CRBTF book study chapter 3: Mr. Vygotsky

chapter 3: Vygotsky Takes a Seat in Our Classroom

Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development has always seemed completely logical.  (The most complicated thing about it is its name.)

source: wikipedia
Picture a parent with a baby learning to walk.  The parent supports baby by spending hours bent over with baby holding onto fingers while walking.  The parent sets up the environment for baby to take a couple of successful steps without falling.  The achievement is celebrated, and next time, baby needs to take 3 steps to find the parents' welcoming arms. It's natural in real life; we need to make it natural in the classroom.

what I loved  

I love the term "apprentice" for learners in the classroom.  To me, an apprenticeship implies the learning of a craft, learning for more than mastery, for excellence.  It is a combined effort between the learner and the "master" of the craft.  An apprentice does "real" and meaningful work - at his/her level - always being supported towards mastery.  The master expects the apprentice to be successful, practice  the craft, and then pass it on to the next apprentice.  

I also loved the emphasis on the the importance of talk.  

"Talk is the central tool of [teacher's] trade." (p. 43, quoted from Peter Johnson's Choice Words:  How our Language Affects Children's Learning. 

Thinking out loud.  Part of modelling (the first step in the gradual release of responsibility) is making your thinking known.  Speaking your thought process.

Vygotsky writes about teacher talk "restructuring" the learners' mind.  I see that as the teacher talk setting the ground work, providing the hook, for the new learning to hang on.  

Teachers should choose their words carefully, depending on the intention of the interaction - modelling, guided support, independent support, independence.  

Teachers use language to name, or label, different processes.  Once something is named, it is easier to own.  It also develops a common classroom language. 

Children need to be able to talk their learning and their thoughts.  They need to be able to develop their social voice, their personal voice and their inner voice. 

how I connect this learning to my teaching
As a teacher, I need to know each child's zone of proximal development.  And teach to that zone. Since there is one of me, and at least 20 of them, I need to have activities that connect with kids at a variety of cognitive development levels. 

I need to remember that the zone is a moving target. That means informal and continuous assessment for learning is in order.

I need to keep thinking out loud.  Even when I am sick and tired of it.

I need to be quiet and make room for the kids to talk and listen to them.  My talk is to get my kids talking.  To guide their talk to meaningful talk.  And then to get out of the way, supporting only when necessary. 

I am reminded to be intentional in the apprenticeship model:  give the kids the tools, show them how to use them, support their efforts and real work with real purpose.   

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