The Instrument and the Other in
The Construction of Knowledge -
Study of a Logo-Based Learning


Afira V. Ripper
LEIA- Education and Applied Informatics Laboratory,
School of Education - UNICAMP
CP 6120 Campinas,
SP BRAZIL 13084-100
tel: +55-19 239-7942
fax: +55-19 254-0578


The Logo-based learning environment, taken as an meditation tool for knowledge construction processes in a pre-school context, is discussed in a historic-cultural perspective. The triad nature of the Logo-based environment activity, Child-Child-Logo, is investigated in episodes, involving pairs from a pre-school. The dialogical relations of Logo and the role of the other in knowledge construction are also discussed.


Logo-based learning environment, mediation tools, knowledge construction, historic-cultural psychological theory.


1 Introduction: the question of knowledge construction

By proposing to investigate, in a historic-cultural perspective, the instrumental role of the Logo language in the knowledge construction processes in the pre-school classroom context, the study singles the triad Child-Child-Logo as its study object, trying to understand the encounter forms between the individual and social functions by the analysis of the social mediation forms (interpsychological activity) and the manifestations and indications of internalized actions (intrapsychological activity). Therefore the objective of the study is to investigate how the construction of the knowledge takes place in the dialogic relation between pairs and the role of the Logo computer language as the instrument of mediation of this construction. More specifically, analyse how this process takes place when children are placed in the roles of tutor and tutee.

The processes of knowledge construction, as defined by Smoka (1995), assume that the fundamental principle of the social origin of the higher psychic functions, which is the capacity and the ability that constitute the "human species" (talk, think, have conscience, make tools), were constructed through out evolution. If the philogenesis provides the subtract to the individual so he can acquire these functions, the ontogenisis only occurs if mediated by the interaction of the individual with other humans, "....reconstructing within that which already is part of other person’s life and social practice. Seen in this perspective, the human ontogenisis is, necessarily, a sociogenesis". (Smolka, 1995:11).

This view differs from the collocation of Papert in respect to Logo as promoter of an "Piagetian learning process" understanding it as a direct relationship (that is, not mediated) between subject and object of knowledge. Although in later works Papert (1994) has tried to lighten this vision of learning as a solitary relationship, subject-object, this view has continued in a certain manner to inform his vision of learning in the "Logo environment". This Piagetian concept, of the relation subject - object, occurring without any other intermediation, ignores the implicit cultural mediation in all human activity; as Steiner and Souberman have said: " ... While Piaget stresses more biologically supported, universal stages of development, Vygotsky’s emphasis is on the interaction between changing social conditions and the biological substrata of behavior. He wrote that " ‘’in order to study development in children, one must begin with an understanding of the dialectical unity of two principally different lines [the biological and the cultural], to adequately study this process, then, an experimenter must study both components and the laws which govern their interlacement at each stage of a child’s development." (Vygotsky,1978:123)

Although Piaget as well as Vygotsky reject the simple form of a direct relationship, as the one represented by the formula S è R of the behaviourism, what they define as mediating these two terms is different. For Piaget, the formula would be S è O è R where O is the organism that through the mechanism of assimilation and the accommodation reaches the equilibrium of its cognitive structures. S is referred to as an object to be constructed (and therefore, not pre-given) by the subject (Piaget, 1970). Vygotsky (1984) substitutes the simple S è R for a complex act. The X represents in this model an auxiliary stimulus that facilitates the completion of the operation though indirect means. This link has the specific function of reverse action, giving the psychological operation new and superior quantitative forms, permitting the human beings to control their own behavior.

In this perspective, what characterizes the human activity is to be mediated, understood as historical dimensions created and culturally elaborated from properties of human life. The true essence of complex human behavior constitutes of the dialectic unit between practical intelligence and the use of signs. Vygotsky attributes to the symbolic activity a specific organizing function that penetrates the process of tool use and produces fundamentally new forms of behaviour. (Vygotsky, 1978:24).

So, a vision that centralizes the beneficial effects in the machine itself, as Papert implies, is according to Linard (1990: 115) – "in a kind of Rousseaulism, where the learner is the "good savage", that is the spontaneous meeting with the cognitive mirror embodied by the computer, one rests on the presupposition, underlying the numerous educational technologies, that it is possible to substantiate a cognitive auto-genesis only on a technique relation." But it appears that the logic does not function as a motor to the psychological unless within very precise conditions: If the human mediation (adults or pairs) act in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZDP) of the learner and if it has the "proximal" quality this is, neither very far nor very near, while at the same time firm and beneficial, as in the relations between mother and child. Although, this vision of mediation and ZDP, seems not to support itself even when the mediator is an adult, as we will discuss later.

For Solomon (1986), at the onset Papert’s collaborator, Logo provides a learning environment which at the same time is individual and collective, where the possibility of cognitive exploration and construction can help to develop different kinds of learning, among which, we have emphasized those pertinent to our study:

But, this knowledge or actions will not appear only by the face to face encounter with the computer. When analyzing the relationship between the man and the computer, Linard (1990) agrees with Solomon where the cognitive mediation of the device (language + machine + organisation of the interactions between the learner and the machine) is always strongly supported by human mediation. We try to analyze this mediation (Ripper 1994) considering the triad child / adult mediator / Logo within an episode where the teacher’s mediation, beneficial and alert, seems to have favored the internalization of the knowledge by the child, while the child, with the teacher’s orientation, was able to make sense of what was occurring on the computer screen, being able to, at the end of the episode, use the results on the screen as feedback to her actions. In this episode, the role of the mediator (adult) and learner (child) were clearly marked, not having the necessity of negotiation for its establishment. What occurs in these interactions is broader than the explicit object of knowledge; besides the knowledge pertaining to the Logo language, the child internalizes the manner in which the teacher interacts with the children. But, when the child tries to act as the teacher, she is awarded with contradictions as we will discuss later.

2 The triad: Logo and pairs

While trying to clarify how one configures the mediation in the ZDP when the triad involves pairs and Logo, we shall analyze an episode where two children (R and A) are in a corner of Logo, and one third (J) is singled out by the teacher to assume the role of tutor. The episode was documented on video in a Campinas public pre-school in 1992. The girls, at the time, were on the average 5 years old. J and R had begun to work with Logo the year before while A began to work with Logo that year.

The episode presented 142 verbal interactions lasting about 16 minutes. The group broke up when the teacher called all the children to watch a video. We opted not to include the complete transcript of the episode not only because it was long but mainly because we used in our analysis spaced segments. We transcribed in the text only a few of the interactions to facilitate the sequence of the analysis.


(05) Teacher: Ask her if she needs help.
The teacher looks for A’s disk in the box.

(06) J.: Need help? Do you, A?
(07) Teacher: A, do you want help?
(08) A.: Yes I do.
(09) J.: I’ll help (she sits a little behind A.)

The teacher (05, 07) puts J. in the role of "teacher" by suggesting to J. to give help as well as to A to accept the help. We see here that the relationship between this pair has an asymmetry recognized by the teacher herself, but unlike the teacher, who tries to be a mediator of the knowledge for the children perceived as needing help the most, among pairs the relationship of mediation is established in other terms where the interests of the child put in the role of mediator, prevails over the necessities of the child to be helped.

(13) J.: OK A, you can do it. (J. observes what R is doing at the next computer).
(14) R.: (to A.): Do what you want.
(15) J.: (to R.): Why don’t you put CONTROL Y?

A.: looks at the key board with an expression of doubt, as if the question had been for her.

(16) A.: I don’t know how many times it has to be done.

Simultaneously, J gets up and types for R.

(17) J.: Press (...?) learning. Oh, press CONTROL then this.
(18) R.: OK.

In this manner, we can observe that, instead of helping A, J (15, 17) becomes involved in R’s project and A loses her mediator. R, in her turn accepts the unsolicited help partially because of the status conferred to J by the other children and confirmed by the teacher, as we saw above.

(20) J.: why didn’t you put CONTROL Y?
(31) J.: t. press the t. That’s it.
(36) J.: you really went too far, see R? after you come here (puts the finger on the screen).
(39) J.: R.! you, you 23 is too small R., learn to put other numbers.
(78) J.: Look learn there, straight look; ninety. Nine, zero (she types it herself )
(80) J.: go straight fifty-four (becomes angry, speaks rapidly) R. learn to put ninety.
(99) J.: leave her, OK R.. pay attention.

J’s help to R mimics in various moments the teacher’s teaching style, which can be observed in the interactions (20, 31, 36, 39, 78, 80) being that in (99) incorporates even the role of calling one’s attention.

33) J.: Where do you want to write?
35) J.: You want to make a little house like R’s?

Also, in relation to A, the interactions (33, 35) she places herself as a tutor, but returns again to help R.

(114) R.: Bore (says in a low voice).
(115) J.: Bore?? I won’t help you any more (crosses her arms threatening to withdraw).
(116) R.: OK (caresses J’s hair).

One characteristic in the relationship between J and R is to be marked by an asymmetry of roles, whose distance, besides being much smaller that the existent one between teacher/child, is more unstable, subject to contestations as in (114 to 116). So, even being an asymmetrical relationship, it does not present the same characteristics of stability and hierarchy of the relationship teacher/child.

In spite of the asymmetry, the relationship between J and R presents periods of co-operation, providing to both a learning process that can invoke the characteristics presented by Vygotsky (1984), for the creation of a ZDP in R, in being helped by J to do what she cannot manage to do alone, as in J in trying to imitate the teacher.

But, this imitation, necessarily fragile at this age, happens in the level of the perceived action of the role of teacher and not of the objective that informs these actions. We could have done here an analogy with the development of concepts, the perceived actions, are found at the level of thoughts by complexes, without reaching the conceptual level that involves the understanding of the teacher’s objectives.

(13) J.: OK A., you can do it.
J. observes what R is doing on the next computer.
(14) R.: (to A.): do what you want
(16) A.: I don’t know how many times you have to do it.
(25) A.: I don’t know what I am going to do.
(27) A.: Oh! I can’t do it.
(28) A.: I don’t know what I am going to do.
(32) A.: so go down here and close it. becomes a little house. Then do that day that you did a little door. make a little door on the little house too, that way...(makes gestures in the air). I don’t know
(33) J.: A. what do you want to write?
(34) A.: Don’t know
(35) J.: Do you want to make a little house like R’s?
(36) J.: How went too far, see R? after you come here (puts the finger at the monitor).
(43) A.: (with her back turned): I don’t know what I’m going to do what can I do?
(45) A.: I have not even thought what I’m going to do, what can I do?
(56) A.: I don’t know what I’m going to do, it’s not decided.
(64) A.: I don’t know which drawing that I’m going to do (with her hands on her head).
(68) A.: I don’t know what drawing I’m going to do.
(117) R.: A, you don’t know how to do anything.
(118) A.: I don’t know what drawing I’m going to do.
(128) A.: I don’t know how to make a drawing.

A. tries in (16) to participate but J is involved in R’s project and does not help A. She tries to talk to R and J but A’s conversation becomes a kind of monologue, since her interventions do not interrupt R and J’s dialogue; they talk to A only in 8 interactions (13, 14, 33, 35, 92, 93, 98, 117). In 13 interactions (25, 27, 28, 34, 43, 45, 56, 64, 66, 68, 118 e 128) throughout the episode, A expresses her difficulty with variations of Ï don’t know what I’m going to do ", being that in (117) R echoes this affirmation "A, you don’t know how to do anything".

Even when she announces in a positive manner an intention (37: "I want to make my house"...; 76:"I think I’m going to make a small story book."; 95: "I want to make a sun.") or inquires (58: "which drawing that I’m going to do?") her comments get no answers. A in (32) is able to get J’s attention (33, 35) but J in (36) resumes her involvement with R’s project.

(50) A.: No, you can make some weeds.
(51) A.: Mine doesn’t have that. only R’s. mine doesn’t
(73) A.: Tell her to show up (laughs).
(104) A.: twenty-three, twenty three (as if J had spoken to her) look, I put it.

A still tries to participate in the dialogue (50, 51, 73, 104) but does not get attention.

Her perception of her capacity of working with Logo, varies between declaring herself incapable (128: "I don’t know how to draw") and her euphoria at the end of the episode (142: "Look (shouts) Au! R look I am making my drawing, ha ha ha ha. how great!!"). This is one of the Logo aspects, to offer to the user a result interpreted as his accomplishment, which Papert (1980) already appointed as having a decisive influence

This is one of the aspects of Logo, to offer the user a result that can be interpreted as his realisation, which Papert (1980) has already pointed out as having a decisive influence over the subjects self-esteem. If the relationship of J and R to A is of exclusion, A demonstrates to have obtained something significant for herself at the end of the episode; and, if in one way the interaction seem to have been negative (lack of dialogue), in another it seems that by observing the interaction between the other two, A experienced a vicarious learning process. Vygotsky (1978: 90) points out that the learning process " ... learning awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and in co-operation with his peers. Once these processes are internalized, they become part of the child’s independent developmental achievement. The episode suggests that the child’s construction of knowledge can be affected by vicariate events which enables the child’s development even in conditions seen as unfavorable from a co-operative interaction point of view. This suggests that the conditions for this construction are not restricted to the beneficial help from an adult or from a more capable and co-operative pair as Vygotsky puts it. The relations that enable these constructions are more complex, permeated with detours of the object of knowledge and often from exclusion, as seen in this episode.

(39) J.: R.! you, you. 23 is too little R., learn how to put other numbers
(41) J.: It’s going to get out a little, you are going to have to close here.
(42) R.: That’s right.
(44) R.: Is it good like this?
(49) R.: But it’s going erase correctly. If you do not erase till here (points with the finger)
(59) R.: a little bit more. Like this, here (puts the finger at the screen) like this here.
(62) J.: I know how much it is. Put 8.
(65) J.: Needs more. I know how much it needs.
(78) J.: look learn there: ninety. Nine, zero (she types herself).
(84) R.: Like this. Like this J then turn here. Then turn, then turn
(105) J.: (to R.): Look, if twenty-four is 2 and 4, how is thirty-three? Two and ...?

The activity of debugging, cited above by Solomon, rewards all activities for J and R. The drawing construction opens room for discussions over the notion of quantity. The turns of speech of J (39, 41, 62, 65, 78, 105) reveal not only the knowledge of the notion of numbers, but also being able to estimate and to anticipate (41). At the beginning of the episode R, although not being able to make estimates, follows J’s reasoning (42, 44, 49). On (59, 84) already she is able to estimate distance by means of gestures, even if not able to use the numeric symbol to quantify.

(103) J.: no, or else I can’t do what I want. Twenty-four. not twenty-three, and.
(104) A.: twenty-three, twenty-three ( as if J had spoken to her) look I did put
(105) J.: (to R): look, if twenty-four is two and four, twenty-three is how much? Two and ...?
(106) R.: four.
(107) J.: No R..
(108) R.: Two and three.
(109) J.: So.
(110) R.: Two...

The distance between the number concept of these two children can be evaluated on interactions (103 a 110). While J’s interaction show the dominance of the notion of numbers and it’s decimal representation, R’s reveals an embryonic form of the concept, suggesting a line of thought at the level of complexes. The same line of thought can be concluded from A’s interaction (104).

The dialogues between both even reveals J’s sophistication, as the use of debugging strategies as in (63: "let’s put DT so we can see where is the line) and (141) where she also uses meta-language ("...send to erase as if in the paper...") to refer of the Logo command properties.

3 Final considerations

As we have seen, this episode contains various indications of the instrumental role of Logo for the development of the written language and the notion of numbers, besides a series of other representations, as the roles of mediator and learner, of inclusion and exclusion, which permeate the relationship between pairs, which is characterised by negotiations leading to asymmetric interactions and at the same time an instability of those interactions. By means of, or better, going though this multiplicity of relations seems that every child emerges from this activity with a higher degree of dominance of this knowledge: R developed a better understanding of number, A manages to finally make her own drawing and gains insight how to do it. Finally, J could make explicit not only the role of tutor but also the notion of number and debugging strategies.

So, the Logo environment, although receiving some pertaining criticism like the one from Linard where - "The motivation and initial spontaneity of the learner are essential but insufficient. Hence, he begins by producing stereotyped social representations that reveal the natural thought inherited from repetition of approved solutions and by the imitation around him." (1990:114) - is also conceived as a differentiated status within the pedagogic instruments. For this author - "Without any doubt whatsoever Logo is one of the rare pedagogical instruments consequent with its theories. It is conceived not to confuse the description of a theoretical state of knowledge (the competence) with the individual work (the performance). The hypothesis is that the logical-sensitive support of cognitive auto-genesis that this language offers can in any way serve as a motor to the psychological and the basis of a kind of "computer assisted narcissism", or be it, the success obtained from the first attempts (overstated in the current expression at the MIT Logo Lab: "the graphic Logo has neither threshold nor ceiling") can stimulate in the learner a new self-confidence, in his capability to do, anticipate and, by consequence, in the relation with others. This social affective and cognitive progress can be observed even with grave pathological situations such as autism. (Goldenberg, 1979 and Weir & Emmanuel, 1976". (ibid: 115).

But there are strict limits to the benefits of this "computer assisted narcissism", since these results will never be obtained only with a face-to-face encounter with the machine. The episode analyzed here shows that the social dimension of the learning process remains dominant, even if only to sustain the motivation, the effort and the vigilance.

The natural and spontaneous thinking is for sure a indispensable base for the implicit knowledge initially shared but is also constituted by rigid a priori, surrounded by epistemological obstacles too difficult to transpose, as noted by various authors, in a barrier to be conquered to reach the higher psychic functions.

Logo’s instrumental mediation only starts to be effective through the mediation of another person, which attributes to it meanings which are inaccessible in a dialogue child/computer, revealing the triadic nature of the activities in the "Logo environment".


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