The middle-class Belorussian Lev Vygotsky was born in 1896 in Orsha the United Bank of Gomel, the family moved to Gomel upon the father’s promotion. Vygotsky and the family’s other children were given a stimulating and enriching environment by their mother, a qualified teacher and private tutor. He later entered secondary school education. He was an excellent student, with an outstanding reading speed and memory.As a result of anti-Semitism at the time, it was debatable whether he would able to enroll as a student at the University of Moscow.
Although the number of Jewish students allowed to study there was limited, he was accepted. However, as Jewish, he was barred from studying philosophy. He studied medicine initially, but then switched to Law.Vygotsky continued his studies in philosophy privately and when he graduated in 1917, with a law degree, he started teaching in Gomel. He established a research lab at Gomel Teacher’s College where he continued with psychological research.
In 1924, he made a presentation, discussing methods of reflexological and psychological investigations to the Second All-Russian Psychoneurological Congress in Leningrad. The presentation was well received and was offered a position restructuring the Psychological Institute of Moscow. While at the Institute, he had the opportunity to read archived materials which he later put to good use. In 1925 Vygotsky’s dissertation on The Psychology of Art, which gained him a junior psychologist position at the Psychological Institute of Moscow University and was soon respected in the field.He subsequently set up special education services in Russia, reorganised the Psychological Institute of Moscow and founded research laboratories in major cities of the Soviet Union, in order to address psychological theories in accordance with Marxist thinking and the social and political issues confronting the new nation as it went from Tsarist feudalism to socialism. He and his colleagues realised that bringing diverse cultural and ethnic groups together as part of the new Soviet State would create difficulties, which alongside a dearth of suitable resources and services, could cause people to feel excluded from full integration in to the new society.As a result of contracting tuberculosis, Vygotsky died in 1934 and two years later his name and works were banned by Stalin, who regarded him as an idealist. Stalin rejected the study of pedology–the study of the character, growth, and development of children. Consequently, many psychologists and other intellectuals were imprisoned and banned for over twenty years until Stalin’s death. This attack on pedology lasted until the 1950s, and psychoeducational assessment and psychology in school was banned until the 1980s. Pavlovian psychology, in which conditional or unconditional reflexes were regarded as the main causes of behavior, became the only official Soviet policies in Psychology.A major interest for Vygotsky was the psychology of education and remediation in children with “handicaps” and learning disabilities and this impelled him to establish the “Laboratory of Psychology for Abnormal Childhood” in Moscow in 1925. He was especially interested constructing the best possible theory on the transfer of knowledge. He believed that children’s thinking is affected by their social knowledge, which is transmitted by either psychological (language, number, art) or technical (books, equipment) means and that language is the tool for acquiring social knowledge. Disagreeing with Piaget’s four-stage process theory of cognitive development, which comprised ”sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operations and formal operations- in other words, development comes before learning, Vygotsky believed that learning takes place through mediation and the internalisation of social signs, that is to say, language. Vygotsky argued that learning comes before development. He posited three main concepts- internalization, semiotic mediation (using tools such as spoken and written language, maps, signs, mnemonics) and the Zone of Proximal Development.For Vygotsky, the role of culture and social interactions are imperative to cognitive development. Speech is a means of communication and socializing which becomes a tool of thought. Social Speech is communication talking to and with others” generally at the age of two. It then develops into Private Speech, which has an intellectual purpose as the child is verbalizing to himself/herself. By the age of seven, almost inaudible Internal Speech, is used to self-regulate and becomes thought. Through conversation and education adults help children understand the way their culture interprets and responds to the world. As adults interact with a child, they show the meanings they attach to objects, events and experiences. As the child develops, he or she begins internalizing the processes used in social contexts and then uses them independently. This internalization enables the child to transform ideas and processes, to personalize them and therefore become increasingly independent. For a child to achieve independence in learning, Vygotsky suggested that mediation by a More Knowledgeable Other was required. This could be a parent, teacher, adult, peer or even mechanical or technical tools. By demonstrating ideas, values, speech, techniques, the mediator helps the child to internalize them and learn.Vygotsky was skeptical about Intelligence Quotients, which were often regarded as static, and believed that IQ levels could be changed through learning and mediated assistance. The concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) was first discussed by Vygotsky at a conference fifteen months before his death in 1934, in which he maintained that the ZPD is created when someone acts as mediator for another person who is not able to perform a task alone. The Zone is the difference between the person’s ability to solve problems on his/her own, and his/her ability to solve them with assistance. When work is easy, learners can do the work without any help. It is their “comfort zone.” If the work is always in the comfort zone, then no learning will take place and interest will be lost. If the work is too difficult, however, the learner becomes disenchanted and is also likely to give up. Learning takes place at the area between the comfort zone and the frustration zone. Naturally, the mediator will have to have empathy with and an understanding of the needs and capabilities of the learner. Vygotsky used the metaphor of mediators/ teachers as railway tracks to enable the railway carriages (learners) to travel freely and independently.Vygotsky is now considered an influential thinker in socio-cultural psychology, and his work is still relevant today in the field of Cognitive and Developmental Psychology. Contemporaneous with Skinner, Pavlov, Freud, and Piaget, he did not equal their prestige during his lifetime. In part, this was because the Communist Party often criticized his work in Russia, and so his writings were largely inaccessible to the Western world. His early death at age 37 also led to his obscurity.Only by the 1970s did Vygotsky’s theories became known in the West as new concepts and ideas were introduced in the fields of educational and developmental psychology. Since then, Vygotsky’s works have been translated and have become influential in the field of education. He has, therefore, left a legacy.A major step forward in educational theory was made in 1976 by Jerome Bruner, a social constructivist psychologist, who expanded on the Vygotsky’s mediational theories and introduced the term scaffolding.Scaffolding and modelling are at the core of the ZPD model (in contrast to a discovery-learning model). The child’s learning is scaffolded by parents through facilitating language to the developmental level of the child and modelling play activities or tasks The main thrust of Vygotsky’s work was to ensure that scaffolding is available to all abilities of students and that it is geared at the ZPD of the learner, rather than a one model fits all approach. Scaffolding should enable the child to access challenge. It should involve questioning and direct the child to succeed in undertaking the challenging task themselves. Most school-teachers are familiar with the term”though not all use the technique!Similarly, Reuven Feuerstein, the Israeli Psychologist developed the process of mediated learning further. His belief that children from the concentration camps in World War 2, suffered from cultural deprivation and were not ineducable”as their rescuers believed. He created the Instrumental Enrichment Program, a teaching approach that targets the specific cognitive problems of individual children/learners and provides specific sorts of pupil/mediator interactions that aim to correct the problem. He fundamentalises the role of mediator and culture to successful learning, and determines that learning problems can be redressed ” by facilitating the right culture and mediation experiences. The fourteen instruments each refer to particular learning elements, such as organization, categorizing, comparing, analytical perception etc and use Bridging as a method of relating new learning to existing experiences.Philip Adey, the cognitive development theorist, developed the methodology of Cognitive Acceleration projects to boost intelligence, by increasing a learner’s ability to handle complex information and make connections. The computer program Accelerated Reader’, Collaborative and Co-operative Learning methods, Mathew Lipman’s Philosophy for Children, Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset and Bob Durden’s Myself as a Learner Scale’ are all successful derivations of Vygotsky’s work. (1500 words)References:Knowledge Banks : Vygotsky Lives. Retrieved from: Mozart of Psychology: Lev Semenovich Vygotsky. Retrieved from : Educational Theory in Cultural Context retrieved from S. (2010) Theories of Cognitive Development: Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from: K. (2018) A Biography of Lev Vygotsky, One of the Most Influential Psychologists. Retrieved from: L, “Social Development Theory (Vygotsky),” in Learning Theories, July 23, 2014. Retrieved from: Sociocultural Theory of Vygotsky (2017) Retrieved from: