By: Lindsay Richards

What is Vygotsky’s Theory?

Vygotsky is known as a social cognitivist as well as a social constructivist (Gredler, 2009). Vygotsky developed the social cognition theory which basically states that a human’s development is primarily a reflection of their culture (Vygotsky and Social Cognition, 1998-2008). Humans are affected in numerous ways by culture, and are the only species to have created culture. Vygotsky also said that immediate experiences such as speech affect our development the most, and less important than that would be written communication (Kozulin, 1999).

Vygotsky’s model outlines more specifically how culture affects human development. For instance, culture teaches children how to think, as well as what to think. At first, children’s problem solving skills are guided by the people they interact with, but eventually this responsibilty belongs to the child.

Vygotsky also created the concept of the zone of proximal development. This means that there is a difference when comparing what a child is capable of on their own, to what a child is capable of when guided in the right direction (Vygotsky and Social Cognition, 1998-2008). The space bewtween these two ideas is known as the zone of proximal development (Kretchmar, 2008).

How Can Knowing Vygotsky’s Theory be Useful in the Classroom?

Being knowledgeable about Vygotsky’s theory can be very useful as a teacher in the classroom. It allows you to understand a little better about why your students act the way they do. Since your students are products of their environments, it is easier for you to evaluate certain circumstances such as late assignments, and misbehaviour. For instance, if a student tells you that they were working two jobs to provide income for their family and were unable to hand in an assignment, the teacher should be able to understand this, and be lenient with their choice punishment.

When planning lessons, it is important to have a lot of interaction between your students so that they are able to learn about other people’s perspectives based on different cultural upbringing etc (Vygotsky and Social Cognition, 1998-2008). Promoting and incorporating group work and team work allows the children to gain new knowledge, and with more knowledge, they can become better learners.

It is also important to consider how we asses the students. There is a technique called scaffolding that is worth while to become familiar with. Scaffolding is when an adult provides guidance for a child so that the child is able to learn more than they could have without the assistance; it acts as a little push in the right direction when the child is stuck (Kretchmar, 2008). It’s important to ask questions that do not have a yes or no answer to encourage students to think beyond what they already know, and learn more. When assessing students it is important to also consider the student’s zone of proximal development. This means that some students have the potential to learn more than other students if guided in the right direction and these students may have a lower actual level of development than other students (Shamir, 2004). As teachers, it may be best to asses this through various ways such as independent assignments where students may ask the teacher for as much assistance as they need, as well as tests where no assistance is allowed. That way, you are seeing both what the child achieves on their own, as well as what they are capable of achieving with help, and the student’s mark is a reflection of both of these instances.



Gredler, Margaret E. (2009). Hiding in Plain Sight: The Stages of Mastery/Self-Regulation in Vygotsky's Cultural-Historical Theory. Educational Psychologist, 44 (1), 1-19. Retrieved March 15, 2009, from http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/00461520802616259

Kozulin, A. (1999, March). Sociocultural Contexts ofCognitive Theory. Human Development (0018716X), 42(2), 78-82. Retrieved March 17, 2009, doi:10.1159/000022612

Kretchmar, J. (2008). Constructivism. . (pp. 1-1). Great Neck Publishing. Retrieved March 17, 2009, from Research Starters - Education database.

Shamir, A., & Tzuriel, D. (2004). Children's mediational teaching style as a function of intervention for cross-age peer-mediation. School Psychology International, 25(1), 59-78. Retrieved from www.csa.com

Vygotsky and Social Cognition. (1998-2008). Retrieved March 21, 2009, from Funderstanding: http://www.funderstanding.com/content/vygotsky-and-social-cognition