In the field of education, Vygotsky’s theoretical contributions continue to be extensively cited by educational theorists in the development of curricula and formulation of new teaching strategies (Velenzuela et al, 2000, p. 111).
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His Socio-cultural theory has particularly been used by educators to transform children’s thoughts, perceptions, worldviews and behaviours. According to Vygotsky, social interactions among children in the social context lead not only to enhanced levels of knowledge but also to a complete transformation of their thoughts and behaviours (Mahn, 1999, p. 341).
Parents and educators are increasingly using this theory in discharging their primary duty of assisting children to become high achievers. Below, a summary of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory is outlined. The discussion will focus on the theory’s implications for kindergarten age children and children with special needs.
The most fundamental notion of sociocultural theoretical perspective is that an individual’s mind is culturally mediated (Mahn, 199, p. 343). The theory emphasizes that culture is the primary determinant of individual development. In this perspective, a child’s learning process is mainly affected by culture since every child grows in the context of culture, including the culture of school environment.
Vygotsky was of the opinion that exposing a child to a variety of cultures and social environments expands his or her knowledge base. It was the believe of Vygotsky that developmental progressions, dependent upon individuals and cultural tools granted to the child within the social context, will greatly assist him to shape his perceptions of the world (Velenzuela et al, 2000, p. 117).
Consequently, educational theorists have specifically focussed on Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory due to the recognition of the fundamental functions played by social cultural factors and influences in the processes of learning and development.
According to the sociocultural theory, learning can be passed on to individuals using three approaches, namely imitative learning, instructed learning and collaborative learning.
In brief, imitative learning occurs when the child tries to copy or imitate another individual within the social context, while instructed learning occurs when a child recalls the instructions or directions given by an instructor and then puts them into practice.
Collaborative learning is thought to take place when a group of individuals collaborates in the process of learning as they work to understand each other or achieve a particular goal. (Velenzuela et al, 2002, p. 116). According to the theory, the learning process begins at birth and persists throughout the lifespan.
Vygotsky came up with the zone of proximal development (ZPD) to signify the distance between the actual development stage as exhibited by independent problem solving ability and the level of potential development as exhibited by problem solving ability under the direction of an adult or in cooperation with more competent peers.
The sociocultural theory has important implications for kindergarten age children and children with specialized needs as it can be effectively used to occasion critical advancements in their learning development. According to the theory, children are able to learn much through social interaction.
As such, curricula for kindergarten age children and children with special needs should be specifically designed to emphasize and underline the interaction between the children and the learning tasks (Valenzuela et al, 2002, p. 116). The kindergarten students and their counterparts with special needs will derive meaning of the learning process in the context of active involvement in the real social environment.
This line of thinking contradicts Piaget’s theory of cognitive development that presupposes that children can only learn certain things based on the stage of cognitive development (Velenzuela et al, 2002, p. 112). The sociocultural theory is more responsive to the learning process of children with special needs since it argues that ideas and concepts are socially mediated and exist in collectives rather than in individuals.
This theoretical perspective centres the learning process on the cultural, social, institutional, environmental and historical situations rather than individual cognitive abilities as Piaget suggested. As such, it is effective in teaching students with specialized needs
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With suitable adult assistance, kindergarten age children and children with special needs can effectively be able to perform and complete duties that they are incapable of performing on their own. In this perspective, educators can utilize the scaffolding technique discussed in the sociocultural theory to instil knowledge in children within this age-group (Edwards, 2005, p. 45). The technique requires educators to persistently adjust the level of their assistance in response to the students’ level of educational performance.
This is especially important to children with special needs since they require specialized attention. In this particular technique, educators are required to control the learning environment to ensure young children learn through a step by step process that limits unwarranted frustration while expanding their knowledgebase.
Consecutive studies have revealed that scaffolding technique not only produces immediate results in teaching children within this age-group but it also inculcates the skills and knowledge required for independent problem solving in the future (Valenzuela et al, 2002, p. 113).
The assessment methods used by educators to evaluate the performance of kindergarten age children and children with special needs must take into consideration the zone of proximal development. What the learners can achieve on their own is their actual level of development and what they can be able to achieve with the assistance of educators is their level of potential development (Valenzuela et al, 2002, p. 116).
This line of thinking can be particularly used to uplift the learning capacities of children with special needs through the assistance offered by educators.
Two learners might have similar levels of actual development, but given the suitable assistance from an educator, one learner might become more knowledgeable than the other. In this perspective, assessment methods for kindergarten age students and children with special needs must focus on both the same stage of actual development and the stage of potential development and growth (Edwards, 2005, p. 46).
All in all, Vygotsky’s theoretical perspective has registered many positive implications for kindergarten students and children with special needs in terms of learning. In line with the propositions of sociocultural theory, children within this age-group must continually be exposed to a multiplicity of social situations within the social context since each interaction is perceived as a learning experience.
According to the theory, it is critically imperative to introduce children within this age-group to individuals and notions that function above their present level of knowledge to effectively open up their thought systems to new ideas and concepts (Edwards, 2005, p. 45). Through this discussion, it is clear that guiding children within this age-group through imitation, listening to instructions and collaborative learning will inarguably broaden their current base of knowledge.
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Sociocultural theory and early childhood education. Early Childhood Development and Care, Vol. 175, No. 1, pp. 37-47
Mahn, H. (1999). Vygotsky’s methodological contribution to sociocultural theory.
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Velenzuela, J.S., Connery, M.C., & Musanti, S.I. (2000). The theoretical foundations of
professional development in special education: Is sociocultural theory enough? Remedial and Special Education, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 111-120