned for-
mation of a complete orienting basis of an action, we developed
concepts of classification complete in themselves in six-year-
olds: the children explained quite well the complex relations be-
tween classes and subclasses and among different subclasses and
classified any, even unfamiliar, objects (if they were told their
discriminating characteristics). But these operations and concepts

remained an isolated island in a child’s thought; in other things,

he continued to think,as before, at the pre-operational level.
But when new operations and concepts were added to knowl-
edge that was part of a system of basic learning, a substantially
different picture was obtained. Thus, for example, a very compli-
cated system of architectural concepts enabled 11-12-year-old
pupils to discriminate among different architectural schools in
ancient Russian churches, to distinguish them from Western and
Eastern religious buildings, and even to determine the “general
character” of these buildings (rigorously feudal, secular, noble,
etc.)-a very subtle task. This knowledge had no formal links to
any school curriculum, but it naturally tied in with the study of
history and f i e literature. In any event, we observed consider-
able transfer in terms not only of the affiity among objects being
studied but also of the requirements of clarity and completeness
in describing phenomena. Even five years later, the children re-
tained the same interest in architecture and other types of art that
they showed in the period of instruction. But this time the knowl-
edge and abilities (acquired in the second type of learning) had
an explicit, though not immediately obvious, influence on the
general development of thought.
Thus, learning of the second type directly gives more complete
knowledge, although the influence of this knowledge on the in-
tellectual development of children is contingent on its being in-
cluded in a serious, dominant activity. If this does not happen,
the knowledge remains formal and has no influence on the gen-
eral development of thought; conversely, it has a positive influ-
ence on the development of thought if it is applied systematically
beyond the confiies of the original material.

In many practical situations, the second type of learning is quali-

tatively quite adequate. Theoretically, it also has many merits,
which we shall touch upon below. Its fundamental limitation is
that it provides high-quality assimilation of certain knowledge

with a much greater, though also limited, transfer than with the
first type: each substantially new bit of knowledge must be ac-
quired from the very beginning. Later, stage-by-stage develop-
ment is considerably, and very rapidly, reduced; but the other
requirements-a schema of a complete orienting basis of an ac-
tion and a collection of many kinds of material-are fully re-
tained and renewed in each case. Hence, the question naturally
arises: Can one not teach a high-school graduate a method for
analyzing material that would enable him later to devise a
schema for the orienting basis of an action independently for
each new assignment and then, on its basis, learn new knowl-
edge, also independently, and acquire the abilities associated
with that knowledge?
On what could such a general method be based? Since the
specific content and structure of objects are presented each time
in a new, previously unknown form, the pupil is constrained to
derive his benchmarks in studying these objects only from the
basic units in a particular domain and from the principles or rules
for their combination. But since these units and the connections
among them may vary considerably, it is not their specific con-
tent, but only their general characteristics, as units of the particu-
lar material and as a special kind of connections, that can serve
as a basis for such a method. Identification of either one is not an
easy task, but this is only one of the objective aspects of the
method we seek. The other is as follows:
Since our objective was to cultivate a pupil’s independence in
overcoming difficulties when facing a task for which he does not
have the ready means, we decided it was necessary to develop
such independence from the very beginning. But how? Obvi-
ously, first by involving the pupil in the particular problem. The
conditions for systematic learning done in isolation from actual
tasks of practical life afford favorable possibilities for bringing a
pupil into a research problem. This is effected through a pupil’s
encounter with an unexpected aspect of some phenomenon al-
ready familiar to him. Then, to this initial confrontation with
facts, out of which a problem arises, other facts must be succes-

sively added that, in comparison with the first, enable the child to
draw conclusions concerning new properties of the structue of a
phenomenon and the way that structure is expressed in the partic-
ular case. In brief, the task is not to communicate finished knowl-
edge, but to induce the pupil to acquire new knowledge
independently through a systematic investigation prepared by an
instructor, but conducted by the pupil himself.
The first domain in which this new, third type of learning was
used was the formation of the motor skill of writing (letters and
words). The traditional method is, first, to teach pupils to write
the elements of letters (lines with tails,ovals, etc.). Instructions
are given for writing these elements: where to begin, how to
proceed, where to make a turn, and when to finish a line. The
pupils are shown how this is done. There are quite a few of these
instructions; but, as a rule, they are presented in a very diffuse
form at the most difficult points. For example, for a straight line
ending in a “hook,” the most important points are those where
the line begins to diverge to the left from the vertical, and where
it touches the lower horizontal so as to form a circle. But it is
precisely for these most difficult points that the most general
characterizations are provided: not too high and not too low
(along the left vertical), not too near (to that same vertical at its
lower base), but not too far from it (the instruction was given for
notebooks with three lines). These characteristics are usually ac-
companied by a demonstration: the presumption is that after this
the child will independently be able to identify these reference
points. Of course, the vagueness of these important instructions
leads to trial and error and many other consequences typical of
such learning.
When in pursuing the second type of learning we actually
pointed out and designated all the reference points, a correct
reproduction of the elements took place immediately, and the
schema was developed much more rapidly. But for each new
element, the reference points had to be pointed out again. We
began the third type of learning by developing the ability to
distinguish necessary reference points. The main reference points

separated the units of an outline, and line segments with an un-

changed direction (constant curvature) were used for such units.
Hence, it was first necessary to teach the children to find places
in which a line begins to alter its direction. This was not a simple
task for preschoolers, and often caused lively disputes: in such
cases we proposed enlarging the disputable portion of the outline
to cope with the problem and pointed out a zone of accuracy
(measure of permissibility). Thus, the children learned to estab-
lish the main discriminating points (five to seven different, spe-
cially selected letters). Thereafter, identification of auxiliary
reference points (beginning, end, touching the lines on the note-
paper) was no longer difficult. Then came the turn for an accu-
rate verbal definition of each point in terms of its position on the
coordinates of the notepaper. The transfer of reference points to a
new place on the notepaper could be reliably developed only by
using such a--”conceptual!”-characteristic, rather than by sight.
Only then did the third stage of learning begin: namely, the re-
production of an outline based on these reference points. At first,
the points were actually presented; then they were merely named
aloud; later still, the pupil would name them to himself, until,
toward the end, the process of orientation had become automatic,
and the children wrote the letters without any longer thinking
about the reference points, but following their deployment.
This all took quite a bit of time (we were working with an
ordinary full class of six-year-olds), but the results were striking.
The original task was successfully accomplished: the children
independently analyzed all the letters of the Russian alphabet,
compiled a complete system of reference points for each of them,
and rapidly acquired skill in writing these letters. The children
just as easily coped with other alphabets, with stenographic sym-
bols, with simple diagrams and drawings, or with a picture of a
trajectory of movement (of a turtle that lived in the “living
things” comer of the classroom or of their own feet while danc-
ing). A quite unexpected finding was that the children learned to
count much more rapidly. It was later found that in counting, the
children preserved a clear order of the objects counted, and the

result they obtained was always correct. In the control classes,

this order did not exist, and the children would sometimes omit
objects and sometimes count them twice; the result was always
incorrect, and this qualification was carried over to the action
itself, which made it very difficult to learn it.
In sum, we obtained not only good and consistent writing but
also the ability to cope with any planar image, i.e., not only a
total transfer within the confines of the initial material but also a
transfer to other areas of knowledge and abilities that dealt with
objects of the same order.
After we had obtained such a positive result in “pure writing,”
we immediately attempted to effect the third type of learning
using a substantially different type of material, elementary math-
ematics and grammar. In both cases the result was not only a
broad generalization of knowledge and abilities to cover all the
tasks in this sphere but also a transfer to other mas of knowl-
edge associated with the same material.
The learning of elementary mathematics began with develop-
ment of the ability to estimate magnitudes, i.e., to distinguish
quantities equal to some accepted measure. For this, we devel-
oped especially refined ideas of quality and dimension. These
initial operations had an unexpectedly great-ne might even say
tremendous-influence on the development of the children’s
thinking. As we later discovered, assimilation of a conception of
measure and of operations with it produced an ability to distin-
guish different properties of things as independent magnitudes, to
the transformation of each such magnitude into a concrete set,
and, ultimately, to elimination of Piaget’s phenomena, i.e., transi-
tion from the pre-operational thinking of the preschooler to the
concrete operational thinking of the primary-school child. After
such learning, a child would not judge the size of objects on the
basis of a distinct attribute as representative of the entire object,
but rather clearly discriminated the parameter in question, disre-
garded any attribute that directly “struck the eye,” and compared
the objects only in terms of the preassigned parameter.
In teaching elementary grammar, we began by differentiating

the smallest units of communication, the seven units bearing the

morphological parts of a word. We then varied suffixes and af-
fixes, identified the root of the word, and defined the concept of
related words and the concept of a “completely different word”
(despite the similarity of affkes and endings). The children mas-
tered the process of word formation and word building-a word
was explored as a continuous system of meanings. Words were
accurately separated according to parts of speech on the basis of
the characteristic set of seven parts of speech, and a subtle “sense
of language” was developed. This paved the way to a free move-
ment to literary speech and to study of foreign languages.

Thus, in the third type of learning, we achieved a direct, clear,

and, most importantly, understandable influence of learning on
mental development. This was not surprising because, in this
type, learning was directed toward acquiring a general method
for studying objects, one that, in “mental form,” represented a
method of thinking of a kind the children had not had before, and
that signified a transition to a qualitatively higher level of intel-
lectual development. In addition to the acquisition of new opera-
tions of thought, the new method opened up for the children
previously hidden, new aspects of things, e.g., their internal
structure, which explained their explicit properties; the children
developed a new system of concepts about things. The change in
thought took place together with a change in the picture of
things-one might say a “Weltanschauung,” at least with respect
to this domain of reality. In learning these new methods for
thinking and for actual transformation of objects, plus a method
for discovering new relations and putting them to effective use,
the children came to perceive learning as a “free play of spiritual
forces” (K. Marx) and took an intrinsic interest in the subject
matter and process of learning.
This method of planned formation of knowledge and abilities
enabled us to establish two new types of learning (11 and m)and

thereby demonstrated that the dominant method of trial and error

is by no means intrinsically necessary, and that, consequently,
many arguments that unconsciously assume the indispensability
of trial and error are erroneous. Comparing now the three types
of learning, we found that the connection of learning with mental
development is not a constant, but depends both on the general
type of learning and on its actual connection with the child's
basic, dominant activity.


This brings us to the next question. What is the source of the

creative principle of the method of planned formation? What
induced us, first, to seek and find a complete orienting basis of an
action (which was not under discussion previously), then to seek
and find means for cultivating the desired properties of actions
and concepts (which previously had been impossible in such a
complete and systematic form) and then, later, methods for a
reliable transition to a mental or perceptual level (which pre-
viously had been mentioned only in passing)--in brief, the devel-
opment of type II and then, later, type 111 orientation (to a
subject) and learning?
Our efforts derived from the belief that the vital function of the
mind consists in its orienting behavior, based on mental reflec-
tion of a problem situation. The first task of psychological inves-
tigation then becomes that of identifying the conditions in which
this orientation should take place in order to ensure that that
behavior is successful. When such conditions are present, an ac-
tion will necessarily be successful, and any mistakes and miscal-
culations will signify shortcomings in these conditions.
This applies in equal measure to the means by which an action
is accomplished, to the conditions on which cultivation of the
desired properties of an action depend, and, finally, to the condi-
tions of its transfer to a mental or perceptual level. In other
words, a method of planned, stage-by-stage formation imposes
requirements not only on the shaping of the learning process but

also on the shaping of the material to be learned.

Heading the list of these requirements is the creation of an
optimal, initial form of a new action (with which ideas and con-
cepts of the objects of the action are formed). To develop such an
action (excluding trial and error!), it is necessary to give the pupil
an objective basis for orienting himself in a problem situation
and in the conditions and structure of an action. We put our own
mistakes to use in accomplishing such a task: we considered a
pupil’s mistakes to be our own mistakes since we were unable to
foresee them and indicate how they could be avoided. The ques-
tion was posed as follows: What does the pupil need so as not to
make these mistakes? We sought the requisite instructions and a
method for presenting them that would force the pupil to carry
them out. Thus, the main structure of a schema for a complete
orienting basis of an action was established step by step.
Later, when the task of teaching certain properties of an action
(and a concept) arose, we sought and, if necessary, even created
new means that not only enabled us to cultivate but actually did
cultivate these properties. Similarly, to teach the performance of
actions mentally (which by no means always takes place of itself,
and even less often than necessary), we devised means for a
reliable transfer of actions to a mental plane-moreover, with the
desired parameters.
Finally, when the second type of learning had been sufficiently
mastered and its shortcomings had begun to appear, we posed the
question of how to shape not only known knowledge (even the
most general knowledge) but also the ability to cope indepen-
dently with a new, previously unfamiliar task (even if only from
the same domain of knowledge), i.e., the ability to learn some-
thing new independently. Thus we proceeded, transforming the
noted shortcomings in the instructions regarding the object of
investigation and the pupil’s mistakes into requirements that in-
formation to prevent these mistakes had to meet.
One can say that we were led to new facts and new possibili-
ties for the study and cultivation of specific forms of mental
activity and mental phenomena by a belief in their secondary

nattm (derived from external activity), by a conviction that the

crucial element in them was orientation in problem situations,
and, further, by a requirement to create conditions that would
ensure the development of prescribed forms of actions and con-
cepts (with the noted parameters) and by a careful examination of
the changes that the initial forms of the images of objects and
actions with them undergo in this process.
Problems are dictated by life, and the requirements of life are
the principal driving force of mental development (of the normal
child). Whether this process is fully supported depends on the
pupil's orientation in problem situations and on the child's own
abilities. A complete-and I stress complete-orientation re-
quires scientific investigation, because only if such an orientation
is provided can one make clear the dependence of the subject's
actions on the conditions of such actions, and only in this way
will it be possible to uncover not fragmentary, but logically con-
nected facts for the science of the phenomena and the processes
of inner life.