Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Perspective
Vygotsky’s theories stress the fundamental role of social interaction in the development of cognition (Vygotsky, 1978), as he believed strongly that community plays a central role in the process of “making meaning” (McLeod, 2007). More emphasis is placed on cultural settings and social interactions within these settings creating our cognitive structures. This development appears twice when learning – first on the social level (co-construction with peers or teacher figures to understand and solve a problem) and later on the individual level (the ability to internalize and solve a problem through remembering what was learnt last time, and building upon this further); this promotes higher order thinking and deeper understanding occurs.
Children’s cognitive development is fostered by interactions with people who are more capable or advanced in their thinking (Woolfolk & Margetts, 2012). In comparison, Piaget’s work saw the role of interaction as an encouragement for development by creating a disequilibrium, or cognitive conflict, that motivates change.
Vygotsky believed that cultural tools, such as physical tools (rulers, computers, internet), symbols and psychological tools (numbers, maps, codes, language), and conceptual tools (theories, art, literature) play very important roles on cognitive development (Woolfolk & Margetts, 2012) which can be linked back to the idea of cultural setting having a strong part in cognition. With these tools, advanced thinking can be achieved.
Language is also critical for cognitive development (Woolfolk & Margetts, 2012). It is an expressive communication between humans used to share ideas, thoughts and to ask questions. We are also able to internalize these or use private speech by which we verbally talk through a problem to ourselves. Many young students do this as they are moving from speaking with others, to themselves, to within themselves. The steps from spoken words to silent inner speech show how higher mental functions appear first between people as they communicate and regulate each other’s behaviour, and then emerge again within the individual as cognitive processes (Woolfolk & Margetts, 2012)
Understand the relationship between the concept of “scaffolding” and Vygotsky’s work
In the field of education, the term scaffolding refers to a process in which teachers’ model or demonstrate how to solve a problem, and then step back, offering support as needed. In Vygotsky’s work, scaffolding is present through the ways we teach students to become independent when solving problems, by prompting, questioning and giving cues to remind them or help them on how to solve a problem. The zone of proximal development or ZPD is an aspect of vygotsky’s work that relies very heavily on scaffolding. The ZPD is
“…the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through the problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.” (Vygotsky, 1978, pp.86-87, cited by Woolfolk & Margetts, 2012, pp 98.)
Ensure you understand how the work of Vygotsky can apply to the classroom
In a classroom environment, Vygotsky’s work can be applied through peer and teacher interactions and discussions to assist in social cognitive learning to create deeper understanding. Allowing students to talk about relevant material to each other will assist students learn and gain access to information on a more understandable language level (being explained to by people the same age rather than an older individual, which may clarify definitions or ideas). Private speech should also be allowed within reason to allow students to develop their cognitive connections when undertaking a difficult task – enforcing complete silence may make it harder for students to achieve goals as they are unable to solve the problem the way they know how.
Scaffolding should also be used by teachers to assist learning and guide participation in the classroom. This can be from how to solve a math question, to how to raise a point in class discussions. This should also be encouraged by students to do together -pairing an individual with someone who is slightly better at an activity is a good teaching strategy; the higher student is able to revise and develop their own understanding by teaching it to the lower level student in a way that makes sense to that individual, encouraging higher level thinking for both members.
Explore the strengths and weaknesses of the work of Vygotsky
Strengths of his work revolve around social interaction, not only for cognitive development, but also for learning how to appropriately interact in social situations. It also highlights the role of culture and social processes and the way cultural tools assist in learning and develop language.
Weaknesses identified in his work however are a lack of detail about cognitive processes underlying developmental changes – the cognitive processes that allow students to engage in more advanced and independent participation in social activities. The main limitation of his work is that it consists mainly of general ideas, due to his early death, he was unable to elaborate and develop teaching applications for his research.
Vygotsky’s and Piaget’s views compared
Piaget defined development as the active construction of knowledge and learning as the passive formation of associations (Siegler, 2000). He was interested in knowledge construction and believed that cognitive development has to come before learning – ‘learning is subordinated to development and not vice-versa’ (piaget, 1964, p. 17) – that is, the child has to be cognitively ‘ready’ to learn. Learner’s interactions lead to structural changes in thinking; more complex learning can then occur. Students can memorize, for example, that Geneva is in Switzerland, but still insist that they cannot be Genevan and Swiss at the same time. True understanding will happen only when the child has developed the operation of class inclusion – that one category can be included in another.
In contrast, Vygotsky believed that learning is an active process that does not have to wait for readiness. In fact, ‘properly organised learning results in mental development and sets in motion a variety of developmental processes that would be impossible apart from learning’ (Vygotsky,1978, p.90). He saw learning as a tool in development – learning pulls development up to the higher levels and social interaction is the key to learning (Glassman, 2001; Wink & Putney, 2002). For Vygotsky, this meant that other people play a significant role in cognitive development.
(Woolfolk & Margetts, 2012, p. 100-101.)