Introduction to Development - Piaget and Vygotsky
Vygotsky's Theory


Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who, though a contemporary of Piaget, died in 1934. His work was not widely read in English until the 1970s; however, and only since then have his theories become influential in North America. Vygotskian theory is now a powerful force in developmental psychology, and many of the critiques he made of the Piagetian perspective more than 60 years ago have come to the fore today.

The theories of Vygotsky have become to known as social constructivism, as the development of the child is based strongly upon social interaction with other children, parents and other role models. In his theories, children are active participants in the construction of their knowledge which is partially accumulated through interaction with others.

Vygotsky's work is based on two key ideas. First, he proposed that intellectual development can be understood only in terms of the historical and cultural contexts children experience. Second, he believed that development depends on the sign systems that individuals grow up with: the symbols that cultures create to help people think, communicate, and solve problems-for example, a culture's language, writing system, or counting system.

In contrast to Piaget, Vygotsky proposed that cognitive development is strongly linked to input from others. Like Piaget, however, Vygotsky believed that the acquisition of sign systems occurs in an invariant sequence of steps that is the same for all children. Vygotsky's theory suggests that learning precedes development.

He believed that learning takes place when children are working within their zone of proximal development. That is, the zone of proximal development describes tasks that a child has not yet learned but is capable of learning at a given time. Some educators refer to a "teaching moment" when a child or group of children is exactly at the point of readiness for a given concept. As a teacher one important aspect of your job is to determine the precise and appropriate level of instruction for your students.  The assessment of zone of proximal development can be determined by asking these questions:

    * does the child seem interested in the current material?
    * is the child ready to learn new material?
    * is the child asking questions?
    * does the child seem bored?

A key idea derived from Vygotsky's notion of social learning is that of scaffolding: the assistance provided by more competent peers or adults. Typically, scaffolding means providing a child with a great deal of support during the early stages of learning. A related concept is the cognitive apprenticeship. Some examples of scaffolding (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 2000) include tasks that:

    * Motivate or enlist the child’s interest related to the task
    * Simplify the task to make it more manageable and achievable for a child
    * Provide some direction in order to help the child focus on achieving the goal
    * Clearly indicate differences between the child’s work and the standard or desired solution
    * Reduce frustration and risk
    * Model and clearly define the expectations of the activity to be performed

Bransford, J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R.  (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, and Experience & School.  Washington, DC: National Academy Press.


Now you are ready to begin your assignments for module two