Lev Vygotsky was a Soviet psychologist, who affected with his theories the instructive action and contributed with them to the modern educational processes and curricula. Vygotsky’s theory, known as social constructivism, emphasizes that learning takes place through the communication of the individual with the social environment. He expresses the socio-focused perspective of development, according to which the social context determines the content and the direction of development, and mediates, in order for the individual to appropriate the collective perceptions. According to his theories, learning takes precedence and leads to growth and this idea is the basis for his educational suggestions.
Since the ancient times education was vital aspect for the formation of societies as well as for the personal identity of individuals. In any case, with the progression of time education differentiated in terms of its form and consequently in terms of its practices. This implies that these days “it is important for children and young people to develop an understanding of the complexity of contemporary life in order to be enabled to participate fully and democratically as informed, critical and responsible members of the many overlapping communities and interest groups that constitute contemporary society” (Wells, 2000).
Vygotsky’s innovative ideas about teaching and learning process:
The traditional behavioral model of teaching defined educators as “transmitters” and students as “receivers” of knowledge (Moore, 2012) with the teaching procedure being “teacher-centered”. On the contrary, Vygotsky’s views adopted components from the constructivist model, suggesting that teachers ought to be active participants in the learning communication, while the teaching process should be like a dialogue (Moore, 2012) with continuous interaction between the teacher and their students.
Additionally, Lev Vygotsky in his educational theory expressed some reflections on how teaching and learning processes should be dealt with, in order for these to be improved. About the role of the classroom, it is described as a “collaborative community”, where every one of the members (both the teacher and the students) cooperates for the common good and the benefit of all, and therefore, learning is achieved through the interaction of individuals. The activities that the participants take part “must allow diversity and originality”, which is effortlessly reasonable, since classrooms are complexities consisted of a lot of different people and all of them should have equal opportunities through learning. Regarding with the results of these activities, these cannot be predicted in advance, since they depend on students’ different reactions and interactions in the classroom. Besides, it is indicated that the “curriculum is a means not an end”. In particular, the curriculum defines the aims and the goals of education, thus teachers and students should have it as a motive to explore new teaching and learning methods, rather to follow it as a scripture without alternatives. (Wells, 2000)
Lev Vygotsky in his theory also points out the students’ micro-group collaboration, where peers inform, explain and mediate in a guiding way new knowledge. This dialectical interaction creates the dynamics of the “Zone of Proximal Development”, which is defined as the distance between the actual developmental level determined by the ability to solve a problem individually and the potential developmental level determined by the ability to solve a problem by adult guidance or through collaboration with more capable peers.
Critical reflections on Vygotsky’s perspectives:
While reading about the educational theories communicated by Lev Vygotsky in the early 20th century, I was quite impressed of how innovative was his ideas for that time period and how contemporary some of them may sound even today. “Vygotskyan theory … calls for an approach to learning and teaching that is both exploratory and collaborative. It also calls for a reconceptualization of curriculum …” (Wells, 2000). Personally, I strongly support the point of view according to which the teaching and learning processes can be achieved through inquiry from students, even in the narrow boundaries of a school classroom. In such cases, the teacher’s role is to be the “scaffolding”, by providing their students “with helpful frameworks or guidelines to make it easier for them to structure their thoughts …” (Moore, 2012).
Concerning the curricular formulation, it is unfortunate that most of the times curricula are oriented towards the transfer of knowledge and skills, without paying attention to the “needs and aspirations of the recipients”, impeding the alternative ways of teaching and learning, instead of facilitating them (Wells, 2000). To my mind, curricula that are designed independently from the educational processes in school classrooms and which do not count the demands of the contemporary societies cannot be helpful for the students and do not give them the opportunity to cultivate their personal identity.
However, in spite of its modern and innovative approach, the Vygotskyan theory faces some challenges in practice. It is almost edgy the way that Lev Vygotsky approaches the learning procedure, since he divides it into the “scientific learning”, which is “learned through deliberate instruction in school” and into the “everyday learning, which is “acquired outside the classroom setting and typically held in an ‘unreflecting way'” (Moore, 2012). Moreover, according to Moore the scaffolding technique, despite the fact that it is very useful pedagogic technique, when it is overly used it turns into a “mechanism”, which limits the free and critical thought of students, by putting them on prescribed paths of knowledge, which most of the times are determined by the state curriculum.
To conclude, I tend to believe that the Vygotskyan educational theory can be a very useful tool both for the educators, who create curricula, in order to improve the educational systems so that students to have better learning opportunities, and for teachers and students during the teaching and learning process, to have better results in the school classrooms. As Lev Vygotsky claimed in his theory, “pedagogy should be aimed not so much at the ripe as at the ripening functions”. … “Teachers do make a difference” (Moore, 2012).