Module Profile | Overview | Full Concept Map 
Module 1: The developing person   
Section 2 Human development   
Cognitive development



Key ideas | Private speech | Zone of proximal development | Scaffolding | Educational implications Activity

A current theory of cognitive development is Vygotsky’s Sociocultural theory.  If you recall, section one introduced this theory and provided you with some general background information on Vygotsky’s work.  You may wish to go back and review this section now.


Key ideas


Private speech

Vygotsky believed that in order to learn children must speak to themselves in a self guiding and directing way- initially aloud and later internally.  He believed that as children develop and become more competent in a particular area, they begin to internalise this speech and gradually decrease its use.  Vygotsky believed that private speech is the foundation for all higher order thinking processes.

Just as we see children talking themselves through learning tasks on a daily basis, we too use forms of private speech in our daily lives.  How many times have you spoken these words aloud “Now where did I put the car keys”…., “Now I must remember to…..” Vygotsky believed that children's use of such talk in daily learning tasks was particularly significant in working with difficult concepts and in teaching children with disabilities.


Zone of proximal development

If you recall from our earlier discussion, it was stated that Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory discusses cognitive development as dependent on interaction with adults.  Key to this social interaction is the notion of the Zone of Proximal Development.  The zone of proximal development refers to the tasks a child is unable to complete alone, but is able to complete with the assistance of an adult.  That is the teacher pitches a learning experience for a specific child at a level just beyond his/her current level of performance. In doing this, the child and the teacher engage in cooperative dialogues to enhance learning that the child is able to recall privately when completing a similar task/activity independently. Therefore the child takes in the discussion of the task/activity and uses it as private speech on later occasions.    


Vygotsky’s notion of scaffolding directly relates to his notions of Private Speech and the Zone of Proximal Development.  In order for a child to learn new concepts or skills the teacher must provide scaffolds for the learning experience.  These scaffolds refer to the changes in social support over the teaching of a concept.  Scaffolding is directly linked to the personal needs of the individual.  Like scaffolding on a building, supports are withdrawn as individual competence develops.  Scaffolding may include physical presence and prompts along with more specific metacognitive strategies.    

Educational implications

Stop and think    

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  1. Select a skill that you are attempting to develop at present – for example the use of Bloom's Taxonomy in the special education context (it may be related to your teaching, or it may be personal). 
  2. Map your zone of proximal development for this skill.  Include your current level of performance, the level of attainment you intend to reach and how you intend to get there. 
  3. Consider any aides that may assist your achievement of this goal and the barriers that may impede your development in this area. 
  4. You may wish to post this activity on the web for further discussion.
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