Lev Semenovich Vygotsky was born in 1896 in Tsarist, Russia to a middle class Jewish family. At that time there were very strict rules on where Jewish people could live, work, and how many people could be educated. Vygotsky was privately tutored in his younger years and was fortunate enough to be admitted into Moscow University through a Jewish lottery. His parents insisted that he apply for the Medical school but almost immediately upon starting at Moscow University he transferred into the Law school.
The Humanities classes at Moscow University were not stimulating enough for Vygotsky so he simultaneously enrolled in a private college, Shaniavsky, to study history and philosophy in order to obtain his aspiration of acquiring more knowledge. Vygotsky ended up graduating from both universities just as World War I was ending (Recker, 1996). After College, Vygotsky taught at numerous institutions for about seven years. In 1924 he wrote his PH D thesis, The Psychology of Art.
A few years later he began a career as a psychologist and with the help of Alexander Luria and Alexei Leontiev he “began the Vygotskian approach to psychology” (Christina, 1999). Fortunately, Vygotsky was able to write seven books and numerous articles before he passed away from Tuberculosis in 1934. In 1936, psychology in Russia was under the control of Stalin’s regime and unfortunately Vygotsky’s work was not one of the few that was allowed to be taught.
About 25 years later when Stalin died and the Cold War ended, the political influence on the academics of psychology was lessened and Vygotsky’s work was able to re-emerge into the Russian Society. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that his work became popular in the United States (Recker, 1996). Vygotsky is most well known for his sociocultural theory: “This theory suggests that social interaction leads to continuous step-by-step changes in children’s thought and behavior that can vary greatly from culture to culture” (Christina, 1999).
This theory proposes that the development of a child depends heavily on their social interactions with the people around them. This interaction will lead to the age-appropriate changes and development, for which is necessary, depending on culture of which the child lives in. There are four major principles of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory: children construct knowledge, learning can lead development, development cannot be separated from its social context, and language plays a central role in mental development (Recker, 1996).
First, Vygotsky thought that children constructed knowledge; they don’t just mirror what they see in order to learn. Instead, they learn by creating their own portrayal of the new information in order to make sense of it themselves. Children use their previous knowledge in order to construct new knowledge based on their individual perception of the new information that they are learning. Second, Vygotsky believed that learning can lead the development process.
Learning and development are interrelated processes in that teaching the child leads to that child’s development and continuous change. Vygotsky explains this principle more in depth in his theory of the “Zone of Proximal Development,” which focuses on what the child can do with the assistance of others rather than individually. He argued that if the child could do something with assistance today then they would be able to do it by themselves tomorrow which in turn leads to the child’s development.
Vygotsky believed that the best way to teach the child was to aim at the higher end of the child’s Zone of Proximal Development by providing activities that are slightly too complicated for the child to learn on his or her own but within his or her ability to complete with the assistance of others. The Zone of Proximal Development lead to the idea of scaffolding, an interactive way of teaching the child by first working with them to complete a task and then gradually the child will be able to complete the task on his or her own.
If scaffolding is done correctly it will guide the child to be able to master new tasks and activities on there own, therefore leading their development. Third, Vygotsky stated that development cannot be separated from its social context. He believed that one’s social context not only influences their attitudes and beliefs, but also how and what they think. Vygotsky and some colleagues created studies to observe, “how the social context effected the thinking, perception, and memory of the Uzbeks. Like anthropologists, who had studied other preliterate cultures, Vygotsky discovered that Western logic is not universal” (Recker, 1996).
Other cultures have ways of thinking and organizing ideas that may not be appropriate for the Western civilization but are completely suitable for their particular culture. One’s social context has a major role in their development regardless of what cultural or social environment they are apart of. Finally, Vygotsky believed that language plays a central role in mental development. He argued that language is an instrument for thinking and therefore the most important tool, “It is language that all cultures have passed on the higher mental functions that enable us to make sense of our world” (Recker, 1996).
Language is the process by which one generation teaches another generation new information. A child is taught a new skill when a teacher tells them, using language, what he or she wants them to do. The child then constructs the knowledge that he or she will learn based on the language that is used by the teacher. Overall, the four major principles of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory confirms that social interaction fronts the continuous development in children. Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is both similar and contrasting to Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory.
Piaget believed that “Cognitive development is a progressive reorganization of mental processes as a result of maturation and experience. Children construct an understanding of the world around them, then experience discrepancies between what they already know and what they discover in their environment. The continual process of resolving these discrepancies moves the child’s intelligence into a more mature understanding” (Recker, 1996). Cognitive development is a continual process of understanding new information through maturing and experiencing new events in the world and building on top of the knowledge one already knows.
Piaget helped to explain this through the concepts of: assimilation, the process of acquiring new information into ones previously existing understanding and knowledge, and accommodation which involves adapting or changing ones previous understanding based on obtainment of new information (Cherry, 2012). Piaget observed his own children to see how they processed new information and made sense of the world. He discovered, that as a child matured, the mental processes they went through were very predictable.
He then organized these mental processes into 4 stages: the sensorimotor period, the preoperational period, the concrete operational period, and the formal operational period. The sensorimotor period starts at birth and lasts until approximately two years of age. Infants learn mostly through trial and error, they start to realize that their actions can affect things in the world around them and begin to have a sense of object permanence. The preoperational period begins at age two and ends at roughly age 7.
Children in this stage can engage in symbolic play and mentally represent objects, but may have a difficult time focusing on more than one aspect of a situation, due to their egocentric thinking. Children in the concrete operational period generally range in the ages of about 7 to 11 years. They are capable of thinking more logically about concrete events and are able to understand the concepts of conservation and reversibility. Lastly, the formal operational period occurs at about 11 years of age. When young adults enter this stage they are able to think in a more abstract manner and begin to use more deductive reasoning (Cherry, 2012).
Piaget believed that these stages represented a qualitative change in cognition, each stage builds off of the preceding stage, and that the stages were culturally invariant (Recker, 1996). For both Piaget and Vygotsky, “challenge, readiness, and social interaction are central to the theories… However, the two perspectives differ on the role of language in cognitive development, the relative value of free exploration versus more structured and guided activities, the relative importance of interactions with peers versus adults, and the influence of culture” (McDevitt ; Ormond, 2009).
The theories are similar in their beliefs of the importance of challenging the child, the child’s readiness, and social interactions of the child. Piaget believes that the child is motivated to learn new things through new challenges during free exploration in order to develop to the next stage. Whereas Vygotsky believes that a teacher needs to be the one to challenge the child using the Zone of Proximal Development in a more structured activity for the child to overcome new challenges. Social interaction is very important in both theories as well.
However, Piaget believes that children develop more in social interactions with ones peers to assimilate and accommodate new information being learned. Vygotsky believes that it is more important for the child to interact with adults and teachers in order to learn new information. The biggest contrasting ideals in these two theories are the role of language in cognitive development and the influence on culture on the development of the child. In Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, two of the major principles are focused on how development cannot be separated from its social context, and how language plays a central role in mental development.
Piaget believes that almost all children regardless of culture and social context will eventually pass through all of the stages of cognitive development and that language does not play a significant role in cognitive development. Overall, the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky agree in many aspects of the mental development in children but also disagree about a few very significant factors in childhood development that cannot be over looked. In conclusion, I agree with most of the aspects of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory.
I specifically agree with his theory of the Zone of Proximal Development and the idea of scaffolding. I have a three-year-old niece whom I am very close with and I have also been a nanny for children under the age of four for the past three years; in my opinion, this theory truly is the best way to help a child achieve a new level of mastery in new tasks and skills. For example, my niece got a new arts and crafts kit for her birthday last month and we decided to make puppets out of paper bags.
In order to do this I had to show her how to tear the paper at the slightly cut lines very carefully in order not to rip them, then how to use the glue stick to place the design on the bag, and finally to push “super hard” so that we could make sure our designs would stick to the puppet. We made one puppet together and then I gave her the materials to make another one and left the room to make a phone call and when I got back she was almost done with her very own puppet.
Not only is Vygotsky’s theory applicable to my life because of my niece and other children in it, but also because it relates to my Communicative Disorders major at CSULB. As a future speech pathologist I will be focusing a lot on language learning. A big part of helping children with language disorders is understanding the idea of a dynamic assessment for each individual child. “Vygotsky argued that ‘the only appropriate way of understanding and explaining … forms of human mental functioning is by studying the process, and not the outcome of development’” (Yildirim, O 2008).
This idea is extremely important for speech pathologists, especially when dealing with special needs children or with children of different languages and cultural backgrounds. It is vital in the profession I hope to go into to understand the process of how a child learns in order to best prepare a strategy to ensure the best possible outcome of the development of the child. All in all, several of Vygotsky’s theories and ideas are still very relative today and are very relevant to my life.
Cherry, K. (2012, January 10). About. com. Retrieved from http://psychology. about. com/od/piagetstheory/a/keyconcepts. htm Cherry, K. (2012, June 18). Piaget. Retrieved from http://psychology. about. com/od/behavioralpsychology/l/bl-piaget-stages. htm Christina, G. (1999, May 10). Muskingumedu. Retrieved from http://www. muskingum. edu/~psych/psycweb/history/vygotsky. htm McDevitt, T. M. , ; Ormond, J. (2009). Cognitive development. Prentice Hall. Retrieved from http://wps. prenhall. com/chet_mcdevitt_childdevel_3/47/12219/3128086. cw/index. html Recker, M. (1996, May 03). Utah state university.
Retrieved from http://itls. usu. edu/~mimi/courses/6260/theorists/vygotsky/vygobio. html Recker, M. (1996, May 03). Overview of lev vygotsky. Retrieved from http://itls. usu. edu/~mimi/courses/6260/Theorists/Vygotsky/vygosc. html Yildirim, O. (2008). Vygotsk’ys sociocultural theory and dynamic assessment in language learning. Anadolu university journal of social sciences, 08(01), 301-307. Retrieved from http://web. ebscohost. com/ehost/detail? vid=5&hid=9&[email protected]&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ==