Designing assessment tasks using the twin concepts in
Vygotsky’s cultural-historical psychology

Brendan Jacobs

Melbourne Polytechnic




The ever-increasing requirements for assessment in education often seek evidence-based practice, but such practice need not be confined to summative testing. This presentation looks at formative assessment and co-construction using Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) in tandem with Vygotsky and Sakharov’s dual stimulation method. Using project collaboration as the unit of analysis, this research demonstrates that the power of Vygotsky and Sakharov’s method is its ability to track and illustrate the conceptual developmental pathway. The multimodal data presented in this presentation trace such development through evolving explanatory animation artefacts co-constructed by primary school students. The implication of this research is that creating a mutual ZPD is a key to meaningful assessment.

1. The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

2. Vygotsky and Sakharov's dual stimulation method

3. Designing assessment tasks using the twin concepts in
Vygotsky’s cultural-historical psychology


As Sutter (2001) noted, there is a strong connection between the ZPD and Vygotsky and Sakharov’s dual stimulation method as “twin concepts in Vygotsky’s cultural-historical psychology” (p. 18).

Vygotsky and Sakharov's dual stimulation method was used as a theoretical framework to conduct the current study due to the close unity between conceptual tasks and their resolution. The dual stimulation method requires that “the subject must be faced with a task that can only be resolved through the formation of concepts” (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 124). Vygotsky explained the nature of this link by stating that “the path through which the task is resolved in the experiment corresponds with the actual process of concept formation” (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 128). This research provides a chronology of the children's conceptual consolidation by providing a tangible insight into the children's evolving mental models.

Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

Mutual Zones of Proximal Development (John Steiner, 2000)

Overlap within Vygotsky's ZPD

Figure 1. Overlap within Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (Jacobs, 2015)

Description: zpd.jpg

Figure 2. Learning in a mutual ZPD (Jacobs & Cripps Clark, 2018)


Figure 6.2

Figure 3. Multimodality within the CHAT triangle (Jacobs, 2015)


Figure 4. A synthesis model for activity (Jacobs, Wright & Reynolds, 2017)

Insights from the REALM

(Reverse engineering Explanatory Animation Learning Method)

The Reverse engineering Explanatory Animation Learning Method (REALM) is based on the constructionist principle that learning is constructed and that learning can be embodied in student-generated artefacts that have an explanatory purpose.  

The REALM title came about in preparation for the 2018 AARE conference but Jacobs and Cripps Clark (2018) published the underlying principles earlier this year in the journal Teaching Science.  The article was titled Create to critique - Explanatory animation creation as conceptual consolidation which reported some research where Australian primary school students made explanatory animations for the sake of their own learning.  REALM is also a theory of learning based on empirical evidence.  The theory itself is as follows:   

1. Initial research for a conceptual topic begins by first identifying, and then using, correct terminology.

2. An eventual outcome of investigating correct terminology is the identification of relevant components.

3. The pinnacle of conceptual consolidation involves understanding the dynamic relationships that exist between the different components.

4. Conceptual consolidation itself must be understood on a case-by-case basis because, regardless of any similarities, every concept is different (Jacobs & Cripps Clark, 2018, p. 37).

Interestingly, it is not the explanatory animation that is reverse engineered but the concept itself.  The evolving explanatory animation documents and embodies the learning, even at the initial storyboarding phase.  There is no need to reverse engineer this as both the author (i.e., student) and helper (i.e., teacher, researcher or both) will have first-hand, intimate knowledge of animation as they co-constructed it together in a mutual zone of proximal development.

The theory itself came from the following rubric which was used as a weekly checklist for the animation students in the Storyboard project.  What was significant and unexpected was that the progress for all students occurred in the exact same order as the rubric.



Figure 5. A rubric for conceptual consolidation (Jacobs & Cripps Clark, 2018)
Figure 4.22

Figure 6. Frequency formula for a vibrating string (Jacobs, 2015)

When these finding were discussed at a CHAT discussion group meeting at Deakin University in 2017, one of the participants commented that this pattern might also be an intrinsic part of the explanatory animation creation process itself. On further reflection, we concluded that she was correct and that the animation could only be constructed when the various components were articulated and designed.

Research question

Figure 7. Research question for the Storyboard project (Jacobs, 2015)

"Does the process of internal development of concepts follow the teaching/learning process, like a shadow follows the object which casts it, never coinciding, but reproducing and repeating its movements exactly, or is it rather an immeasurably more complicated process and subtle relationship which can only be explored by special investigation?" (Vygotsky, 1994, p. 355).


Figure 4.32

Figure 8. Screen shot from the “Sol Feige” animation


Storyboard - Brendan Jacobs

Figure 9. Storyboard homepage (Jacobs, 2015)





Most educators would like to work in settings where summative testing is less dominant to reduce the stress involved with making direct comparisons between students and across schools, institutions and countries.  Summative testing is often reported as a measure of achievement but it is more commonly used as a measure of failure, particularly when it is used as a rationale to reduce funding or choose one school over another.  It is, however, unrealistic to think that summative testing won’t exist for two reasons:

1. Summative testing is easy to implement and quantitative data is easy to compare.

2. There is a valid place for summative testing due to the cyclical nature of education.

Perhaps a more realistic path towards reducing the reliance on summative testing will come from a more sophisticated, yet practical, understanding of formative assessment.  If Vygotsky and Sakharov’s dual stimulation method teaches us anything, it is that the hallmark of setting assessment tasks should be design and that the hallmark of learning should be progress rather than achievement.

The title for this presentation implied that I might cover a range of assessment tasks but I have focused on just one, namely, the REALM. This is not an oversight as the REALM task is multifaceted and wider than it might appear.

1. I have expanded the definition of ‘animation’ to “variant graphics” (Jacobs & Robin, 2016, p. 264). This simply means imagery which changes.

2. An animation does not have to be completed because the learning is embodied in the planning phase (thus ‘Storyboard’). Mitchell, De Lange and Moletsane (2011) have also found that even with documentary filmmaking with limited time constraints, “the storyboard became the product” (p. 224).

3. ‘High tech’ (standalone), ‘Low tech’ (guided by humans),’ No tech’ (non digital) (Jacobs, 2007).

The most important part of the REALM was that the children became teachers to enhance their own learning. The concept of ‘learning by teaching’, however, has been around for thousands of years. Papert (1991) saw the potential of technology to enhance this practice:

‘Learning by doing’ is an old enough idea, but until recently the narrowness of range of the possible doings severely restricted the implementation of the idea. The educational vocation of the new technology is to remove these restrictions (p. 22).




Jacobs, B. (2007). Animating best practice [Master’s thesis]. Clayton, VIC: Monash University. Retrieved from

Jacobs, B. (2015). Storyboard - Primary school children designing and making explanatory animations [Doctoral dissertation]. Parkville, VIC: The University of Melbourne. Retrieved from

Jacobs, B. & Robin, B. (2016). Animating best practice. Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 11(3), 263- 283.

Jacobs, B., Wright, S. & Reynolds, N. (2017). Reevaluating the concrete - Explanatory animation creation as a digital catalyst for transmediation. Mind, Culture and Activity, 24(4), 297-310.

Jacobs, B. & Cripps Clark, J. (2018). Create to critique - Explanatory animation as conceptual consolidation. Teaching Science, 64(1), 29-39.

John-Steiner, V. (2000). Creative collaboration. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Mitchell, C., de Lange, N. & Moletsane, R. (2011). Before the cameras roll: Drawing storyboards to address gendered poverty. In L. Theron, C. Mitchell, A. Smith & J. Stuart (Eds.), Picturing research: Drawing as visual methodology (pp. 219-231). Rotterdam, NL: Sense Publishers.

Papert, S. (1991). Perestroika and epistemological politics. In I. Harel & S. Papert (Eds.), Constructionism (pp. 13-28). Norwood NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Sutter, B. (2001). Instruction at heart: Activity-theoretical studies of learning and development in coronary clinical work. Karlskrona, SE: Blekinge Institute of Technology.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L. (1987). An experimental study of concept development. In R. W. Rieber, & A. A. Carton (Eds.), Collected works of L. S. Vygotsky Vol. 1 (pp. 121-166). New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1994). The development of academic concepts in school aged children. In R. van der Veer & J. Valsiner (Eds.), The Vygotsky reader (pp. 355-370). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.


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