Family Storybook Reading and Language Development

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‚Literature Review‛ provides a theoretical framework for the present study,  and also elaborates questions that this research is designed to answer. The first research question ‚What is the  structure of family shared storybook reading activity?‛ is answered in this part. The ‚Literature Review‛ comprises five short chapters, sequenced from a general level of analysis to a particular level. Specifically, Chapter One discusses the perspective of Marxist psychology on the nature of human psyche, which is considered as the principal philosophy directing this research. Next, the two supporting theories rooted in Marxist psychology, Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and Leont’ev’s activity theory, are analyzed in Chapter Two and Chapter Three. The application of Leont’ev’s activity theory to family storybook reading is also examined in Chapter Three. Chapter Four reviews
previous research that relate to this project. Finally, Chapter Five presents necessary information about the Vietnamese context where this study is carried out.

Chapter One- Marxist Psychology on the Nature of Human Psyche

This chapter introduces the term ‚Marxist psychology‛ and its perspective on the  nature of human psyche. The relationship between Marxist psychology and the present research, and the research context, Vietnam, is also discussed.
What is Marxist Psychology?
Marxist psychology in the USSR has its theoretical foundations in Marxism – Leninism. In other words, Soviet psychology accepts Marxism – Leninism as its basic philosophy. Wertsch (1981) stated that ‚regardless of whether or not a Soviet psychologist takes Marxism seriously, it still has a very strong influence on his or her work because the founders of Soviet psychology were serious Marxists‛ (p. 9). In the course of development of Marxist psychology, Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1896 – 1934) and Aleksei Nikolaevich Leont’ev (1903 – 1979) have been the most important figures. Vygotsky’s sociocultural approach and Leont’ev’s activity theory approach have ‚< come to dominate Soviet psychological theory‛ (Wertsch, 1981, p. 17). Their approaches were widely applied in general and developmental psychology, engineering psychology, psychiatry, training, education, and other disciplines in the former Soviet Union. Since the 1950s, many Vietnamese psychologists and educators have been trained at Universities of the previous Soviet Union. One of them was the former Vietnamese Minister of Education Professor, Academician Pham Minh Hac (1935 -). He, presently, is the director of the Institute of Human Studies, the Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences, and also the president of the Vietnam Association of Psychologial-Educational Science. He used to be a doctoral student of Professor, Academician Luria, and then a postdoctoral student of Professor, Academician Leont’ev. In 1972, Pham Minh Hac started doing his postdoctoral research with the title ‚Behaviour and activity‛ which compared the development of American psychology with the development of Soviet psychology since the beginning of the 20th century (Pham Minh Hac, 2003). Under guidance of Leont’ev, he completed successfully his study, and made important contributions to establishing psychological science in Vietnam. As a result of this, Marxist psychology has become the foundation of contemporary Vietnamese psychology and education. For the English-speaking nations, some concepts of Marxist psychology are well known, such as the zone of proximal development, and elements of activity theory. Works of theorists such as Cole, Wertsch and their colleagues have significant influence. However, detailed understanding of the other original Soviet works is still limited. Nowadays, approaches of Marxist psychology continue to be developed globally (Elhammoumi, 1997). For example, in Finland, through a synthesis of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and Leont’ev’s general activity theory, Engestrom has developed the application of the activity theory to understanding organizational change and development (see Engestrom, 1987). In America, Bedny and Meister has outlined applications of his systemic-structural approach of activity in engineering psychology, ergonomics and training (Bedny & Meister, 1997). In the present study, Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and Leont’ev’s activity theory serve as central principles to the design of the storybook reading activity in the home setting, and to the analysis of the relationship between this activity and children’s language development. Thus, first of all, it is necessary to grasp their point of view on the nature of human psyche which leads to these theories.

The Perspective of Marxist Psychology on the Nature of Human Psyche

Human psyche is not born by the will of God nor does it pre-exist in our brains. Marxist psychology explains the human psyche as a function of the brain, the human psyche as a subjective image of objective reality, and having a social – historical nature (Leont’ev, 1978). In other words, the human psyche is a reflection of natural and social existence by the human brain, through ‘filtering’ of the subject. The human psyche is the product of the social-historical process. This position is unlike idealism which considers spirit as the source of all that exists on earth, and matter as secondary and subordinate. Materialism recognizes the independent existence of matter as detached from spirit and considers spirit as decided by matter. This point of view stated clearly in Lenin’s definition of matter, ‚Matter is a philosophical category denoting the objective reality which is given to man by his sensations, and which is copied, photographed and reflected by our sensations while existing independently of them » (Lenin, 1960, p. 130). In this case, the human brain and bodily organs, and the objective reality are primary, exist independently from the human psyche, and decide the human psyche. Specifically, the nature of human psyche is analyzed as follows: The human psyche as a function of the brain. The human brain is a material organ which has developed at the highest level in the course of evolution of the material world. As a result of this development, the human brain becomes the means of the reflection of reality with the highest form, consciousness, which is unique to human beings. Unlike other forms of passive reflections, for example mechanical, optical, chemical, and biological reflections, the human psychic reflections are active, creative and subjective. Leont’ev (1978) asserted, The Lenin theory of reflection considers sensory images in human consciousness as prints, photographs of an independently existing reality.
This is also what brings psychic reflections close to ‘related’ forms of reflection peculiar also to material that does not have a ‘clearly expressed  capability of sensing’. But this forms only one side of characterization of psychic reflections; the other side consists of the fact that psychic reflection, as distinct from mirror and other forms of passive reflection, is subjective, and this means that it is not passive, not dead, but active, that into its definition enters human life and practice, and that it is characterized by the movement of a constant flow, objective into subjective. (p. 33)
The process of psychic reflections of the human brain occurs through the mechanism of reflex, including unconditioned and conditioned reflexes. Leont’ev (1978) emphasised the reflex theory of Pavlov, ‚Reflexive, psychic reflections of the brain were presented as a product and condition of real ties between the organism and the environment impinging upon it‛ (p. 30). Conditioned reflexes, and ‚mobile physiological organs‛ or new ‚functional systems‛ play an important role in the formation of higher psychological functions. Simply speaking, the human psyche is not produced by the human brain, but its function. Leont’ev (1981) explained that, In human beings, the formation of uniquely human functional systems takes place as a result of mastering tools (means) and operations. These systems are nothing other than external motor operations and mental (for example, logical) operations that have been deposited and consolidated in the brain. But this does not consist of simply ‚tracing‛ them; rather, it involves the physiological instantiation of these systems. In order to analyze this counterpart, one must use another language, which involves different units. These units are the brain functions and their ensembles. (p. 67) In fact, people whose brains and/or bodily organs are injured, then their psychic reflections are also unusual. Furthermore, at the different ages with different levels of physical development, the human psyche has certain changes, for example, dysfunction of memory for some old people. However, according to Marxist psychology, the biological factor does not completely determine human psyche. Rather, it plays a role as the essentially material pre-condition for human development. As discussed before, it is the means of psychic reflection. Therefore, in studying the psychological development of each individual, the level of his/her bodily development must be paid attention to. Moreover, to develop the brain functions and their ensembles of each individual, he/she needs to participate actively in social activities suitable to him or her. The human psyche as a subjective image of objective reality. The objective reality understood is natural and social existence, including the human individual him/herself. Also, the objective reality is the living environment around him or her. It creates motivations and goals. It provides him or her with conditions and tools to achieve his/her goals (Nguyen Anh Tuyet, 1986). As stated above, when the objective reality impinges on the brain, and its impingement is received by the brain, then reflexive, psychic reflections are made. In other words, to have psychic reflections, besides the indispensable existence of the objective reality and the human brain, a real relationship between them must be established (Leont’ev, 1978; Nguyen Quang Uan, 1997). In this relationship, the brain plays a role as the means of the psychic reflections, while the objective reality is the origin, and also the content of the human psyche. Nevertheless, as a special capability of the human brain, its psychic reflection of the objective reality is active and subjective. Leont’ev (1978) indicated that, ‚<all perceptive activity finds the object there where it really is – in the external world, in objective space and time‚(p. 36), but ‚< the psychic reflection of reality is its subjective image‛ (p. 33). This means that, the concept of subjectivity of the image must be understood as its belonging to an acting-subject. For instance, an image of the Match Selling Girl (Andersen, 2002) in a child’s mind was produced from the story that he/she listened to. However, this image might be different each time of his/her listening. The construction of the image depended on all factors that formed this individual’s personality such as his/her need, feeling, prior knowledge and experience, attention and state of health. In fact, these factors were not stable all the time. Also, this image of the Match Selling Girl in his/her mind might be different from that of other classmates who were read to by the sam teacher. These differences might be a result of variation in interest, experience, gender, bodily development, family background and so on among them. In brief, without the human brain or the objective world, the individual cannot survive as a human being nor exist within his/her psychic life. The brain and the objective reality are necessary conditions. However, they are not sufficient conditions for psychic reflections. In addition to these, more importantly, there is the actively participative role of the individual as the subject of establishing interactions between the brain and this objective world. As a result of a combination of the necessary and sufficient conditions, the human psychological image has its objective and subjective features.

Table of Contents
The Importance of the Research
Research Purposes and Research Questions
The Structure of the Thesis
Chapter One- Marxist Psychology on the Nature of Human Psyche
What is Marxist Psychology?
The Perspective of Marxist Psychology on the Nature of Human Psyche
Chapter Two- Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory
Direction of Child Psychological Development
Social Origin of Child Psychological Development
Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory of Language Development
Neo-Vygotskyan Perspectives on Social Interaction and Language Development
Chapter Three- The Activity Theory of Leont’ev
The Concept of Activity
The Relationship between External and Internal Activity
The General Structure of Activity
Different Perspectives on Leont’ev’s Activity Theory
Application of Leont’ev’s Activity Theory to Family Shared Storybook Reading
Chapter Four – Family Storybook Reading and Language Development
Family Literacy Environment and Language Development
Family Storybook Reading and Language Development
Chapter Five- The Context of Family Storybook Reading in Vietnam
Context of Vietnamese Language
Vietnamese Family Culture and Literacy
Family Storybook Reading in Vietnam
Research Design
Ethical Considerations
Chapter One: The Context
Participants’ School Contexts
Participants’ Home Contexts
Chapter Two: The Results
The Reading Participants and the Motives for their Shared Reading Activity
The Types of Children’s Storybooks Selected for Reading
The Frequency of Storybook Sharing
The Parent Reading Styles
The Children’s Vocabulary Development
The Children’s Narrative Comprehension Development
Home-School Connections
Chapter Three: Discussion
Relationships between the Readers’ Motives and Their Engagement in Reading
High Quality Storybooks as an Important Reading Condition
Reading Frequency as an Indicator of Language Acquisition
Parent Reading Styles as Subtle and Insightful Guidance
Storybook Sharing as an Advantageous Way for Children’s Language Learning
Home-School Connections Promote Family Shared Storybook Reading Practices
Future Research

Reading storybooks in Vietnamese families as a language intervention: An activity analysis

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