Educational Psychology Essay Topic 5:
Explain the Vygotskian notion of the zone of proximal development. Evaluate the efficacy of approaches to teaching and learning [eg. reciprocal teaching, cognitive apprenticeships, and communities of learners] which incorporate this notion.
Many theorists throughout the century have developed concepts that have analysed and explained how a child learns during their schooling years. Educational theorist Lev Vygotsky produced the social development theory of learning. He believed social interaction is the primary cause of cognitive development. He named this the zone of proximal development. There are many approaches to learning in the zone of proximal development such as scaffolding, reciprocal teaching, cognitive apprenticeships and communities of learning, each with their own unique way of transporting the learner into an easier more motivated state of learning.
Compared to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development where the child is seen to go through four stages of development; sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operations, and formal operations, Vygotsky believed that the cognitive developmental process should be analysed through social contexts. He believed that this was a lifelong process that was influenced by social interaction with family, teachers, and friends in the cultural community surrounding the student. He emphasised the instruments that specific cultures provide to maintain thinking, and the idea that children use the instruments they’re given to build their own comprehension of the physical and natural world. He named this the Zone of Proximal Development. Vygotsky defines this as "the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Vygotsky, 1978, cited from McInerney and McInerney, 2006,part 1,ch 2,p58). During this time cognitive development takes place. Throughout this development the child is said to go through four stages of growth (Gallimore and Tharp, 1990): 1. Assistance: in their routine from other more capable peers, parents, and teachers. 2. Growing independence: from their more capable peers as they begin to build their own ideas by using self directed speech and assume responsibility for their learning. 3. Automation of response: they develop, make the movement of idea automatic and internalise their thinking. Assistance from others is not needed. 4. De-automatisation and recursion: constant practice of routine is necessary so as not to lose the knowledge and re-enter the zone of proximal development. Sometimes there is always a movement between in and out of the zone of proximal development. Vygotskian principles are evident in everyday teaching practices and are maintained by parents, peers and teachers who believe that using a social constructivist perspective for education will give their child or students the opportunity to grow within themselves through the help of others from different levels of knowledge.
Vygotsky believed that the role of the teacher using the zone of proximal development for learning is to find an appropriate stage of complexity for the learner to handle. This is called assisted learning. Teachers provide “strategic help in the initial stages of learning, gradually diminishing as students gain independence” (Woolfolk, 2001, p49). The teacher must simplify tasks so that they are manageable for the student to deal with. This guidance or help is called scaffolding. It is the support for learning and problem solving. The support could be clues, reminders, encouragement, breaking down the problem into steps, providing and example, or anything else that allows the student to grow as an independent learner. They provide students with the opportunities to further extend their current skills and knowledge.
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