Work of Lev Semenovich Vygotsky

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Introduction to Social Constructionism
Lev S Vygotsky

Lev Semenovich Vygotsky
“Learning is more than the acquisition of the ability to think; it is the acquisition of many specialised abilities for thinking about a variety of things.” Lev S. Vygotsky, Mind in Society, 1978. Lev Semenovich Vygotsky was a developmental Psychologist. He lived a short life during turbulent, revolutionary times. Lev Vygotsky was born on the 17th November 1896 in Orsha, a city in the Western region of the Russian Empire in a Jewish family. He died 37 years later from tuberculosis in Stalinist, Russia. Vygotsky was a lawyer based on his University education and a school teacher by occupation. Although his interests were quite diverse his writings often centred on topics of child development and education. Some of the major theories developed by Lev Vygotsky include; Socio-cultural Theory – Vygotsky proposed there were two types of psychological development; “natural” consisting of biological growth, physical and cognitive development; and “cultural”, consisting of learning to use psychological and cultural tools, including signs, symbols and language. Vygotsky believed that a child’s development is a result of her/his culture. He thought that development applied initially to the psychological process, for example, language skills, the way of thinking and other mental functions. Vygotsky believed the above is achievable through interacting socially with others, the parents being of particular influence to the child along-side knowledgeable others. Interaction with others enables children to learn the lifestyle of their culture. These habits being things such as speech patterns, the written language and other constructed knowledge. Both natural and cultural operation act jointly to simplify the development process. Vygotskys socio-cultural theory suggests that social interaction leads to continuous step-by-step changes in a child’s thought and behaviour that can vary greatly from culture to culture (Woolfolk, 1998). Basically, Vygotskys theory implies that development depends on a child’s interaction with others and the tools that culture provides to help them form their own view of the world. His theory combines the social environment and cognition. Children will acquire the ways of thinking and behaving by interacting with a more knowledgeable other. Vygotsky believed that every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice, first on the social level and later, on the individual level, first between people (inter-psychological) and then inside the child (intra-psychological) Vygotsky, 1978. The socio-cultural theory consists of several elements to help implement it (see below left). Language and the ideas that are expressed by means of language play a central role in mental development. Zone of Proximal development – According to Vygotsky children learn by adopting the beliefs, values, and attitudes of others, either consciously or unconsciously as a result of interacting with them. Vygotsky argues that the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is the difference between a child’s existing abilities and what s/he can learn under guidance from a knowledgeable other. Therefore the Proximal Zone is the difference between what children are already able to do and what they are not quite ready to accomplish by themselves. According to Vygotsky, a knowledgeable other must help direct and organise a child’s learning before the child can understand and adopt it. In order for the ZPD to be a success, it must contain two features, the first of which is called subjectivity. This term implies that the knowledgeable other must have a common understanding of what they are doing with the child, in-other-words both parties must have a shared goal. The child uses the expertise of the knowledgeable other (expert) in the learning process. To begin, the expert takes responsibility then as the child (novice) learns, the...
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