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Vygotsky unveiled

Lev Vygotsky contends that human beings are simultaneously the product of biology and their human cultures. His principal premise is that human beings are products not only of biology, but also of their human cultures. Part of the explanation for how we function intellectually can be explained by our social history. The sharing of this social history with adults and other children is how students learn higher intellectual functions.

Vygotsky espouses the idea of inner speech. Children learn when they have dialog with “more capable peers. Vygotsky demonstrates that children actually use speech to solve problems. If a task is particularly difficult the children tend to use more external egocentric speech. For example they speak to themselves by saying such things as “I could use that ladder. Then I could reach the ball with that stick.” Eventually as students master a task they internalize this dialog. Speech becomes a nonverbalized conversation with one’s own self. This “inner speech” is what students utilize to direct their behavior and thinking.

Vygotsky illuminated an interesting developmental sequence with speech. Young children who are alone tend to talk about what they have done after they solve a problem. There seems to be a general sequence in the development of speech for oneself. When they get older they talk while they work. When they become more sophisticated they talk before they attempt to solve a problem. It is this talk that can be harnessed to the benefit of all. In other words, students can regulate one another in such a way that they can solve problems which would be out of their reach if they were attempting to do it alone. In this way students can “push” the learning of one another. Speech is used to plan which is a higher intellectual function. This speech is particularly powerful if it is shared.

For the educator, the most salient point is that we develop mastery and inner conversations by having conversations and planning with others.

It is imperative for teachers to keep dialog and problem sets just above where children can solve them. This assures that students learn from one another through planning. This idea is called scaffolding by James Bruner. According to Vygotsky it takes place within a child’s zone of proximal development. This is a level at which a child can perform a task with the assistance of others. Properly applied collaborative learning environments can be powerful indeed because it enables students to connect their every day concepts with what is to be learned.

Teachers plan activities and experiments that build on the language of students’ everyday lives through familiar examples and behaviors, analogies and metaphors, and the use of commonly found materials. Educators demonstrate, do parts of the task students cannot do, work collaboratively with students where they need help, and release responsibility to students when they can perform the task independently.

Tell us about tasks you’ve developed to help students to draw from their own experiences and knowledge of the world in order to connect to what is to be learned in school.

Filed Under: Breaking Science
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