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Unformatted text preview: ed into constructivist views of classroom learning.
Vygotsky’s Sociohistorical Theory
Lev Semenovich Vygotsky was born in Russia in 1896 and died in 1934
from tuberculosis at age 38. Over his relatively short professional career, L. S.
Vygotsky developed the theoretical basis for a view of development and
education that is very influential today. A major emphasis in Vygostsky’s work
was the importance of understanding cognitive development in terms of the social
and cultural contexts in which it occurs (Luria, 1979; Moll, 1990; Vygotsky,
1962, 1978, 1981, 1987).
The Role of Cultural Tools In Cognitive Development
Vygotsky believed that as students engage in activities within their social
environments they create their understandings of their worlds (Thomas, 2000). 25 Each environment provides cultural tools to support or mediate students’ activities
(Miller, 2002). A tool is an extension of the person that allows them to go beyond
their physical or mental limitations (Greening, 1998). Vygotsky (1981) identified
two types of cultural tools that are specialized for different types of actions.
Technical tools are cultural tools that are used to act on objects in the
environment. For example, a hammer and a nail allow us to transform two
separate pieces of wood into two connected pieces of wood.
Psychological tools or signs are cultural tools that guide or mediate our
thoughts and behaviors. Psychological tools extend our mental capabilities and
they support our thinking and problem solving. For example, language is an
important psychological tool that allows us to establish social contact, to influence
others, and eventually to guide our thinking and problem solving. Memory
systems such as mnemonics are another example of a psychological tool that is
used to improve memory for ideas. Theoretical frameworks are tools that can
mediate problem solving and decision-making in a professional domain
(Hedegaard, 1990). (Please note that the development of theoretical knowledge as
a tool for decision-making is a major goal of this text.)
The nature and goals of social environments will determine the types of
psychological tools that are available, and how those psychological tools are used.
For example, studies of people’s math reasoning as they weigh food for the
Weight Watchers diet have revealed that math problem-solving approaches in 26 these types of “real-world” contexts employ different psychological tools than is
the case for math reasoning in the math classroom (Brown, Collins, & Duguid,
The Development of Higher Order Mental Functions
Although he wrote about a variety of developmental issues, Vygotsky
tended to focus on how people acquire their higher mental functions. For
Vygotsky, a function is a mental process such as attention, perception, memory,
and thinking. These mental functions first appear in their elementary form.
Elementary functions develop naturally, are present both in animals and humans,
tend not to be voluntary, can occur without conscious awareness, and are not
assisted by ps...
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- Spring '08