Vygotsky & Cognitive Development

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 19 October 2016

Vygotsky & Cognitive Development

Vygotsky believes that young children are curious and actively involved in their own learning and the discovery and development of new understandings/schema. Vygotsky placed more emphasis on social contributions to the process of development, whereas Piaget emphasized self-initiated discovery. According to Vygotsky, much important learning by the child occurs through social interaction with a skillful tutor. The tutor may model behaviors and/or provide verbal instructions for the child. Vygotsky refers to this as co-operative or collaborative dialogue. The child seeks to understand the actions or an instruction provided by the tutor (often the parent or teacher) then internalizes the information, using it to guide or regulate their own performance. Shaffer gives the example of a young girl who is given her first jigsaw. Alone, she performs poorly in attempting to solve the puzzle.

The father then sits with her and describes or demonstrates some basic strategies, such as finding all the corner/edge pieces and provides a couple of pieces for the child to put together herself and offers encouragement when she does so. As the child becomes more competent, the father allows the child to work more independently. According to Vygotsky, this type of social interaction involving co-operative or collaborative dialogue promotes cognitive development. In order to gain an understanding of Vygotsky’s theories on cognitive development, one must understand two of the main principles of Vygotsky’s work: the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The more knowledgeable other (MKO) is somewhat self-explanatory; it refers to someone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a particular task, process, or concept.

Although the implication is that the MKO is a teacher or an older adult, this is not necessarily the case. Many times, a child’s peers or an adult’s children may be the individuals with more knowledge or experience. For example, who is more likely to know more about the newest teen-age music groups, how to win at the most recent PlayStation game, or how to correctly perform the newest dance craze – a child or their parents? In fact, the MKO need not be a person at all. Some companies, to support employees in their learning process, are now using electronic performance support systems. Electronic tutors have also been used in educational settings to facilitate and guide students through the learning process. The key to MKOs is that they must have (or be programmed with) more knowledge about the topic being learned than the learner does.

The concept of the More Knowledgeable Other is integrally related to the second important principle of Vygotsky’s work, the Zone of Proximal Development. This is an important concept that relates to the difference between what a child can achieve independently and what a child can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner. For example, the child could not solve the jigsaw puzzle (in the example above) by itself and would have taken a long time to do so (if at all), but was able to solve it following interaction with the father, and has developed competence at this skill that will be applied to future jigsaws.

Vygotsky sees the Zone of Proximal Development as the area where the most sensitive instruction or guidance should be given – allowing the child to develop skills they will then use on their own – developing higher mental functions. Vygotsky also views interaction with peers as an effective way of developing skills and strategies. He suggests that teachers use cooperative learning exercises where less competent children develop with help from more skillful peers – within the zone of proximal development. www.simple psychology.com

This is a paper I had from another class that has some great information as well: Lev Vygotsky

After analyzing a few theories and theorists, I have embraced Vygotsky’s Theory of Cognitive Development, or otherwise known as socio-cultural perspective. Vygotsky also emphasizes the importance of society and culture for promoting cognitive growth, and this is also a reason I chose this particular theory. He also believes that many thinking processes have their roots in social interactions with adults and peers. In this process, students discover how people around them think. This is called internalization, where social activities evolve into internal mental activities. Another assumption of Vygotsky is self-talk, when thought and language emerge and children talk to themselves out loud. This process later turns into inner speech. Both of these processes have a similar purpose; by talking to themselves, children learn to guide and direct their own behaviors through difficult tasks and complex maneuvers.

Another one of his assumptions is adults convey to children the ways in which their culture interprets the world through informal conversation and formal schooling. Also, he distinguished two types of abilities that children are likely to have: actual development level and level of potential development. Actual development level is the highest task a child can do independently. A child’s level of potential development is the highest level task a child can do with the help of a more competent individual. He feels children can do more difficult tasks with the help of an adult. He also believes it is the challenges in life that promote cognitive development. An important teaching technique that is emphasized with Vygotsky is individualized instruction. This is important because it targets each student’s zone of proximal development leading to more cognitive development.

Many contemporary theorists have encouraged educators to use Vygotsky’s ideas, such as guided participation, scaffolding, apprenticeships, and peer interaction in promoting cognitive development. Guided participation is when we assist our students as they perform adult-like activities. Scaffolding is when adults and other more competent individuals provide some form of guidance or structure that enables children to perform tasks at their zone of proximal development. The different ways a teacher can provide scaffolding for his or her students are working with students to develop plans for dealing with new tasks, demonstrating proper performance of the task that can be easily imitated and dividing complex tasks into smaller simpler ones.

Keep students motivated to complete the tasks and give student’s feedback on how they are progressing. In an apprenticeship, a learner works intensively with an expert to accomplish complex tasks that he or she cannot do independently. An apprenticeship usually has some of the following features: modeling, coaching, scaffolding, articulation, reflection, and exploration. When working together, students can essentially provide scaffolding for each other. This is called peer interaction. I believe that Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development is important for students as learners because it promotes higher levels of thinking, as well as problem solving skills.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 19 October 2016

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