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Notes: Kucirkova. (2015). A Vygotskian perspective on parent-child talk during iPad story sharing



Citekey: @Kucirkova2015

Kucirkova, N., Sheehy, K., & Messer, D. (2015). A Vygotskian perspective on parent-child talk during iPad story sharing. Journal of Research in Reading, 38(4), 428–441. doi:10.11111467-9817.12030


An interesting study exploring themes of interactions in parent-child talk during iPad story sharing/creation. The analysis was largely informed by Vygotsky’s learning theory focusing on ZPD, dual representation and double stimulation. While results offer insights about parent-child talk in an interesting story-creation iPad app (something less common in traditional storytelling reading research), this study also challenges the Vygotskian frame’s explanatory power in this novel context. Newer frameworks such as Mercer’s intermental development zone (IDZ) and Hakkarainen’s trialogical approach of learning are deemed more suitable for future studies.


A deductive–inductive thematic analysis identified three recurring themes in the parent–child talk: realistic fiction, scaffolding variations, and engaged players and objects of ‘play’. (p. 1)

Emerging findings indicate that story-enhancing features provided by interactive digital stories accessible through iPads may not necessarily be beneficial. (p. 1)

book-making apps (e.g., StoryMakerTM) are designed to support the sharing of user-created stories. Applications like these often ‘blend’ the affordances of oral and book-based story sharing, as they allow users to edit the content orally (i.e., users can add their own recordings to the story) but also have similar features to traditional books in terms of their book-size format and textual and visual representation (Kucirkova, Messer, Sheehy, & Flewitt, 2013). (p. 2)

Despite the apparent convergence of modes in iPad stories and new technologies, most research has remained focused on a dichotomous comparison of paper-based versus oral story sharing (e.g., Farrant & Zubrick, 2012, Fivush 2008, 2011) or electronic versus paper-based books (e.g., Korat, Segal-Drori, & Klien, 2009; Shamir, Korat, & Fellah, 2012). To date, there is very little theorised documentation of parent–child interactions supported by new interactive technologies such as book-making iPad apps. (p. 2)

Theoretical framework: Vygotsky’s learning theory (p. 2)

Vygotsky’s ideas provide ‘a natural framework within which to view parent–child literacy interactions’ (Neumann, Hood, & Neumann, 2009, p. 313). (p. 2)

To frame our understanding of the learning opportunities embedded in a new, so far little explored story-sharing context, we focus on three key concepts in this study: zone of proximal development (ZPD), dual representation and double stimulation. (p. 2)

Vygotsky postulated that ideas and concepts originate in social and shared processes and considered child’s intellectual growth to be ‘contingent on his mastering the social means of thought, that is, language’ (Vygotsky, 1964, p. 47). Others’ thoughts become internalised as part of the child’s inner speech, which is ‘social speech turned inwards’ (Ehrich, 2006, p. 13). (p. 3)

Vygotsky (1978) specified that objects play a major role in knowledge acquisition. Vygotsky conceptualised this through the metaphor of dual representation. According to this metaphor, an object can be understood at two levels: on a concrete level (e.g., clock as an object on the wall) and on a symbolic level (e.g., a clock that signifies time). (p. 3)

To investigate how children develop their knowledge through conversing with an adult, Vygotsky (1928) and his colleague Sakharov developed the experimental method of double stimulation in which a child groups together a set of wooden blocks of different shapes and colours. (p. 3)

Given that double stimulation focuses on uncovering the development of new knowledge, rather than simply the result of this development, it is well suited for dynamic assessment contexts (Portes, Smith, Zady, & Del Castillo, 1997). (p. 3)

Multimedia and agency (p. 3)

There are two key features of iPad story-making apps that are different from traditional book sharing and that have particular pertinence from a Vygotskian perspective: multimedia and agency. (p. 3)

Such a reconstruction of story representation is a form of agency, which in Vygotskian terms originates in the ‘use of external artefacts to reach a redefinition of a situation’ (Engestrom, 2006, p. 6). A redefined situation is likely to transform the knowledge created within it, and the ways this knowledge is expressed. (p. 4)

The present study (p. 4)

We therefore employed a qualitative research methodology to explore the interaction patterns of two daughter–mother pairs. This included a deductive–inductive thematic analysis (Fereday & Muir-Cochrane, 2008), which has been suggested as particularly useful for contexts with little prior research. (p. 4)

We focused on a detailed analysis of knowledge expression (cf. Diezman & Watters, 1998) represented through parent–child talk in the moment of the experience. Aligned with a Vygotskian emphasis on language as the ‘tool of tools’ (Wilson, 2005, online), we focused the analysis on parent–child talk. The research questions that guided our analysis were as follows: What themes are present in parent–child talk when they create and share their own iPad stories? To what extent can the Vygotskian theoretical framework account for the knowledge expression in the parent–child story sharing mediated by the story-making iPad app? (p. 4)

Methodology (p. 4)

Study participants (p. 4)

Two mothers and their daughters took part in the study. (p. 4)

Study procedure (p. 5)

Both dyads were visited at home and given iPads (iPad 1) with a pre-loaded story-making application called Our Story. (p. 5) (p. 5)

The two parent–child pairs were encouraged to use the app as they wished and were told that the researcher (first author of this study) would visit after 1 week to see how they liked the app and would be interested in any stories they might have created. No specific instructions were given in regard to the actual use of the app; it was emphasised that the researcher aims to simply observe and record the mothers’ and children’s natural activity with Our Story (p. 5)

After 1week, the researcher visited the two pairs at home again and asked about any stories made with Our Story. At this visit, the researcher observed how Mother 1 and Child 1 shared for the first time a story the mother had created for her daughter, and how Mother 2 and Child 2 spontaneously created and shared a novel story. (p. 5)

Analysis method (p. 5)

Transcripts were analysed using a combined deductive–inductive coding (Fereday & MuirCochrane, 2008). This approach to thematic analysis uses ‘broad deductively determined codes to home in on the data, and then inductive coding to explore this in more detail’ (Rivas, 2012, p. 371). (p. 5)

Before commencing an in-depth analysis, we explored the data within these broad themes and wrote a short descriptive passage to capture the issues raised within each theme and its relationship to the data. (p. 5)

As a second step, inductive codes were derived from the data, separately for each parent–child pair. (p. 5)

This step was followed by a customary procedure for thematic analysis, that is to say, revision of the codes through iterative and reflexive process of comparison and contrasting, leading to the development of higher-order themes (Tesch, 1990). (p. 6)

Findings (p. 6)

Thematic analysis revealed three comprehensive themes (p. 6)

Realistic fiction (p. 6)

In the first dyad, when discussing the story plot, a major part of mother–child talk revolved around ordinary daily experiences that involved both real (e.g., mother and child) and imaginary story characters (p. 6)

As such, the mother facilitated the child’s transition from concrete to more abstract thinking (or from real to fictional stories), which includes ‘perceiving relationships’ and ‘sensing continuity and sequence’ (Carrier, 1963, p. 2). (p. 6)

For the second parent–child dyad, the talk centred around everyday activities because of the girl’s focus on the daily routines carried out by her toy clock. (p. 6)

The child’s writing and story composing were on this occasion scaffolded by both the more knowledgeable adult (i.e., the girl’s mother) and the app, which allowed assembling together a digital photograph of the toy clock, the child’s audio-recorded sounds and her pretend typing. With both support mechanisms, the girl was able to ‘solve’ a relatively complex task of story composing, with a considerable sense of agency (p. 7)

Scaffolding variations (p. 7)

In the first pair, the mother verbally supported her daughter’s recall and sequence of the story so that the child could understand the story plot. (p. 7)

As such, the mother skilfully ensured that the task fell within the child’s ZPD. (p. 7)

Mother 2 supported her daughter’s activity by giving instructions mostly in relation to the process of story composition. (p. 7)

Thus, both mothers used different strategies for supporting different kinds of knowledge, providing their children with different opportunities for assisted performance and gradual autonomy within their ZPDs (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976). With Mother 1 focusing on the linguistic aspects of the shared story and Mother 2 on the procedural functions of the app, there were clear differences in the nature of knowledge scaffolded (p. 7)

Engaged players and objects of ‘play’ (p. 8)

However, although the process of story creation resembled a double-stimulation activity, the use of the Our Story app gave rise to a parent–child interaction that had a different learning potential than the one afforded by cultural artefacts from Vygotskian time. The app’s affordances for multimodal knowledge expression captured the process as well as representation of both the mother’s and child’s story worlds and represented these dynamically, instantaneously and in three modes (picture, audio and text). (p. 8)

Discussion (p. 8)

In both pairs, independent and guided problem solving collided because the child’s knowledge was scaffolded by the mothers together with the app. (p. 9)

Both themes are intermingled within the wider notions of agency and the expanding potential of ZPD. (p. 9)

With the app, the girl was able to compose a story merging reality and fiction and meshing the audio with typed letters and digital pictures. The app allowed her to practise emergent typing skills and to demonstrate mastery of oral language skills (during audio-recording) and provided space for a story, which lessened distinctions between fictional and real. (p. 9)

Vygotsky believed that for the child, knowledge scaffolding happens through imitation and that a child can ‘imitate only what lies within the zone of his intellectual potential’ (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 210). However, for learning contexts where the intellectual potential of participants is jointly extended with new technological tools such as Our Story, the ZPD has less explanatory power. In the interactions observed here, we saw evidence that at times, the children too can act as a more knowledgeable other and that the activity of multimodal story making can shape mastery of traditional as well as new digital literacy skills. In such open-ended, collaborative and creative contexts, a shared communicative space is created in which both the adult and child negotiate their positions in the activity and the division of learner and teacher becomes blurred (Littleton & Mercer, 2013). (p. 9)

This interpretation prompts us to extend Vygotsky’s notion of ZPD to an intermental development zone (IDZ, Mercer, 2000; Mercer & Littleton, 2007), in which the parent and the child (or a teacher and a learner) stay attuned to each other’s changing states of knowledge and understanding during the course of the interaction. (p. 9)

Vygotsky addressed the importance of orienting teachers’ and parent’s support ‘not on yesterday’s development in the child but on tomorrow’s’ (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 211), and in both pairs, we saw evidence of parents’ attempt to enhance their daughter’s future skills. However, there was a difference between the expert/novice balance in the story production. The first dyad was more parent led, whereas the second story (p. 9)

produced by the child together with her mother may have facilitated a more negotiated and balanced learning space. (p. 10)

However, although double stimulation focuses the activity towards a specific goal (and examines how the child solves a problem in relation to this goal), the app has no such focus, it is a creative tool, and the problem solving occurs in relation to any activity created between the mother and child. (p. 10)

Thus, the object of knowledge mediation here shaped and evidenced the dynamic story-creating process of both mother and her child and afforded the possibility for visualising the process and result of the thinking processes of both partners. Vygotsky’s framework, which foregrounds the novice/teacher dichotomy in the knowledge scaffolding process, is less convincing here. This was also the case with the third theme – engaged players and new objects of play – where the app mediated knowledge expression beyond that interpretable with a traditional Vygotsky framework. (p. 10)

To comprehensively capture the characteristics and the learning potential of this tool, the context would be better framed as a trialogical process of learning (Sami & Kai, 2009). In trialogical learning, emphasis is laid on the ‘interaction through the “shared objects” that are in the process of being developed’ (Paavola & Hakkarainen, 2009, p.85). As with Mercer and Littleton’s concept of the IDZ, the trialogical perspective of learning acknowledges both parents and children as collaborative learners who draw on each other’s knowledge in balanced rather than top-down fashion. In addition, it encompasses the dynamic nature of co-construction of shared objects of a unique personal value. Importantly, the trialogical perspective of learning is well suited not only for describing and analysing the process but also the representation of knowledge expressed during the observed story-sharing process, that is, the final story the parent and child created. (p. 10)

As such, trialogical perspective of learning appears to be a suitable framework for future studies seeking to analyse both the process and product of knowledge representation during parent–child iPad story sharing. (p. 10)

Study contributions (p. 10)

However, from our findings, we can also infer that there are some affordances of story-making apps that are better explored through post-Vygotskian theories. (p. 11)

We therefore conclude that the trialogical theoretical learning paradigm and the IDZ concept may provide a suitable basis for future research in this area. (p. 11)

However, this does not allow us to explore comparatively the different patterns of language use and parent–child engagement in different sociocultural groups (Heath, 1986; Lankshear & Knobel, 2011). (p. 11)

Mercer, N. (2000). Words and minds: How we use language to think together. London: Routledge. (p. 13)

Mercer, N. & Littleton, K. (2007). Dialogue and the development of children’s thinking: A sociocultural approach. New York: Psychology Press. (p. 13)

Sami P., & Kai, H. (2009, June). From meaning making to joint construction of knowledge practices and artefacts: A trialogical approach to CSCL. In Proceedings of the 9th international conference on Computer supported collaborative learning-Volume 1 (pp. 83–92). International Society of the Learning Sciences. (p. 13)