Piaget and Vygotsky

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget and Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky examined how children acquire language. Both were interested in the relationship of thinking and language learning.

Piaget's idea was that children learn through action. He believed that children are born with and acquire schemas, or concepts for how to act and respond to the world. As children explore their world, they form and reform ideas in their minds. The more actively involved children are, the more knowledge is gained. McGee and Richgels (1996) note, "Because children construct their own knowledge, this knowledge does not come fully developed and is often quite different from that of an adult" (p. 7). Accordingly, the Piagetian perspective of literacy acquisition emphasizes a child's stages of development and reflects "concepts of reading and writing as the child has constructed them," state McGee and Richgels (1996, p. 10). They add, "Children 's concepts of reading and writing are shaped more by what they accomplished in preceding developmental stages than by their simply imitating adults' behavior or following adults' directions" (p. 10).

The Vygotskian perspective of literacy acquisition emphasizes social interaction but places less emphasis on stages of behavior. From this perspective, language and cognition emerge in development at about the same time and are intertwined. Children build new concepts by interacting with others who either provide feedback for their hypotheses or help them accomplish a task (McGee & Richgels, 1996). Vygotsky suggested that learning is a matter of internalizing the language and actions of others. According to McGee and Richgels (1996), "Vygotsky believed that children need to be able to talk about a new problem or a new concept in order to understand it and use it" (p. 8). As the child discusses a problem or task with an adult, the adult supplies language to assist the child in solving the problem; the child gradually internalizes the language until the task can be completed independently (McGee & Richgels, 1996). The instructional technique in which the teacher models the desired learning strategy or task and then gradually shifts responsibility to the students is called scaffolding.

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