Born in Czarist Russia in 1896, Lev Vygotsky lived a relatively short life, dying of tuberculosis in 1934. Because he was Jewish, the law limited his higher education options. He was, however, one of the 5% maximum of Jews permitted admission to a university. He was, however, not permitted to fulfill his ambition to pursue training as a teacher. In consequence, between the years of 1913 and 1917, Vygotsky studied medicine, philosophy, history, and law.  Vygotsky began teaching in his home city almost immediately after the 1917 Communist Revolution.
However, he was disappointed if he anticipated that this upheaval would result in greater overall freedom. The ascension of Joseph Stalin to power in 1922 meant that all of Vygotsky’s scholarly work was to be accomplished in an ever more repressive police state. Vygotsky’s investigations of child development and educational psychology were influenced by his own Marxism – a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of one’s social origins and place in the scheme of production.  Vygotsky’s works, consisting of more than one hundred books and articles, were not published until after his death in 1934.
Just two years later they were suppressed. This suppression endured for two decades during which time his works were held in a secret library that could only be accessed by permission of the Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs — commonly known as the NKVD.  Despite this prolonged attempt to suppress his ideas, Vygotsky’s work survived and, particularly after the Cold War, came to wield considerable influence in the field of educational psychology.  I. Theory of Value: What knowledge and skills are worthwhile learning?
What are the goals of education? Vygotsky’s 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. Language skills are particularly critical for creating meaning and linking new ideas to past experiences and prior knowledge. According to Vygotsky, internalized skills or psychological tools “are used to gain mastery over one’s own behavior and cognition. “ Primary among these tools is the “development of speech and its relation to thought. “ 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. Vygotsky promoted the development of higher level thinking and problem solving in education.
If situations are designed to have students utilize critical thinking skills, their thought processes are being challenged and new knowledge gained.  The knowledge achieved through experience also serves as a foundation for the behaviors of every individual.  II. Theory of Knowledge: What is knowledge? How is it different from belief? What is a mistake? A lie? According to Davydov and Kerr, it was a momentous occasion in the history of psychology when Vygotsky asserted “… specific functions are not given to a person at birth but are only provided as cultural and social patterns.  Vygotsky saw “intellectual abilities as being much more specific to the culture in which the child was reared. “
Through observation and study Vygotsky came to understand that people adapted to their surrounding environment based on their interpretations and individual perceptions of it.  Thus, humans are not born with knowledge nor is knowledge independent of social context. Rather, one gains knowledge as one develops by way of social interactions with peers and adults. Vygotsky does not make as drastic a distinction between knowledge and belief as some other heorists do. For him, knowledge is obtained through past experiences, social situations, as well as ones general environment. In similar manner, beliefs are instilled into an individual via culture and parental upbringing. “Mistakes are crucial in Vygotsky’s theory of learning. In the course of development, mistakes are made during the process of “concept formation. ”
They are important in that they impact future learning.  From Vygotsky’s perspective, “A concept emerges and takes shape in the course of a complex interaction aimed at the solution of a problem… [A] concept is … n active part of the intellectual process. “ We see, then that, for Vygotsky, concept formation is a dynamic, ever-changing activity during which “… the child relies on their own perception to make sense of objects that appear to them to be unrelated … the child creates his or her own subjective relationships between objects and then mistakes his or her egocentric perspective for reality. “ This stage of development is known, paradoxically, as “incoherent coherence. “ During this stage, the making of mistakes is an integral part of a child’s development.
Also at this time, the child’s organization schema becomes less egocentric and begin to incorporate additional information gained from experience into his or her thought processes.  In this way, mistakes can be corrected and new knowledge gained. Therefore mistakes are developmentally necessary, resulting from the “… role of social interaction in transformation of prior knowledge.  Tentatively one might infer that Vygotsky would view a lie as something that occurs as a result of the desire to conform to social norms.
For example one might feel one way but report a more socially acceptable reality. III. Theory of Human Nature: What is a human being? How does it differ from other species? What are the limits of human potential? According to Marxist theory, “The essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations. “ Vygotsky would agree that we develop as humans through the ways we interact with those around us. His view of human nature fits with his Marxist ideology.
Human beings can only be understood within the context the time period and the part of the world in which they live. Human nature cannot be understood as never-changing and universal, but as always depending on its specific social and historical formation. This principle does not leave out biological factors.  To be human, however, means that you have surpassed a level of functioning that your biological traits would otherwise dictate.  Although some animals have the ability to create and use material tools, humans have the ability to utilize psychological tools.
In other words, human beings are differentiated by their ability to develop psychological tools that are “used to gain mastery over one’s own behavior and cognition” that other forms of life are not capable of developing. Some psychological tools include: “language, different forms of numeration and counting, mnemotechniques, algebraic symbolism, works of art, writing, schemes, diagrams, maps, blueprints, etc. “ In his theories, Vygotsky placed great emphasis on the importance of spoken language, arguably the most critical tool that sets us apart from other species.
He asserts that “speech is a very powerful psychological tool that lays the foundation for basic structures of thinking later in one’s development. “ Vygotsky further explains that speech is the first psychological tool used by children to communicate with others who share the environment. Naturally, this is continued through adulthood, as speech is a primary tool used for learning. Vygotsky insists that “humans learn best in cooperation with other humans. “ “Vygotsky contended that, unlike animals – who react only to the environment, humans have the capacity to alter the environment for their own purposes.
It is this adaptive capacity that distinguishes humans from lower forms of life. … The animal can only be trained. It can only acquire new habits. It can through exercises and combinations perfect its intellect, but is not capable of mental development through instruction in the real sense of the word. “ 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. IV. Theory of Learning: What is learning? How are skills and knowledge acquired? According to Piaget, learning is what results from both mental and physical maturation plus experience. 30] 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.
According to Vygotsky the two primary means of learning occur through social interaction and language. Language greatly enhances humans’ ability to engage in social interactions and share their experiences. The most important fact uncovered through the … study of thought and speech is that their relationship undergoes many changes. “ Initially, a child’s new knowledge is interpsychological, meaning it is learned through interaction with others, on the social level.  Later, this same knowledge becomes intrapsychological, meaning inside the child, and the new knowledge or skill is mastered on an individual level.  The previously mentioned idea of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) is central to Vygotsky’s view on how learning takes place.
He described this zone as, “the distance between the actual development 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. “ 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. The zone of proximal development works in conjunction with the use of scaffolding. Scaffolding is a six-step approach to assisting learning and development of individuals within their zone of proximal development. “ Knowledge, skills and prior experiences, which come from an individual’s general knowledge, create the foundation of scaffolding for potential development.
At this stage, students interact with adults and/or peers to accomplish a task which could possibly not be completed independently. The use of language and shared experience is essential to successfully implementing scaffolding as a learning tool. 39] V. Theory of Transmission: Who is to teach? By what methods? What will the curriculum be? 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 Vygotskian 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 [sic] 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 eers, 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.  Assignments and activities that can be accurately completed by a student without assistance, indicate that the student has previously mastered the necessary prior knowledge.
In the majority of classrooms this would be the conclusion of a unit; however, this is Vygotsky’s entry point. However, as previously mentioned, the teacher must carefully group the student that “can potentially develop in collaboration with a more capable person. “ In our research, we found limited references to Vygotsky’s specific views on curriculum content. One exception involves the teaching of writing to preschoolers. According to Garton and Pratt, Vygotsky argued for shifting the teaching of writing to preschool.
They explain that Vygotsky differentiated between two forms of speech: spoken and written. Vygotsky, as cited by Garton and Pratt, asserts that a child develops an understanding that spoken speech can be symbolized in writing by progressing from “drawing things to drawing speech. “ Vygotsky suggested then that the preschool curriculum should be designed so that it was organized to “ease child’s transition from drawing things to drawing speech. “ Learning to master tools and technologies should also be included in the curriculum. Students should be taught how to use tools such as the computer, resource books, and graphs in order to better utilize these tools in the future.  In this way, students will benefit as these tools and technologies influence the individual’s thinking (along with the development of language). 
In sum, Vygotsky’s findings suggest that the curriculum should generally challenge and stretch learner’s competence.  The curriculum should provide many opportunities to apply previous skills, knowledge and experiences, with “authentic activities connected to real-life environment.  “Since children learn much through interaction, curricula should be designed to emphasize interaction between learners and learning tasks. “ VI. Theory of Society: What is society? What institutions are involved in the educational process? According to Vygotsky, “society is the bearer of the cultural heritage without which the development of mind is impossible. “ This ‘society’ allows the learner to develop cognitively through social interactions.
As a result, the use of language makes it possible for a child to communicate and share the environment from within their society. Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). “ Perhaps Vygotsky was comfortable generalizing about ‘society’ in this way because he was living in post-revolutionary times. The revolution had been accomplished in Russia, and the “New Soviet Man”, was emerging in the Soviet Union, and the dictatorship of the proletariat” was at hand.
So far as the institutions involved in the educational process are concerned, Moll reports that Vygotsky “considered school the best laboratory of human psychology. “ He noted: “At first glace, it may be easily seen that no special educational environment is needed, that education may be accomplished in any environment whatsoever. … It is not very hard to conclude that no sort of artificial educational environment has to be created, that life educates better than any school. … This view is wrong, however.  For Vygotsky, society (and therefore social interaction) happens in schools.
“Schools are incorporated into the larger society and have that as their context, so that some of their activity settings are determined by this larger contextuality. “ “For Vygotsky the classroom is also a social organization that is representative of the larger social community … it is the social organization … that is the agent for change in the individual. “ Fhis statement was not meant to “imply that informal education was not important.  Rather, as we stated before, for Vygotsky informal education is used by children through speech and language to develop higher mental functions. He stressed that “children’s learning begins long before they attend school. … Any learning a child encounters in school always has a previous history. “ VII. Theory of Opportunity: Who is to be educated? Who is to be schooled? Vygotsky repeatedly asserts that it is within the “social environment” that learning takes place. Since no individual is able to escape their social surroundings, all within a society are inadvertently being educated.