Explain and Evaluate Vygotsky’s Theory of the Role of Language in

Children’s Cognitive Development

Vygotsky described developmental changes in children’s thinking in terms of cultural tools; they use these to make sense of their world. Generally, they use technical tools to change objects or gain mastery over the environment. Moreover, they used psychological tools to organise behavior or thought. According to Vygotsky’s view, society shapes a child’s mind through the transmission of tools which are appropriate for their culture. Both the culture and the child’s experiences are necessary to understand children’s cognitive development (“Social Development Theory,” n.d.)

Vygotsky’s theory was an attempt to explain awareness the product of socialization. For example, in the learning of language or first words, peers or adults are noticing the first utterance and the purpose of communication but after they recognize that they become internalized and allow “inner speech” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).

Vygotsky believed that language was one of the most important psychological tools that effects children’s cognitive development. He identified that there are three different stages in the children’s use of language. Firstly, language is an essential factor for communication (social speech). Next, children begin to use egocentric or private speech to control their own thinking. The last stage is language development. Children use verbal thoughts to guide what they are thinking and their actions. (referance).

Vygotsky also believed that language and thought first become independent after them being interdependent. He suggested that attainment of a new word was the beginning of the development of a concept. This is supported by a classic study by Carmichael (1932) who gave participants one of two labels for certain drawings. A kidney shape was described either kidney bean or canoe. Following that participants were asked to draw the shape. If the drawing was different form their label according to which label they had been given. As a result of this words can help us to remember things.

On the other hand, Sinclair- de -Zward (1969) tried to teach children who could not use comparative terms that were not in their vocabulary. (p116). Such as, bigger or shorter, she found that there was very little improvement in their ability to conserve.

The major theme of Vygotsky’s theoretical framework is that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition. Vygotsky (1978) states: “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals.” (p57).

Moreover, Vygotsky also identified three concepts in particular for cognitive development to proceed effectively. “The zone of proximal development is the distance between what children can do by themselves and the next learning that they can be helped to achieve with competent assistance” (Raymond, 2000, p.176). The scaffolding teaching strategy provides individualized support based on the learner’s ZPD (Chang, Sung, & Chen, 2002).

The first is the Zone of proximal development. This zone describes the range of difficult tasks or it is very hard for the learners complete this task alone. However, learners can complete this task with appropriate assistance or someone who is more knowledgeable. Thus according to Vygotsky, cognitive development will occur when a learner is confronted by a task that lies within the zone, if a task is easy to complete for task learners then no cognitive development will occur. Also if the task is too hard for a learner to complete the task alone or even with assistance then no cognitive development will occur. (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).

Evidence for ZPD was produced by McNaughton and Leyland (1990). They observed young children working with their mothers on jigsaw puzzles of increasing difficulty and then after one week the child was working on their own. The children reached higher difficulty when working with their mother. Thus it is explaining their ZPD. The Zone of Proximal Development was related to a kind of scaffolding which is used by the mothers. The mothers were worried about keeping their child on task. During this time generally mothers were focused on helping the children solve the puzzle for themselves,

Previous studies looked at middle- income families. Researchers suggested that using different ZPD “region of sensitivity to instruction,” this term using for mothers and preschoolers in a copying task and it is help to predict children’s subsequent skills on this task. Furthermore, researchers found some differences in how well mothers change their level of encouragement style based on the child’s performance (“i.e., providing less support after the child succeeded and more support after failure” and these differences were also helping to predict a children’s ability to gain understanding and learn information . (Wood et al., 1976; Wood & Middleton, 1975).

The second concept is that the scaffolding which describes the nature of the assistantce given by the more knowledgeable person. In this time the learner completes the task with the Zone of Proximal development (with assistance). Infant’s cognitive development depends on the assistance level. If the assistance is great at first and then it is slightly reduced as the learner’s skill improves, ultimately, the learner will be able to complete the task but the cognitive development will only continue if the task is replaced with another task or a more complex task which is modified to the new zone. (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).

Vygotsky defined scaffolding instruction as the “role of teachers and others in supporting the learner’s development and providing support structures to get to that next stage or level” (Raymond, 2000, p. 176).An important aspect of scaffolding instruction is that the scaffolds are temporary. As the learner’s abilities increase the scaffolding provided by the more knowledgeable other is progressively withdrawn. Finally the learner is able to complete the task or master the concepts independently (Chang, Sung, & Chen, 2002, p. 7). Therefore, the goal of the teacher when using the scaffolding teaching technique is for the student to become an independent and self- regulating learner and problem solver (Hartman, 2002).

There is one study which examined the relation of maternal scaffolding and children’s attention regulation abilities in preschool children from low-income families within the context of a parent-child interaction task and in a child-alone task. According to this maternal scaffolding behaviors are different between mothers of children with attention regulation skills. For example, whose children show poor attention regulation skills, it emerges that parent and child interactions are more likely to engage verbally with their children, more strategic questions, “verbal hints and verbal prompt” (Olson and Platt, 2000, p.180).

The amount of children’s attention regulation skills is related to the mothers level of scaffolding to predict child performance when they are alone to complete a task. Attention regulation skills are also related to independent performance when contexts including high maternal scaffolding. Findings provide important information parents promote attention regulation skills in children especially who are at risk for poor academic outcomes (Blair, 2002; Sethi, Mischel, Aber, Shoda, & Rodriguez, 2000).

The current study focused on a parent-child puzzle matching task to understand how children regulate their attention process when with their mother and when alone. How specific mothers behavior are related to children’s abilities to understand to regulate their own behavior and transfer these abilities to independent tasks. Researchers especially focused on verbal behaviors of mothers which are related to children’s attention regulation skills. (Norman, Breznitz, 1992)

Researchers have focused on different socioeconomic status’ in families. An empirical research has exposed that there has been significant differences in interactional characteristics in families of different socioeconomic levels (Gottfried, 1984; Hart & Risley, 1992, 1995; Heath, 1989). According to research results show that different socioeconomic status’ has been shown to influence the nature parent-child interactions.

Another research was done by Wood (1976) who observed children aged 4-5 who were working with their mother on problem solving tasks. Some mothers gave verbal encouragement and others more specific help including demonstrations of what to do. The most effective strategy was combined both general and specific instructions, the mother was adapting to the learner’s achievement and failures. The mother gave instructions when the learner had difficulty but mothers gave general encouragement when the child was coping well.

Kopp (1987) reported that specific types of control technique used by caregivers affected children’s self regulation skills. For instance, middle income families who encouraged their children to be independen,t their children were more likely to have low rate on impulsivity, problems of cconcentration and hyperactivity, and high on self-control measures.

Similarly, Grolnick and Ryan (1989) have found that high levesl of parental support of independence was associated with more self regulation and they are more likely to less acting behavior. Based on these studies, the amount of caregiver control affects child’s behavior and it is also related to children’s self- regulation abilities. When children get older parents give their children a number of responsibilities for example, children become independent regulators of their own thinking processes. According to Vygotsky (1978) view of socio-cognitive transaction makes it easy to improve children’s cognitive development is the ability to become same structure situation like an adults, it is depends to the child’s ability levels.

The third concept is psychological tools give another reason that “social interaction” is an essential factor in cognitive development. Psychological tools are “intellectual mechanisms or operations” which people use to examine their environment and interact with others. Here is some examples of psychological tools “written language, symbols, maps and scientific method and oral language” (Gredler and Shields, 2004).

Evaluation of Vygotsky’s theory; There has been very little empirical investigation research on Vygorsky’s theory however there are much more research on Piaget’s theory. Further limitation relates to Vygotsky’s social emphasis. Whereas Piaget’s give minimise attention to social influences, Vygotsky’s give too much weight to social influences. There has been also some strengths, for example, Vygotsky’s approach provides an association between social and cognitive domains. (Vygotsky, 1978)

There are a number of important distinctions between Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories. The most important ones are that teachers worry about the role of language and learning in development. But Piaget believed that egocentric speech is not a useful function in young children’s development. Vygotsky argued that egocentric speech is the way children recognise and regulate their thoughts and actions. Piaget claimed that children’s development is limited and it is associated with what children are able to learn from social experiences (Vygotsky, 1978)

Vygotsky( 1934/1986) disagree with Piaget’s conclusions. Language helps children to think about mental abilities, behaviors and select courses of action. He believed that it is the foundation for all higher cognitive processes including controlled attention, deliberate memorization, recall categorization, planning problem solving, abstract reasoning and self reflection. Vygotskys view is that children speak themselves for self guidance. When they get older they find some tasks easier, their self directed speech isinternalised as salient in inner speech and the internal speech verbal dialogs people always carry on while thinking and acting in everyday situations. ( Vygotsky, 1986)

To conclude vygotsky’s theory of socio-cultural theory is important to understand child cognitive development. Especially, he divided into three concepts which gave more clear information and each zone gives completely different information. However there have been some negative aspects of this theory, it does not tell how children internalize social experience to advance their mental functioning. He just gave a little information about biological contributions to child’s cognition. However, his theory emphasised cognitive change Vygotsky theory leads up to expect diverse path of development. ( Vygotsky, 1978)


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