Practical Application of Vygotsky

Vygotsky “believed that all human cognition takes place within a matrix of social history, and thus cognition must be considered within this context.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 105)  This is of particular interest to me since I am a high school history teacher by training, so to put it bluntly, I couldn’t agree with Vygotsky more on this point.  The way in which individuals acquire both thought and language is firmly situated within the context of the culture within which they reside.  This means that when we endeavor to help an individual with who, at first glance, may appear to have a “learning disability…” we should take into account the cultural symbolism that the child will likely identify with.  We should make every effort to communicate in terms that the child will understand, and that others will also understand if the child were to imitate the words or actions.  As an example, if we are working with a child that resides in a predominately Spanish speaking neighborhood where Spanish is the language of choice, then we should utilize that language to facilitate learning (even if it is too soon to be verbal).

Furthermore, when constructing interventions that are intended to maximize learning potential for children, we should take Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” into consideration in effort to make learning “relevant” for the learner.  “The ZPD is the distance between what tasks children can do independently and their potential competence at those tasks, which can be achieved with adult or peer assistance.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 107)  In more simple terms, learning is social… and we learn how to extend our thought and action by observing people around us in a social context.  In early childhood, this takes form in pretend play… which Vygotsky would assert is absolutely essential for later school success.  We should encourage and facilitate private speech to assist the child in internalizing action with thought, especially during difficult problem solving activities.  In short, during play therapy, have them “talk it out.”  This may be as simple as continually asking “tell me what you’re doing right now.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 111)


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Bergen, D. (2008). Human development: Traditional and contemporary theories. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.


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