Vygotsky's theory of Cognitive Development

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Vygotsky's theory (AO1 8 Marks)

  • Elementary and Higher mental Functions
    • Proposed that children are born with elementary mental functions, such as peception and memory
    • These are transformed into higher mental functions by the influence of culture
    • Lower mental functions are biological and higher mental functions are exclusively human
    • The role of culture is to transform elementary mental functions into higher mental functions
  • Through culture, children aquire much of the content of their thinking (their knowledge). the surrounding culture also provides a chld with the process of their thinking-tools of intellectual adaption.
  • Experts
    • A child learns through problem solving experiences shared with someone elsem usually a parent or teacher.
    • All people with greater knowlege are called experts
    • Initially the person interacting with the child assumes most of the responsibility byt gradually this transfers to the child.
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Vygotsky's theory (AO1 8 Marks)

  • Semiotics and Role of Language
    • Believed that culture is transmitted by experts using semiotics and language is the semiotic system of foremost importance but mathmatical symbols and valuable too.
    • To begin with language takes the form of shared dialogues between the adult and child (pre-intellectual speech), but as they develop the skill of mental representation, children begin to communicate with themselves in the same way they'd comunicate with others.
  • Stages of Speech
    • pre-intellectual or social speech (0 – 3 years old),
    • egocentric speech (3 – 7 years old) - talking out loud when solving problems
    • inner speech (7+ years old).
  • Stages of concept formation:
    • vague-syncretic (trial and error);
    • complex (appropriate strategies, but main attributes not identified);
    • potential concept stage (identify one attribute or feature at a time);
    • mature concept stage (identify several attributes/features at a time).
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Vygotsky's theory (AO1 8 Marks)

  • Social and Individual level
    • Every function in the childs cognitive development appears twice-
      • first on social level
      • later on individual level
    • The child converts these social relations into higher mental functions through mediation
    • Language is the most important type of mediation for the acquisition of higher mental process' because it frees children from the restraints of their immediate environment.
  • The Zone of Proximal Development
    • A childs ZPD is the region where cognitive development takes place
    • The learner is aided by Cultural influences
    • At first, learning is between people and it later becomes internalised
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AO2/ A03 Points (16 Marks)

  • ZPD
    • McNaughton and Leyland (1990) observed young children working with their mothers on jigsaw puzzles of increasing difficulty, and then a week later observed them working on their own.
    • The children reached a higher level of ability when worrking with their mothers (potential ability) than when working on their own (current ability), so defining their ZPD.
    • Their ZPD was related to the emthod of instruction used by the mothers
    • When the Children were doing activities too easy for them (below thier ZPD), the mothers were mainly concerned with keeping them on task.
    • At the second level the mothers focused on helping their children solve he puzzles themselves.
    • At the third level, the emphasis was on completing the puzzles by whatever means.
    • Vygotsky predicted that the greatest teaching input would be at the endge of the ZPD, supported by the findings of Leyland and McNaughton
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AO2/ A03 Points (16 Marks)

  • Role of Culture
    • Vygotsky's Claims about the effects of culture have had cross-cultural support.
    • Gredler (1992) pointed to the primitive countign system used in Papua new Guinea as an example of how culture can limit cognitive development
    • Counting is done by starting on the thumb of one hand and going up the arm and down to the other fingers ending in 29.
    • This system makes it very difficult to add and subtract large numbers, a limiting factor for the development in this culture
  • Role of Language
    • Sinclair-de-Zwart (1969)
    • Tried to teach children who could not conserve to use comparitive terms such as bigger and shorter.
    • She found very little improvement in their ability to conserve, a finding that does not support Vygotsky's theory as he suggests that cultural tools should lead to cognitive development.
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AO2/ A03 Points (16 Marks)

  • IDA-
    • His theory suits the collectivist culture he was a part of and, as such, can be viewed as culturally biased.
    • therefore, the theory is less applicable to individualistic cultures.
    • Also, Vygotsky's sociocultural perspective does not provide as many specific hypotheses to test as did Piaget's theory, making refutation difficult, if not impossible.
    • Perhaps the main criticism of Vygotsky's work concerns the assumption that it is relevant to all cultures.
    • Rogoff (1990) dismisses the idea that Vygotsky's ideas are culturally universal and instead states the concept of scaffolding - which is heavily dependent on verbal instruction - may not be equally useful in all cultures for all types of learning. Indeed, in some instances observation and practice may be more effective ways of learning certain skills.
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