Outline of theorist and their theories.
Lev Vygotsky was a social theorist whose educational psychology theories have been employed as the basis for many teaching practices. As a Jew born in 1896 and living through the Russian Revolution before his death in 1936, Vygotsky was influenced largely by his own Marxist and Socialist beliefs. Vygotsky’s central ideas were based on individual development through a social context, with language being a most important tool that allows growth.
The basis of Vygotsky’s ideas was that knowledge is learned in a social manner. Humans are not born with knowledge, it is gained is through social interactions (Dahms, Passalacqua, Schilk, Wetzel, Zulkowsky, 2007). Hence, students will learn best through active social participation in their learning rather than by being fed information. According to Ormod (2003) Vygotsky believed that from their birth, children interacted with adults and internalized those processes to use as the basis for their own understandings. Students will learn best by trying to make sense of something on their own with the teacher as a guide to help them along the way (Brooks & Brooks 1993). This knowledge is not just passed on, but rather ‘constructed’ from the student’s experience and this interaction. This idea is known as ‘constructivism’.
Two fundamental concepts of his theories were the importance of language and the individual treatment of each student. Vygotsky believes speech is important both as a powerful psychological tool that lays the foundation for basic thinking structures but also the primary tool for social interaction (and therefore learning) (Feden & Vogel (2003). By mastering the language, students are able to better internalize a concept. Secondly, Vygotsky argued that each student should be treated as an individual. Each child learns distinctively. Consequently, the knowledge and skills that are worthwhile learning varies with the individual (Dahms et al.). This concept is utilized through Vygotsky’s ‘Zone of Proximal Development’. The teacher’s role is as a guide to monitor the students place and always teach them as if they were “a head taller than himself” (Vygotsky 1978)
Describe detailed elements of theory/approach
The idea that a student learns at a level just above their current level of competence is the Vygotskian practice known as The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). ZPD suggests that human potential is theoretically limitless, but the practical limits of human potential depend upon quality guidance (Vygotsky 1978). ZPD is the range that is the difference between a student’s ability to learn independently and their ability to learn under effective guidance from a source of higher learning. (Vygotsky 1978). It is the teacher’s role to assess each student’s competence and position in this zone where they can no longer learn without guidance and then apply a variety of assistance such as probing with questions, modeling behaviors, creating group learning or by ‘Scaffolding’. As the students learn, the less guidance is needed and the ZPD can be then stretched further to a point of deeper understanding.
Scaffolding is a tool for guiding the child through their ZPD in which the adult provides hints and prompts at different levels (Wood, Bruner & Ross, 1976). It draws on their existing competencies gives student tools to discover answers for themselves.
For example, a Commerce teacher may feel an ‘Investment Decisions’ topic may be outside the ZPD of their student. Using scaffolding, the teacher initially discusses their current basic investment choices (pocket money, tuckshop, savings ect.) and grasps the basic idea of the investment choices they have. Then guide students through brainstorms and discussion about items that would affect their choices as they mature (car, house, mortgage, shares ect.) and analyse those decisions.