Russian Contributions to Educational Psychology: P. I. Gal'perin's Theory of Systematic Formation of Mental Actions and its Implications for Foreign Language Teaching

Serafima Gettys, Stanford University

The principal goal of the paper in to interest language teachers in the work and ideas of Petr Galperin (1902-1988)--one of the main figures of Russian educational psychology, who added further theoretical and empirical research within the seminal framework of Lev Vygotskij's cultural-historical approach to the human mind. Due to his emphasis on mental processes, Galperin's research program has become part of the cognitive perspective in Soviet and in Russian educational psychology. This cognitive conception takes its roots in Vygotskij's views on the relationship between teaching and schooling, on the one hand, and personal and social identity development, on the other. One aspect of this development --appropriation of a cognitive "tool kit," i.e., a powerful repertoire of mental actions was elaborated by Galperin.

Two important considerations prompted the theme of the paper. 1. First, while the great importance of Vygotskij's socio-historical theory is becoming increasingly obvious to the teachers in the West, relatively little is known about the work of Petr Galperin, whose name in Russia is associated with his attempt to transform Vygotskij's cultural-historical approach to human development into a technology of instruction. The paper will strive to fill this gap. 2. Secondly, language education has traditionally directed most attention to linguistic and psycholingustic aspects of language learning. In the meantime, language learning constitutes part of human learning and, in this respect, Galperin's educational psychology, which gives detailed instructions for the organization and regulation of teaching and learning in a broad range of school subjects, has enormous heuristic value for foreign language education as well.

The paper will discuss the main tenets of Galperin's instructional theory. The empirical part of the presentation will demonstrate how the main premises of the theory of systematic formation of mental actions can be effectively applied and adapted to specific needs of the foreign language classroom.