Vygotsky in the Classroom

Table of Content

    Vygotsky’s Social Learning Theory emphasizes the importance of a child’s culture as a part of the learning process. These social interactions teach children how to think while, at the same time, teaching them about what they should be thinking. Because parents, peers and other close contacts greatly influence a child’s social and intellectual development, Vygotsky’s theory emphasizes that children should be evaluated and assessed in group situations never in isolation.

    Thorough instructional planning not only insures that a lesson will be complete and that it will address different learning styles, but it allows the teacher to integrate learning theories into lessons. In order to plan using the Social Learning Theory, lessons need to involve a great deal of interaction between the student and the teacher as well as the student and his or her peers. The teacher should take into account which students work well together and which students tend to influence each other to get off task. The benefit of such planning is that there are always students in the classroom who understand the material quickly; these students can explain the more difficult concept to other students using colloquial terms. Often, it may appear that lessons simply cannot be modified as group assignments; in this case, students can work together on individual assignments. Some thought should also be given to encouraging parent/child interaction. Rather than planning a homework assignment to be completed independently, children may benefit from being required to work on it with a parent.

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    The Zone of Proximal Development addresses the difference between what a child can do on his or her own and what a child can do with the help of an adult (teacher, parent, etc.) This part of Vygotsky’s theory needs to be addressed when delivering a lesson to a class. From the beginning to the end of the lesson, it is crucial for the teacher to gain constant feedback from the students. This can be accomplished by asking questions. One type of question is simple comprehension: the teacher asks questions to the students based on what has just been taught. When a student is unable to recall the information, the teacher can use that opportunity to ask other students the same question. The teacher may also want to ask students to explain difficult concepts aloud in their own words. For example, a seventh-grade Life Science student was having difficulty remembering which side of the heart was rich in oxygen and which side was poor. The teacher under my observation was unable to explain it in a way that made sense to the student. Another student raised her hand and indicated that the right side of the heart was poor and the left side of the heart was rich. The teacher later informed me that most of the class was able to correctly answer that question on the test. Vygotsky’s theory leads to the assertion that children are just as capable of teaching as adults.

    The typical classroom is set up in rows of desks spaced evenly apart; each student sees only the back of his or her classmates’ heads, and looking to the side at a student is often discouraged. For this reason, a Vygotsky-inspired classroom would encourage students to interact and make it easier for students to work together and to have group assignments and projects. Ideally, students should sit together at a table (no more than 6 students at each table) or a group of desks that have been pushed together. They should be able to look at each other and at the same time easily see the board. Unfortunately, this type of setup lends itself to disruptions because it is effortless for students to engage in conversation during class time. This problem can be anticipated by offering an incentive for good behavior as a group. Students will have to encourage each other to behave and stay on task in order to get a reward or avoid punishment. Many teachers prefer to manage a classroom without offering incentives for good behavior; in this case, assigning a group leader would resolve this issue as the leader would encourage the other students to stay on task. In order to encourage dialogue between students about lessons and assignments, teachers should post student work and test scores on the walls. Students will be able to read other assignments and get an idea about how he or she can improve his or her own performance. Finally, in order to ensure proper classroom management, students should be encouraged to address other students’ behavior. A disruptive student is more likely to respond to peer pressure rather than teacher reprimand.

    When assessing a student, a teacher must first take into account the student’s starting point and family dynamics. A student whose family uses improper grammar and whose vocabulary includes many colloquialisms cannot be expected to master grammar right away. Rather, the teacher should assess and emphasize improvement. Also, teachers should consider individuals when designing assessments. Not all students can be assessed in the same way. Some are able to master any kind of test while others are completely unsure how to tackle multiple choice, true/false or short essay questions. Assessments should include an assortment of distinct delivery methods in order to not only assess the students’ understanding of the material, but to pinpoint a student’s weak point in regard to taking assessments. When preparing for tests, teachers should encourage classes to form study groups in which they quiz each other on the material. A student might hear an explanation of a concept from another student that makes more sense than what was heard from the teacher. Finally, students should be encouraged to study with parents and older peers.

    In conclusion, planning a classroom and curriculum using Vygotsky’s Social Learning Theory must take into account the importance of interaction between the teacher and the students and the student with each other. However, this is not a theory that should be applied by inexperienced teachers, due to the tendency for inappropriately-timed conversations and disruptions meant to impress the other students. When applied correctly, students will not only learn from the teacher, but they will learn from each other as well.


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Vygotsky in the Classroom. (2016, Aug 03). Retrieved from


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