Theories of Learning and How They Can Be Used to Inform Practice in the Classroom.

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This essay discusses two of the theories surrounding children's learning and development. It further goes on to discuss how they could be used to inform practice in the classroom. The two theories to be discussed are Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory.

Lev Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who lived from 1896 to 1934. He was widely involved in developing the education program of the emerging Soviet Union. At the time of his death, his theory was not known outside of the Soviet Union because it was repressed. During his life, he created a completely new and scientific approach to psychology, which did not become publicised in the West until 1962. (Hausfather, 1996)

Vygotsky’s work later became the basis for what has become known as the social development theory of learning (Mace, 2005,para.1). Vygotsky’s ideas influenced a social constructivist approach to education. The major theme of Vygotsky's theoretical framework is that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition. Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level, first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher more complex functions originate as actual relationships between individuals. (Vygotsky 1978, p. 57)

Vygotsky's Social Development Theory rests on two main principles: the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The MKO refers to anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a particular task, process, or concept. The MKO is normally thought of as being a teacher, tutor, or older adult, but the MKO could also be fellow pupils, a younger person, or even a computer (Mace, 2005,para.3).

Vygotsky maintained the child follows the adult's example and gradually develops the ability to do certain tasks without help or assistance. He called the difference between what a child can do with help and what he or she can do without guidance the "zone of proximal development" (ZPD).The whole-language approach to teaching reading and writing draws on this notion. As children play and interact with others at home and at school, they develop specific models of communication, expression and explanation. (Zone of Proximal Development n.d.)

Vygotsky claimed that learning occurred in this zone. Because Vygotsky asserts that learning change occurs within the zone of proximal development, instruction should be designed to reach a developmental level that is just above the learner’s current level. Vygotsky states that learning which is orientated toward developmental levels that have already been reached is ineffective from the view point of the child's overall development. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 94).

Full development of the ZPD depends upon full social interaction. In other words the range of skill that can be achieved with adult assistance or peer association exceeds what can be attained alone. Knowledge within a discipline is important, but solving problems that encourage and help students to go beyond their current skill and knowledge level aids further development of higher functions beyond the bounds of that discipline. By implication, new knowledge can be built. In order for the ZPD to be a success, it must contain two features. The first is called subjectivity. This term describes the process of two or more individuals beginning a task with different understanding or knowledge levels who eventually arrive at a shared understanding. This knowledge is gained by the students with the lower levels of understanding and shared by the student with the higher level. The second feature is scaffolding, which refers to a change in the social support over the course of a teaching...
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