Lev Semenovich Vygotsky (1896 - 1934)

sgi_cube.gif Lev Semenovich Vygotsky

Born on 5 November 1896 Russia, Vygotsky was tutored privately by Solomon Ashpiz: perhaps this experience was at the root of his Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which played a central role in his pedagogical ideas (Blanck , 1990). Throughout his life he expressed a great love of the theatre and poetry but his main interest lay in defectology and psychology, especially problems in education against his background of Marxist philosophy. Vygotsky never received formal training in psychology but his interest in psychology may, in part, have been stimulated by his literary concerns. (Rosa and Montero, 1990).

According to Vygotsky, the child is able to take the basic cultural ideas and determine his/her own ideas (through language as a tool). The child is a determiner not determined. Vygotsky emphasised the cultural line of development because of social determination of mental activity (Blanck, 1990).

Internalisation is one of Vygotsky’s key concepts relevant to social determination and is the process through which the internal stage of consciousness is formed. He shared the idea of the French psychologist Pierre Janet that interpersonal processes transform into intrapersonal ones and, therefore, humans are "internalized (sic.) culture" (Blank, 1990). According to Vygotsky the acquisition of language as the most significant moment in the course of cognitive development, where words that already have meaning for mature members of a culture group come to have those same meanings for the young of the group in the process of interaction (Tudge, 1990).

This sequence results in, zones or areas of proximal (nearest) development (ZPD defined as the distance between the real level of development and the potential level of development (Vygotsky, 1978). This concept has had a major influence in education (Blanck, 1990).

[The genesis of a performance capacity: Progression through the zone of proximal development and beyond Gallimore and Tharp, 1990]

Within the ZPD, Vygotsky declared that "more competent peers", as well as adult, can aid children’s development (Vygotsky, 1978:p. 86). The use of language, in particular, constitute the higher psychological functions of the unique forms of human cognition (paraphrased from Rosa and Montero, 1990). Children unable to solve a problem or tackle a task will often turn to a more knowledgeable other for help. To do so they use language which is social and interpersonal when language and thought come together.

Vygotsky saw instruction as a facilitator of cognitive development. "What a child can do with assistance today she will be able to do by herself tomorrow" (Vygotsky 1978:p87). Within this Vygotskian framework researchers have focused their attention upon the processes of collaboration rather than upon conflict, arguing that "for interaction to be effective children have to work toward accomplishing joint goals" (Tudge, 1990).

Scaffolding, based on Jerome Bruner’s concept of "scaffolding", and never used by Vygotsky, has come to be used for interactional support (Clay and Cazden,1990). It refers to the gradual withdrawal of adult control and support as a function of children’s increasing mastery of a given task.

Vygotsky’s main theory strengths are:

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