Applying Vygotsky to the classroom

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Applying Vygotsky to the classroom

Vygotsky's stresses the importance of looking at each child as an individual who learns distinctively. Consequently, the knowledge and skills that are worthwhile learning varies with the individual.

The overall goal of education according to Vygotsky is to "generate and lead development which is the result of social learning through internalisation of culture and social relationships."  He repeatedly stressed the importance of past experiences and prior knowledge in making sense of new situations or present experiences.  Therefore, all new knowledge and newly introduced skills are greatly influenced by each student's culture, especially their family environment.

Language skills are particularly critical for creating meaning and linking new ideas to past experiences and prior knowledge. According to Vygotsky, internalized skills or psychological tools "are used to gain mastery over one's own behavior and cognition."  Primary among these tools is the "development of speech and its relation to thought."


ZPD and Scaffolding

Tasks that are set for the child need to be pitched at the right level.  Tasks that are too difficult are outside the child’s ZPD, and regardless of the amount of help in the form of scaffolding, the gap can not be bridged.  If the task is too easy the child will not be motivated.

During scaffolding the first step is to build interest and engage the learner. Once the learner is actively participating, the given task should be simplified by breaking it into smaller subtasks. During this task, the teacher needs to keep the learner focused, while concentrating on the most important ideas of the assignment. One of the most integral steps in scaffolding consists of keeping the learner from becoming frustrated. The final task associated with scaffolding involves the teacher modeling possible ways of completing tasks, which the learner can then imitate and eventually internalize.

As Wood et al (1976) put it; if a child is succeeding at a task then adult assistance can be reduced.  Similarly if the child is struggling then greater assistance needs to be provided.  Wood (1988) studied primary school classes and concluded that it is not possible for teachers to recognise the ZPD of 30 different students.  Instead, he argues, scaffolding is more appropriate for one on one situations.

Bliss et al (1996) looked at the ways scaffolding was being used in the science classes of 13 London Junior schools (ages 7-11).  The results showed that scaffolding was not being used effectively and reported what they described as ‘pseudo-scaffolding.

Role of the teacher

In Vygotsky's view, the teacher has the "task of guiding and directing the child's activity."  Children can then solve novel problems "on the basis of a model they has been shown in class." In other words, children learn by solving problems with the help of the teacher, who models processes for them in a classroom environment that is directed by the teacher. In essence, "the child imitates the teacher through a process of re-creating previous classroom collaboration." 

Peer tutoring and the MKO

Vygotsky defined those who


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