V. V. Davydov and A. K. Markova

1. Practical Relevance of Study of Educational Activity for Schoolchildren

2. Theoretical Sources and Stages in the Development of the Concept

3. The Conceptual Apparatus. The Unit of Analysis

4. Method of Investigation

5. Major Results of the Research

6. The Concept of Educational Activity and the Interrelationship of Developmental and Educational Psychology

7. The Concept of Educational Activity and School Practice

7. The Concept of Educational Activity and School Practice


 About two years ago, on a cool Southern California day, Vasili Davydov addressed a group of social scientists at the University of California, San Diego. He began his talk with a paradox. He had come, he said, to tell us about educational activity. He promised to exhibit principles that promote educational activity, and applied programs deriving from those principles. Then he laughed. “But you’ll never see educational activity in the school,” he said, and laughed again.


Problems of translation between Russian and English can be severe, but in this case there wasn’t as much room for erroneous interpretation as usual, because I was acting as Dr. Davydov’s translator. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said. It is very difficult to find real educational activity in a school setting, at least the normal school settings that occupy millions of Russian and American children daily. Although we might seek to interpret this kind of comment as a slur on teachers or educational psychologists, it was nothing of the sort. It was a simple postulate of a central theorem within Dr. Davydov’s theory: for human action to be endowed with the properties of activity, it is essential that the subjects formulates and accept the goals toward which his actions are directed. Translated roughly in Deweyian terms, this means that discovery of the goals is essential to true activity. Translated more roughly back into dialectical materialist philosophy, it means that freedom is the recognition of necessity.


A concomitant of the bureaucratization of educational activity is that units low in the hierarchy of control are routinely governed by goals not of their own choosing. These prepared goals reflect the multiple ways that education fits into society, and are not governed purely by the logic of discovery. As every child learns, some of these prepared goals are very difficult to accept; they require a lot of self-control. Recognizing these limits, Davydov and his colleagues have at least worked out systematic ways of getting as much real educational activity into a working curriculum as possible (see, for example, A. K. Markova’s bookThe teaching and mastery of language , published by M. E. harpe, Inc., in 1979).


The article that follows summarizes in brief form the overall state of the enterprise at the present time.


Michael Cole, Editor



1. Practical Relevance of Study of Educational Activity for Schoolchildren

Soviet pedagogical psychology focuses on theoretical problems concerned with practical problems of public education and the social demands of developed socialist society as formulated in party resolutions and government documents pertaining to the school. The 25th Congress of the CPSU noted that the task of the school consists not only of conveying a sum of information but also of teaching pupils how to acquire knowledge independently. The resolutions of the 26th Congress of the CPSU emphasized that pedagogical science needs to develop qualitative criteria of the effectiveness of the educational process and thereby get away from formalism in evaluating the work of teachers and pupils. Soviet educators and psychologists have been expending considerable effort in implementing these resolutions.


First, pedagogical psychologists study the nature of school children’s knowledge. The qualitative criteria of the effectiveness of the educational process at this level of analysis might include the scientific soundness, the systemic nature, the degree of generalization, the firmness of knowledge, etc. Although such studies are useful, they are not a sufficient basis for understanding the qualitative characteristics of educational activity.


A great deal of fundamentally new work has been carried out to systematize the training of study skills and habits pupils must acquire in school. The qualitative criteria of schoolwork include the extent to which general skills can be applied to new subjects, the level of awareness, flexibility, and the ability to switch from one subject to another. While valuing this work highly, we need to point out those abilities and skills are themselves only one set of contributors to the overall educational activity of schoolchildren. In addition to, abilities and skills (and the techniques, actions, and operations with study material that underpin them), schoolwork requires the child to accept school tasks, to exercise various forms of self-control, self-evaluation, etc. A qualitative evaluation of schooling’s effectiveness requires us to examine educational activity as a whole. Then the indices of effectiveness will include not only the schoolchild’s actions with the to-be-learned material but also his methods of control, evaluation, and self-regulation when dealing with the materials.


A number of studies are developing indices of the formation of various aspects of a holistic system of educational activity, but characterization of the qualitative effectiveness of the work of young schoolchildren and students cannot be reduced to any one aspect. It is very important to take into account changes not only in the intellectual sphere but in the moral and personal development of schoolchildren as well. In other words, not just the pupil’s knowledge, not just the acts and techniques by which this knowledge is obtained (and, accordingly, not just the abilities and skills a schoolchild has acquired previously) are necessary but also, above all, evaluation of the changes in the schoolchild as a whole personality. At this level of investigation the qualitative characteristics of the learning process may consist of an analysis of the genuine motives underpinning a child’s study behavior, the meaning that learning has for the school child, the child’s level of academic achievement, his relations with other people as they are established in the course of schoolwork, and the features of an active, harmoniously developed personality of a young person in communist society as all these things are formed in the course of the learning process.


The successful realization of universal education in our country requires that educational psychologists develop such integrated indices. Using the concept of educational activity, we have made an attempt to map out one possible approach to this important problem.

Before going on to the main argument, let us make a number of comments. The very notion “concept of educational activity” is itself contingent; this concept designates the theoretical approach of a group of investigations that have been conducted for more than twenty years as part of an extensive experiment in educational psychology aimed at restructuring school curricula. What is more, the present article was written for a handbook on Educational psychology , which will include books entitled The psychology of learning and The psychology of education. Therefore, this article does not pose the specific problem of historically evolved relations between the concept of educational activity and other theories of learning and education in Soviet psychology; special sections will be devoted to them in the book.


As follows from the title of the article, the series of investigations in question dealt with special features of learning among schoolchildren. There is reason to suppose that some general premises of this theory of learning may be applicable not only to elementary school learning but also to other levels in the system of public education (for example, learning in kindergarten, in secondary specialized educational institutions, in higher education); however, we do not think it possible to make any more definite judgments on this question, since to do so would require special and careful analysis.

2. Theoretical Sources and Stages in the Development of the Concept

The concept of educational activity is one approach to the process of learning in Soviet Psychology that adopts the Marxist position that the child’s mental development is socially and historically determined (L. S. Vygotsky). This concept has been formed on the basis of one of the fundamental dialectical materialist principles of Soviet psychology, the principle of the unity of the mind and activity (S. L. Rubinshtein and A. N. Leont’ev) within the context of the psychological theory of activity (A. N. Leont’ev) and in close relation to the theory of stage-by-stage development of intellectual actions and types of learning (P. Ya. Gal’perin and N. F. Talyzina, and others).


Let us comment on certain aspects of the premises states above. The term activity is used in Soviet psychology in several different senses. In the broad sense it is used in connection with the principle of the unity of the mind and activity.


This principle is a general methodological foundation for all Soviet psychologists, and by following this path our science has overcome functionalism, associationism, behaviorism, etc. In the same broad sense, all Soviet theories of learning have in common study of “the internal link” of the learning process, not as an aggregate of individual mental functions, but as the schoolchild’s active engagement as a subject and a personality (this pinpoints a fundamental distinction between the view of Soviet psychologists and that of contemporary neobehaviorist theories, of cognitive psychology, etc.). With the methodological principle of the unity of the mind and activity as a basis, Soviet psychologists have been developing their own activity approach, a specific feature of which is the position that the internal activity of the subject may be described as possessing a definite structure. (Thus, A. N. Leont’ev distinguished two sets of structural characteristics: activity—action—operation, and motive—goal—constraint [12].) This approach, in our opinion, characterizes the concept of the term activity in its narrowest and most specific sense. Another point common to Soviet theories of education developed within the activity approach is a focus on directing the learning process by reworking the structural links and a commitment to investigating the learning process during the actual course of its formation. The uniqueness of the concept of educational activity, as we shall attempt to show below, consists in its endeavor to approximate an analysis of the transformation of activity into its “subjective product,” in an analysis of newly formed, qualitatively distinct changes in the child’s intellectual and moral development.


Developed on the basis of the general methodological principle of the unity of the mind and activity within the activity approach, this concept is not in opposition to other Soviet theories of learning, but rather has been developed in a process of reciprocal enrichment with them. The development of Soviet educational psychology requires both an elucidation of the theoretical uniqueness of each Soviet theory of learning and intensive work to effect a synthesis of all the achievements of Soviet psychology so that they may be used as promptly as possible in the practice of public education.


Let us present a series of the principal stages, the hypotheses and facts, determining the approach to learning in the concept of educational activity.


1. An analysis of the shortcomings of the system of primary education existing at the time we started this work (the end of the 1950s) led to the hypothesis that there were large reserves of cognitive possibilities present in young schoolchildren. A test of this hypothesis required some experimental work that had never been done before in educational and developmental psychology, namely, the drawing up of a series of experimental syllabuses ‘for primary school on the basis of the new psychological principles. The construction of these syllabuses in a number of subjects (mathematics, native language, work) and their experimental testing yielded some fundamentally new facts concerning not only the great cognitive potential of primary-school children but also the developmentally distinctive characteristics of theoretical thinking among young school children. An important result of this work was the creation of principles for the organization of experimental schools (in the 1960s).


2. The experimental findings led to a new hypothesis concerning the need to organize special activity for pupils in which a principal role would be played not only by the response of the schoolchildren to prepared educational material but also by the pupils’ acceptance and independent discovery of educational problems. All these aspects must be studied if we are to understand the internal changes that occur in a child as he learns

(D. B. E1’konin, 1961). The development of theoretical ideas about educational activity and their experimental verification made it possible to obtain new data on the influence of the development of particular aspects of such activity on the mental development of schoolchildren.


3. These data enabled us to formulate new hypotheses with regard to the influence of guided restructuring of educational activity not only on intellectual but also on moral development (voluntariness, motivation, etc.). Whereas a number of earlier studies of learning had concentrated on an analysis of learning acts, i.e., the transition, which Leont’ev called the “subject-to-process of activity” transition, it now became possible for us to deal specifically with the transition “activity-to-its subjective product,” thereby beginning experimental study of “the transformation of activity into its subjective form” [12]. In testing these hypotheses new data were obtained about the characteristics of theoretical thinking (and of reflection, voluntariness, and the internal plan of action that characterizes them), about changes in the nature of individual differences in pupils, and about the increase in the qualitative complexity of the motivational sphere of learning as educational activity develops and is refined (the 1970s).


4. These data gave rise to new hypotheses concerning the lack of a direct link between the experience of object-oriented activity and the mental development of the child. We presume that the concept of activity alone does not ensure the psychologist against reductionism [27]. In any investigation it is necessary to take into account the fact that a person need not become submerged in activity. With regard to learning, this means that mental development cannot be derived directly from the logic of the development of educational activity. In the course of development of educational activity, it is necessary to ascertain and create conditions that will enable activity to acquire personal meaning, to become a source of the person’s self-development and comprehensive development of his personality, and a condition for his entry into social practice.


Studies have also shown, however, that outside of the environment of a defined activity, it is difficult to evaluate, much less to transform, the nature of a child’s mental development: in the process of activity with objects, the child becomes the subject of his own behavior and assumes an active orientation toward the real world around him, toward himself and other people. Through activity it is possible to go on to control of the process of mental development of the child, and this, essentially, is now the chief task of developmental and educational psychology. Hence, the goal of the current work using this approach is to explore exhaustively all means of influencing the development of the personality through activity and thus to obtain new experimental data. It is also necessary to provide an empirical foundation for the view that it is not “fossilized” activity, but only continuously developing and self-renewing activity, that is the source of the child’s internal mental development.

3. The Conceptual Apparatus. The Unit of Analysis


The concept of educational activity employs a number of ideas that are common to all Soviet developmental and educational psychology. But the content of some of these has been made more precise and partially modified in light of the new empirical and theoretical studies related to the development of this concept.


Let us examine the relationships among the concepts “assimilation,” “development,” instruction,” etc. Assimilation is the process of reproduction by the individual of historically formed methods of transforming objects in the environment around him, reproduction of relations to reality, and processes of transformation of these socially developed standards into forms of individual “subjectivity.” Development takes place through assimilation (appropriation) by the individual of sociohistorical experience. We cannot agree with theories that juxtapose assimilation and development if development is understood as an immanent process independent of assimilation or if assimilation is regarded as an independent process-taking place “alongside” or even “in place of” development. Assimilation does not always lead to development. In some cases assimilation can lead to a child’s mastery of knowledge, skills, and abilities, whereas in other cases it can lead to a mastery of methods and universal forms of mental activity. In the latter case we can say that substantial changes have taken place in mental development. Hence, psychologists correctly distinguish the effect of assimilation of particular concepts and abilities from the effect of development; the occurrence of changes in mental development is, in turn, a prerequisite for the assimilation of new knowledge and abilities of more complex content.


In noting the influence of assimilation on development, we cannot ignore a certain logic in development itself, related, for example, to the psycho physiological characteristics of the child. These characteristics, however, are mediated, from the child’s first day of life, by his social surroundings; and it is in this already mediated form that any influence is exerted on mental development. Hence, the true role of psychophysiological characteristics in the mental development of the child may, in our view, be ascertained only in the course of education, which “intensifies” the psychophysiological characteristics (plasticity, dynamicity) that promote development and “mitigate” properties that would hinder the all-round development of the child.


This approach corresponds to the humanistic principles of Soviet pedagogical science, which are based on the possibility of giving all young citizens of our country a universal, mandatory, secondary education.


Instruction* is a system of organization and methods for conveying to the individual socially formed experience (in schooling it is customary to distinguish teaching, i.e., what the teacher does, from learning, which is what the pupil does). Instruction that anticipates and keeps a focus on the next stage of development is effective instruction (L. S. Vygotsky). Qualitative changes in a child’s development that take place during the course of instruction at the different age periods Vygotsky termed new developmental formations. Thus, whereas assimilation is the reproduction by the child of socially developed experience and formal instruction is the form of organization of this assimilation that is used in specific historical conditions, in a particular society, development is characterized primarily by qualitative changes in the level and form of the abilities, types of activity, etc., appropriated by the individual.


The concepts of assimilation and activity must also be made more specific. Assimilation (appropriation) is not the passive adaptation of the individual to the conditions of social life that have formed around him, nor is it a simple accretion of social experience; it is the result of the individual’s engaged activity as he learns to master socially evolved methods of coping with the world of objects and transforming that world, which gradually becomes the medium of the individual’s own activity. Species-specific human activity is crystallized in sociohistorical experience (in the objects of human culture and in the various domains of knowledge and science).

 *The Russian term is obuchenie , which can be translated as

“training,” “instruction,” or “education.” — Ed.


For the assimilation of that world, the special activity engaged in by the schoolchild is necessary, an activity that is appropriate to, but not identical with, this species-specific activity; a discrepancy between the socially evolved experience of species-specific activity and the activity of the schoolchild is manifested, for example, in differences between a science and an educational subject. Under conditions of school instruction, the child’s active engagement in assimilating socially evolved experience is realized in educational activity. Though assimilation and educational activity are connected, their contents are not identical. Socially evolved experience (knowledge, abilities) may be assimilated not only in learning but in other forms of activity as well (play, work, communication, etc.); but it is only in formal learning, apparently, that the specific goal of assimilation is posed; in other types of activity assimilation is a by-product.


Assimilation and communication may also be correlated with respect to their roles in instruction. Since assimilation is the child’s mastery of socially elaborated experience, it always initially takes place in the course of cooperation with another human being, in joint activity, and in communicative contact between people. In this communication some means of assimilating reality or a specific relation to reality is conveyed to the child. In this sense we can say that assimilation always passes through a stage of joint activity with another human being. Joint activity and communication during the course of formal learning may vary in nature, from contacts with a specific human being to “communication with mankind” through experience fixed in the tools of labor, in works of science and art, in study subjects, etc.


Let us briefly discuss the content and the structure of educational activity from the theoretical approach under examination here. At the beginning of the ‘60s, D. B. El’konin formulated the following approach to educational activity. “The basic unit (cell) of educational activity is the educational task.... An educational task differs fundamentally from other types of problems in that its goal and its result consist of a change in the acting subject himself, not in a change in the objects on which the subject acts.” But he also stresses that, “No change in the subject is possible independently of actions with objects carried out by the subject himself” [26. Pp. 12— 13]. “The result of educational activity during the course of which the assimilation of scientific concepts occurs is primarily a change in the pupil himself, his development. In general terms one can say

that this change is the acquisition by the child of new abilities, i.e., new methods of action with scientific concepts... [25. P.45].


Thus, the principal content of educational activity is the assimilation of generalized methods of action in the domain of scientific concepts and the qualitative changes taking place, on this basis, in the child’s mental development. The introduction of a new unit of analysis (the educational task) has helped to specify the distinguishing features of the ap

proach to learning derived from the concept under investigation: learning is not only the acquisition of a mastery of knowledge, nor is it even those actions or transformations the pupil carries out in the course of acquiring knowledge: it is primarily a process of change, reorganization, and enrichment of the child himself. The assumption of this model of educational activity, based on the educational task, opens the way to an analysis of the subject’s active engagement in the process of learning and enables us to take a definite step forward along the way toward overcoming intellectualism in our concept of the process of education.


The structure of educational activity has been subjected to detailed investigation, extending over several years. Educational activity has the following components.


1.The child’s understanding of educational tasks. The educational task is closely related to an interesting (theoretical) generalization; it brings the schoolchild to mastery of generalized relations in the domain of knowledge being studied and to mastery of new methods of action. The schoolchild’s acceptance of an educational task “for its own sake” and his independent discovery of that task are closely related to the motivation for learning and to the transformation of the child into the subject of activity.


2. The schoolchild’s performance of education acts . If education is correctly organized, the educational acts of the school child are designed to give him access to universal relations, dominant principles, and key ideas in a particular area of knowledge and help him to model these relations, to master methods of moving from universal relations to their concretization, and vice versa, methods for moving from a model to an object, and vice versa, etc.


3. The pupil’s own performance of acts of control and evaluation. All these aspects of learning initially take place in joint activity with a teacher or a peer. In the literature it has rightly been pointed out that, although each of these components of educational activity has, in some way or another, been investigated earlier by psychologists, the question of the structure of educational activity and the interaction of its various aspects has nonetheless not been studied specifically, despite its fundamental importance.


In the approach proposed here, education is always investigated in terms of a unity of these components, as integral educational activity. This concept can be usefully distinguished from the widespread use of the term educational activity , which is used to refer to any educational work by the schoolchild, any process of knowledge acquisition, etc. The schoolchild’s educational activity as a unity and interaction among all its components must be present in the educational process. If, for example, one omits educational tasks and educational acts, this may distort educational activity, interest in maintaining the activity may become dulled, as a consequence of which the assimilation of knowledge may be transformed into operations based on common-sense notions in the service of utilitarian skills.


The cultivation of educational activity entails control by an adult (teacher, experimental psychologist, parent) of the process through which the educational activity of the schoolchild develops. A thorough, controlled process of education always presupposes that each component of educational activity has been developed in the child, that they are interrelated, and that there is a gradual transmission of the individual components of this activity from the teacher to the pupil himself, for his independent action without the aid of teachers.


The development of educational activity involves the perfection of each of its components, their interrelations and their reciprocal dynamics; perfection of the motivational and operational aspects of education; transformation of the pupil into the subject of the educational activity he performs; and the pupil’s acquisition of mastery over the forms of joint learning activity. All these things are also related to the developing and socializing effect of educational activity. Hence, the levels of maturity of educational activity as a whole and of its individual components are important qualitative characteristics determining the effectiveness of the work of teacher and pupil.

4. Method of Investigation


Our concept of educational activity uses the formative experiment as its basic method (this is a version of a natural experiment); such an experiment is most appropriate for the object of study in developmental and educational psychology, namely, the developing mind of the child.


This method is one of the embodiments of that general causal genetic (or genetic-modeling) method of studying the development of the child’s mind whose foundations were laid in works by Vygotsky and then thoroughly developed in the works of A. N.

Leont’ev, A. R. Luria, P. Ya. Gal’perin, A. P. Zaporozhets, D. B. El’konin,and their colleagues. The essence of this method is study of processes of transformation creating new forms of the mind, study of the conditions of occurrence of specific mental phenomena, and experimental reproduction of the conditions necessary for all of this to occur. In such an investigation the process of development is predicted and modeled.


In investigations based on the concept of educational activity, this method requires designing and redesigning experimental school syllabuses and many years of teaching whole classes on the basis of these syllabuses. Experimental teaching is construed not as adaptation to the existing, already constituted level of the children, but as the use of means that actively create new levels of abilities necessary for thorough assimilation of new material. Thus, the developmental-modeling research method is also a method for experimental developmental teaching. This variety of the formative experiment has a number of advantages over others.


First, experimentation takes place not with individual educational topics, but with whole subject matters; this makes it possible to determine in a more differentiated manner the role of the various factors in developmental teaching, the different concepts and their sequences in a course, the different aspects of educational activity that are part of a syllabus, etc. Using this approach, we examine the conditions for the emergence of new psychological formations more carefully.


Second, teaching the same groups of children for a number of years makes it possible to omit study of the individual psychological characteristics of the pupil; to turn to examination of the integral characteristics of the mental development of the child, the trends in his development, and the movements from one new structure of behavior to another; and to follow the dynamics of the child’s relations with those around him. This enriches the long-term formative experiment with the advantages of a longitudinal study and makes it possible to follow the various aspects and stages in the emergence of the various psychological phenomena under study more carefully.


The requirements for organizing a long-term formative experiment have had the constant attention of advocates of the developmental modeling method [7, 17, 24]. It should be pointed out that as a part of the development of the concept of educational activity, a network of special experimental institutions has been created. The establishment of this network has been a very laborious scientific and practical task. As the investigations have proceeded, the statuses of experimental psychologists in the school and of the teachers of experimental classes have been defined; new demands have been placed on psychologists to find ways to conduct and shape experimental work.


Such research requires a comprehensive strategy, bringing together representatives of many sciences (psychologists, logicians, educators, physiologists, etc.).

5. Major Results of the Research


Among the theoretical results have been the definition of the object of analysis in this approach and better specification of the concept of educational activity as a theory of education. [This theory] consists of the following: first, an insistence on an activity approach to the process of education; second, an examination of educational activity in terms of a unity of all its components (educational task, educational acts, acts of control

and evaluation); third, special attention to new formations of educational activity — in intellectual development (theoretical thinking), in moral development (motivation); fourth, an endeavor to bridge the activity aspect and the personal aspect of child development.


Some work has been done on the categorical apparatus in this context: the content of working terms and concepts of educational and developmental psychology has been made more precise (e.g.,assimilation, development, instruction, etc.); a new content has been developed for a number of concepts (theoretical thinking, reflection, educational task), and other concepts have been cast in a new light (voluntariness, motivation, individual differences, etc.).


A new form of the experimental developmental method has been devised and tested; specifically, school syllabuses have been compiled, and a prolonged teaching experiment over several years has been carried out on the basis of these syllabuses.


An important result of the research has been a vast amount of new empirical data. Many of the findings are fundamentally new, and have not been described previously in the literature  for example, findings indicating that it should be possible to: cultivate theoretical thinking at primary-school age; cultivate developed educational activity in primary-school children, i.e., “the ability to study”; reorganize the internal plan of action in younger schoolchildren and the cognitive interest and motivation for education in primary-school children and adolescents; etc. These data are still in the process of being generalized. (1) In the first stages of the research it was understood that activity, particularly educational activity, was not a goal in itself, but primarily a necessary condition for the intellectual and moral development of the child, of his intellectual and motivational attributes.


Theoretical thinking has been subjected to special theoretical and empirical analysis. For instance, it has been shown that empirical generalization is based on observation and comparison of the external properties of objects (traditional appearance), and that theoretical generalization is based on an objective transforming act and an analysis establishing the essential relationships of the whole object and its genetically (developmentally) original (universal) form. Accordingly, empirical thinking is related to that level of the introduction of knowledge at which children develop only particular, discrete techniques for solving concrete, practical problems, when the intellectual foundation of such techniques is made up of the sum total of concrete and particular knowledge. Theoretical thinking, on the other hand, occurs when, from the very first encounter with some subject matter or another, or some large part of it, children are shown the necessity for constructing and assimilating a generalized method of orientation in the particular area, i.e., a generalized method for dealing with quite broad classes of problems, and when many particular and practical skills and abilities are developed on a generalized theoretical foundation. Through these processes schoolchildren gradually become accustomed, when they encounter a discrete problem, to look first for a general principle for coping with analogous problems, then turn to different sources of knowledge to clarify this principle and immerse themselves in self-education, etc.


Educational activity is, in fact, directed toward the cultivation of this kind of theoretical thinking in pupils. In the course of our research we have distinguished the basic components of theoretical thinking: reflection, analysis, and an internal plan of action. We have observed that in experimental classes where educational activity is systematically cultivated the number of children acquiring a mastery of all

the components of theoretical thinking increases more quickly; moreover, we have found significant correlations among the pupils’ reflection, correct solution of problems involving analysis, and an internal plan of action.


An experimental study was made of the role of each of the components of educational activity: the educational task, the educational act, and acts involved in control and evaluation.


We found that for the control of educational activity it is not so much necessary to refine these components themselves, as it is to cultivate the transitions from one to another. We examined differences in educational and investigatory activity in the strict sense. Educational activity is an educational model of investigation, a quasi-investigation in which pupils reproduce real investigatory and search acts in only a compressed form.

Distinctive developmental and individual characteristics of educational activity have been analyzed . At present, experimental studies are being carried out to determine develop-

mental characteristics for the younger elementary-school age; a theoretical set of developmental characteristics has been outlined for older elementary-school children. The primary school introduces children to educational activity and begins their mastering of all its components; educational activity is dominant.


At secondary-school age, the child acquires mastery of the general structure of educational activity; his behavior becomes voluntary, and the child becomes conscious of the special characteristics of his own learning efforts and employs educational activity as a means of organizing social interaction with other schoolchildren. The senior-school age is characterized by utilization of educational activity as a means of vocational guidance and vocational training and by the mastery of methods of independent educational activity, self-education, and a transition from the assimilation of socially elaborated experience of educational activity fixed in textbooks to its enrichment, i.e, to creative, investigatory, cognitive activity.


The logic of the analysis of changes in the child himself during the course of educational activity has brought investigators face to face with the problem ofindividual differences . It has been found that under conditions of controlled learning, individual differences are not evened out but, on the contrary, become more pronounced. This discovery has raised the question of the possibility of purposefully shaping the characteristics of educational activity in the schoolchild, not just taking them into account as preconditions for formal education. Individual differences may be understood and described according to this logic primarily as a correlation of different levels of formation of the components of educational activity: in some pupils, the acceptance and posing of educational tasks are further along in development, whereas in others the modes of action with study material and the techniques of self-checking and self-evaluation are most advanced.


Different levels of individual characteristics in educational activity have also been roughly outlined. The first level is marked by the pupil’s predominant use of specific means and methods of educational activity and their combination in carrying out assignments. The next level is marked by ways of performing educational activity that are invariably manifested in a variety of assignments (at this level we can speak of an individual style of educational activity). The highest level of formation of individual characteristics of educational activity is the development of the pupil into the subject of this activity.


1. The pupil (with the teacher’s assistance) distinguishes different aspects, means, and methods of educational activity and correlates them with goals and conditions.


2. On the basis of these standards, the schoolchild evaluates and reorganizes his experience of reality, works out a system of his own values (the sense of his own educational activity), and, against this background, actively undertakes further assimilation, selection, and utilization of socially elaborated standards. At this level we can say that the pupil consciously and deliberately constructs his own individuality.


3. The pupil, adolescent, is at this stage able to exercise a transforming action on socially elaborated experience of reality and to create new means and methods for carrying out that activity. This is a transition from educational activity to creative activity and the development of creative individuality. In connection with an analysis of the position of the pupil in educational activity, the sense of this activity for the child in our approach marks the beginning of a series of studies of themotivation to learn [15].


One also sees the beginnings of new attitudes toward different aspects of activity; these attitudes emerge during the course of educational activity and include an attitude toward the object under study, toward oneself, and toward others. These new types of relations are new structures of educational activity; at the same time, they characterize the transformation of “activity into its subjective product,” which is closely related to the development of the pupil as a subject of activity. In as much as they characterize the aggregate or hierarchy of a child’s relations with the surrounding world, these new structures of educational activity enable the investigator to take the first steps along the way toward study of the personality of the schoolchild.

6. The Concept of Educational Activity and the Interrelationship of Developmental and Educational Psychology

Our approach evolved in developmental psychology as we tried to ascertain the reserves of intellectual development among young schoolchildren, after which it was further elaborated in the context of educational psychology. In connection with an analysis of the concept of educational activity, let us give our view of the interrelationship of developmental and educational psychology; this is but one of the possible points of view on the correlation between these two sciences. Most recently, developmental psychology has been acquiring increasingly more importance as a foundation for the evolution of educational psychology. So long as the main effort of formal education is to teach a set of facts, this process can be studied without taking into account the general laws of child development. But resolution of the task of “teaching the schoolchild to teach himself” also poses questions that cannot be resolved without examining the sources of children’s mental development.


Developmental psychology is the theory of development of the mind in ontogeny; it studies the laws of transition from one stage to another on the basis of a succession of types of principal activity, changes in the social situation of development, the nature of the interaction of the person with other people, etc. Age is characterized not by a correlation among different mental functions, but by those specific tasks of assimilating the various aspects of reality that are perceived and resolved by a person and by those new developmental formations, those qualitatively new characteristics of activity, consciousness, and the personality, that emerge at a particular stage of development.

The following are some principles of developmental psychology: Each age period is studied not in isolation, but from the standpoint of the general changes in development, taking into account the preceding and the next age. The characteristics of an age (the chronological limits and the content) are not static, but are determined by sociohistorical actors and the social demands of society. Each age has reserves of development that can be mobilized during the course of a uniquely organized activity of the child with regard to the reality around him and to particular activities. The transition from one age to another and the psychologically new structures in the latter are determined by changes in principal activity, the social situation of development, the types of interaction of the person with the environment, etc.


Educational psychology is a theory that sheds light on the conditions that best ensure all-round development of a harmonious personality and mobilize the reserves of development at different age periods of a person’s life. Educational psychology reveals arid creates conditions conducive to control of the process of formal schooling and education. Let us demonstrate some of the principles of educational psychology, using by way of example one of its branches, the psychology of learning. Learning is built up on the basis of data from developmental psychology on the reserves of the different age periods and is oriented toward “the tomorrow of development.” Learning is organized so that the individual characteristics of the pupil are taken into account — not on the basis of adaptation to them, but as the projection of new types of activity and new levels of development. Education cannot be reduced to the transmission of knowledge and the cultivation of acts and operations; rather, it involves mainly the formation of the pupil’s personality and the development of those qualities that determine his behavior (values, motives, goals, etc.). The developmental and educational effect is not achieved through just any activity, but only through formative educational activity.

7. The Concept of Educational Activity and School Practice

Studies of educational activity have aimed to implement the solutions of the 25th and 26th Congresses of the CPSU and of party and government documents about the school, to determine the conditions for developing the techniques of independent acquisition of knowledge in schoolchildren and cultivating in them an interest in learning, and to develop qualitative criteria of the effectiveness of the educational process.


The results of these studies have had a definitely stimulating influence on school practice. The following indications of this Influence may be cited:


1. Empirical confirmation of the considerable cognitive reserves in primary-school pupils (together with the empirical data of L. V. Zankov) has been one of the foundations of the revision and enhancement of the theoretical complexity of syllabuses for the primary school.


2. Development of the bases of the psychology of educational activity and of the psychological requirements for a school subject has enabled us to create original new courses in certain subjects for the primary and secondary school (in mathematics, the Russian language, literature, biology, physics, representational art, music). During the course of many years of experimental testing of these courses, data have been accumulated that indicate the possibilities of more qualitative assimilation by schoolchildren of the learning material offered to them and of saving considerable time by presenting the material in a way different from that normally utilized in the syllabuses.


3. Empirical study of the various components of educational activity (accepting the educational task, educational acts, the checking and evaluation of learning) has enabled us to define criteria and indices for the levels of their formation in school children. They may be used by an educator or a teacher in devising methods for independent work and developing techniques for independent educational activity and self-education by school children [16]. After further systematization, they may also be used for diagnosis of specific aspects of educational activity and for preparing methodological approaches for a teacher and aids for a school psychologist.


4. Preliminary studies of the accessibility of educational materials for schoolchildren have provided grounds for assuming that thorough cultivation of educational activity is a possible way of overcoming pressure on pupils and of increasing the subjective accessibility of the material in school syllabuses. Some specific recommendations to the school in this area have been outlined.


5. The generalized characteristics of the degree of formation of educational activity among schoolchildren and the new psychological structures of that activity can be regarded as qualitative indices of an integral index of the effectiveness of educational practice [14] and be used in preparing teaching aids for leading figures and inspectors in the school. On the whole, during the course of studies of educational activity, qualitative indices of the effectiveness of the work of teacher and pupils have been used:


(1)   Levels of performance by schoolchildren of the individual components of educational activity (the educational task: an understanding of the assignment of the teacher, accepting it “for oneself,” independent posing of an educational problem, posing of a system of problems; educational acts : ways to distinguish general relationships in learning materials and concretizing them, writing these relationships in the form of various graphs and familiar models;checking and evaluation : types of self-checking on the part of schoolchildren — predictive, before work begins, step by step, as the work is in progress, and final — after completion of the work; types of self-evaluation  appropriate and inappropriate, overall and differentiated, predictive, final, etc.). Along with the expanded nature of each component of educational activity, we can also specify the independence of the pupil’s effort to carry it out, the ability of the schoolchild to move from one component to another. All of the above characteristics of the components of educational activity can be followed in their developmental dynamics from the first to the tenth grades.

(2)   Levels in the formation of an active attitude toward schoolwork, maturity of the schoolchild as a subject of the types of activity he must perform, the subject of interaction with other persons during the course of joint work, the subject of his own motivational sphere, etc.


(3)   Levels in the formation of different aspects of motivation — qualitative characteristics of motives, goals, and emotions of schoolchildren, characteristics of the sense and significance of educational activity for schoolchildren, etc. The indices of the degree of formation of educational activity and of personal characteristics of pupils during the course of carrying out that activity constitute the basis of our criteria for the thoroughness of learning by schoolchildren.


The results of studies of the development of educational activity and its developmental characteristics have been presented to the public-school teacher in a number of brochures

in the series “Znanie,” in a number of methodological recommendations for institutions for the advanced training of teachers, and elsewhere.


8. Some Perspectives for Further Study of Educational Activity


  1. Experimental study of the structures of educational activity and its correlations with the development of the schoolchild must be continued.

  2. Studies of methods and conditions for the development of educational activity in the schoolchild at different age periods must be broadened.

  3. The development of a theory of formative experiments and their implementation are important. 

  4. The accumulation and testing of specific methods meant for determining the levels of formation of educational activity, its components, and its new psychological formations are needed. 

  5. It is necessary to create a research program directed at extensive study of the relationships between the development of educational activity and its new psychological formations and the all-round development of the personality of the school child.

  6.  The use of different forms and means of introducing the results of educational activity into the broad practice of our system of public education is a top-priority task.




1) Within the limits of a journal article, it is not possible to list all the publications in this area devoted to the emergence of learning activity and its separate elements based on material relating to various school subjects and ages. Here we cite works devoted to general issues of educational activity and collections with large bibliographies: [4], [6], [18], [19].


1. [ Proceedings of the 25th Congress of the CPSU] . Moscow, 1976. 256 pp.

2. [ Proceedings of the 26th Congress of the CPSU] . Moscow, 1981. 233 pp.

3. Vygotsky, L. S. [On the problem of stages in mental development in childhood]. Vop. Psikhol. , 1971, No. 4, pp. 14—23. 

4. El’konin, D. B., & Davydov, V. V. (Eds.) [Age-related possibilities for learning (primary school)] . Moscow, 1966. 442 pp. 

5. Gal’perin, P. Ya.,& Talyzina,N. F. [The current state of the theory of the stage development of intellectual acts]. Vestn. MGU, 1979, No. 4, pp. 54—63.

6. Davydov, V. V. [ Types of generalization in learning]. Moscow, 1972. 423 pp.

7. Davydov, V. V. [The category of activity and mental reflection in Leont’ev’s theory]. Vestn. MGU, 1979, No. 4, pp.25—

8. Davydov, V. V. [Fundamental problems of developmental and educational psychology at the present stage of development of education]. Vop. Psikhol. , 1976, No. 4, pp. 3—15.

9. Davydov, V. V. [Mental development in primary-school age]. In A. V. Petrovsky (Ed.), [ Developmental and educational psychology] . Moscow, 1973. Pp. 66—97.

10. Davydov, V. V., & Markova, A. K. [Development of thought in school age]. In L. K. Antsyferova (Ed.), [Principles of development in psychology] . Moscow, 1978. Pp. 295—3 16.

11. Davydov, V. V., El’konin, D. B., & Markova, A. K. [Fundamental questions in contemporary psychology of primary-school-age children]. In V. V. Davydov, (Ed.), [ Problems of general, developmental, and educational psychology] . Moscow, 1978. Pp. 180—206.

12. Leont’ev, A. N. [ Activity. Consciousness. Personality]. Moscow, 1975. 304 pp.

13. Leont’ev, A. N. [ Problems of mental development] . Moscow, 1972. 575 pp.

14. Markova, A. K. [Psychological criteria of the effectiveness of the learning process]. Vop. Psikhol. , 1977, No. 4, pp.40—51.

15. Markova, A. K. [Ways to study motivation for educational activity in schoolchildren]. Vop. Psikhol. , 1980, No. 5, pp. 47—59.

16. Markova, A. K. [Sell-education of schoolchildren]. Vop.Psikhol. , 1980, No. 3, pp. 149—54.

17. Davydov, V. V., & Markova, A. K. (Eds.) [ The psychology of learning and education (problems in the organization of a formative experiment)] . Moscow, 1978. 42 pp.


18. Davydov, V. V. (Ed.) [ Psychological possibilities of young schoolchildren’s learning mathematics] . Moscow, 1969. 288 pp.


19. Davydov, V. V. (Ed.) [ Psychological problems of educational activity in the schoolchild] . Moscow, 1977. 310 pp.


20. Repkin, V. V. [The concept of educational activity]. Vesth. Kharkov. Univ. , 1976, No. 132, Issue 9, pp. 6—10.


21. Repkin, V. V. [The structure of educational activity]. Ibid. Pp. 10—16.


22. Repkin, V. V. [The development of educational activity as a psychological problem]. Vestn. Kharkov. Univ. , 1977, No. 155, pp. 32—38.


23. El’konin, D. B. [The problem of stages of mental development in childhood]. Vop. Psikhol. , 1971, No. 4, pp. 6—20.


24. El’konin, D. B. [Psychological study in an experimental class]. Vop. Psikhol. , 1960, No. 5, pp. 29—40.


25. El’konin, D. B. [ The psychology of learning in the young schoolchild] . Moscow, 1974. 64 pp.


26. El’konin, D. B. [Psychological questions on the development of educational activity in young schoolchildren]. In D. S. Kostyuk & P. H. Chumata (Eds.), [Problems in the psychology of learning and education] . Kiev, 1961. Pp. 12—13.


27. Yudin, E. G. [Activity as an explanatory principle and as an object of scientific study]. Vop. Filosof. , 1976, No. 5, pp. 55—78.