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Vygotskys theory of cognitive development

As stated above, Vygotsky believed childrens thinking is affected by their knowledge of the social community (which is learnt from either technical or psychological cultural tools). He also suggested that language is the most important tool for gaining this social knowledge; the child can be taught this from other people via language. He defined intelligence as the capacity to learn from instruction, which emphasizes the fact there is a requirement for a more knowledgeable other person or teacher. He referred to them as just that: the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). MKOs can be parents, adults, teachers, coaches, experts/professionals but also things you might not first expect, such as children, friends and computers. He described something known as the zone of proximal development (ZPD), which is a key feature of his theory. There are two levels of attainment for the ZPD:

Level 1 the present level of development. This describes what the child is capable of doing without any help from others. Level 2 the potential level of development. This means what the child could potentially be capable of with help from other people or teachers.

The gap between level 1 and 2 (the present and potential development) is what Vygotsky described as this zone of proximal development. He believed that through help from other, more knowledgeable people, the child can potentially gain knowledge already held by them. However, the knowledge must be appropriate for the childs level of comprehension. Anything that is too complicated for the child to learn that isnt in their ZPD cannot be learnt at all until there is a shift in the ZPD. When a child does attain their potential, this shift occurs and the child can continue learning more complex, higher level material.

Diagram to demonstrate the ZPD. Another important feature of this theory is scaffolding. When an adult provides support for a child, they will adjust the amount of help they give depending on their progress. For example, a child learning to walk might at first have both their hands held and pulled upwards. As they learn to support their own weight, the mother might hold both their hands loosely. Then she might just hold one hand, then eventually nothing. This progression of different levels of help is scaffolding. It draws parallels from real scaffolding for buildings; it

is used as a support for construction of new material (the skill/information to be learnt) and then removed once the building is complete (the skill/information has been learnt). Woods and Middleton (1975) studied the influence of instruction with their experiment. They provided 3-4 year olds with a puzzle which was beyond their comprehension on their own. The mother then provided different levels of assistance for the child:

L1 General verbal instruction (Very good! Now try that again.) L2 Specific verbal instruction (Get four big blocks) L3 Mother indicates material (You need this block here) L4 Mother provides material and prepares it for assembly L5 Mother demonstrates the operation

After the session, the child was assessed on whether they could construct the pyramid on their own. Results showed that when children were given varied support from mothers (low levels of support when the child was doing well, and high levels when the child struggled) they were able to construct the pyramid on their own. However, when the mother consistently provided the same support, they seemed to make the child conclude the activity was beyond their comprehension and the child soon lost interest in constructing the pyramid. This shows the importance of providing the correct level of scaffolding when teaching a learner.

The Woods & Middleton (1975) pyramid puzzle. As a final point, Vygotsky looked at the role of egocentric/private speech. This is, for example, when a child will sit on their own and speak their thoughts out loud as they play. He suggested a child is regulating and planning their behaviour at this point: Where is the block? I cant find it. Oh well, Ill use this block. He called these monologues. By 7 years, these monologues become internalised and the child becomes a verbal thinker, which is what most adults can do with no problem. When we are faced with a problem, and were alone, we quite often think through the problem but in our heads. Children before 7 will do this out loud. This verbal thinking forms the basis for higher level, more abstract thinking (planning, reasoning, memorising, evaluating). Quick summary

Emphasised the role of a teacher in cognitive development, and the need to have support from a More Knowledgable Other, or MKO. The zone of proximal development, or ZPD, differentiates between a learners current development and their potential development when being taught from a MKO.

Scaffolding provides an effective way to reach potential levels of development, but only when different levels of assistance are given when required. Social and cultural tools are an important means of gaining intelligence. There is a close link between the acquisition of language and the development of thinking. Internalizing monologues, and therefore becoming a verbal thinker, is a stepping stone to higher levels of thinking.

Vygotsky provided a very influential theory which provided a meaningful social context in the development of learning. The emphasis of cultural knowledge was something unseen in Piagets theory. In the next post, I will be evaluating both of the cognitive theories (that of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky) and then comparing and evaluating them against each other.

The Work of Lev Vygotsky


Imaginative play is a crucial component of a child's normal development. What may seem to be a simple and uncomplicated way for children to entertain themselves is actually a complex process that affects all aspects of a child's life. Play shapes how children make sense of their worlds, how they learn thinking skills, and how they acquire language. So how does imaginative play boost a child's brain development? How can it affect cognition? There are a multitude of ways in which unstructured, child-centered play builds healthy minds.

Language development and play


Children have dialogues with themselves when they engage in imaginative play. Role-playing means creating a story and giving a voice to the different characters in the story. When children imitate others, they are developing a vocabulary that allows them to name and navigate the world around them. Less verbal children may talk more during imaginative play than in other settings. Psychologist Lev Vygotsky 's theory of cognitive development posits that information from the external world is transformed and internalized through language. Since language is both a symbolic system of communication and a cultural tool used to transmit culture and history, play is an essential part of both language development and a child's understanding of the external world. When a child is at play, he or she is in a constant dialogue either with self or others. Children at play are making sense of the world through a process of "inner speech" that is, they are often talking out loud to themselves. As adults, we lose this capacity because it is not socially sanctioned.

If we really listen to children at play, we can hear the way they converse with themselves in order to make sense of the external world. Mimicking adults is often the most obvious way this process can be observed. ("Now, let's wash our hands and eat supper" a child playing "family" might say, for instance). According to Vygotsky, language also serves the purpose of regulation, or self-control over one's own cognitive processes such as memory and thought. As we develop, we transition from being other-regulated to being self-regulated in our cognitive processes. Discovering language via play is an essential part of this transition.

The social interaction of play develops cognition


Vygotsky was also interested in the role of social interaction on cognitive development and argued that development first takes place socially. That is, children observe parental behavior, listen to parents' speech, and then try to imitate them. As children practice through imitation, parents will guide children, correct them, and provide challenges. Through child-centered play, children take on different roles and try out different language uses, all of which help them on the journey from being externally regulated to internally regulated in cognition. Through play, children become more competent in their language use and begin to regulate their own thought processes.

Problem solving skills and play


Vygotsky proposed that a child's performance differs between instances in which he tries to solve a problem alone and when another child or adult assists the child. He refers to this difference as the "zone of proximal development." How does this relate to play? If a child is learning to complete a task, such as building a bridge with blocks, and a more competent person provides assistance, then the child is able to move into a new zone of development and problem solving. Vygotsky refers to this process of assisting as "scaffolding," which helps bridge the difference between a child's current level of problemsolving and his potential for more complex problem solving. Imaginative play is essential to cognitive development, but it is becoming endangered by our busy lives. Children who do not engage in imaginative play because their time is overly structured or spent watching television or other forms of media are not developing the language and reasoning skills that are so critical to early childhood development.