Dr. Natalia Gajdamaschko on the ‘crisis’ in the classroom (the good kind)


“… development comes out of resolving some sort of contradiction… some type of crisis… a good crisis”

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13 thoughts on “Dr. Natalia Gajdamaschko on the ‘crisis’ in the classroom (the good kind)

  1. This is a good challenge to start with because it takes a fundamental Vygotskian / Hegelian idea and applies it to our own classrooms. One way of progressing the research is to take the programs we are developing (largely based on empirical research) and look at them in terms of crisis. I notice that Carol Macdonald is framing her program ‘Reading to Learn’ in these terms and I would like to propose our current model of STEM teaching: IMS Learning as a case for analysis: https://imslearning.org/

    1. John,
      I think they are different. I am happy to post a short paper on Reading to Learn and we can look at it from the Vygotskian perspective outlined so beautifully by Andy. It’s a cross curricular approach so would be applicable to science and technology at least.

  2. Natalia presents the idea that motivation for development or learning can come from a crisis or contradiction by the introduction of a new tool. I think we are still in a wonderful crisis in New Zealand at the University of Otago, where our clinical educators in our medical school have been required by lockdown and social distancing requirements due to our country’s response to COVID19 to re-think and invent new ways for medical students to learn about patient care using video conferencing for synchronous discussions and other online resources for asynchronous knowledge acquisition and skill rehearsal. I am very interested in how our teachers are experiencing this good kind of crisis in the midst of the pandemic and how they might be developing as educators in ways that we have not been able to reach them before using traditional faculty development methods. Perhaps Faculty Development by Crisis might be a great title for a study. Anyone interested in collaborating on this idea?

  3. This clip is compelling, particularly in its emphasis on challenging (all) students. One question I have is this:
    In simple terms, what does the following statement mean — “For Vygotsky, development was a spiral”?

    Natalia does indeed answer this question by saying that development comes out of resolving some sort of contradiction, such as a challenge beyond one’s current level. Nonetheless, I’m still wondering if anyone can clarify the “SPIRAL” idea in a straightforward and accessible way. [Or, is a review of dialects or dialectical logic a necessary prerequisite?]

    Another thing I love about this clip is its richness of terminology. For instance, Natalia uses all of these terms: contradiction, resolution, tools, development, learning, motivation, crisis

    Some of these terms have various connotations, even within cultural-historical theory (e.g., crisis — of task? of age?), and this creates a bit of a challenge for me, especially when trying to unpack and apply this advice to real classroom settings.

    And so, if I had to rephrase my question, I would do it thusly: How might teachers better understand (and then capitalize on) the notion of “development as a spiral”?

    Thank you ~
    Anthony Barra

    P.S. My other question is: What else in Natalia’s commentary caught your attention or interest? It’d be nice to hear how different people have processed this. Thanks again.

    1. Dear Anthony and Michael,
      It is very coincidental that I was asked my thoughts on the concept of a ‘spiral’ only yesterday in an entirely unrelated context and wonder if my thoughts may be of help to this discussion. My reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit had me thinking that Hegel was implying that development works like a continuous swirling cycle, moving ever upwards and attaining ever greater clarity, where we’re continually building on the past (that quote ‘We stand on the shoulders of giants’ comes to mind – a quote that my colleague John Cripps Clark has had me revisiting in this context). In essence, Hegel was saying that no ‘knowledge’ is self-contained/new – it can’t be. Vygotsky made this understanding of how we acquire knowledge clearer by saying ‘why’ it can’t be self-contained/new – it’s because of the way we construct knowledge, i.e. via words and other forms of mediation over time (whether we’re speaking of centuries or one person’s personal history).
      That is my interpretation anyway. I welcome the thoughts of others so my own understanding may develop further.
      Warm regards, Maria Nicholas

  4. 1. Where is the idea of good classroom crises accepted and put into practice? You say this is a hard sell in the US. Is it an easy sell in Russian classroom?

    2. Why is the developmental process a spiral?

  5. One of the challenges we have is with words and what they mean. We often struggle to translate Russian words but moving around within the English language can be equally slippery. It is probably worth thinking of contradiction, spiral, resolution, tools, development, learning, motivation, crisis as representations of things occurring in our classrooms. With respect to thinking about contradictions / crises I think there are three areas for research:
    1. looking at how (successful) existing programs consciously, or more often unconsciously, employ contradictions (as in Dr Macdonald’s Reading to Learn and our IMS Learning); this may be where classroom crises are practised but not named as such;
    2. consciously, a la Dr Gajdamaschko, constructing our teaching around contradictions; it would be interesting to find educational systems where this is practised consciously even if not named as such; and
    3. taking advantage of the current natural experiment of a health/economic crisis to use the contradictions to create new methods of faculty development, as Megan is proposing.
    I think all three would give a different perspective on the idea of development arising from contradiction. Anyone for an ARC?

  6. This short video has me thinking of Vygotsky’s description of double stimulation. This first ‘crisis’ reminds me of the section where he writes of the Buridan ass who can’t decide which bale of hay to eat and starves. As people, the ‘crisis’ is merely the first stimulus, signaling/alerting us that a response of some sort is required. What the Dr in the video may perhaps speak of next is the role of the teacher. The teacher doesn’t simply introduce the ‘crisis’, i.e. the problem that requires thought/solving – some sort of response. That would leave the child to find their own second stimulus/tool that would help them to solve the problem – in some cases, they may remain frozen like the Buridan ass, not knowing how to move beyond the crisis. The teacher introduces another stimulus/tool, whether it’s a way of thinking (via words) or a physical tool that will help the child to solve the problem, to develop their thinking/understandings and move ever forward, spiralling up and up, building upon their previous knowledge.

  7. Hi all, I find this short video so affirming of directions we might navigate towards in the tertiary setting for initial teacher education. Dr Gajdamaschko points to an issue which many (although not all) of us face in university life – a perception held both by university administrators and students, that learning content (and the learning journey itself) should be problem free and comfortable, perhaps leading our students to award high teaching and satisfaction survey evaluations. Popular associated teaching strategies such as ‘I do, you do, we do’, WALT and WILF, and/or mechanistic interpretations of scaffolding, smack of Behaviourism, although this alignment is always hidden behind the veneer of a more contemporary perspective. Dr Gajdamaschko reminds us that struggle and conflict provide a much richer ground for learning and development. As a side note – I associate ‘spiral learning’ more closely with Bruner, but acknowledge Dr Gajdamaschko may have intended to tip the hat to Vygotsky’s genetic method. Feel free to correct me. Excited to see this vibrant discussion space pop up and can’t wait to see more.

  8. Hi Dear All,
    Great discussion thread! I don’t have lots of answers but will attempt some commentary to see if we can move this discussion forward.

    Why the image of Spiral? Or, as Maria described it, “a continuous swirling cycle, moving ever upwards “? Because it is not a straight line, or steps or — try to search Google Images for “development,” and you’ll see what I mean.

    Vygotsky was interested in answering questions about how we move from one period of development to another and was not happy with the empirical evolutionism of other theories. Instead, he followed Hegelian dialectical logic. He wrote that even if development crises were not discovered empirically or not noticed in practice, they should nevertheless be ‘invented’ theoretically:

    “The crisis of the newborn separates the embryonic period of development from infancy. The one-year crisis separated infancy from early childhood.
    The crisis at age three is a transition from early childhood to preschool age. The crises at ager seven is al link that joins pre-school and school ages. Finally, the crisis at age thirteen coincides with the turning point in development at the transition from school age to puberty… Thus, critical periods alternate with stable periods and are turning points in development, once again confirming that the development of the child is a dialectical process in which transition from one stage to another is accomplished not along an evolutionary, but along revolutionary path.” (Vygotsky, 1998, vol.5, p. 193)

    Also, an excellent question from Anthony. Yes, we can talk about development ontogenetically (with well defined by Vygotsky crises at the age of 1, 3, 7, and 13 as above) or speak about children’s conceptual development in the classroom. In both cases, the dialectical mechanisms of development are the same.
    For example, V.V. Davydov wrote about his curriculum that a child can “sense” a contradiction in his act and intuitively find more adequate ways of resolving those, thus indicating the deeply dialectical essence of a child’s thinking. And the contradictions are not appearing from the vacuum; they have origins in development’s social situation. Suppose, as John points out in this thread, our curriculum is organized with an understanding of this dialectical principle of development. And will be a source for such development. In that case, it has to include a possibility of contradictions and crises to bring about neoformations.

    Besides, we should devote our pedagogical efforts to understanding the changing nature of development during stable and critical development periods. Vygotsky believed that each stage of development has a unique set of characteristics; thus, a differential study of critical and stable periods would bring us closer to understanding development’s nature.

    I think that discussion about crises helps uncover the inner logic, the essence of development, by highlighting and bringing forward the contradictions between a child’s personality and the social situations of development that are their source.

    But I also think that a few other concepts are lurking and asking to be included as well: a social situation of development, neoformations, internalization.
    What do you, Dear All, think?

  9. From my days as a teacher, Natalia, I remember that years 7 and 8, when children are about 12 or 13, were notoriously difficult years for a teacher. So it seems that is because the kids are going through an important period of crisis in their own growth, and a special understanding of that would be needed to teach children of this age. I was a new, untrained teacher when I was thrown into a classroom with 30 13-year-olds, and no-one explained this to me. What special methods or ideas would a teacher have to use at this time?

  10. Can’t help but call Nikolai’s voice to mind. He often makes the distinction (at least this is my understanding) – between the popular notion that development ties to ‘stages’ related to chronological age vs. Vygotsky’s notion of developmental age, which manifests out of the resolution of dialectical contradictions (therefore not necessarily tied to chronological age). Following on the heals of this recollection, I can almost hear Nikolai asking and then answering his own question, “But development of what? Higher psychological functions! (not learning)” I am now quite confused about some of the ways the term ‘development’ is used in the above thread, but that’s ok – being confused can be worth a great deal.

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