Vygotsky's Theories of Cognitive Development

by Rosisella Villegas





    After analyzing the theories and theorists from the first half of the semester, I have embraced Vygotsky’s Theory of Cognitive Development, or otherwise known as socio-cultural perspective.  Vygotsky also emphasizes the importance of  society and culture for promoting cognitive growth, and this is also a reason I chose this particular theory.  As a teacher, I embrace the social reconstructionist philosophy, which focuses on teaching culture, and more importantly, multiculturalism. 


    He also believes that many thinking processes have their roots in social interactions with adults and peers.  In this process, students discover how people around them think.  This is called internalization, where social activities evolve into internal mental activities.  Another assumption of Vygotsky is self talk, when thought and language emerge and children talk to themselves out loud.  This process later turns into inner speech.  Both of these processes have a similar purpose; by talking to themselves, children learn to guide and direct their own behaviors through difficult tasks and complex maneuvers (Ormord, 37).  Another one of his assumptions is adults convey to children the ways in which their culture interprets the world through informal conversation and formal schooling.  Also, he distinguished two types of abilities that children are likely to have: actual development level and level of potential development.  Actual development level is the highest task a child can do independently.  A child’s level of potential development is the highest level task a child can do with the help of a more competent individual.  He feels children can do more difficult tasks with the help of an adult.  He also believes it is the challenges in life that promote cognitive development.  An important teaching technique that is emphasized with Vygotsky is individualized instruction.  This is important because it targets each students zone of proximal development leading to more cognitive development. 


    Many contemporary theorists have encouraged educators to use Vygotsky’s ideas, such as guided participation, scaffolding, apprenticeships, and peer interaction in promoting cognitive development (Ormrod, 39).  Guided participation is when we assist our students as they perform adult-like activities.  Scaffolding is when adults and other more competent individuals provide some form of guidance or structure that enables children to perform tasks at their zone of proximal development.  The different ways a teacher can provide scaffolding for his or her students are working with students to develop plans for dealing with new tasks.  Also, demonstrating proper performance of the task that can be easily imitated.  Another way is to divide complex tasks into smaller simpler ones.  Keep students motivated to complete the tasks. And what I think is most important, give students feedback on how they are progressing.  In an apprenticeship, a learner works intensively with an expert to accomplish complex tasks that he or she cannot do independently (Ormrod, 40).  An apprenticeship usually has some of the following features:  modeling, coaching, scaffolding, articulation, reflection, and exploration.  When working together, students can essentially provide scaffolding for each other.  This is called peer interaction. 


    I believe that Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development is important for students as learners because it promotes higher levels of thinking, as well as problem solving skills.  I can remember when I was younger, I would always talk to myself when doing math problems or learning new vocabulary words.  Self talk is a vital part of the learning process.  As a Spanish teacher, I am going to encourage self talk when learning new vocabulary words, phrases, etc.  I personally feel that repetition is one of the best learning strategies, and self talk encourages it.  Another reason I chose Vygotsky is because I want to teach my higher level Spanish students on a more individualized level.  This way they can “get what they want” out of the class.  I will also give constant feedback to my students, which is something I wish teachers, as well as other adults, would have done with me.  This gives the student an idea of how he or she is progressing, which in turn makes the student feel like he has made an accomplishment.  This gives them a better self-esteem and self-worth.  They might think to themselves, “Hey, I did it virtually on my own.  I feel very confident about _____.  I’m ready for the next challenge!!!”  Also, since I am a native speaker of the Spanish language, I will model the correct ways of pronunciations, and I will coach my students on how to make the sounds of the different letters, vowels, etc.  As my students become more efficient Spanish speakers, I will give them short novels to read or other more complex tasks.  A final teaching strategy that I will implement in my classroom is group work, both collaborative and cooperative.  Students will constantly be working in pairs with dialogue and in bigger groups for research projects and presentations.  This will encourage peer interaction. 


    As a Spanish teacher, I will use Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development to encourage self talk, provide scaffolding, provide a cognitive apprenticeship, and encourage peer interaction.  I feel that these teaching strategies will promote pro-social behavior and higher levels of thought.  It will also increase the students critical thinking skills, and and actual developmental level.