Russian psychologist who developed a social constructivist theory of development – learning from experience. The theory therefore aims to explain a child’s acquisition of knowledge and skills through social experience, as “individual” mental functioning is socio-cultural in origin.
CLT places emphasis upon…
…The role of interaction in cognitive development and learning. Emphasis is also placed upon the close relationships between culture, language and cognitive development. Much of his work is unfinished, however comparatively there is little evidence available to substantiate or contradict most of his ideas.
Key principle #1: Internalisation
Development as a gradual internalisation of interpersonal changes (Vygotsky, 1978).
Children develop from completing tasks in interaction with adults; completing tasks independently, with considerable self-talking (private speech); and completing tasks independently with no self-talk (ingrowth stage).
Play is important as a context to provide opportunities for shared and individual ‘practice’ of internalising skills.
Key Principle #2: Zone of Proximal Development
1) Skills child has already mastered
2) ZPD skills children can only develop with the help of a more knowledgable other
3) Skills beyond the child’s reach (at a given point of development).
Language, private speech and thought
Language begins to develop first, fundamentally for interaction.
Then self-talk emerges, and then thought from social interaction.
Mean something about the outside cultural world (socio-cultural symbols). Early use of language is socially oriented.
At first self-talk is difficult to distinguish and separate from social talk (Goudena, 1987). Over time, more clearly self-regulatory. Used when solving difficult problems – not always successfully (Diaz, 1992). In the end, self-task becomes internalised at “compressed”.
Thought and language are closely linked…
…and because language is fundamentally interactional, thought emerges through social interaction. Process of internalisation may therefore involve regulation through self-talk, thus a process of developing self-regulation. Fundamentally different to most other current developmental psychology arguments – the way we think is dependent upon the social interaction/cultural norms experienced in our lives.
Vygotsky on play
play > self-regulation > social learning
Play requires and involves learning to manage self-regulation.
In play, children must fundamentally take on (social) roles associated with certain (social) rules.
“In play, the child is free. But this is an illusionary freedom” (Vygotsky, 1967:10).
Rules require self-regulation
“At every step, the child is faced with a conflict between the rules of the game and what he would do if he could suddenly act spontaneously” (Vygotsky, 1967:14).
Transgression – problematic rule breaks
Transgressions are dealt with through social interaction, i.e. explaining things ‘out of character’; play > social self-regulation > social learning. Internalising self-regulation – 2 levels (in and out of play) character/self – meta communication.
Manuilenko (1975) – “Lookout experiment”
Evidence for (play>self-regulation>social learning).
2 groups of kids matched; 1 stand still as long as you can (timed), 1 stand still as long as you can imagine if spy (timed). Given pretend roles/rules to self-regulate.
Elkonin (1978) prosocial rules taken by children during “mature” play
Found that prosocial roles require more self-regulation. Sets up a situation for the development of self-regulation. Socio-dramatic play involving social roles.
Scaffolding (Bruner, 1986)
“The interactional processes by which a child and adult move through the Zone of Proximal development”
Often now talked about as explicit, e.g. instructional scaffolding – second language learning (Bradley & Bradley, 2004).
Ninio & Bruner (1978)
Study of labelling by very young children (0;8 – 1;4) in book reading interactions with parents.
1) Parents typically worked through the whole book
2) Willingness of parent to accept almost any response from the child
3) Highly repetitive interactional structure
4) Evaluations when children did not know objects (i.e. you’ve never seen one of these before, have you?)
Conclusion: Parents both implicitly and explicitly scaffolds the child into social structure of a) vocabulary learning, b) “knowledge about knowledge”, and c) cultural conventions around book reading.
Cultural mediation of development – Mediation =
Where one entity plays an intermediate role between two other entities (in between two entities mediating how they relate to each other). In this case = experience and development, i.e. culture changes how experience relates to development.
Vygotskyan theorists consider that:
Understanding is refracted through the experience of others (Chesnokova, 2004) – what your culture understands to be the correct response. What’s out there (culture) alters the structures within.
Naïve participation – Fenyhough (2004)
Children experience the world through the cultural and social practices that they may not initially understand.
Language is a culturally-derived set of symbols transforming relations between experience and cognition. Culture is after all experience by everyone, even if in different ways. More naïve participation – children’s use of mental state words (Nelson, 1996) i.e. “I think”/”I want”.
Cultural Learning Theories
Modern, Vygotsyan-inspired developmental theories combine:
– Consideration of socio-cultural practices in children’s development.
– Modern understanding of the development of children’s social cognition, i.e. joint attention from 9 months = looking at the same thing as someone else (following a finger); theory of mind – less egocentric, consideration of others’ perspectives.
Such considerations are used to account for children’s cognitive development more broadly, and specifically how children acquire cultural learning/knowledge.
Example #1: CLT accounts of language acquisition
Classic cog theory – there are internal cognitive mechanisms that quite language acquisition (assimilation/accommodation). Meanings are acquired prior to the use of language – words are mapped before they can be used.
Versus cultural learning theory – e.g. Tomasello, children are guided to learn language through socio-pragmatic cues (i.e. pointing). Joint attention, understanding others’ intentions etc. Meanings are forged through language’s social use – opposite to cognitive which suggests that meanings come first.
Evidence for CLT –
1) Joint attention and “showing behaviours” by caregiver appears crucial in learning of both nouns and verbs (Tomasello & Farrar, 1986; Tomasello & Kruger, 1992).
2) Pre-linguistic children younger than 1 interpret the meaning of points according to social context (Tomasello et al., 2007).
Example #2: CLT accounts of play
Cog theory – play emerges from child’s ability to pretend symbolically. Pretending is therefore a special cognitive ability (Leslie, 1986).
Versus cultural learning theory – (Rakoczy, 2006): Play emerges following the child gaining a basic awareness of other people, and is a culturally situated and learned set of actions. So actually pretending is not any more special than any other forms of cultural learning. However, this provides a window onto how children do learn about culture.
Evidence: findings from the “tools and toys” studies (Rakoczy et al., 2005).
Rakoczy et al (2008)
2/3 year olds taught a game. Puppet – disc two sided 1) banana – plays music, 2) strawberry – doesn’t play music. Another puppet joins in – gets it wrong. Responses coded: explicit/implicit protest; neutral statement; no response. Not really ecologically valid.
Rakoczy et al (2008) extended study
Made more ecologically valid. Altered teaching aspect – human experimenter pretending that pegs are carrots (eating game). Puppet then joins in the fun but gets it all wrong – tries to use peg as a knife. Same coding as before.
Results: performed the same. Suggests that children may utilise the same rules in life as in play.
Rakoczy et al (2009) children understood rules
Children appear to acquire social and cultural knowledge earlier than psychologists may have realised in the past.