Feb 12, 2013
Vygotsky's Work and Its Relevance to Mathematics Education
One of the most fundamental assumptions that guided Vygotsky's attempt to reformulate psychology was that in order to understand the individual, one must first understand the social relations in which the individual exists (Wertsch, 1985); Vygotsky argued that the social dimension of consciousness is primary in time and in fact, the individual dimension of consciousness is derivative and secondary.
Thus, to explain the psychological, we must look not only at individual but also at external world in which that individual life has developed (Tharp and Gallimore, 1988). The first key feature of Vygotsky's theory is that of internalization. The process by which the social becomes the psychological is called internalization (Tharp and Gallimore, 1988); the individual's plane of consciousness is formed in structures that are transmitted to the individual by others in speech, social interaction, and the processes of cooperative activity; thus, individual consciousness arises from the actions and speech of others. Wertsch (1985) listed that Vygotsky's account of internalization is grounded in four major points : (1) internalization is a process wherein an internal plane of consciousness is formed; (2) the external reality at issue is a social interactional one; (3) the specific mechanism at issue is the mastery of external sign forms; and (4) the internal plane of consciousness takes on a 'quasi-social' nature because of its origins. In the beginning of the transformation to the intramental plane, the child need not understand the activity as the adult understands, need not be aware of its reason or of its articulation with other activities (Tharp and Gallimore, 1988); all that is needed is performance, through assisting interaction; through this process, the child acquires the plane of consciousness of the natal society and is socialized, acculturated, made human.
The second key feature of Vygotsky's theory is that of the zone of proximal development; this refers to the gap that exists for children between what they can do alone and what they can do with help from someone more knowledgeable or skilled than themselves (Gipps, 1994). Vygotsky introduced the notion of zone of proximal development in an effort to deal with two practical problems in educational psychology (Wertsch, 1985): the assessment of children's intellectual abilities and the evaluation of instructional practices. He argued that it is just as crucial, if not more so, to measure the level of potential development as it is to measure the level of actual development; existing practices were such that 'in determining the mental age of a child with the help of tests we almost always are concerned with the actual level of development' (ibid, p. 68). Vygotsky argued that the zone of proximal development is a useful construct concerns processes of instruction (ibid, p. 70); instruction and development do not directly coincide, but represent two processes that exist in very complex interrelationships.
Assisted performance defines what a child can do with help, with the support of the environment, of others, and of the self (Tharp and Gallimore, 1988); the transition from assisted performance to unassisted performance is not abrupt. They present problems through the zone of proximal development (ZPD) in a model of four stages; (1) the stage where performance is assisted by more capable others (Stage I); (2) the stage where performance is assisted by the self (Stage II); (3) the stage where performance is developed, automatized, and 'fossilized' (Stage III); and (4) the stage where de-automatization of performance leads to recursion back through the ZPD (Stage IV).
Tharp and Gallimore (1988) outlined the propositions of the problems in the Stage I as follows : (1) before children can function as independent agents, they must rely on adults or more capable peers for outside regulation of task performance; (2) the amount and kind of outside regulation a child requires depend on the child's age and the nature of the task; (3) the child may have a very limited understanding of the situation, the task, or goal to be achieved; at this level, the parent, teacher, or more capable peer offers directions or modeling, and the child's response is acquiescent or imitative; (4) only gradually does the child come to understand the way in which the parts of an activity relate to one another or to understand the meaning of the performance; (5) ordinarily, the understandings develops through conversation during the task performance; (6) the child can be assisted by questions, feedback, and further cognitive structuring that is such assistance of performance has been described as scaffolding, by Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976); (7) the various means of assisting performance are indeed qualitatively different; (8) a child's initial goal might be to sustain a pleasant interaction or to have access to some attractive puzzle items, or there might be some other motive that adults cannot apprehend; (9) the adult may shift to a subordinate or superordinate goal in response to ongoing assessment of the child's performance; (10) the task of Stage I is accomplished when the responsibility for tailoring the assistance, tailoring the transfer, and performing the task itself has been effectively handed over to the learner; this achievement is gradual, with progress occuring in fits and starts.
For the Stage II, Tharp and Gallimore (1988), outlined the propositions: (1) the child carries out a task without assitance from others; however, this does not mean that the performance is fully developed or automatized; (2) the relationships among language, thought, and action in general undergo profound rearrangements - ontogenetically, in the years from infancy through middle childhood; (3) control is passed from the adult to the child speaker, but the control function remains with the overt verbalization; the transfer from external to internal control is accomplished by transfer of the manipulation of the sign from others to the self; (4) the phenomenon of self-directed speech reflects a development of the most profound significance; self-control may be seen as a recurrent and efficacious method that bridges between help by others and fully automated, fully developed capacities; (5) for children older than 6 years, semantic meaning efficiently mediates performance; (6) for children, a major function of self-directed speech is self-guidance; this remains true throughout lifelong learning.
For the Stage III, Tharp and Gallimore (1988), outlined the propositions: (1) once all evidence of self-regulation has vanished, the child has emerged from the ZPD into the development stage for the task; (2) the task execution is smooth and integrated; it has been internalized and automatized; (3) assistance from the adult or the self is no longer needed; indeed assistance would now be disruptive; (4) it is at this stage that self-consciousness itself is detrimental to the smooth integration of all task components; (5) this is a stage beyond self-control and beyond social control; (6) performance here is no longer developing; it is already developed. For the Stage IV, Tharp and Gallimore (1988), outlined the propositions: (1) there will be a mix of other-regulation, self-regulation, and automatized processes; (2) once children master cognitive strategies, they are not obliged to rely only on internal mediation; (3) enhancement, improvement, and maintenance of performance provide a recurrent cycle of self-assistance to other-assistance; (4) de-automatization and recursion occur so regularly that they constitute a Stage IV of the normal development process; after de-automatization, if the capacity is to be restored, then the developmental process must become recursive.
Wertsch, J.V.,1985, Vygotsky and The Social Formation of Mind,London : Harvard University Press.
Tharp, R. and Gallimore, R., 1988, 'A theory of teaching as assisted performance' in Light, P. et al. , 1991, Learning to Think : Child Development in Social Context 2, London : Routledge.
Vygotsky, L.S, 1966, 'Genesis of the higher mental functions' in Light, P. et al. , 1991, Learning to Think : Child Development in Social Context 2, London : Routledge.