Educational fads are exactly that.
Whether it’s PLTS, four-part lessons or lollipop-stick questioning, the latest educational trends often produce far more eye-rolls in the staff room than they do progression in the classroom.
As a result, you’re probably sceptical of ‘Vygotsky’s Theory’ from the get-go. Who needs theories when you have extensive teaching experience to work with? Isn’t this all a bit patronising?
Well, this is where Vygotsky’s Theory is different. Chances are, you’re using it every day already – just without the label.
Vygotsky argues that learning happens through our social interactions and is therefore dependent on experience. The environment a child develops in, and the individuals they are exposed to, are critical factors in their ability to flourish; a sentiment echoed by teachers throughout the world.
So, with this mindset being regarded as fairly common sense – is there more we can learn from Vygotsky?
1. The Zone of Proximal Development
Vygotsky’s theory of ‘proximal development’ refers to how children can master skills that they are on the peripheries of understanding, with just a little help from those close by.
If they already have some knowledge of a topic, they can develop this further within their zone of proximal development. A little help from a teacher, or a classmate who already has it figured out, can push them over the line to competency themselves.
If we encourage children to learn entirely independently, they can actually miss out on a critical opportunity to extend their existing knowledge. So, we shouldn’t undervalue the group work that children enjoy – it’s actually doing them a whole world of good.
2. Mixing It Up
With group work further justified, it leads us to think about how these groups are put together. Will any mixture of children do?
It’s not uncommon for groups to be defined by ability level – the most competent in one set, and the less competent in another. However, Vygotsky’s theory insists that the greatest benefit can be found by mixing these ability groups – especially when we consider the zone of proximal development. Pupils who understand the task thoroughly will soon influence those who have some gaps in their knowledge.
3. Scaffolding and Modelling
With your mixed groups in place, children can comfortably develop within their zone of proximal development. This is often achieved, naturally, through the scaffolding and modelling of information; where just enough information is provided for a child to figure out the answer for themselves, or it is modelled by the actions of others.
For example, if a child isn’t confident with commas, you may scaffold the teaching by asking the child to think about when they need to ‘stop for breath’ when reading the sentence aloud.
Nobody needs to tell them the answer – the scaffolding and modelling that surrounds the ‘challenge’ is enough for the child to cross that bridge for themselves.
4. A Practical Tool for Literacy
When it comes to developing the skills needed to be a confident writer, Mighty Writer will expertly put Vygotsky’s Theory into action.
Centred around a large mat, the Mighty Writer resource is underpinned by social learning. Using an array of picture tiles, children are encouraged to create or re-tell stories – with grammar and punctuation tiles to provide essential scaffolding. As a result, the children are able to not only express their creative imaginations but do so with good grammar and sentence structure.
Working alongside their classmates and a teacher, children are able to create fantastic tales that can also be independently transcribed with ease – allowing their literacy skills to be transformed, almost overnight.
Keen to give Mighty Writer a try in your own classroom and put Vygotsky’s Theory to the test? Request a free 14-day trial today!
About the author
Emma Ralph was an Assistant Head Teacher at Hillbourne Primary School in Poole, where she helped to improve the school’s literacy standards. Spotting a gap in the market for a literacy resource which taught children the fundamentals of punctuation, vocabulary and sentence structure in a visual, fun and engaging way, Emma developed her own product: Mighty Writer. It is now transforming the literacy of tens of thousands of children in over 550 schools around the world.