Vygotsky

1896 - 1934

Introduction

History

Vygotsky's Work

Conclusion

Introduction

This is an assingment for Human nature, Learning and Mind 175.202. My topic of this assignment is Lev Vygotsky. I will firstly discuss his life and background followed by his work and theory on conceptializations of cognitive development during chldhood.

History

Lev Vygotsky was born in 1896 in Orsha, a small town in the vicinity of Minsk. Vygotsky received his first education from private tutors, and later joined the two highest classes of the private Jewish Gymnasium in Gomel. He was lucky to obtain a place at the Moscow University, and because Jews were not allowed to be government officials his choices were minimal. At the insistance of his parents Vygotsky applied to the medical department, but after one month he switched to law. His sister Zinaida was to become a prominant linguist and it may have been her and their cousin who kept him well-informed of all developments in linguistics and philolgy. After finnishing his university studies in 1917 Vygotsky returned to his home town of Gomel where following the Revolution he was allowed to teach in State School. During the period of 1917 and 1924 little is known about his writings at this time except to note that he taught at various institutions and set up a small laboratory where he performed experiments on dominant reactions and repiration that provided the material for his talk on reflexological and psychological investigation. Meanwhile his family was struck down by tuberculosis and Vygoltsky while nursing his brother contracted the disease himself. He recovered from the first bout but the disease was to plague him for the rest of his life. His living conditions deteriorated with his wife and two daughters living in a one room of an overcrowded apartment. Together with his illness and enormous work load doctors told him he would be dead within a few months. Vygotsly's analysis of the crisis in psychology was started under the following conditions. Van Der Veer & Valsiner, 1996 cite part of a letter written to Sakharov, dated February 15, 1926 by Vygotsky:

I have already been here a week - in large rooms for six severely ill patients, there is noise, shouting, no table, etc. The beds are ranged next to each other without any space beween them, like in barracks. Added to this I feel physically in agony, morally crushed and depressed.

From about 1931 articles critical of his ideas started being published in the major psychology and paedology journals. Despite growing criticism about his theories he and several co-workers and students, Luria among them continued in believing that they were on the right track towards the development of a new science. Vygotsky persisted in believing that the "stikhia', (the elemental chaos of nature) would be overcome by culture and that a new human society would be its result. Vygostky died in the early morning of June 11, 1934 of tuberculosis aged 37. He left behind a handful of books, many articles and drawers full of unpublished manuscripts. Today, many years after his death Vygotsky's ideas are becoming well known in the scientific world.


Vygotsky's Work

Vygotsky, in the final years of his life returned to the problems of teaching in school. His major research interest was the problem of the stages (age periods) in child development. His concept of the Zone of Proximal Development was first used in the narrow context of traditional intelligence testing and was later gradually broadened to encompass the general problem of the relation of education and cognitive development.

Vygotsky emphasized more than other thinkers the links between social factors of cultural and historical nature andf those of a more interpersonal nature. His theory was that children learned not only from the physical world but also from their cultural world. Therefore children raised in a nonstimulating environment would lag behind that of children reaised in a stimulating environment. He believed that language was not only a cognitive tool of communication but with language our cultural evolution developed 'higher' psychological processes. Vygotsky's basic claim was that in the development of each child one could distinguish two lines. One the line of natural development i.e. the processes of growthe and maturation; the second, the line of cultural development, i.e. the mastering of various cultural means. He concluded that in his view all children went through a stage of 'natural' development characterized by the child's inability to make use of the available cultural means. He called this stage the 'primitive'. At a certain point adults would start to give them cultural instruction. The cultural means would become incorporated in the fabirc of children's minds and the adults would then stop their asistance. The child has now left the 'natural' precultural stage and become a fully fledged member of the society - 'a cultural being'.

Vygotysky argued that teaching and developement are distinct precesses and should not be confused. Learning to write for example brings with it its own peculiar difficulties. He proposed the idea that the child experiences difficulties in writing because he has to become conscious of his own speaking. The principal problem of writing, therefore, is to become conscious of one's own acts. He concluded that teaching enables a series of developmental processes that undergo their own development.

This led Vygotsky to his main hypothesis:

Teaching is only effective when it points to the road for development.

The teacher essentially creates the conditions for certain cognitive processes to develop, without directly implanting them in the child.

Wiith his theory of Zone of Proximal Develpment was important for and predictive of the cilds's intellectual development than the traditional IQ score. He considered the concept of the 'ideal mental age' to be very important, e.g If the child has a zone of proximal development of two mental years, then the ideal mental age of his class should be two years above the child's mental age independently measured. Vygotsky considered the measurement of the zone of proximal development to be a means to predict the child's future IQ development. Vygtsky defined the Zone of Proximal Development as,

the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential develpment as determined through problem solving under the guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.

Each child's Zone of Proximal Development varies according to culture, society and experience.

Conclusion
The work of Vygotsky completed concerning the Zone of Proximal Development and the relation of teaching to cognitive development is the most well known aspect of his contribution to psychology. It could be said that in the final period of his life Vygotsky developed a profound interest in the relations beween the teaching/instruction process and mental development.

[Karen Rosenbrook ID 07618166]