Interpsychological Origin of the Educational Action of Modeling



The content of education becomes the key to the development of the learner's agency when the teacher encourages children to independently construct a new concept using educational models. Using the case study method, we analyzed child-adult interactions at one of the key points of the emergence of children's independence in working with educational models. For this study we analyzed the lessons, where the primer by D.B. Elkonin was used. The focus of our observations was on the stage of transformation of the original model of sound-letter relations when students are faced with facts that contradict the principle described in this model. It is shown that in this situation, the initiative of learners can be directed by the adult entirely to the conceptual content of their work and presented in two modalities: in thinking about the connections between already learned concepts and new ones, constructed here and now, and in understanding the thoughts of classmates about these connections. At the same time, the teacher's efforts in real educational interaction are directed primarily at interweaving the disparate threads of children's conceptual initiatives, and in this way, at building a form of cooperation that is adequate to the content of notions constructed by students.

General Information

Keywords: education developing learner’s agency, content and form of educational cooperation, modeling

Journal rubric: Educational Psychology

Article type: scientific article


Funding. The reported study was carried out within the framework of the state assignment of The Institute of Psychology is the only one in the Russian Academy of Science.

Received: 31.08.2023


For citation: Zuckerman G.A., Obukhova O.L., Bilibina T.M. Interpsychological Origin of the Educational Action of Modeling. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2024. Vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 27–37. DOI: 10.17759/chp.2024200105. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)

A Part of Article

Extended Abstract

“We have found the key to the problem of developmental education in the primary-school age. This key is the content of education” [13 p. 258]. This famous answer to the question about the nature of education leading to development of a learner was articulated after D.B. Elkonin made a revolutionary change in the content of education and conducted through 1958-1959, his pioneering genetic modeling experiments in the Moscow  school # 91. These experiments performed when teaching first-graders to read and write were the starting point in constructing a new system of developmental education. Today, this system of education is named after D.B. Elkonin and his disciple V.V. Davydov. The Elkonin's ABC primer published in 1961 became the first textbook exemplifying this system.

Summing up the first step in molding a new educational system, D.B. Elkonin made a cautious assumption that “the modeling by a child of certain aspects of reality and the laws of their structure carried out with the teacher’s facilitation is the general principle of their comprehension” [13 p. 404]. Over several following decades of research, this hypothesis was repeatedly substantiated theoretically and verified experimentally [2; 3; 10; 12].

In one aspect, our research complements this body of fundamental work on educational modeling as the main means of conceptual thinking: we study the origin of the modeling action. To this end, we analyzed the case when the very first learner’s inquiry emerged which would led to constructing the very first learning model [8]. To follow up, we examined the precise moment when the first learning model is built by students [5]. The novelty of our study of the origins of educational modeling is also rooted in its methodology: we follow the birth of an action in vivo when a teacher interacts with her first-graders in the classroom. We have succeeded in describing the structure of the interpsychological action of students and teachers at the culminating moments of learning, when children's thoughts about the potential characteristics of the constructed concept are born and the implicit connections with other concepts of the same conceptual system are established. In particular, it was shown that in the situation of setting and solving the learning problems, children's initiative questions and guesses about the hidden valences of a new potentially systemic concept appear with admirable regularity. This happens whenever the teacher is not inclined to give ready-made answers to questions that were not asked by students, but is able to initiate and support the child's search for a method of action that as yet is not in the students' repertoire. By the nature of children's conceptual initiatives that arise when setting and solving learning problems, one can judge how wide is the new class of problems for a child and the general way of solving them that is the essence of the model [7; 8].

This article discusses the path of first-graders to the next climax of development of modeling: the first transformation of the original model when the students are faced with a new class of problems. Once again, the subject matter for the work of children was taken from the primer by D.B. Elkonin [14]. The same method of analysis was employed: by deciphering the video recordings of the lessons, we reconstructed the interpsychological action aimed at setting and solving the learning task. This is a typical case study: when considering a single fact, we identify the general properties of the class of phenomena to which this fact belongs [18].

When a researcher (of any age) encounters facts that contradict the principle described in the original model it seems necessary to transform this model [3]. In this case, it becomes possible to outline the boundary between the class of already known phenomena described in the model and unknown phenomena inexplicable with the model. On the basis of the lessons wherein such incidents occur, the diagnostician, armed with methods of direct observation and analysis of learning interactions, can register whether first-graders have such prerequisites for the future ability to learn independently, as the ability to separate the known from the unknown, whether they apprehend conceptual contradictions and are ready to move on from their previous knowledge to the new one [9; 17]. The criterion for such readiness is the learning initiatives that pop out in the classroom when children face conceptual contradictions.

In the Elkonin's primer, the initial models are those that describe the relationship of consonant sounds, paired in softness and hardiness, with the letters for consonants and vowels. The law of the Russian graphics, as described in these models, was verified many times in the lessons of the native language - when the students become acquainted with 14 letters for consonants, paired in softness - hardness. The regularity of this law is violated for five letters for consonants, unpaired in softness - hardness. In our case study, first-graders for the first time come across a contradiction between a class of practical problems, the solution of which is described by the original model, and a new class of problems. Unfortunately, as the linguistic problems discussed in these lessons have no phonological analogues in English, we cannot illustrate directly the behavior of first-graders in this situation by quoting their amazing guesses and arguments about the relationship of sounds and letters. We therefore come out with general conclusions based of the dialogues in the lesson, where children for the first time transform the familiar model of sound-letter relations as they meet a new class of linguistic facts.

  1. The teacher always comes to the lesson with her educational goal and a plan to achieve it. Not only the objective goal is determined beforehand, but also the conditions are considered for students to become real initiators of movement towards a new concept. However, the teacher cannot apprehend in advance at what points in the lesson and in what form the children's initiative, aimed at constructing new knowledge, will manifest itself. Therefore, a lesson can almost never run smoothly so that children's initiatives precisely follow the teacher's plans. Boat movement by tacks is a more accurate metaphor of the teacher's work, striving to achieve the objective goal of the lesson, while cultivating the ability and inclination to act with concepts on their own initiative in young, insufficiently competent students [4; 7, 15].
  2. Scrutinizing a single, always unique lesson, we emphasized the general features of any lesson in which the learning initiative of children is undeniable, and the leading role of an adult is not apparent. Before meeting with her students, the teacher picks up the data, which would give the children a chance to stumble upon problems of a new class, and in advance imagines model tools for solving a new class of problems. When it comes to the real interaction, the teacher offers the children an objective task, while she herself solves a completely different task of organizing the learning community [16] in such a way that many students notice every spark of a constructive thought in their classmates and respond with their own thoughts. It is not by chance that children's initiatives are aimed entirely at the content of the lesson and are presented in two modalities: in thinking about the connection between concepts already mastered and new concepts constructed «here and now», and in understanding the thoughts of classmates about these connections. By expressing what they heard in their own words, in their images and metaphors, children persuade the teacher in the authenticity of understanding. At the same time, the efforts of the teacher are almost entirely aimed at weaving together the so far unrelated threads of children's initiatives.
  3. Let us re-word Elkonin’s formula of education developing students as agents of learning activity. The content of learning activity becomes the key to the development of a child only when the teacher takes care of “packaging” this content into an adequate form of learning interaction at every moment of the lesson [6]. The significance of form in education is no less palpable than in poetry; the individuality of the educational form in a successful lesson is experienced as acutely as the uniqueness of the author's voice in a poem. It is the form of educational interaction that is at the center of the teacher's concerns about the active, initiative participation of children in educational activities. We emphasize that rather than communication and cooperation trainings, separated from the content of education, we are talking about forms of cooperation in which the conceptual content of education can become a means of children's thinking and action.
  4. The question of the relationship between inter- and intrapsychological forms of learning activity remains open. We believe that the interpsychological beginning of the action of modeling is not only a prerequisite for the internalization of this action; it will not turn worthless after the student acquires independence in modeling. The life and enduring development of learning communities ensures the emotional well-being of students [20] and makes it possible to move from educational to research modeling [11], from the ability to learn to life-long self-education [19].


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Information About the Authors

Galina A. Zuckerman, Doctor of Psychology, professor, Leading Research Fellow, Psychological Institute of the Russian Academy of Education, Moscow, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:

Olga L. Obukhova, Research Fellow, Psychological Institute of the Russian Academy of Education, Moscow, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:

Tatiana M. Bilibina, Primary School Teacher, State Budgetary Educational Institution of the City of Moscow "School No. 91", Moscow, Russia, e-mail:



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