Activity 1

Vygotsky's Central Ideas

In the previous Unit, you looked at Jean Piaget's ‘stages' theory of cognitive development. Piaget was described as an individual constructivist because he saw children constructing meanings in the world on an individual basis.

In this Unit, you will begin by looking at the work of Lev Vygotsky, a social constructivist who sees the construction of knowledge as a collective activity.

Many modern educationalists are strongly attracted to Vygotsky's social rather than individual constructivism. If Piaget was the popular educational theorist of the seventies and eighties, Vygotsky has become the theoretical icon of the nineties and 21st century in Western education, routinely quoted and referenced in numerous research articles. He has been brought into the limelight by a powerful paradigm shift in recent decades from biologically based to sociocultural explanations of human activity.

One great attraction of Vygotsky's position for educators lies in his idea that learning with assistance or instruction is a normal feature of human mental development, particularly attractive to those who favour whole class teaching and a greater emphasis on the role of the teacher in the classroom.

REFLECT: What do you understand by each of the four following famous quotations from Vygotsky's writing? How far do you agree with them?

  • 'Education must be orientated not towards the yesterday of a child's development, but towards its tomorrow'.
  • 'It is through others that we become ourselves'.
  • 'What a child can do in co-operation today, he can do alone tomorrow'.
  • ‘Therefore, the only good kind of instruction is that which marches ahead of development, and leads it'.

WRITE: Choose two of the quotations above which make most sense to you in terms of your experience as a teacher. In each case, write about the reasons why you think that they are important and give examples from your own classroom.

(Allow 30 minutes)