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Lev Vygotsky was born in the town of Orsha, Belarus, in the Russian Empire

(present-day Belarus) into a non-religious middle class Jewish family. His father
was a banker. He was raised in the city of Gomel, Belarus, where he obtained
both public and private education. In 1913 Vygotsky was admitted to the Moscow
State University through a "Jewish Lottery" to meet a three percent Jewish
student quota for entry in Moscow and Saint Petersburg universities. There he
studied law and, in parallel, he attended lectures at fully official, but privately
funded and non-degree granting "Shanyavskii Peoples University". His early
interests were in the arts. While attending university, he studied a range of topics
including sociology, linguistics, psychology and philosophy. He died at the age of
37 from tuberculosis. Due to his early death most of his theories were left
underdeveloped.
Vygotsky stresses the importance of looking at each child as an individual who
learns distinctively. Consequently, the knowledge and skills that are worthwhile
learning varies with the individual.
The overall goal of education according to Vygotsky is to generate and lead
development which is the result of social learning through internalization of
culture and social relationships. He repeatedly stressed the importance of past
experiences and prior knowledge in making sense of new situations or present
experiences. Therefore, all new knowledge and newly introduced skills are greatly
influenced by each student's culture, especially their family environment.
Lev Vygotsky believed that the life long process of development was dependent
on social interaction and that social learning leads to cognitive development. He
called this occurrence the Zone of Proximal Development.
Vygotsky's concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) posits that human
potential is theoretically limitless; but the practical limits of human potential
depend upon quality social interactions and residential environment. This zone of
proximal development is "the distance between the actual developmental level as
determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential
development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in
collaboration with more capable peers." In theory, then, so long as a person has
access to a more capable peer, any problem can be solved.
Vygotsky viewed the Zone of Proximal Development as a way to better explain
the relation between childrens learning and cognitive development. Prior to the
Zone of Proximal Development, the relation between learning and development
could be boiled down to the following three major positions:
1) Development always precedes learning children first need to meet a
particular maturation level before learning can occur
2) Learning and development cannot be separated but instead occur
simultaneously essentially, learning is development
3) Learning and development are separate but interactive processes. One
process always prepares the other process, and vice versa.
Vygotsky rejected these three major theories because he believed that learning
always precedes development in the Zone of Proximal Development. In other
words, through the assistance of a more capable person, a child is able to learn
skills or aspects of a skill that go beyond the childs actual developmental or
maturational level. Therefore, development always follows the childs potential to
learn.
In this sense, the Zone of Proximal Development provides a possible view of
cognitive development, as opposed to a review that characterizes development in
terms of a childs independent capabilities.
The basic concept of the Zone of Proximal Development is guided instruction. It
suggests that the development of a students abilities depends upon interaction
with other students and the teacher. The lower limit of the Zone of Proximal
Development is the level of skill a child achieves when working alone. The upper
limit is the potential a child can achieve with the help of a more capable
instructor.
There are three main ways that knowledge is passed from one individual to
another. The first one is imitative learning. Here the student imitates the teacher
to pick up a skill. The second way is instructed learning. Here the teacher actively
instructs the student on how to perform the task. The final way is collaborative
learning. Where students help each other to learn how to accomplish the task.
Scaffolding is a concept closely related to the idea of Zone of Proximal
Development, although Vygotsky never actually used the term. Vygotsky
suggested that teachers should learn the level of each individual childs
cognitive/social development and build the learning experience from there on.
This process is known as scaffolding. Scaffolding is basically changing the level of
support to suit the potential of a student. More support is offered when a child is
having difficulty with a particular task and, over time, less support is provided as
the child makes progress on the task. Ideally, scaffolding works to maintain the
childs potential level of development in the Zone of Proximal Development.
An essential element to the Zone of Proximal Development and scaffolding is the
acquisition of language. According to Vygotsky, language (and in particular,
speech) is fundamental to childrens cognitive growth because language provides
purpose and intention so that behaviors can be better understood.
Through the use of speech, children are able to communicate to and learn from
others, which is an important tool in the Zone of Proximal Development. In a
dialogue, a child's unsystematic, disorganized, and spontaneous concepts are met
with the more systematic, logical and rational concepts of the skilled helper.
Vygotsky maintained that language plays a central role in cognitive development.
He argued that language was the tool for determining the ways a child learns
"how" to think. That is because complex concepts are conveyed to the child
through words. "Learning, according to Vygotsky, always involves some type of
external experience being transformed into internal processes through the use of
language." It follows that speech and language are the primary tools used to
communicate with others, promoting learning.
According to Piaget, learning is what results from both mental and physical
maturation plus experience. That is, development preceded learning. In contrast
Vygotsky observed that learning processes lead development. Vygotsky
maintained that "learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the process of
developing culturally organized, specifically human, psychological functions." In
other words, learning is what leads to the development of higher order thinking.
Vygotsky maintained that learning occurs just above the student's current level of
competence. It follows then, that the copying student will have a higher
performance when working with a more capable student


Vygotsky defined those who are to teach as the "More Knowledgeable Other."
The MKO is anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than
the learner, particularly in regards to a specific task, concept or process.
Traditionally the MKO is thought of as a teacher or an older adult. However, this is
not always the case. Other possibilities for the MKO could be a peer, sibling, a
younger person, or even a computer. The key to MKO is that they must have
more knowledge about the topic being learned than the learner does. Teachers or
more capable peers can raise the student's competence through the zone of
proximal development (ZPD).
Vygotsky's findings suggest methodological procedures for the classroom. "In
Vygotskys perspective, the ideal role of the teacher is that of providing
scaffolding (collaborative dialogue) to assist students on tasks within their zones
of proximal development." During scaffolding the first step is to build interest and
engage the learner. Once the learner is actively participating, the given task
should be simplified by breaking it into smaller subtasks. During this task, the
teacher needs to keep the learner focused, while concentrating on the most
important ideas of the assignment. One of the most integral steps in scaffolding
consists of keeping the learner from becoming frustrated. The final task
associated with scaffolding involves the teacher modeling possible ways of
completing tasks, which the learner can then imitate and eventually internalize.
Vygotsky recommended a social context wherein A more competent learner
would be paired with a less competent one, so that the former can elevate the
latter's competence. This social context promotes sustained achievement and
cognitive growth for less competent students."
Accordingly, students need to work together to construct their learning, teach
each other so to speak, in a socio-cultural environment. In-class opportunities for
collaboration on difficult problem-solving tasks will offer support to students who
are struggling with the material. By interacting with more capable students who
continue to mediate transactions between the struggling students and the
content, all students will benefit.

The implications of Vygotsky's theories and observations for educators are several
and significant. In Vygotsky's view, the teacher has the collaborative "task of
guiding and directing the child's activity." Children can then solve novel problems
"on the basis of a model he has been shown in class." In other words, children
learn by solving problems with the help of the teacher, who models processes for
them and his or her peers, in a classroom environment that is directed by the
teacher. In essence, "the child imitates the teacher through a process of re-
creating previous classroom collaboration." It is important to note that the
teacher does not control the class with rule and structure; rather, the teacher
collaborates with the students and provides support and direction.