sometimes with very different applications. At its core, however, the epistemological stance of a sociocultural perspective defines human learning as a dynamic social activity that is situated in physical and social contexts and is distributed across persons, instruments, and activities (Rogoff, 2003; Salomon, 1993; Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1985). This is significant because, unlike behavioral or cognitive theories of human learning, a sociocultural perspective argues that higher level human cognition in the individual has its origins in social life. That is, instead of assuming that there are universal features of human cognition that can be separated from the social, cultural, and historical contexts in which they emerged and are used, a sociocultural perspective focuses on sociocultural activities as the essential processes through which human cognition is formed. Ultimately, a sociocultural perspective seeks to explicate the relationship between human mental functioning, on the one hand, and the cultural, institutional, and historical situations in which this functioning occurs, on the other hand (Wertsch, 1980).
The epistemological tenets of a sociocultural perspective are drawn largely from the seminal work of Lev Vygotsky (1978, 1986), the Russian psychologist and educator as well as his followers Leontev (1981) and Luria (1976), and more recently those who have extended his theories, including Cole (1996), John-Steiner (1997), Kozulin (1999), Lantolf (2000, 2006), Wells (1999), and Wertsch (1991). A sociocultural perspective suggests that human cognition is formed through engagement in social activities and that it is the social relationships and the culturally and mutually constructed materials, signs, and symbols, referred to as semiotic artifacts that mediate those relationships that create uniquely human forms of higher-level thinking. Consequently, cognitive development is an interactive process, mediated by context, language, culture, and social interaction. Knowledge of the world is mediated by the virtue of being situated in a cultural environment and it is from this cultural environment that humans acquire the representational systems that ultimately become the medium, mediator, and tools of the thoughts. This indicates that meaning does not rest in language itself, but rather in the social group’s use of language; therefore, cognitive development is specified as the acquisition and manipulation of cultural tools and knowledge, the most powerful of which is language. According to Wertsch (1991), “individuals have access to psychological tools and practices by the virtue of being part of a sociocultural milieu in which those tools and practices have been and continue to be culturally transmitted”.
Wells (1991) argues that in tackling a difficult task as a group, although no member has expertise beyond his or her peers, the group as a whole, by working at the problem together, is able to construct a solution that none could have achieved alone. Thus, differences in peers’ abilities are not fixed but fluid, dynamic, and contingent on how and what is being accomplished in and through the group’s activities.
Likewise, Ohta (2001) demonstrated that L2 learners of Japanese were able to provide developmentally appropriate assistance to one another, in a sense “creating a greater expertise for the group than of any of the individuals involved”.
The following quote from Gee (1999, p. 49) sums this up nicely:
“Thinking and using language is an active matter of assembling the situated meanings that you need for action in the world. This assembly is always relative to your socioculturally defined experiences in the world and, more or less, routinized (normalized) through cultural models and various social practices of the sociocultural groups to which you belong “.
Accordingly, previous research from the perspective of the sociocultural theory of mind suggests that writing tasks completed in pairs offer learners an opportunity to collaborate in the solution of their language-related problems, co-construct new language knowledge, and produce linguistically more accurate written texts. Building on this research, the texts written by the groups were more accurate than those written individually.
2.2.1. Writing in Vygotsky’s school of thought
The premise for this dissertation is that writing is a complex form of social and cultural activity which involves a “high level of abstraction” as pupils attempt to communicate meaning (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 181). Vygotsky (1986) argues that the process of composition involves social and cultural interaction leading to the translation from inner speech, or internalized thought, to outer speech in the form of writing. This change involves “deliberate semantics—deliberate structuring of the web of meaning” that is unique to writing (Vygotsky 1986, p. 182).
Vygotsky’s (1978) “Social Constructivism Theory” postulated that all learning stems from social interaction and meaning is socially constructed through communication, activity and interaction with others. In the theory, Vygotsky brings up two important concepts which is the “More Knowledgeable Other” (MKO) and the “Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD) that will be explained in detail in the following sections.
2.2.1.1. More Knowledgeable Other or MKO
The MKO refers to a person with more competence and understanding of the subject. The MKO shares knowledge with the student to bridge the gap between what is known and what is not known. The MKO may be a teacher, an older adult or even a peer who is more experienced and advanced in the area of writing. In collaborative writing, the MKO refers to the “expert writer” of the group, a person who is more proficient in the English language and even a person who has more ideas and experiences about the subject matter. By engaging with the MKO through social learning in class, the learner will learn faster. Until students can demonstrate task mastery of new or difficult tasks, they are given more assistance or support from a teacher or a MKO. As the learner moves towards mastery, the assistance or support is gradually decreased in order to shift the responsibility for learning from the MKO to the learner (Larkin, 2002). This brings us to Vygotsky’s second concept, which is the ZPD.
2.2.1.2. Elaboration of ZPD
Vygotsky (1978) claimed that learning will only take place in the “Zone of Proximal Development”. It was Vygotsky’s belief that “good learning” occurs in the child’s zone of proximal development. Important to teaching in the ZPD is the determination of what the student can manage on his own and to allow the student to do as much as possible without any assistance. “Fading” is the process of gradually removing the scaffolding that was put into place for the child until it is completely gone. Eventually, the child internalizes the information and becomes a self-regulated, independent learner. This zone bridges the gap between what is known and what can be known through the help of expert-novice peer collaboration. A mixture of “expert” writers and “novice” writers in a team creates scaffolding that will be discussed in detail in the next section. These two groups get to learn from each other the various writing strategies employed. Britton, Burgess, Martin, Mc Leod, and Rosen (1975, p. 39) describe this transformational process as “the dialectical interrelationship of thought and language”. Writing therefore represents both a complex activity and a developmental mode of learning.
A central theme in this paper will be the argument that the most powerful forms of learning take place when students are working within a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), defined by Vygotsky (1978) as the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers (p. 86). Vygotsky goes on to describe the ZPD as a tool through which the internal course of development can be understood (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 87) and argues that “the only good kind of instruction is the one which marches ahead of development and leads it; it must be aimed not so much at the ripe as at the ripening functions” (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 188). The ZPD is always changing as the student expands and gains knowledge. Yet, Vygotsky never specified the forms of social assistance to learners that constitute a ZPD beyond generalized comments about “collaboration and direction. This study examines both the mediating role of teachers in the development of a particular pupil’s writing abilities and the consequent appropriation and internalization of the cultural tools required for writing. Through an analysis of the production of a text co-constructed