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The Development Of The Mind - A Socio-Cultural Perspective (Education)

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The developing mind: a socio-cultural perspective


Theories as to how the mind develops have changed throughout the years. The first part of this essay explores some key claims that have emerged from this current socio-cultural era that attempt to explain how the mind of a learner develops, through predominantly highlighting core concepts such as the new metaphor of learning through participation, Vygotsky's zone of proximal development, scaffolding, and learning through speech. The second part of this essay addresses the complexities and challenges caused by increasing rates of diversity in schools and draws on socio-cultural ideas that offer aid for teachers who endeavour to implement equitable, inclusive and effective pedagogies that allow for socially just classrooms.

The participation metaphor

Claims as to how the Ð''mind' develops are heavily influenced by the way the theorist views how humans learn. Anna Sfard's article Ð''On two metaphors and the dangers of choosing just one' pairs a new metaphor, that of participation, with an old, that of acquisition. She argues that both are needed for a balanced view of how individuals learn, however the new participation metaphor emerges within this new socio-cultural era and is emphasised throughout the article. Sfard recognises the participation metaphor as a new shift in learning theory which moves away from the acquisitions metaphor of learning as being a passive receiver's mere accumulation of knowledge and into a theory that understands learners to be in a Ð''constant flux of doing' that indicates a constant flux of behaviour and learning (Sfard p6). Leading theorists that support this metaphor are namely Lave and Wenger who refer to this metaphor as Ð''legitimate peripheral participation (1991). The significant difference between the acquisition and participation metaphor is how they contextualise learning; while the former emphasises the Ð''stand-alone learner' whose possession determines their identity, the participation metaphor recognises that individual's identity to best function within a greater body of individuals Ð'- a community; a classroom.

The participation metaphor in the classroom

The classroom that is run by a teacher who recognises the importance of this new metaphor of participation, without neglecting the earlier theory of acquisition, frees their students to engage with each other and their studies separate to their identities. Actions are understood to be separate from the individual, and because there is a constant flux of action there is a hope for positive growth and development (Sfard 1998). The classroom run under the participation metaphor grows democratically and fosters effective and cooperative learning whilst limiting teacher and peer labelling Ð'- which damages and traps students into particular types of behaviour.

The zone of proximal development

The socio-cultural, Ð''bigger-picture' understanding of how learners' minds develop was heralded in by Vygotsky. He argued that a child's learning could never be fully understood without taking into account the social environment surrounding that child and theories today agree that an individual's social context is heavily influential on how their mind develops (Gallimore & Tharp 1990). Vygotsky's model of the zone of proximal development details the progression of learning for any task and can be applied readily into the context of the classroom. According to Vygotsky, effective education is when children are provided with experiences that are within their individual zones of proximal development; that are both challenging and achievable through the guidance of those more capable (Gallimore & Tharp 1990).

The zone of proximal development in the classroom

Stage one of the zone of proximal development is where the individual requires a great deal of assistance from those more capable than them at a set task (McInerney & McInerney 2006). In the context of the classroom, in this stage it is the teacher's role and responsibility to offer direction and guidance to the learner whilst challenging them appropriately to push them onwards through the zone of their own proximal development. Teachers can use specific means of assisting performance (Gallimore & Tharp 1990) to propel them forward, and in this stage the use of modelling, cognitive structuring and feedback helps usher the learners into stage two. It is here in stage two of the zone of proximal development where the child attempts tasks independently but lacking complete autonomy. Self-directed or private speech in this stage is common, being a marker for the desired effect: self-directed learning (Berk & Winsler 1995). The teacher's role in this stage is to allow the child room to tackle tasks with less support, and only provide it when necessary.

Scaffolding and Speech

Another key socio-cultural concept of Ð''mind' development is that of scaffolding, and a metaphor that sees the child as a building under construction where the more capable others and their social environment are seen as the scaffolding around them. The amount of scaffolding a learner requires is closely related to where they are in their individual zone of development. Berk and Winsler in Scaffolding children's learning (1995) argues that one of the main means through which scaffolding exerts its effectiveness is through how it promotes private, self-directed speech to guide their actions. Originally according to Vygostsky, children's private speech played a critical role in the development of their minds and was used as a self-regulating tool that guides their behaviour and learning (Berk & Winsler 1995).

Scaffolding and speech in the classroom

A teacher who provides good scaffolding for a learner knows when to provide it and how much is needed, and are often also equipped with strategies that make their scaffolding effective. Some of these ways are by exerting warmth and responsiveness through praise and encouragement; by engaging in joint problem-solving with the student, by linking old tasks to new tasks, by keeping the learner in their zone of proximal development with constant achievable challenges and by relinquishing complete control and giving the learner a change to work independently and engage in private, self-regulating speech.

The developing mind among diversity

After covering a number of socio-cultural



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