“In the Vygotskian—sociocultural
view, humans are embedded in a
sociocultural matrix and human behavior
cannot be understood independently of
this ever-present matrix” (Miller, 2011, pg.
It is important to look at Vygotsky’s sociocultural
matrix in order to better understand his work:
-He was born into an academic Russian Jewish family.
-Began work in psychology in 1924 with Luria and Leontiev.
-This team wanted to empower citizens.
They wanted to “change citizens’ thinking from a feudal mentality of helplessness and
alienation to a socialistic mentality of self-directed activity and commitment to a larger
social unit based on sharing, cooperation, and support. In the new Soviet view, each
person was responsible for the progress of the whole society” (Miller, 2011, pp. 168).
-He died at age 37, after spending only 10 years in the field.
Miller explains how the child,
another person, and the social context
are “fused” together in an activity
(2011). For the individual, mental
activity is derived from the given
context and members of that context.
Higher mental functions, like privately
thinking in your head, do not happen
until after collaborative activity (Berk &
“Because Vygotsky regarded language as a
critical bridge between the sociocultural world
and individual mental functioning, he viewed the
acquisition of languages as the most significant
milestone in children’s cognitive development”
(Berk & Winsler, 1995, pp. 13).
Miller points out this fusion creates
a single unit where “individuals and
cultural communities mutually create
each other” (Miller, 2011, pp.171).
Language is a critical piece in this
Vygotsky called for active
learning (Miller, 2011). He wrote
about the importance of play,
particularly imaginative play, for
young children. According to
Vygotsky, playful experiences with
other children and adults leads to
development (Berk & Winsler,
“Children, like adults, do much of their best
learning when they are actively engaged in
a problem, especially with other people”
(Berk & Winsler, 1995, pp. 29).
The beginning of that
quote says, “The interaction
between the adult and the
child, for Vygotsky, is like a
dance…” (Berk & Winsler,
We will look at the zone of
proximal development and
I think it is really important to note here that Vygotsky did have a much broader view
of the zone than is often presented. The zone exists in activities like play too, not only
with an adult or more capable peer (Miller, 2011). Still, this is a helpful visual to
understand the basic idea.
Here is a second visual that you might like better.
Scaffolding is how a more
competent other collaborates with a
child to support his or her emerging
skills. We work with the child in his
or her zone of proximal
development (Miller, 2011).
“The role of the teacher includes both
designing an educative environment
and collaborating with children by
scaffolding their efforts to master new
skills” (Berk & Winsler, 1995, pp. 152).
Miller describes how this
knowledge is first on an intermental
plane, between the minds, and
becomes internalized by the child’s
mind to the intramental plane (Miller,
2011). The goal is to support the
child until they have internalized the
knowledge and can act
• “The adult supports children’s autonomy by providing
sensitive and contingent assistance, facilitating their
representational and strategic thinking, and
prompting them to take over more responsibility for
the task as their skill increases” (Berk & Winsler,
1995, pp. 31).
As children acquire language,
they use private speech to talk to
themselves as they think (Miller,
2011). Berk & Winsler explain that an
activity a child uses private speech
for is something they have mastered
“If a child is using overt, task-relevant private
speech, then the activity is probably within the
child’s zone of proximal development: it is
challenging enough for the child to need to use
self-talk but not too difficult” (Berk & Winsler, 1995,
A brief look at a major differences between
Vygotsky and Piaget…
“Piaget focused on what it is within the organism that leads to
cognitive change; Vygotsky explored how social experience might cause
important revisions to the child’s thinking” (Berk & Winsler, 1995, pp. 110).
So Piaget indicated that the active person created disequilibrium in a static
environment, whereas Vygotsky saw social force in causing disequilibrium
We will look at this more on the web!