Monday, September 28, 2009

Christie Caron ZPD

Prior to reading the assigned Vygotski reading, I was very familiar with similarities and differences between two very opinionated theoretical positions. Vygotski and Piaget, both constructivists, agree upon the notion that social interactions are critical for understanding that music communicates mood. The theorists would first design a curriculum that incorporates group work, discussions, and activities within the lesson. However, arguments arise upon how these social groups are formed. Vygotski, argues that one’s actual development does not determine learning, instead, pulls learning along. He feels that there is a gap between the child’s actual development level, and the potential developmental level, this gap can be filled with assistance from adults, more capable peers, and cognitive tools that students can use to make difficult tasks easier.
My way to describe my understanding of the Zone of Proximal Development is to envision a lesson that which students cross the distance between their actual developmental level and the potential level of development that one could reach under adult modeling. For example, many children do not think very hard into subjects or meanings behind certain school content areas. Typically, children like music because it is fun to dance and sing to, but do not think of the instruments or meanings behind what the artist is trying to communicate. Children have an idea and may be in the process of understanding; yet, this concept has yet to mature, thus, identifying music comprehension as a function of the zone of proximal development. If a teacher wanted to help students reach a higher level of understanding of music, Vygotski would advise teachers to present learning strategies that will help the students comprehend how music communicates mood to scaffold and push the child to reach higher thought processes. The teacher acts as a mentor in a large group discussion involving students of all developmental levels, prompting the class to talk themselves through this difficult understanding. The teacher encourages children to express when and what kinds of music they listen to and how that music makes them feel. Vygotski would mix groups of all developmental levels, creating challenging tasks that promote maximum growth. Through this peer discussion, the higher level kids explain their thoughts to help the developmentally lower level students understand, ultimately, forcing the higher level students to re-examine and reevaluate their own ideas, modifying them if necessary. Students would hold discussions and move from a state of equilibrium, understanding the reading through their own past schemes, then through scaffolding, the groups used either assimilation or accommodation to surpass disequilibrium and reach a new, higher level of equilibrium that promotes the development of a more complex thought. The students had a desire to reach an understanding and they moved back and forth between a state of balance and imbalance which forced the students to construct a new scheme or accommodate existing schemes (equilibration).
I find Vygotski’s theory of the “Zone of Proximal Development” very interesting. This zone is a gap between a child’s actual development level and the potential development level attainable with assistance from adults, more capable peers, and cognitive tools that students can use to make difficult tasks easier. Challenging tasks promotes maximum cognitive growth that can reach this “gap.” The zone of proximal development utilizes a mentor that scaffolds, pulls the learner along to reach a higher level of development, and aids the learner in achieving new knowledge. Teachers must provide opportunities to engage in adult-like activities, allow students to learn through play, have students work in small groups to complete difficult tasks, present some tasks that students can perform only with assistance, provide cognitive tools that students can use to make difficult tasks easier, and encourage students to talk themselves through hard tasks, and act as a mentor. These implications all increase the ability of the student to cross the “gap” and reach a higher developmental level.
I learned in previous classes that there are four basic needs that influence motivation and well-being. One must feel relatedness, have self determination, strive for optimal level of arousal and have self worth. Without these, motivation is hard to achieve. To help increase motivation, teachers must be sure classroom expectations are clear and consistent, work to build meaningful relationships with students, break large tasks into smaller goals to help optimal arousal, promote mastery learning, evaluate student work soon after the completion with clear feedback, allow students to have some control over their learning, design projects that allow students to share their knowledge with others, and highlight ways learning can be applied in real life situations. Through the reading from Mind in Society, I learned that the gap of potential learning one day, will be a task developed into the actual developmental level another day. Moreover, with assistance the student can bridge the gap and reach a new developmental milestone and complete the task individually next time.
I grew up in a family of six in a three bedroom split level, thus, I was always surrounded by family and friends that influenced my learning which developed into the life around me. With two older brothers and my parents, I imitated nearly everything they did. Similarly, my youngest brother was only 2 years younger than me and needed a lot of attention, specifically during my peak learning periods between the ages of 4-8. This left me to imitate my brothers. I would watch the same T.V. shows, listen to the same music, play sports with them, and read the same books. This pushed me to advance in my level of development. As I grew older, I excelled in reading, math, and was the lead cross country runner in the state. These successes are a tribute to my surrounding social environment which awaken my own internal developmental processes when imitating my brothers, and diffusing my own independent successes.

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