Adolescent Pedagogy Lev Vygotsky 1931
The development of
thinking and concept
Content of the lesson
The theory of the purely quantitative evolution of
thinking in adolescence and a criticism of this theory. –
Evolution of the form and content of thinking in
adolescence. – Theory of the development of higher
psychological functions and the problem of intellectual
development of the adolescent. – The formation of concepts regarded as the main factor characterizing
adolescent psychology. – Methods of studying these
concepts. – Ach‟s and Rimat‟s studies. – Functional methodology of double stimulation and the
investigation of concept formation. – Investigation of the concept formation process. – Three stages in the development of the concept formation process: the
stage of syncretic images; the stage of concrete
complexes and the stage of potential concepts. – The
structure and process of the formation of real concepts.
– Changes in the content of thinking in connection with
concept formation. – Comparative studies of the
thinking structures in children and in adolescents.
Study plan for the lesson 1 Read the text and make up a plan and summary of the whole chapter.
2 Making use of the concept definition method, compare the answers to the same questions (about a
number of different concrete and abstract concepts)
given by a pre-school, a school age and an adolescent child and analyse these answers in the light of the
account given in this chapter.
3 Study the three stages in the formation of concepts in the thinking process of a young child, a pre-school
child, a school age child and an adolescent which are described in the text of the project.
4 Look for the presence of syncretism in the pre-school child‟s explanations, of verbal syncretism in the school
age child‟s statement and for the disappearance of these phenomena in the adolescent‟s answers.
5 Think about what conclusions can be drawn, based on the data obtained about the particular features of the intellectual development of adolescents, which might
serve as a basis for an educational methodology, from the point of view of thinking content and form. 6 Using the method of completion of sentences by subordinate
clauses after „because although . . .‟, etc., determine at
what stage full control of logical modes of thinking is
Currently, the history of thought development in adolescence, the
age of transition, also finds itself in a somewhat transitional stage between old concepts and a new level of understanding of the process of intellectual maturation which has been formulated on the basis of new theoretical approaches to the psychological nature of speech and thinking, and on the development and functional and structural inter-relation of these processes. At the present time, in an article devoted to the study of adolescent thinking, paedology at the time of puberty is able to overcome the basic and fundamental prejudices and the disastrous misunderstandings which stand in the way of the development of accurate ideas about the crisis accompanying intellectual maturation which makes up the substance of adolescent thought development. This error is generally expressed in the statement that there is nothing fundamentally new in adolescent thinking as compared with the thought processes of the younger child. Some writers even take the extreme view, in defending the idea that puberty does not really mark the appearance of any sort of new intellectual operation in the thinking sphere which cannot already be found in a three-year-old child.
Looking at it from this point of view, the development of thinking
has no central place in the maturation process. The vital momentous transformations which occur in literally all parts of the adolescent‟s organism and personality during this crucial period, the uncovering of new deep layers of his personality and the development of the higher
forms of his organic and cultural life – all this, when looked at from
this perspective, does not in any way affect adolescent thinking. All
these changes occur in other areas and spheres of the personality. The
result is that the role of intellectual changes in the overall process of
the maturation crisis in adolescence are disparaged and presented as
having no significance.
Firstly, if one were to follow this point of view consistently, the
very process of the intellectual changes which occur at this age is
reduced to a simple quantitative accumulation of the same particular
features which are already present in the thinking of a three year old
and to a further purely quantitative growth to which, strictly speaking,
the word „development‟ can not really be applied.
In recent times this point of view has been most consistently
followed by Ch. Bühler in her theory of adolescence in which, among
others, a continuing, orderly development of the intellect during the
period of pubescence is ascertained. This theory assigns an extremely
insignificant role to the intellect within the overall system of these
transformations and in the general structure of the processes which
exemplify maturation, without recognizing the enormous positive
significance of intellectual development for the fundamental and most
profound transformation of the whole personality system of the
adolescent. „Generally speaking‟, says this author,
one can surmise that during puberty a more marked
separation of dialectic and abstract thinking from perception
occurs. For the belief that any intellectual operation only
appears for the first time during the age of puberty belongs
to those tales which child psychology has discredited. All
possibilities for the later development of thinking are
essentially already present in a child of three or four.
To support these ideas, the author refers to K. Bühler‟s study, which
pursues the point of view that the most essential features of intellectual
development, in the sense of a gradual ripening of the basic intellectual
processes, take shape already at a very early age. Ch. Bühler thinks
that the difference between thinking in young children and of
adolescents is the fact that in the case of the child, visual perception
and thinking are generally much more closely affiliated. She says:
A child rarely thinks in purely verbal or abstract terms. Even
very talkative and verbally gifted children always proceed
from a starting point of some concrete experience, and in
cases where they are just carried away by a desire to speak,
they generally chatter away without thinking. The
mechanism is being exercised, without seemingly pursuing
any other function. Furthermore, the fact that children draw
conclusions and make judgements solely within the confines
of their own concrete experience, and that their plans, in
relation to their own short-term goals, are enclosed in a tight
circle of visual perception, is well accepted and has given
rise to the false assumption that children are completely
incapable of abstract thinking.
This opinion has long since been refuted as it has been
possible to establish that, from a very early age, a child
perceives, whilst abstracting and selecting, and mentally
rounds out with a kind of hazy general content, concepts
such as good, bad, sweet, etc., as well as being able to
develop other concepts through abstraction, to draw
conclusions, etc. However, there can be no doubt that, in
large measure, all these things are closely dependent on his
visual perceptions and impressions.
In adolescents, on the contrary, thinking becomes less constrained
and less concrete than the sensory source on which it is based.
Therefore we observe that the rejection of the idea of any essential changes in the intellectual development of the adolescent, inevitably leads to an affirmation of a process of simple growth of the intellect during puberty and its growing independence from sensory material. One „Way in which this idea could be formulated is that adolescent thinking acquires a sort of new quality in comparison with the thinking of young children as it becomes less concrete and furthermore, it intensifies and becomes strengthened, it increases and grows when compared with the thinking of a three year old; however, not a single .intellectual function has its origin during this entire transitional period and therefore thinking itself is not of any critical or decisive importance for the adolescent‟s development in general, and it appears to occupy only an extremely insignificant place in the overall system during this critical period of maturation.
This view has to be considered the most traditional one and, unfortunately, is also the most widespread and the one which is not interpreted critically by the majority of contemporary theories of adolescence. Nonetheless, in the light of contemporary scientific data regarding adolescent psychology, this opinion strikes us as profoundly inadequate; its roots reach way back to old fashioned research, which dealt with nothing but the most external, superficial and obvious features, i.e. the change in the emotional state, among all the psychological changes taking place in a child undergoing the metamorphosis to adolescence.
In this sense, traditional adolescent psychology has a tendency to
see the emotional changes as the central core and principal content of the whole crisis and to contrapose the development of the adolescent‟s emotional life with the intellectual development of a school aged child.
It seems to us that when the question is put in this way, everything appears turned on its head, and everything regarded in the light of that theory seems to us to be turned inside out: it is precisely when we see young children as the very emotional creatures which they are, in whose whole being emotion plays a pre-eminent role, that the adolescent appears to us, above all, as a thinking being. The traditional view is expressed most comprehensively and, at the same time, most concisely by Giese. He says: „Whilst the psychological development of a child before puberty primarily includes the functions of the senses, memory store, intellect and attention, the period of puberty is
 characterized by the development of an emotional life‟.
The logical course followed by this point of view leads to the banal
approach to adolescents which tends to ascribe the entire
psychological aspect of maturation to their heightened emotional state, dreaminess, outbursts and other such semi-dreamlike products of emotional life. The fact that the period of puberty is a time of striking growth of intellectual development and that, for the first time during that period thinking comes to the fore, not only remains unnoticed when this question is formulated in such a way, but it even takes on a mysterious and inexplicable hue in the light of this theory. Other writers also hold the same view, for example Kroh who, like Bühler, regards all the variations found in adolescent thinking from that of younger children to be due to the fact that the visual basis of thinking which plays such an important role in childhood, recedes into the background during the period of puberty. This author derogates the importance of this difference even more, when, with good cause, he points out that often, between the concrete and the abstract forms of thinking, a transitional fleeting stage in the development process
which is characteristic for adolescence manifests itself. This writer
gives the fullest positive expression to this theory, shared by Bühler,
when he writes: „We cannot expect a school aged child to progress to
entirely new forms of thinking in the area of judgement.
Differentiation, subtlety, a significant degree of self-assurance and
awareness in the use of forms of expression already available at an
earlier stage, should also be regarded as most essential challenges of
 development at this stage‟.
Kroh then summarizes the same point of view which brings together
the development of the thinking process and the subsequent refinement
of the previously existing forms in the following way:
To summarize what has been discussed so far, we can
establish that both in the realm of the systems which process
perceptions (selection, set, categorical perception and
processing classification) and in the sphere of logical
connections (concept, judgement, inference, criticism), no
completely new forms of psychological functions and
actions appear in children of school age. All these are in
existence earlier, but during school age they undergo
considerable development, which can be seen in their being
used in a more differentiated, subtle and frequently even
more conscious fashion.
If one is to render the meaning of this theory in one sentence, one
could say that the appearance of new shades of nuances, more
specialized and cognizant application contributes to the differences
found in the thinking process of an adolescent as compared with that
of a child.
Essentially the same view is developed in our literature by
Rubinstein, who systematically considers all changes in the realm of
thinking which occur during adolescence to be a continuation of a journey along a trail which has already been blazed in the thinking of the young child. In this respect Rubinstein is in complete agreement with Bühler.
Whilst rejecting Meumann‟s stand, who believes that the ability to draw conclusions only fully develops in children at the age of 14, Rubinstein declares that not a single form of intellectual activity, not even the ability to draw conclusions, makes it, appearance for the first time in adolescence. This writer claims that the view which proclaims that, in the sphere of mental development, childhood can be differentiated from youth by the fact that the central thinking action, namely the ability to draw conclusions in the true sense of the word, only appears in adolescence, is entirely false. In actual fact, this is entirely untrue. There is no doubt that the central thinking process, including the ability to draw conclusions, is already to be found in children.
The only difference between the thinking of a child and that of an adolescent, is that what we as adults understand to be objectively immaterial, circumstantial and superficial, children interpret as essential qualities. „It is only in adolescence that the major premises as well as the personal definitions and judgements begin to be furnished with essential attributes and, in any case, the framework of the tendency to find them and not to be simply guided by the first
superficial feature, becomes clearly apparent.'
So the whole difference can be ascribed to the fact that among children and adolescents the same modes of thinking are provided with a different content. Rubinstein even talks about an expansion of awareness. In children, these forms are filled with non-material
attributes; in adolescents a tendency to fill them with material
attributes first appears. Therefore, the whole difference is in the
material, in the content and in the filling. The forms remain the same
and, at best, undergo a process of further development and
consolidation. Among such new shades and nuances, Rubinstein
includes the ability to think to the point, a markedly increased
steadfastness in the direction of the thinking process, greater flexibility,
a wider scope and mobility of thought and other similar characteristics.
The reason why this theory is of particular interest can easily be
seen from the retort which its author directs toward all those who have
a tendency to deny that a sharp rise and intensification occurs in the
mental development of adolescents and young people. This is how
Rubinstein defends the idea that the intellectual development of the
adolescent is characterized by just such a marked improvement and
Observations of fact point to this and theoretical
considerations lead us in the same direction, otherwise we
would have to assume that the influx of new experiences, of
new content and new relationships contributes nothing at all
and that the causes remain without effects. Thus, one has to
look for typical signs of an intensification of mental
development not only in the appearance of new interests and
inquiry, but also in the deepening and broadening of old
ones, in their range and in the entire reach of life‟s concerns.
In this speculation Rubinstein exhibits the same internal
contradiction which, in equal measure, is present in all the theories
which want to deny the appearance of anything essentially new in the
thinking process during the period of sexual maturation. However, all
writers who deny the emergence of new forms of thinking in