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!"


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.