But for Vygotsky, the learning process was not controlled by children, as suggested by Piaget’s personal constructivist theory, but rather a formal learning in school which pulls development to a new level. In social constructivism, the society and culture are important in promoting cognitive development.
Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory of Development became a major influence in the field of psychology and education (Woolfolk, A., 2004). He emphasized the importance of culture and society in developing cognitive growth. First, through informal conversations and formal schooling, adults give the opportunity to the child to interpret the world and respond to it. Second, adults pass cognitive tools which consist of concepts, symbols, strategies, or other constructed mechanism that help the child think about and respond to practical situations.
Equally important, the thought and language are separate functions. First, the child start thinking and then he or she uses language as a mean of communicating. The language starts first as self-talk (private speech). Then, the self-talk evolves into inner speech which is the process of “talking” to and guiding oneself mentally rather than loud. For Vygotsky, language and thought are intertwined.
Furthermore, children develop complex mental processes through social activities and they can perform more challenging tasks when they are assisted by someone competent. The learner can perform challenging tasks with the help and guidance of others because he or she cannot yet perform them independently and it is called in Vygotsky’s terminology, the zone of proximal development. Besides, Vygotsky insists in the role of play which allows children to “engage in self-restraint---skills critical for successful participation in the adult world.” The children take several adult roles (restaurant manager, nurse, cook, waiter, doctor) and they try to copy the adults in their everyday life. Moreover, the discussions between an adult and a child help the child to develop his or her critical thinking. The adult will scaffold the child to help her or him to successfully perform a task within his or her zone of proximal development. Scaffolding is a temporary social support which helps learners to accomplish a task.
In addition, another form of intensive form of guidance is called the apprenticeship where an expert helps a child to perform new skills. Through an apprenticeship, a student learns how to perform a task and how to think about the task. It is known as a cognitive apprenticeship. A teacher will follow these different steps in order to perform a cognitive apprenticeship: modeling, coaching, scaffolding, articulation, reflection, increasing complexity and diversity of tasks, and finally exploration. For example, when teachers encourage students to talk themselves through difficult tasks, they are applying Vygotsky’s theory.
On the whole, an effective teacher should encourage students to be active learners. Teachers must use social interactions and group work which should occur within student’s ZPDs and of course they should give the proper scaffolding to the students in order to avoid frustrations. Vygotskian education goes toward a cooperative conception of the classroom.
McInerney, D.M. and McInerney, V. (1998) Educational psychology: Constructed learning (2nd ed). Australia: Prentice Hall
Woolfolk, A. (2004). Educational psychology. (9th ed). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.