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Vygotskian Socio-Cultural Theory

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 2015 words Published: 5th Jun 2017

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Lev Vygotsky was a psychologist that revolutionised the world with his theory on socio-cultural development. His theory of socio-cultural development centred on the notion that a child learns through adults or peers. In other words a child’s cognitive development is engaged through the child’s environment, this means that a child develops through interaction with other individuals. Vygotsky’s theory differed from other theorists theories; one of them was Piaget, a Swiss psychologist. His theory was that children learn from the inside out, this means that a child takes their own knowledge to the world (as discussed in class). Piaget’s theory focused on two concepts, one was the concept of assimilation, which is a cognitive process whereby new experiences and information are placed in the cognitive structure of the child. The other concept is accommodation; this is a cognitive process which refers to the resulting reconstruction that takes place when new information is taken in. Vygotsky on the other hand believe that a child’s learning takes place from the outside in, which simply means that a child’s environment determines what s/he learns.

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In Vygotsky’s socio-cultural learning theory one must familiarise oneself with the concepts before we can begin to grasp the idea of theory and use it correctly. The most important feature to grasp is the zone of proximal development. The zone of proximal development is defined as the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help (Wikipedia; the zone of proximal development). In terms of one’s understanding, the ZPD is the distance between the actual development level of a child as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development of a child as determined through problem solving through peer or adult interaction. The actual development of a child is the functions that have already matured and the learner understands. The potential level of development is the functions still in maturation, the understanding has not developed. The ZPD allows learners to mediate through social interaction. (Maths method: 1; Goba, B)

Vygotsky believed in three important aspects that form his theory, this is the social context, language and mediation. These three aspects are important in the sense that; the social context is the context in which learners are coming form. So they may come into the world with some kind of knowledge already instilled in them, this knowledge may not necessarily be correct. Some learner’s social context may enforce some kind of racism this may make the child racist.

In other words children gain their knowledge through social contexts, from birth the child’s social interaction depicts the kind of knowledge s/he will bring to society. Because the environment is ever changing, knowledge is ever changing. So knowledge is never static.

The next aspect is language being the frontal line for the basis of this theory. If a learner cannot understand language be it mathematical, sign or the language medium, the learners knowledge cannot grow and expand because of a barrier with does not permit the development of the learners cognitive structure. Language is a way to communicate, and if language is not understood than the communication link is broken.

And the last aspect is the role of mediation. In order for effective communication to take place there must be some form of mediation to aid the communication. This is where the ZPD comes into play. The learner may not understand a particular concept by way of mediation, something or someone that aids the understanding so the child goes from what they don’t understand to what they can grasp.

According to Vygotsky, “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals.”The socio cultural theory is then defined as a theory of learning that looks at the contribution society as made in an individual’s development (psycology.about.com).

It does not only focus on the learner as an individual but as the learner and cultural context on a whole. Vygotsky explained this theory in terms of language. He argued that social interaction forms this new learning through the ZPD where learners gain new language through social interaction. It outlines of a language as combining both the traditional behavioral and linguistic position of language. This theory of language can suggest that the role of the environment can produce differences in understanding. The socio-cultural theory was adopted by Jerome Bruner and made westernized, now it’s used all over the world.

Case study:

My name is Triona Pillay and I’m 19 years old. I live in an Indian township. This year I did my teaching practice 220 at an Indian school which many non Indians also attend. After teaching practice 120 and all the different aspects we covered with the variations of school types we could go to, I thought I’d be well equipped to handle any classroom situation with the way in which teaching practice 120 had instructed us to. However the classroom situations we encountered was different to the ones we were told to imagine. Going into teach at a school where the medium of language is English was what I perceive to be easy because that my home language and that’s the language that learners should be familiar with. But that was just the beginning of my problem during my teaching practice. Being a mathematics educator was more difficult as learners couldn’t grasp specific concepts.

My first mistake was that learners had prior knowledge to the topics being taught, in the case of my grade: 10 class, the topic was analytical geometry. They didn’t understand that when a negative is squared the number because positive. The learners taught homework was a joke and class time was for socialising. And then I had the teacher’s perspective who said that the learners know the work and they complain for nothing that they don’t understand. Society has deemed that it’s generally that black learners that don’t understand English and won’t be able to understand what is being asked, but in this school the Indian learners got confused with the English.

Simple operations like 3x=9, therefore x =3 the learners didn’t understand how the answer 3 is obtained. Another thing that I found alarming was that the classrooms were plain n simple with no real posters to make the classroom a place where learners want to come. All in all my teaching practice was a real experience on how learners and adults and their environment influence their behaviour and performance. Something that I found quite fascinating was during a staff meeting and they were discussing why a particular learner behaves so horrid at school and one of the suggestions was because of the way his father treats him. Apparently the father actually hit the child in front of the teacher and walked away and a couple of other times the father sent the child with burst lips. This is not the only reason I believed for the problems I’ve encountered. I believed at that school it’s a popularity contest were everyone wants to fit in so the brainy people stick to the smart people and the naughty ones keep to their clan. And once you come to grade: 8 u get initiated into one of those lots. This is my personal views on the situations that occurred during my teaching practice and some of the reasons why I believe the situations occurred.

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Problem solving using Vygotskian socio-cultural theory:

The major problem I identified during teaching practice was the lack of both mathematical language and knowledge and the ability of the learner to express their ideas or opinions in class due to the language barrier of practical English words. Firstly I’d like to point out that problem cannot be solved over night. It requires gradual input from both the teachers and the learners. My first plan of action in my class is to encourage reading in my class. Maybe I can suggest that the school put in place 30 minutes of readings in the morning. The department of education does send schools educational newspapers that they can give to learners to read. The more the learners read the more the learners build up their vocabulary. My colleagues and I can introduce 10 new, interesting and exciting words that the learners can use during the week, at school to replace the mundane words that they use all the time. Using Vygotsky’s principles will take some patients from both the learners and the teachers especially for teachers who have been teaching for 20 plus years, many people are not subjected to change.

The next step as a maths teacher is to build on prior mathematical knowledge and motivate the learners, so that if they understand the basics the rest will follow. I could also encourage the learners with higher marks to help those who are lacking behind. We can also have extra classes during the break to enhance their mathematics skills. This is a great idea as learners can stay out of trouble and get work done. The learners need proper scaffolding and we as teachers need to provide the necessary guidance.

Vygotsky introduced that a child learns through his or her environment so if the child is taught in an environment conducive to learning the child may enjoy coming to that classroom and learn something. I could suggest to learners that they join peers who going to improve their rather than influence them negatively.

The next idea is a tricky one because from the time I was in school I noticed teachers who tried to reach out to learners whose environment at home is unstable, shot down by parents who think they know it all and believe that the teacher is meddlesome and should mind their own business. To have a parent meeting is sometimes futile because the good learners parents only end up coming and the parents you need to see don’t.

According to Vygotsky in a classroom situation we the teachers are the mediator, we should therefore be care how we give off information because learners are young and can sometimes misinterpret what we say. So when teaching, as a future teacher I need to make sure I’m clear and precise. Concepts need to be to the point and one should not beat around the bush.

I could also introduce the concept of motivation in my class. If I aid the learners in their learning and even in their attempts in learning I will be able to take them from the known to the unknown. Using motivation learners will want to “try” and work harder and by this get a better use of both the medium of language and the mathematical language as a whole.

The classroom environment is another are that I can encourage learners development. If I make the classroom environment a fun way to learn and learners won’t get laughed at and shot down for trying. Children learn from their mistakes so if I encourage them and they give the wrong answer and we correct it, they won’t forget.

In conclusion my belief is that Lev Vygotsky was a psychologist whose theory greatly influenced the world. His socio-cultural theory if understood properly can aid both teachers and learners effectively to achieve top results. I also believe that parents should try their best to give their children the best social contexts and keep them away from negative influences. As a future teacher I’ve learnt a lot from Vygotsky’s theory and will use this theory fruitfully when I start teaching.


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