Thursday, July 27, 2006

Piaget and Vygotsky

Today I read a paper by Paul Chandler that stated that constructivism was "central to the works of theorists such as Piaget and Vygotsky"

I think this might be too much blurring between the legacies of Piaget and Vygotsky. Piaget was an individualist constructivist, Vygotsky was a social constructivist.


Idit Harel's PhD thesis (Software Design for Learning) offers me a clear summary of the similarities and differences between Piaget and Vygotsky.

Piaget emphasises internal, self directed, individualist development:
In order for a child to understand something, he must construct it himself, he must re-invent it. Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself (- Piaget, quoted in McGee, 105. btw McGee is critical of Piaget here)

... what the child learns by himself, what none can teach him and he must discover alone (- Piaget, quoted in Harel, 32)
By contrast Vygotsky is more social, people oriented with more emphasis on communication and language. Sometimes speech plays a vital role:
A child's speech is as important as the role of action in attaining any goal ... Speech and action are part of one and the same complex psychological function, directed towards the solution of the problem at hand ... The more complex the action demanded by the situation and the less direct its solution, the greater importance played by speech in the operation as a whole (- Vygotsky, quoted in Harel, 34)
Harel goes onto outline the outlook of Vygotskian researchers:
... Vygotskian researchers focus exclusively on the important role and processes of scaffolding (by the use of language), the role of adult mediation in children's learning, or the imitation and internalization processes in children's cognitive growth. These researchers usually do not collect data or describe, even as a possibility, the learner as someone who sometimes acts as a constructive and efficient independent inventor and builder of his own knowledge, without the help of the "scaffolder" adult.
What Papert and Harel go onto do with their Instructional Software Design Project is to integrate the ideas of Piaget and Vygotsky into one project.


Papert "objects to think with": the logo turtle (Papert advocated a richer object environment than Piaget)
Vygotskian people to think with: the cross age tutoring situation, classmates, the teacher

Scaffolding can be supplied by rich learning objects as well as people. Maybe the legacies of Piaget and Vygotsky have become blurred because learning theorists have come along after them and integrated their ideas, in a good way? Is there blurring and if so is it a good or bad thing? We now have a new learning theory (Siemen's connectivism) in which learning is seen to occur outside of the learner, which could be a mirror image of the Piaget quotes above. See Inside / Outside.

More information about Vygotsky at wikipedia


Tony Forster said...

Thanks, the 2 forms of Constructivism are always fuzzy in my head.

What do the 2 forms of Constructivism have in common? They both reject the "funnel method" where the teacher pours information into the empty head of the student. They both have the student as an active participant in learning. They both allow the learning to meet the learning needs of the students?

In both cases, the student constructs knowledge rather than having the existing structure transferred to their memory.

Bill Kerr said...

Well, I think a theory (Vygotsky) that stresses the importance of adult mediation in learning can be co-opted / rationalised into a top down curriculum framework (SACSA, VELS). Curriculum documents can sometimes look good on paper but when superimposed onto a system that is under resourced and has clear hierarchical divisions, a Centre that Plans (head office) and a Periphery that Works (teachers) the results can be disastrous. I think the problems arise when Learning intersects with Politics. Brian Harvey has critiqued Papert's decentralisation thesis for ignoring the realities of political power.

I have critiqued the SACSA framework wrt its shoddy treatment of information technology.

The comments by Nick Perkins on the EdNA Game Making list (reproduced below) are useful and elaborate further the meanings of instructivist ("funnel method"), constructivist, social constructivist and behaviourist - how these terms could and should be useful in understanding the teaching / learning process.

# That said, we also shouldn't lump the "chalk and talk" or "instructivist" style of teaching with "behaviourist" theories of learning. You can have learning that is not "instructivist" but which is still guided by "behaviourist" principles. "Behaviourism", in its simplest form, just says that learning occurs in the brain via the association between a learner's behaviour and some reward. One could argue that even "constructivist" approaches to learning are fundamentally rooted in an association between behaviour and reward. I think the question for educators becomes WHAT we reward. "Instructivist" approaches to learning tend to reward simple rote performance or an ANSWER. "Constructivism" rewards a more complex process of learner's solving the cognitive dissonance they encounter through actively engaging in learning activities. They are rewarded for the substantial cognitive effort involved in creating a personally consistent world view. Research even suggests that "intrinsic" reward develops psychologically through an initial "explicit" reward for some behaviour early in a child's development.

# This is where I think we need to also be clear about "social constructivism". I do not think this is inherently some cynical PC theory designed to socially engineer learners (though some may be using its name to do just that). My reading of social constructivism is that it explicitly incorporates collaboration between learners as they support each other in developing shared solutions to the cognitive dissonance they encounter through active involvement in learning. It also allows for teacher "instruction" to be incorporated into "constructivist" activities, by providing 'social' guidance in scaffolding children's solutions to resolving their mental conflict between what they are learning and what they already know/believe. Without this "social" input, children can develop false beliefs that can continue unchecked for some time. They also do not necessarily learn the important "metalanguage" of subject areas, which is so crucial if our learners are to socially interact and discuss ideas in a specific knowledge domain (with each other and with authentic experts). I agree with Richard Van Eck that educators generally do (and should) successfully blend a variety of approaches to learning (and learning design), including constructivism, instructivism, situated cognition, play theory, etc. but all these work so well together because they are associating different sorts of processess with different sorts of rewards to maximise outcomes (but all is fundamentally based on behaviourist principles of learning).

Bill Kerr said...

the blog of proximal development (Konrad Glogowski) is a very interesting attempt to put the principle of Vygotsky into classroom practice.

This blog takes its title from the concept developed by Lev Vygotsky. The Zone of Proximal Development, as defined by Vygotsky, is

"the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers."

The Zone of Proximal Development refers to those skills that are in the process of maturation. Vygotsky refers to these potentialities as “buds” of development.

Bill Kerr said...

Konrad Glogowski documents that to create a real community of learners who interact with meaningful semantic relationships takes two years. This correlates with my experience at Paralowie where I taught the same class home group, maths and science for two years (year 8 and 9) in the same room with a bunch of old XT computers, some without hard drives. See ISDP. This was done in the first year but my memory is that things took off and flew in a joyful way in the second year. IMO the same experience cannot be emulated by taking a class on a single line to a computer lab one lesson a week.

Read all of Konrad's post, Progressive Discourse , to get the full flavour of what he has achieved.

"Then, for a while, they kept composing individual responses. While certainly aware of the community around them, they continued to write as solitary writers. Then, one day at the end of April, it all changed. They started linking to each other’s work because they found other entries meaningful and relevant. No, I do not mean that they linked to entries that explored the same topics. No. They started linking to entries that helped them expand their own understanding of issues that they were struggling with. I began to see semantic relations."

Tony Forster said...

You say "a theory (Vygotsky) that stresses the importance of adult mediation in learning can be co-opted / rationalised into a top down curriculum framework"

Later you talk of "problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers"

That peer distinction is important. As you say, "a community of scholars" takes a while to develop and its probably harder because kids are used to competing with each other. Once that peer tutoring kicks in, its great.