Lev Vygotsky: Cognitive Development

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Lev Vygotsky: Cognitive Development

Key Processes

Constructivist Approach:Children are social creatures and actively construct their knowledge and understanding through social interactions. A child’s cognitive development is dependent upon the tools provided to them by society and culture they they live in

The Zone of Proximal Distance (ZPD)The range of tasks that are too difficult for children to master alone but can be learned with guidance and assistance of adults or more-skilled peers. ScaffoldingTeaching technique in which more-skilled person adjusts the level of guidance to fit the child’s current performance level. Dialogue is an important aspectscaffolding.Language and ThoughtLanguage plays a key role in cognition. Language and thought initially develop independently, but then children internalize their egocentric speech in the form of inner speech, which eventually becomes their internal thoughts between 3-7 years of age. Vygotsky (1987) differentiates between three forms of language: 1 -social speech which is external communication used to talk to others (typical from the age of two) 2 -private speech which is directed to the self and serves an intellectual function (typical from the age of three) 3 -private speech goes underground, diminishing in audibility as it takes on a self-regulating function and is transformed into silent inner speech (typical from the age of seven).

Scaffolding Guidelines

Teachers can use many proven effective teaching strategies including:1. Assessing accurately where the learner is in terms of knowledge and experience.2. Relating content to what the learner already knows or can do.3. Providing examples of the desired outcome and showing the learner what the task is as opposed to what it is not.4. Breaking the larger outcome into smaller, achievable tasks with opportunities for feedback along the way.5. Giving students a chance to orally elaborate ("think out loud") using problem-solving techniques.6. Incorporating appropriate verbal clues and prompts to assist students in accessing stored knowledge.7. Emphasizing specific vocabulary that emerges from the exploration of the unit or context of the lesson.8. Regularly asking students to hypothesize or predict what is going to happen next.9. Allowing students time and opportunity to explore deeper meanings and to relate the newly acquired knowledge to their own lives.Setting aside time for students to "de-brief" about their learning journey and review what worked best for them and what did not work well. (Silver, 2011)


Santrock, J. W. (2009). Child development (14th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Vygotsky, L.S. (1987). Thinking and speech. In R.W. Rieber ' A.S. Carton (Eds.), The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky, Volume 1: Problems of general psychology (pp. 39–285). New York: Plenum Press. (Original work published 1934.)Silver, Debbie (2011). Using the "Zone" to Help Reach Every Learner. Kappa Delta Pi Record, v48 n1 p28-31 Fall 2011. 4 pp.Woelders, Adam (2007). It Makes You Think More When You Watch Things: Scaffolding for Historical Inquiry Using Film in the Middle School Classroom. The Social Studies (Washington, D.C.) 98 no4 145-52 Jl/Ag 2007.

Lev Vygotsky

Look Deeper


In The Classroom

Middle School Students’ Social/Emotional Needs:According to Vygotsky (1978), 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 cooperative or collaborative dialogue. The child seeks to understand the actions or instructions provided by the tutor (often the parent or teacher) then internalizes the information, using it to guide or regulate their own performance.Children also benefit from the support and guidance of more skilled children. In the classroom it would be helpful to assign certain topics to groups of students for research and have them present to the whole class. Each group would teach the other groups about their findings. Students work in groups in order to learn, solve and discover the challenges the new content might be covering. Place instruction in meaningful context perhaps by incorporating the culture and history of student’s diverse backgrounds into the history lesson. Meaningfully incorporate the history of certain people groups, hobbies, regions, and religions or people groups in order to create a more meaningful connection. Middle School Students’ Cognitive Needs:Offer the opportunity for students to “think out loud” or elaborate using problem solving techniques when teaching a lesson.Encourage child to practice skill in order to improve. this may include homework, research, reading, repetition or many other activities. Assess the child’s ZPD by presenting the him with tasks of varying difficulty to determine the best level at which to begin. In a history class, this could include recalling and naming the states on a map of the USUse the ZPD in teaching. Teaching should begin toward the zone’s upper limit, so that the child can reach the goal with help and move to a higher level of skill and knowledge. Offer just enough assistance; ask, “what can I do to help you?” Observe and provide support when needed. When the child hesitates, offer encouragement.

Assessment Questions

Students' understanding of history may be shaped less by their social studies teachers than by the powerfully ubiquitous, historically themed media images they passively consume outside of school (Woelders 2007). A historically themed film can be used to scaffold activities that encourage middle school students to conduct inquiries of the past and critically evaluate feature films and documentaries. Data collected from student surveys, focus group discussions, assignments, and classroom observations suggested that students benefit from well-structured activities that encourage them to compare historical accounts with cinematic portrayals of the past. In particular, the Know-Wonder-Learn and anticipation guide strategies can encourage critical viewing and thinking about how film accounts are created.(Woelders 2007)

1. How could you verify the date the Declaration of Independence was signed?2. Discuss the pros and cons of the Civil War?3. What alternative would you suggest for the handling of Japanese-Americans during the aftermath of the attack on Pear Harbor?4. How can you classify the southern section of the United States today compared to 160 years ago?5. What could you invent to help Americans see more of the country they live in?


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