What evidence do you see of specific teacher behaviors that are geared toward Vygotsky’s theories of cognitive development? Cite specific examples and make clear connection to Vygotsky’s work. Be thorough in your coverage of the theory, addressing multiple concepts to demonstrate your understanding. Be sure to include a reference in your response.
Over the last couple of weeks I have observed the wonderful Mrs. G. implementing many aspects of Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development in her 10th and 12th grade classrooms. Over the course of a few lessons, I observed Mrs. G. using almost all the part of Vygotsky’s theory as she wrapped up a unit on The Scarlet Letter with her 10th graders.
Zone of Proximal Development
Mrs. G. use her knowledge of her students’ Zones of Proximal Development to choose The Scarlet Letter. It’s a novel with enough dated references, unfamiliar styles, and complex themes that it was outside of what students could read and understand on their own. However, it also had enough characters and ideas that students could relate to, so it’s wasn’t too far away from what they’d read and understood before. The novel hit the sweet spot: the Zone of Proximal Development. Students couldn’t read and understand it alone, but with support (scaffolding & mediation) from the teacher (More Knowledgeable Other), they were able to learn.
More Knowledgeable Other
Mrs. G. served as the main MKO during the lessons that I observed. Students directed their questions to her, and she provided the learning materials and guided their thinking. Students sometimes served as MKO’s when they did group work; some students had a better grasp on the themes of the novel than others, or were faster at finding quotes to support their ideas, so they became the MKO in their group, sharing their knowledge with peers and helping their peers to construct meaning. Mrs. G. also provided articles for students to read, and the authors of these articles became MKO’s as well.
Mrs. G. served as the MKO and mediated the novel for her students. She provided instruction and information that was within the students’ Zones of Proximal Development. For example, she provided articles for students to help enhance their understanding of the theme; she prepared specific discussion questions for class activities; and she guided the group discussions to the appropriate conclusions.
Mrs. G. also mediated student learning by providing scaffolding in the form of guided participation. She conducted in-class review sessions of the previous night’s reading assignment to help students construct meaning from the sometimes-antiquated text. She allowed students to choose whether they worked independently or in groups during class work time—working the groups provided scaffolding for those students who needed more support to construct meaning, as well as differentiation for students who learn by talking or learn better with others. She also provided in-class work time for students to work on their final projects.
Janelle Cox outlined 5 strategies for scaffolding that teachers can use to aid student learning. Mrs. G. used scaffolding as Cox intended, “Making sure students [had] a firm grasp of the information that they [were] about to learn . . . giving them the tools to succeed.”
Mrs. G. used a few different differentiation methods, many of which were differentiating for profile or process. For example, Mrs. G. differentiated the environment for process by moving the class into the writing lab to better facilitate the students working on their projects and book reports. She differentiated for readiness by allowing students to work in groups or with a partner, enabling students who weren’t quite as ready to grapple with the complex themes to collaborate with someone who was more ready.
Through the end of the unit, Mrs. G. encouraged students to really internalize the major theme of labeling in The Scarlet Letter into their own thinking. She started out by simply talking about labels in the novel. Then she had students work on a group activity about how characters in the novel labeled each other. Next she provided more research about labeling, and conducted a class discussion about how students have witnessed labeling in their lives. She then assigned students to observe the labels that people around them used about each other. Finally she had students choose a label for themselves and explain why that label is significant for them. Through this series of activities, Mrs. G. mediated, provided scaffolding, and included differentiation to help students take the abstract concept of labels and really internalize the positive and negative impacts that labels have in their own lives.
Vygotsky’s theory is all about learning things in the ZPD through interactions with an MKO. Mrs. G. uses Vygotsky’s theory as she selects texts, provides enrichment activities, measures student learning, and as she conducts her daily classroom procedures. She chooses content within students Zones of Proximal Development and acts as a More Knowledgeable Other, providing scaffolding and mediation so students can construct their own learning and cognitive development.