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PSYC 3440 (22)
Chapter 4

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University of Guelph
PSYC 3440
Meghan Mc Murtry

Chapter 4 Sociocultural Theories of Development - The social world has a profound effect on what children do, on what they think about, and how they think. - Interactions with other individuals provide children with opportunities for learning and help children to perform tasks that they are not able to perform on their own - The cultural context influences children’s typical activities and opportunities for the social interaction and provides important tools that children can use for action and for thinking - Sociocultural theories are developmental theories that emphasize the roles of the social and cultural world in children’s development - Research guided by sociocultural theories investigates how social factors influence cognition and development, and how social and cultural practices shape and define thought - Piaget – founding father of the stage theories of development - Vygotsky (1896-1934) founding father of sociocultural theories - Piaget depicted children as scientists, trying to discover the world largely on their own, Vygotsky portrayed them as living in the midst of other people eager to help them acquire the skills needed to live in their culture - Piaget was largely concerned with the aspects of development present among all children in all societies in all historical periods, Vygotsky emphasized factors that differ among children growing up at different times in different circumstances. Understanding cognitive development requires understanding both the universal aspects of development and the variable ones - Vygotsky believed that humans share some elementary psychological processes with animals, including basic attentional, perceptual, and memory processes. His theory sought to explain the process that he viewed as differentiating humans from other animals – “higher psychological process”, such as reasoning and concept formation - He believed the key difference in psychological functioning between humans and animals had to do with the social and cultural basis of human thought - In his view, all of the higher psychological processes had their origins in social organization Central Themes of Sociocultural Approaches to Cognitive Development a. Cognitive development occurs in social interaction - Children engage in direct social interactions with different individuals on a day-to-day basis, including caregivers, siblings, extended family members, neighbours, teachers and peers - Sociocultural theories hold that these interactions with other people have profound influence on the course of children’s development - Piaget also recognized that other people play a major role in children’s development, he believed that social partners could provide children with information that might provoke states of disequilibrium, and thereby elicit cognitive change. He believed interaction with the same-age peers were more likely to promote disequilibrium than interactions with older children or adults. His reasoning was that children are likely to unquestioningly accept the ideas espoused by older children and adults, but they are more likely to critically analyze and think deeply about the views held by their peers, especially when those views differ from their own. Piagetian theories conceptualize the social environment as an outside force that influences children’s learning and cognition. The environment provides information to the child but development changes occur within the individual child - In contrast, sociocultural theories view the social environment as an integral part of children’s thinking and behaviour, that cognition and behaviour cannot be separated from the social context which they take place. Sociocultural theories emphasize on the child in context as the unit of analysis. Social interaction is not simply an external source of information that plays a role in individual development, but is instead an integral part of development as well as a source of developmental change - Vygotsky o Mechanism for change is inherently social o Argued developmental change occurs via the internalization of socially shared processes o Argued in the course of development, every psychological function occurs twice – at the intermental level (between people who are involved in social interaction) and later at the intramental level (within the individual) o Psychological processes originate in, derive from, social interactions – not merely an outside force that, instead a causal mechanism for development itself o Development of pointing during infancy (process of internalization example) – first socially constructed in the interaction between the adult and the infant, and then gradually internalized to the infant o Zone of proximal development (transfer of responsibility for cognition from more skilled individuals to less skilled ones) – distance between what a child can do independently, and what the child can do in interaction with an adult or more advanced peer. Based on observation that children can often reason in more complex ways or perform more complex behaviours when they receive assistance o To accurately characterize a child’s knowledge at a given point in time, it is essential to consider the child’s potential competence, as manifested in the zone of proximal development, as well as the child’s actual competence in independent performance b. Psychological functioning is mediated by language and other cultural tools - Vygotsky o Human behaviour is shaped by direct social interactions and by the range of cultural tools that are available in the time and place that development occurs o Cultural tools – technical tools (tools for acting on the environment – hammers, silverware, abacus) and psychological tools (tools for thinking such as language, maps, material artifacts – internalize and influence thought) o Psychological tools influence the way we organize and remember information, o Cultural tools shape and define human behaviour – as new cultural tools become available, human behaviour changes o Because of humans abilities to learn from social interactions, they are able to pool their cognitive resources and build on past achievements o “Ratchet Effect” - Evolutionary process that applies to cultural tools o Among cultural tools, Vygotsky accorded language of special significance – when language becomes integrated with action “is the most significant moment in the course of intellectual development”, after this point, language is a means for communication and a means by which children can regulate and control their own actions – language as a tool enables children to plan their actions, remember information, solve problems, and organize their behaviour (behaviour is mediated by language) c. Cultural norms and other people influence children’s opportunities for leaning - Sociocultural theories have focused on tools that culture provides, as well as how cultural norms and social practices influence the activities in which children engage and the opportunities that children have for learning (child care arrangements as well as expectations about work, study and play) - Different cultural communities, in terms of different societies and different social classes, provide children with varying types of opportunities for learning - Parents, teachers and other caregivers select and organize activities and social interactions that they deem appropriate for children (with explicit instructional goals in mind, without explicit intentions to foster children’s learning) - In all cultures, children learn a wide range of values and skills through participation in activities that reflect the values of their society d. Social and cultural learning require particular cognitive abilities on the parts of the learners and teachers - Focus of sociocultural theories has been to specify mechanisms involved in social and cultural learning. Delineate cognitive abilities required for social and cultural learning, both on the part of learners and on the part of teachers - Most basic cognitive ability needed for social and cultural learning is the abilities to establish Intersubjectivity (shared understanding between people that emerges through processes of mutual attention and communication) social interactions that involve high degree of Intersubjectivity lead to greater learning than interactions characterized by less Intersubjectivity - Contingent interaction – reciprocal interactions and reactions that resemble the mutual give and take of conversation (starting at 2 months old) - By 9 month, infants can readily follow adults gaze and pointing gestures - These behaviours lead to establishing joint attention – state in which they and their caregivers share a common focus on particular objects or events and a key component of Intersubjectivity – continues to develop through early childhood years - Like humans, many other primates can learn by observing the actions of other individuals - Crucial in learning from social interaction is humans ability to understand other people as being like themselves, and in particular, as having intentions and mental states like their own (imitative learning, instructed learning, collaborative learning) - Imitative learning – learning that involves reproducing another individual’s behaviour in order to achieve the same goal. Understanding the relation between the other individual’s behaviour and his or her goal. Distinguished from emulation, learning that involves focusing on the end result of the other individual’s behaviour, without an appreciation of the relation between the specific behaviour and the intended goal (learning something about the task whereas imitative learning involves learning about other individuals behaviour in the task. In non human primates, imitative learning can be used in terms of emulation, rather than true imitative learning - Instructed Learning – learning that involves direct, intentional transmission of information from one individual to another, with the learner attempting to understand the task or material from the teacher’s point of view. Learners internalize their teachers instructions, and later use them to regulate their own behaviour. Formal settings (at school) and informal settings (father teaching daughter). Non-human primates do not instruct their children. The propensity to teach and the ability to learn via instruction require at least some ability to understand other individuals state of mind - Collaborative Learning – learning that occurs when multiple individuals engage in cooperative, goal-directed problem solving. Establishing a common goal, sharing responsibility for goal- directed actions, and cooperatively carrying out those actions – all activities that require an ability to take the perspective of other participants in the interaction - All 3 forms of cultural learning require the ability to take the perspective of another individuals – the key ability that differentiates humans from other primates, and enables humans to learn from social interactions e. Summary - Vygotsky o First, Cognitive development takes place in social interaction – conceptualized social interaction not as an external force that provokes change within the individual but as integral to the mechanism of developmental change itself o Second, human behaviour is mediated by cultural tools – technical tools for acting on the environment and psychological tools for thinking (language is the most important) - Modern sociocultural theories built on these themes – focus on the opportunities children have for learning and participating in activities that depend on cultural norms and social practices as well as the nature of cognitive abilities that are required for social and cultural learning including the ability to establish Intersubjectivity and the ability to understand others as being like oneself in terms of having goals, intentions, and mental states Modern Empirical Research in the Sociocultural Tradition a. Learning in interaction with adults - Adults interact with children intentionally to foster children’s learning - Scaffold – adults provide social scaffolding to support children’s task performance, allows children to extend the range of their activities and allow them to perform tasks that would be impossible for them to perform alone, once the child can perform the task without help, the social scaffold is no longer necessary - Sensitivity of adult support – in scaffolding children’s performance, adults tailor their support to children’s level of skill development. Sometimes provide children with simpler tasks and also simplify tasks for children. Depending on performance, adults will adjust the directness and specificity of their instruction. - Sensitive adult-child interaction also plays an important role in children’s language acquisition including ability to tell coherent well structured stories - Adults do a better job of scaffolding children’s thinking than do the children’s peers - Adults are more likely to outline the goals of the task, discuss strategies for meeting the goals, and involve learners in making decisions - Way in which parents interact with their children varies depending on the child’s gender. Parents provide explanations that involve causal mechanisms much more often to boys than to girls b. Learning in interaction with peers - Peer collaborations can be beneficial for children’s learning because they can motivate children to try difficult tasks, provide opportunities to imitate and learn each other’s skills, enable children to fine tune their understanding by explaining what they know, and allow children to participate in discussions that increase their understanding - Age – ability to collaborate effectively with peers is a relatively late achievement - Quality of interaction – nature of the interaction is an important factor in whether or not children benefit from working with a peer. Children who share responsibility for a task and who become engaged in each others thinking are more likely to benefit from collaboration than those who pay each others reasoning less heed. Differences may lie in the fact that children learn more from interacting with older siblings than from interaction with other children whom they know and who are the same age as their older siblings. Pairs of siblings displayed more shared involvement in the task than pairs of unrelated children. The extent to which the participants actively think about each others ideas - Schwartz – individuals working in pairs often construct more sophisticated and more abstract representation of problems than do individuals working alone. They develop a common repr
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