Vygotsky Crash Course

Give me an opportunity to talk about skiing or Colorado and by golly, I will take it.  Worse yet, is when I can discuss the two in the same sentence or photo.  Case in point.


Yep, that's my little munchkin dropping into a bowl of snow in Colorado.  She skied the entire run and days later went up on the t-bar for the first time in thigh deep powder.  (You are probably wondering about the Vygotsky crash course...patience, young grasshopper).  Let's enjoy the splendor of Colorado and skiing.

(Dramatic pause.)

(Deep, yoga breath.)

(Humongous grin.)

You see Vygotsky must have been a skier during his 37 years of life in Russia.  Because skiing is all about one of Vygotsky's main concepts:  Zone of proximal development (ZPD).  ZPD is all about helping a human (or animal, I suppose) progress from one stage of development to another.  Or, you could even break it down into much smaller increments, one step of development into another.

Thus, in the photo above, little O (my daughter), is ready for the next step of development in her skiing.  She started years ago on the bunny slopes.  And has progressed to skiing bowls, black diamonds and landing tiny jumps in terrain parks.  Her ZPD keeps getting nudged the more she skis with my husband and I (and the more mileage she puts on her skis).

Take home message for you:  Great teachers nudge their students!  We are constantly looking at our students' current step of development and crafting ways to coach them to the next step (or level) of development.  Coaching and nudging are nurturing behaviors.  Thus, be kind, gentle, sensitive and aware. 

Next, Vygotsky believed in cooperative learning.  Let's be clear.  Cooperative learning is not group work.  Group work does not denote "cooperation," though I'm certain most educators wish it did.  Cooperative learning means in small groups or teams, students work together collaboratively and cooperatively to achieve a goal.  That goal can be a task, a brainstorming session, a project, whatever.  Vygotsky realized the power of cooperative (and collaborative) learning.  Future researchers later identified other benefits of cooperative learning to include better race relations in schools and higher student achievement.  However, some studies on cooperative learning (post-Vygotsky) point out that cooperative learning doesn't always work as well for high performing students.

Take home message for you:  Variety is the spice of life - employ cooperative learning, but not 24/7 (or would that be 24/5?).  Train students to work cooperatively.  (Yes, I said "train.").  If you missed the  post on t-charts, you might start there with your training.  Once students understand "how" to work cooperatively and what that looks like and sounds like, then they will be more capable of working collaboratively to accomplish a goal.

Last, crash course item (though, with Vygotsky, this blog post could rival the one from last week on Piaget):  Private speech.  Vygotsky realized humans "talk" to themselves internally when problem-solving and decision-making.  Heck, some of us do it externally, but I'll save that for an abnormal psychology post. 

Take home message for you:  Encourage students to problem-solve in their minds or heck, why not do so on paper?  Using Inspiration?  Or with a Tagxedo?  You can learn more about Tagxedo from this blog post.  Along with this, you should consider using "think alouds" in the classroom with your students.  All you have to do is make your (brilliant) private thoughts public and students will get to see how an intelligent adult thinks and problem-solves.  For example, when I used to read Native Son with my high school students, I would read a few pages, then, stop and say, "Hmmm, I wonder why Bigger made that decision?  I think I would have done XYZ."  See?  It's easy.  Just make your private thoughts public.

Give me a "V!"

Jen

PS - If you desire another snapshot of cooperative learning, visit this succinct webpage.  Anything with backing by Disney has merit in my book, plus I use some of their other resources with my college students.

PSS - Did you need another Colorado-skiing fix?  Here you go.  Dramatic pause.  Deep, yoga breath.  Humongous grin.


17 comments:

  1. First of all, I wish I was in CO. Second, I would absolutely agree that your daughter's progressive improvement in skiing is a perfect example of Vygotsky's ideas at work. I think that the way that teachers build students up to harder and harder feats in scaffolding is parallel to your daughter advancing from greens to blues to blacks to double blacks. The idea of giving a student progressively more freedom is so essential in his ability to take ownership over his learning and truly master a concept. I often find myself jumping right from an easy concept to a hard one, and I forget the middle steps. Most of the time this results in poor classroom management because my kids don't understand, so they talk and run and hit each other...Lesson Learned: Scaffold, scaffold, scaffold...and get back to CO (I was in Breck for Xmas/New Years)

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  2. Jenna - My fellow skier! You are right. Scaffolding is the path of choice. Yes, it may take longer to get to the destination, but so much learning will happen along the journey. And, that is better than a meaningless destination. Speaking of destinations, do the ski photos look like where you spent your xmas/New Years? Think: Imperial Lift.

    Big Smile,
    Jen

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  3. Ahhh Imperial! How wonderful! I thought some of the photos looked familiar, but I wasn't sure if I was just imagining it. For the record, I'm a boarder...yes, crossed over to the dark side.

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  4. Jenna - I like you more now. I am a boarder and skier, too. It depends on the day which I prefer. Let's meet up on the Imperial Chair next year, yes?

    Jen

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  5. The idea of demonstrating your thought process aloud is shown a lot in the new Treasures reading program for the county. During the Read A Loud, it has markers where to stop and demonstrate a thinking process. A great idea to do with reading and the thought process is giving the students thinking bubbles on popsicle sticks. While you are reading and they come up with a thought or great segue ways they have had, they can quietly hold up their bubble.

    Lucy A

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  6. Fostering the cooperative learning, especially with special education students can be a tremendous benefit. Pairing them with a strong students often fosters some great skills. A struggling student can benefit from the thought process demonstrated by a stronger student and many times, the strong students is compassionate and deliberately helpful to the struggling student. It creates a healthy and successful environment.

    Meredith L.

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  7. My 8th graders said to me the other day, "I'd wish we could write more" - they write a TON almost to the detriment of reading. After I picked my jaw up off the desk, I met with my mentor teacher and we brainstormed some ways to incorporate writing while staying within the course objectives, finishing before Christmas break and not making it too strenuous. We came up with 5 choices for the kids. They could work in groups, but those projects had different paramaters than those who chose to work alone. The paramaters are set up on ZPD since if they chose to work with partners, they each have a specific job, but if they'd rather work alone, they have that option too. Some are so thrilled with the assignment, they are working on their own for the grade but with others just to help them.
    Elise T

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  8. I like that cooperative learning has so many advantages; especially that it gives students the opportunity to work with classmates they may not normally socialize with. It gives the students an opportunity to be open-minded about other personalities. Students who are given cooperative learning opportunities will develop vital skills for future studies and work place experiences.

    Patricia L.

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  9. The Zone of proximal development (ZPD) is vital to growth and development. Human beings are capable of incredible feats of growth, but none of them could be achieved without the ZPD. Stepping out of our comfort zone into what is unfamiliar is what facilitates growth in us. As we learn what is unfamiliar to us, our ZPD expands to accommodate what we have learned. Growth only continues as long as we stay in the ZPD. A big part of a teachers job is to keep the students in the ZPD so that they can continue to grow and learn.
    Jackie H.

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  10. Cooperative Learning is scary but necessary. Its great for growth both personally and intellectually. I think by working with other people you may be in disequlibrium- challenged because you may take on a new role or work with different types of personalities. But this could provide a new schema from which to build further. I did notice what Lucy said about the Treasures books how they have the built in read/think alouds, and that's a great reminder to verbalize the thinking process.

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  11. I learned about ZPD, private speech, and scaffolding in my developmental psychology class this semester. I always find it interesting when I can give a title to something I'm already doing. For example, I already have been using scaffolding in raisng my son in such areas as him dressing himself, potty training, feeding, etc. Of course though, I didn't realize that's what it was called. In the classroom, ZPD can be used to assess each student to find out what level they are on and then scaffolding is a great follow-up to get them to where you would like them to be and beyond. This works well for all students including those with learning disabilities, communication disorders, and english language learners. It can be used in conjunction with "individualized instruction".
    Catrisha Watts

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  12. Does the ZPD exist?

    It seems imperative that there should be minimally a tacit recognition that the ZPD should be given credence even if one does not swallow Vygotsky's theories whole.

    The ZPD appears to at least be CREATED IN SITU even if one does not apply its methodology in cookbook fashion; a teacher can intuit the ZPD while addressing specific student issues--as the activity occurs constructively.

    I believe we construct the ZPD, not reflect on it, then "apply" it...

    2 much philosofee 4 U

    John H

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  13. ZPD as linguistic scaffolding (forget formalism)

    Well, "forget formalism" from the onset of pedagogy in ZPD usage...

    Try ignoring the ZPD while teaching bilingual ESOL mathematics; you will be gibbering in a corner if you forget the role of linguistic scaffolding in a multilingual environment.

    Teaching mathematics requires a modicum of linguistic reflection (categorization) while trying to teach the concepts. Language and concept are NOT the same; we can get bogged down in petty grammatical details while trying to convey algebraic formalisms.

    The kids need us teachers to bridge the gap between the language of pedagogy and the concepts of mathematics. The ZPD will be mediated linguistically, but the concept-target will be the mathematical formalisms themselves...

    John H

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  14. Reply to Jackie H (Dec 12th)

    Jackie--don't know if I agree with the "only" part of student growth as to the ZPD. As defined within Vygotskian theory, the ZPD appears to be a necessary foreground to expanding the child's learning. IF the child's zone is understood by the teacher, THEN learning should take place...

    Well, we teachers often recognize where the child is in terms of intellectual growth, but the ZPD may not itself exist UNTIL the psychopedagogics actually occurs. In other words, I don't know what a kid's ZPD even looks like until I learn something about the child's initial schematization would be.

    Often the ZPD appears to be a catch-all--a metaphor, if you will--for the initial constructivist phases of a child in a learning environment.

    I'm not sure if the ZPD even exists--until later in the pedagogical exchange...

    John H

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  15. The process and plan for children with special needs kinda reminds me of scaffolding. The IEP, IFSP, and ITP were put into place to break down the assistance a person with special needs will require. Personally I think the programs are amazing. They certainly come along way from locking them away or worse. All three increase the odds of a child/young adult from "slipping through the cracks." ~Jo G

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  16. Jo - I think your analogy to scaffolding is right on. I never thought of IFSPs, IEPs and ITPs that way.

    Jen

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  17. Happened across your article while searching via yahoo. I understand the very first paragraph and its great!

    HIMT

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