Applied Linguistics

Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory Zone of Proximal Development

The work of the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) has become the basis for many theories and research on cognitive development in recent decades, especially from the perspective of what is known as the Sociocultural Theory of Development. In this article we will provide you the information about the Vygotsky‘s Sociocultural Theory.

Sociocultural theory arose from Vygotsky‘s work as a response to Behaviorism , its main idea being based on the idea that the most important contribution to individual cognitive development comes from society.

Vygotsky believed that parents, relatives, peers, and culture in general play important roles in shaping higher levels of intellectual functioning, thus human learning is largely a social process.

Introduction to sociocultural theory

According to Vygotskylearning is based on interaction with other people. Once this has occurred, the information is integrated at the individual level:

“Each function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first on the social and then on the individual level, first among other people (interpsychological) and then within the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, logical memory, and concept formation. All higher functions originate as real relationships between individuals.”

Vygotsky was a contemporary of other great thinkers such as Freud, Skinner and Piaget, but his early death at age 37 and the suppression of his work in Stalinist Russia left him in relative obscurity until recently.

As his work became widely published, his ideas have become widely disseminated, becoming increasingly influential in areas such as child development, cognitive psychology, and education.

Sociocultural theory focuses not only on how adults and peers influence individual learning, but also how cultural beliefs and attitudes influence how teaching and learning unfold .

According to Vygotsky, neonates have natural biological limitations on their minds, yet each culture is capable of providing what he called ” intellectual adaptation tools . ”

These tools allow children to use their basic mental abilities in a way that allows them to adapt to the culture in which they live.

An example of what would be cultural differences in the development of cognitive skills, while one culture may emphasize memory strategies such as note taking, other cultures may use tools such as reminders or memorization.

Key differences between Vygotsky and Piaget

So how do Vygotsky‘s sociocultural theories and Piaget’s theory of cognitive development differ ?

1. Cultural factors of cognitive development

Vygotsky puts more emphasis on culture and how it affects cognitive development.

Contrary to Piaget and the conception of universal stages of cognitive development and its sequential progress, Vygotsky never refers to stages of evolutionary development.

Consequently, Vygotsky assumes that cognitive development varies across cultures , while Piaget states that cognitive development is mostly universal regardless of cultural differences.

2. Social factors of cognitive development

Vygotsky also emphasizes the social factors that contribute to cognitive development.

For him, cognitive development is due to guided formative social interactions within the zone of proximal development as children and their peers achieve the co-construction of knowledge” href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer” data-wpil-keyword-link=”linked”>knowledge.

In contrast, Piaget argued that cognitive development derives largely from children’s independent explorations , which are constructing knowledge” href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer” data-wpil-keyword-link=”linked”>knowledge on their own.

For Vygotsky, the environment in which children grow up will influence what they think and how they think.

3. The role of language in cognitive development

Vygotsky highlights the importance of the role of language in cognitive development.

According to Piaget, language depends on thought for its development, that is, thought comes before language .

For Vygotsky, thought and language are initially separate systems from the beginning of life, the fusion occurs around three years of age, with the production of verbal thought (inner language).

As a consequence , cognitive development results from an internalization of language .

4. The role of adults in cognitive development

According to Vygotsky , adults are an important factor in cognitive development .

Adults transmit cultural tools of intellectual adaptation that children internalize.

Piaget, in contrast, emphasizes the importance of peer interaction to promote social perspective taking.

The effect of culture: intellectual adaptation tools

Like Piaget, Vygotsky asserted that children are born with a basic repertoire of abilities that enable their intellectual development, but while Piaget focused on motor reflexes and sensory abilities, Vygotsky refers to  elementary mental functions :

Eventually, through interaction within the sociocultural environment, these functions develop into more sophisticated and effective mental processes which have been called the  higher psychological functions .

For example, memory in infants is limited by biological factors. However, culture determines what kind of memory strategies we will develop. For example , taking notes is promoted in our culture as a memory aid.

However, in those societies that lack writing, other strategies must be developed, such as tying knots in a rope to remember, using pebbles, or repeating the names of the ancestors a large number of times until they are memorized. The perfection.

Vygotsky describes the tools of intellectual adaptation, that is, those strategies that allow children to manipulate their basic mental functions with greater adaptive efficiency, and are culturally determined (for example, mnemonics techniques, mental maps).

Thus, Vygotsky sees cognitive functions, even those performed alone, as affected by the beliefs, values, and tools of intellectual adaptation of the culture in which a person develops and thus socioculturally determined.

The tools of intellectual adaptation, therefore, vary from one culture to another, as in the example of memory.

Social influence on cognitive development

Like Piaget, Vygotsky believed that infants are curious creatures who actively participate in their own learning process and in the discovery and development of new schemas .

However, Vygotsky placed greater emphasis on the social contribution to the development process, while Piaget emphasized self-initiated discovery.

Much more important to Vygotsky is the learning that occurs through social interaction by the child with a competent tutor. Which can model behaviors and/or provide verbal instructions to the child.

Vygotsky refers to this phenomenon as cooperative or collaborative dialogue.

The child tries to understand the actions or instructions provided by the tutor, often a parent or teacher, then internalizes the information, so that he or she can then use it to guide or regulate his or her own behavior.

For example, a girl who is given her first puzzle. Alone, she tries to complete the puzzle without success. So her father sits down with her and describes or shows her some basic strategies, such as finding all the corner pieces and giving her a couple of pieces so she can put it together herself, and also compliments her when she does. achieves.

As the girl becomes more competent, the father allows her to work more independently. According to Vygotskythis type of social interaction involving cooperative or collaborative dialogue promotes cognitive development.

In order to gain a better understanding of Vygotsky‘s theories of cognitive development, it is necessary to understand two of the fundamental principles of Vygotsky’s work: the More Expert Other and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

The Other More Expert

This concept is self explanatory; refers to someone who has a better understanding or a higher level of skill than the learner, with respect to a certain task, process, or concept.

Although the implication is that the More Expert Other is a teacher or older adult, this is not necessarily the case. Many times, it can be peers of the same age but who have greater knowledge” href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer” data-wpil-keyword-link=”linked”>knowledge or experience in a specific subject.

For example, who can know more about the new trending musical groups, or how to beat the different levels in a Playstation game, a couple or parents?

In fact, The Most Expert Other does not necessarily have to be a person at all. Currently some companies use computerized systems to support the training processes of their employees.

Electronic tutors have also been used in educational centers to facilitate and guide students through their learning process. The key to the More Expert Other is that they must, or at least be programmed with, more knowledge” href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer” data-wpil-keyword-link=”linked”>knowledge about the subject than is assumed for the learners.

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

The concept of the More Expert Other is intimately related to the second important principle of Vygotsky‘s work, the Zone of Proximal or Proximal Development .

This is an important concept that relates to the difference between what a child can accomplish independently and what a child can accomplish with the guidance and support of an expert Other.

Returning to the previous example, although the girl could not solve the puzzle by herself and it would have taken her a long time to complete it, after achieving this task with the help of her father she has developed a competence which she will apply to future puzzles.

Vygotsky conceives the zone of proximal development as the area where one should instruct or guide in a more sensitive way, since it allows the child to develop skills that will be the basis for the development of higher mental functions.

Vygotsky also considered peer interaction as an effective way to develop skills and strategies.

This would be the main reason for suggesting that teachers use cooperative learning exercises where children with lower skills manage to develop skills with the help of more skilled peers, as part of the zone of proximal development.

Vygotsky, Language and cognitive development

Vygotsky believed that language develops from social interactions, for communication purposes, he considers language to be man’s greatest tool, a means to communicate with the outside world.

According to Vygotsky, language plays a critical role in two essential aspects of cognitive development:

1. It is the primary means by which adults convey information to children.

2. Language itself becomes a very powerful tool for intellectual adaptation.

Vygotsky distinguishes between three forms of language:

Social speech, which is external communication used to talk to other people, usually occurs as early as the age of two.

 private speech, which manifests itself at the age of three, is speech that is directed at oneself and has an intellectual function.

And finally internalized private speech , which lacks audibility as it takes the form of a self-regulatory function and transforms into silent inner speech, typical of the age of seven.

For Vygotsky, thought and language are initially separate systems from the beginning of life, their fusion occurs around three years of age.

At this point speech and thought become interdependent: thought becomes verbal, and language becomes representation.

When this happens, children’s monologues are internalized to become private speech. The internalization of language is important as it drives cognitive development.

Vygotsky was the first psychologist to document the importance of private speech. In his view, this is the transition point between social and internal discourse, the moment in development where language and thought come together to constitute verbal thought.

Thus private speech is the earliest manifestation of inner speech. In fact, private speech is more similar, in its form and function, to the inner voice of social speech.

Private speech is typically defined, in contrast to social speech, as speech directed at self, and not at others, for the purpose of self-regulation, rather than communication.

Unlike inner speech which is covert, private speech is overt. In contrast to Piaget‘s notion of private speech which represents a developmental dead end.

Vygotsky conceived of private speech as a developmental revolution that is triggered when pre-verbal and pre-intellectual thought and language come together to create fundamentally new ways of mental functioning.

Applications of Vygotsky’s theory in the classroom

A contemporary educational application of Vygotsky‘s theories is “reciprocal teaching,” which is used to enhance students’ ability to learn and engage in their learning process by observing their peers and teachers through dialogue regarding text fragments.

Thus, teachers and students collaborate in learning and practicing four basic intellectual skillssummarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting .

In this method the role of the teacher in the educational process is reduced over time.

In addition, Vygotsky was relevant to educational concepts such as “scaffolding” and “peer tutoring,” in which a more advanced teacher or peer helps structure or organize a task so that a beginner can acquire new skills or abilities. knowledge.

Vygotsky‘s theories have also generated great interest in collaborative learning, his contributions suggest that group members should have different levels of power, so that more advanced peers can help those who have greater difficulties and allow them to advance through learning. its zone of proximal development.

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