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Australian home education_and_vygotskian_learning_theory

Australian home education_and_vygotskian_learning_theory



Home Education is Importance

Home Education is Importance



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    Australian home education_and_vygotskian_learning_theory Australian home education_and_vygotskian_learning_theory Document Transcript

    • AUSTRALIAN HOME EDUCATION AND VYGOTSKIAN LEARNING THEORY Glenda Jackson Monash University ABSTRACT An analysis of ‘Australian home education and Vygotskian learning theory’ investigates the practices of Australian home educators in light of Vygotskian learning theory. Australian home education research began in 1978 when a young teacher used his home to offer an education program based on progressive ideals (Ennis 1978). Since that time, research on Australian home education has continued and a theoretical framework based on Lave’s ‘community of practice’ concept has been developed by Barratt-Peacock. A review of available Australian home education research literature indicates that the practices used in home educating families generally reflect many of the best practices for learning as expounded by Vygotskian theorists such as Vygotsky, the Neo-Vygotskians, as well as Rogoff, Lave and Wenger. A review of the literature on Vygotskian theories of learning and the connections to known Australian home education practices might usefully inform mainstream practice and theory. KEY WORDS Sociocultural Theory, Home Education, Learning INTRODUCTION Many of the practices and understandings of education found among home educators appear to reflect the principles of Vygotsky’s work. A central tenet of Vygotsky’s work holds that learning and cognitive development occur within a sociocultural context. Australian home education is set in a very different sociocultural context to traditional school education and could benefit from being interpreted through Vygotskian theory. Further research is needed to better understand cognitive development in home education as practiced in Australia because this offers significant areas for challenge of, and reflection on, current understandings of cognitive development and education. This paper considers the theories developed by Vygotsky and Neo-Vygotskians. An outline of Australian home education research then opens the way for the development of a number of key questions which could inform further research in this area. VYGOTSKY’S HISTORICAL SOCIOCULTURAL THEORY Vygotsky was a Russian Jew who fulfilled the role of a literary critic at fifteen, formally trained as a lawyer and then worked as a senior psychologist for about ten years between 1925 and 1934 before he died. He grew up during times of enormous social upheaval and political change and was actively supportive of the communist revolution. Although 1
    • Vygotsky was an ardent Marxist, with similar understandings to those of the Frankfurt School (Bruner, 1987), his interpretations of Marx were not appreciated by the Stalinist regime. As a result his work was lost to the west, and to many Russians, for much of the twentieth century. Recently, scholars from around the world have become aware of his work and have been challenged by the breadth and depth of his understandings and theory. There are a number of key features to Vygotsky’s work. He taught that it was only possible to conduct research using a theory, and that it was important to acknowledge what one’s theory was. There were two key philosophical influences in his life. Spinoza used a dialectic approach to analysis and taught that the body and mind were not separate entities. Marx described the historical and material nature of the world, and emphasised the significance of tools for human advancement and betterment (Bruner, 1987). Vygotsky used Marx’s principle that human development occurs best with the use of tools such as ‘different signs, symbols, writing, formulae, and graphic organizers’ (Kozulin, 2003, p.24). He viewed speech as the key tool of the mind. Contact with symbolic mediators or tools provide stimulation and experience for learners. Kozulin notes that: Cognitive development and learning, according to Vygotsky, essentially depend on the child’s mastery of symbolic mediators, their appropriation and internalization in the form of inner psychological tools (Kozulin, 2003, p.23-24) These cultural tools are best learnt through interactions with human mediators (Kozulin, 2003). Parents or carers give speech and communicative signs meaning for young children (intermental process). As children internalize speech through imitation, they process what they have learnt from these interactions to make meaning for themselves (intramental process) (Vygotsky, 1987). Knowledge is thus constructed through social interaction (Egan & Gajdamaschko, 2003). A conceptualization of the ‘whole’ person within the sociocultural contexts in which individuals are embedded was central to Vygotskian thought (Bruner, 1987, Chaiklin, 2003, Vygotsky, 1997). Decontextualising learning from its historical and social culture leads to ill-founded conclusions about learning and human cognitive development (Vygotsky, 1987). The study of connections and the continual process of change are as important to study as are any given phenomenon of cognitive development (Minick, 1987, Vygotsky, 1987). Mediation through more informed adults and other humans is essential for children to learn to use tools which in turn mediate cognitive development. This mediated cognitive development is not a fixed and clearly defined stage (Bruner, 1987). This process of mediation contributes to the development of ‘reflective consciousness’ (Karpov, 2003, p.66), ‘independent learning’ (Kozulin, 1995, p.121), and ‘theoretical’ thinking (Karpov, 2003, p.69). Parent mediation, especially in the form of verbal guidance empowers children to become better learners than those who do not receive this form of mediation (Kozulin, 2003, Portes & Vadeboncoeur, 2003). Parents generally provide better 2
    • spontaneous mediation than teachers, and they also provide more mediation when they view themselves as the primary mediator (Kozulin, 2003). Although peer mediation is important for extending understanding of scientific concepts (Zuckerman, 2003), parent mediation is noted to be more effective than that of peers in many situations (Portes and Vadebouncoeur, 2003). According to Karpov (2003), children initially develop empirical, everyday or spontaneous concepts which they form through experience during their pre-school years. As children enter school they learn more generalized and abstracted or ‘scientific concepts’ through what Vygotsky (1987) understood as the specific instruction of teachers. The existence of these two types of conceptual development was used by Vygotsky to show how cognitive development and movement into abstracted and more logical thought processes occurred (Karpov, 2003). Vygotsky and later Russian Vygotskian researchers (Karpov, 2003, p.151) specify that there are challenging or ‘leading activities’ which stimulate children’s curiosity to think about concepts in a deeper and more abstracted way at each level of development. It was after examining the process of change between these two types of concepts that Vygotsky developed one of his most well known hypotheses—the zone of proximal development—ZPD (Bruner, 1987). The ZPD has two different functions when being used for analysing psychological development through transitions between age periods. The first is known as the ‘objective’ ZPD (Chaiklin, 2003, p.49) and is used to identify the general features associated with transitions between age periods. The second is known as the ‘subjective’ ZPD and best identified by ‘[a] person’s ability to imitate’ (Chaiklin, 2003, p.51). Lidz and Gindis (2003) noted that there needs to be appropriate mediation for effective imitation to occur. Although the main focus of this paper is on the relevance of Vygotskian learning theory to home education, his theory has much to offer a general discussion of education. It is worth noting that there are disabled children in the home education population. Vygotsky (1993) worked with children with disabilities and thought that school inclusion and instruction is important for these children. He recognised that they learn most effectively when treated respectfully and when taught to develop their strengths (Knox & Stevens, 1993). In recent times, it has been recognised (Gindis, 2003) that special needs children require an exclusive environment where adult mentors can carefully guide and mediate their learning opportunities by specially tailoring learning opportunities. However, these mediations need to be directed by ‘mainstreamed social and cultural goals’ (Gindis, 2003, p.213). Learning activities are provided to encourage a child to achieve their potential skill levels, move to scientific concepts and encourage the child to be an independent student who initiates self-change through a process of introspection and reflection Zuckerman (2003). Zuckerman (2003) noted Lave and Wenger’s call for ‘situated learning’ but felt that there needs to be partial separation from everyday practice to allow children to develop cognitive maps for learning to occur beyond ‘immediate utility’ (Zuckerman, 2003, p.179). Vygotsky’s theory provided an explanation for the development of cognition through both human and symbolic mediation, imagination, 3
    • emotion, consciousness and agency, but tragically he did not live long enough to fully develop these concepts. Ageyev (2003) argued that individualistic culture, as found in the United States of America, is very different from the collective nature of Russian culture and something Vygotsky would not have understood. Quoting Yoshida he explains that: A society that values collectivism will obviously place a higher value on harmony and good interpersonal relationship while an individualistic society is likely to encourage behavior that brings merit to specific people (Ageyev 2003, p445) A variety of practices found in traditional schools have been identified by Vygotsky and neo-Vygotskians as contributing to the poor development of scientific concepts, the ability to critically question, and the ability to use initiative to change one’s self. It was also found that some teachers teach decontextualised subjects and generally demonstrate poor mediation skills (Egan & Gajdamaschko, 2003, Hedegaard & Chaiklin, 2005, Karpov, 2003, Kozulin, 2003, Zuckerman, 2003). In contrast, Zuckerman expresses hope that learning activities will lead students to develop a ‘life-span’ attitude to learning (Zuckerman, 2003, p.197). Other sociocultural theorists (Lave & Wenger, 1991, Rogoff, 2003) have also investigated cognitive development. Key concepts central to all these theorists include the necessity of studying cognition as part of the ‘whole’ person, the importance of historical, social and cultural contexts, learning through social participation and mediation, and the significance of process and change. Vygotsky assumed that a ‘school/instructional’ education is central to cognitive development, while Lave and Wenger (1991) explored learning in apprenticeship situations where instructional learning is minimalised. Both Lave and Wenger (1991), and Rogoff (2003) investigated learning in different cultures with little abstract instruction. Home education is one such ‘different’ culture of learning. AUSTRALIAN HOME EDUCATION RESEARCH Vygotskian theory values the importance of mediation and guided instruction by more informed persons. Cognitive development is seen to be the result of good social interaction and mediation whether through a direct teaching role or through informed guidance. A review of Australian home education research literature indicates that many of the theoretical findings of Vygotskian theory are practised by Australian home educators. Home education is defined here as education provided or directed by parents who use their home as a base to organise their children’s learning, but which may include the services of tutors or attendance at specialist classes run by various professionals (Education and Community Services, ACT (2001) and includes the use of community resources. In contrast, traditional schooling is defined as education offered in formally registered institutions: primary and secondary schools whether owned by the state or by private institutions and includes state provided distance education. 4
    • Two questions commonly asked of home educators relate to academic possibilities and social opportunities for home educated students. Research on the academic success of Australian home educated students is limited but the indications are that these students are successfully entering traditional school, tertiary institutions and the workforce with ease (Harding, 2006, Jackson, 2007, Thomas, 1998). School socialisation is often viewed by home educating parents as same age interaction ‘en masse’ (Thomas, 1998) while vertical social interaction is valued by home educating parents because the children are encouraged to mix with people of all ages (Clery, 1998). Socialisation is a significant concern of home educating parents who use such things as home education support groups, clubs, volunteer groups of all kinds and church activities to ensure that their children have social experiences with peers and others in their communities (BarrattPeacock, 1997, Harding, 2006). Home educated students’ views of their social experiences are very similar. A few children find the change from school too great when they try home education (Thomas, 1998) but generally students find the experience worthwhile and fulfilling (Broadhurst, 1999, Clery, 1998, Jackson, 2007, Reilly 2004, Thomas, 1998). The quiet times on their own are not usually viewed as a significant disadvantage. Socialisation as experienced by home educated students is particularly beneficial to students who have had problems with this aspect of schooling (Jackson, 2007, Reilly, 2004, Thomas, 1998). Children’s satisfaction with their social experiences and autonomy was found to be directly related to parent attitudes and practices (Krivanek, 1988). Parental reasons for choosing to home educate their children generally fall into two major categories (Patrick, 1999, Thomas, 1998). Negative features of traditional school as viewed by parents include things such as lower academic standards, curriculum weaknesses, the teaching of unacceptable values, social problems such as bullying, negative peer pressure, special needs poorly met and student low self-worth. Positive features of home education are seen to include academic rigour, broader curriculum, flexible learning, one-on-one teacher/student ratios, holistic learning connected to the ‘real world’ with life-long learning opportunities, stronger social experiences with a wide age range of people unlike same age socialisation provided in traditional schools, acceptable values teaching and stronger family relationships. The main contributors to the development of a theory of home education in Australia have been Barratt-Peacock (1997, 2003), and Thomas (1998). The findings of others (Jacob, Barratt-Peacock, Carins, Holderness-Roddam, Home, & Shipway, 1991, Simich 1998) have supported the main concepts of this theory. Three basic forms of home education practice have been observed. These are: (1) ‘The Natural Learning or Holistic Approach’, (2) ‘A Structured Learning Approach’ and (3) ‘The Eclectic Approach’ (Barratt-Peacock, 1997, p.35-36). These forms of practice have wide variations between families. Thomas (1998) used similar descriptors to differentiate between various home educating styles—‘The School Model’, ‘Becoming Less Formal’ and ‘Informal Learning’ (p.vi). Most parents shift from formal school type teaching arrangements to various less structured approaches over time and as they gain experience (Barratt-Peacock, 1997, 5
    • Honeybone, 2000, Simich, 1998, Thomas, 1998). The degree to which they move toward natural or informal teaching varies. Home education as a ‘super model of a community of practice’ was described by BarrattPeacock (2003). There are four key concepts to this community of practice: ‘domestic occupation’, ‘parents as tutor/guides to fields of authentic adult practice’, ‘family conversation as a forum’; and ‘role modeling’. This ‘super community of learning practice’ allows a child to interact with other ‘communities of practice’ while parents act as ‘mentor guides’ (Barratt-Peacock, 2003, p.106-108). Family conversation is a very significant aspect of this enculturation process (Barratt-Peacock, personal communication, 2006, Thomas, 1998). Informal learning in home education is viewed as an extension of the efficient learning styles of early childhood (Thomas, 1998). Conversation between child and adult allows children the ability ‘to hone their thinking skills’ (Thomas, 1998, p128). Contextualised learning also contributes to the efficiency of home learning. Children have mentors and guides to help them through their learning experiences. Sequential and incremental learning as provided in most traditional institutions is not the norm in informal learning. Children often become engrossed in topics for extended periods of time, an approach difficult in the organized timetables of formal education. Thomas (1998) found that children learn in their own sequences and steps and sometimes this learning is quite staggered and at times can occur in leaps. A good illustration of this is the fact that about one quarter of all the children in his study learnt to read quite late without any detrimental effect to their future educational opportunities. Findings like these offer challenges to many of the practices found in traditional institutional education such as that generally offered by the Australian government school system. Student views Student views on and experiences of home education have been explored by a number of studies. Braodhurst, (1999), Clery, 1998, and Jackson, (2007), suggest that students like home education for its flexibility, the scope it offers to make decisions about their own learning, receiving prompt attention when needing help, learning without the pressure to keep up with a class, and more personal time because they can finish their work earlier Some children enjoy having more time with family members (Clery, 1998, Jackson, 2007). Long term interests are important to students, as are their learner friendly and casual home environments (Jackson, 2007). Students also appreciate their autonomy. They choose how they plan their day, what they learn, when they learn, how they learn, when they finish their schoolwork, and even the opportunity to make a decision to return to school (Carins, 2002, Clery, 1998, Jackson, 2007). Several students commented that home education gave them personal time and this strengthened their sense of self-worth (Broadhurst, 1999, Carins, 2002, Clery, 1998, Honeybone, 2000, Jackson, 2007, McColl, 2005). Aspects of school that home educated students miss are school friendships (but this is not viewed as sufficient reason for returning to school), lack of access to experts in a particular subject and class, and periods of boredom (also not seen as a reason to return to 6
    • school) (Broadhurst, 1999, Clery, 1998, Jackson, 2007). Students surveyed recognise the weaknesses of schools they attended. These include waiting for teachers, boring work, insufficient time to learn concepts, noisy classrooms, inflexible timetables, and limitations on their use of time. Older children, who enter school at the high school level, find it easy to adjust and achieve well academically. They appreciate help from specialist teachers, class discussions, friendly and helpful teachers, contact with peers and ‘muck around’ time in breaks (Broadhurst, 1999, Clery, 1998, Jackson, 2007). VYGOTSKIAN THEORY CONNECTIONS TO AUSTRALIAN HOME EDUCATION Home educators have actively or inadvertently contextualised their children’s learning opportunities in real life contexts (Barratt-Peacock, 1997, Bruner, 1987, Hedegaard & Chaiklin 2005, Lave & Wenger, 1991, Rogoff, 2003, Thomas, 1998, Vygotsky, 1997). The significance of conversation as noted by Barratt-Peacock (1997) and Thomas (1998) indicates that speech is an important part of family mediating interactions—the most important tool for cognitive development (Kozulin, 2003, Vygotsky, 1987). Parents and family members are the main mediators of students—a practice found to be of the greatest benefit for psychological development and future school success in Vygotskian and Neo-Vygotskian studies (Barratt-Peacock, 1997, 2003, Kozulin, 2003, Portes & Vadebouncoeur, 2003, Rogoff, 2003, Thomas, 1998, Vygotsky, 1987). Students are encouraged to exercise initiative, agency, and are often free to develop without many of the restrictions found in traditional schools (Broadhurst, 1999, Clery, 1998, Jackson, 2007, Panofsky, 2003, Zuckerman, 2003). They have time to explore topics in detail, freedom to imagine and develop concepts of the world around them, and to make meaning of what they are learning (Barratt-Peacock, 1997, 2003, Clery, 1998, Egan & Gajdamaschko, 2003, Hedegaard & Chaiklin, 2005, Jackson, 2007, Thomas, 1998). There is time to reflect on who they are and what they are studying (Jackson, 2007, Zuckerman, 2003). Social interactions are broad, deep and varied (Barratt-Peacock, 1997, 2003, Panofsky, 2003, Thomas, 1998). Children’s satisfaction with their social experiences and autonomy was found to be directly related to parent attitudes and practices (Krivanek, 1988). This suggests support for the importance of family mediation in sociocultural theory (Kozulin, 2003). Special needs students appear to benefit from home learning because it allows them to learn in a warm and personal environment with their parents as active mediators (Gindis, 2003, Reilly, 2004). The family unit means that children are learning, not as individuals among other individuals in large groups, but in warm personal relationships within a community (Ageyev, 2003, Barratt-Peacock, 2003, Rogoff, 2003, Thomas, 1998). Parents also value life-long learning (Thomas, 1998) as hoped for by Zuckerman (2003). Further research in a number of areas of home education may add to our understanding of cognition. Karpov (2003) found that scientific concepts need specific instruction so that students do not develop misconceptions. It is worth asking how such direct, informed concepts are developed in home education settings. Likewise studies of mediation (Kozulin, 2003) by parents, siblings and community members in home education (Barratt-Peacock, 1997, 2003, Thomas, 1998), could inform our understanding of the impact of mediation on student cognitive development and learning. Portes and 7
    • Vadebounceour (2003) found that students need peers to challenge and extend the boundaries of their understanding of scientific concepts. How do parents act as appropriate peers for home educated children? Learning activities in classroom situations (Zuckerman, 2003) have been evaluated as very successful, but how do learning activities in the various types of home education styles (Barratt-Peacock, 1997, Thomas, 1998) impact conceptual development and how might these understandings inform traditional school instruction or better practice among home educators? Cognitive development of home educated students is a poorly researched topic. Two aspects of learning in home education (Thomas, 1998) suggest possibilities for further study. Students appear to learn in leaps and bounds (Mahn, 2003, Thomas, 1998) and approximately twenty-five percent of home educated students read late (Thomas, 1998) without any detrimental effect to their educational opportunities and learning. Does this suggest that scientific concepts might be learnt without literacy? Does the sociocultural environment of the modern day home educating family encourage logical thought formation without the literacy reliance on reading and writing found in schools (Thomas, 1998)? Studies, noted by Kozulin (2003), of parent-child interactions compared teachers with parents of either younger pre-school children or with parents who had delegated the teaching role to professionals. Would findings be different for parents who had retained the role of ‘teacher’ (Barratt-Peacock, 1997, 2003, Thomas, 1998)? How might the social practices of home educators (Barratt-Peacock, 1997, 2003, Thomas, 1998) contribute to understandings of social mediation (Panofsky, 2003)? Are there grounds for parental concerns about traditional schools in light of comments made by Vygotsky and Neo-Vygotskians (Egan & Gajdamaschko, 2003, Karpov, 2003, Kozulin, 2003, Zuckerman, 2003) about formal education and does home education provide a viable alternative (Barratt-Peacock, 1997, 2003, Thomas, 1998)? CONCLUSION Just as one learns to understand one’s own culture more clearly after experiencing a different culture, so education research, which has so often treated mainstream schooling as the only form of education, could be more informed about the strengths and weaknesses of traditional schooling by examining how education is practiced and experienced in home education. Home education appears to provide a successful learning environment which is different from the learning environments found in traditional schools. While the match between Vygotskian learning theory and Australian home education theory is not perfect, this paper has argued that there are common themes. We need to consider the ways in which a better understanding of sociocultural theory could further empower home educators. Australian home education and Vygotskian learning theory appear to have a great deal to offer each other. 8
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    • Portes, P. R., & Vadeboncoeur, J., A. (2003). Mediation in Cognitive Socialization: The Influence of Socioeconomic Status. In A. E. Kozulin, J. S. Brown, S. M. Miller, C. Heath, B. Gindis & V. S. Ageyev (Eds.), Vygotsky's educational theory in cultural context (pp. 371-392). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Panofsky, C. P. (2003). The Relations of Learning and Student Social Class: Toward Re"Socializing" Sociocultural Learning Theory. In A. E. Kozulin, J. S. Brown, S. M. Miller, C. Heath, B. Gindis & V. S. Ageyev (Eds.), Vygotsky's educational theory in cultural context (pp. 411-431). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Rogoff, B. (2003). The Cultural Nature of Human Development. New York: Oxford University Press. Reilly, L. (2004). How Western Australian Parents Manage the Home Schooling of Their Children with Disabilities. Paper presented at the Australian Association for Research in Education, Melbourne University. 28 November - 2 December 2004. Simich, M. (1998). How parents who home school their children manage the process. Unpublished MEd, University-of-Western-Australia, Nedlands WA. Thomas, A. (1998). Educating Children at Home. London: Cassell. Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). Problems of General Psychology including the Volume Thinking and Speech (Vol. Volume 1). New York and London: Plenum Press. Vygotsky, L. S. (1993). The Fundamentals of Defectology: (Abnormal Psychology and Learning Disabilities) (J. E. Knox & C. B. Stevens, Trans. Vol. 2). New York: Plenum. Vygotsky, L. S. (1997). Problems of the Theory and History of Psychology: Including the Chapter on the Crisis in Psychology (R. van der Veer, Trans. Vol. 4). New York: Plenum. Zuckerman, G. (2003). The Learning Activity in the First Years of Schooling: The Developmental Path Toward Reflection. In A. E. Kozulin, J. S. Brown, S. M. Miller, C. Heath, B. Gindis & V. S. Ageyev (Eds.), Vygotsky's educational theory in cultural context (pp. 177-199). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Glenda Jackson, PhD candidate, Faculty of Education, Monash University, Clayton 3168. Specialisations: Home education, transition, historical-sociocultural theory. Email: glenda.jackson@education.monash.edu.au Acknowledgements Special thanks are owed to Dr. John Barratt-Peacock and Dr. Jill Brown and Professor Marilyn Fleer for their interest, suggestions and support. 11