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Vygotsky's principles

Lev Semenovich Vygotsky (1896-1934) was a Russian psychologist whose work, immediately after the Russian Revolution, was influenced by Marxist theory which emphasised collectivism and encouraged sharing and co-operation. He argued that an individual's development is the result of his or her culture.

From the 1930s to the 1950s, the Vygotskyan school of thinking was suppressed by Stalin, who deemed it "reactionary bourgeois pseudo-science". By the mid-1960s, some of his work had begun to reappear in print and influenced many modern educational theorists, such as American Jerome Bruner.

In 1991, Vygotsky's seminal work, Pedagogical Psychology (1926), was reprinted. Although little known in the West, it has had considerable impact on contemporary reform of Russian education. The key principles of his theory are:

* Learning is socially and culturally determined, with language being crucial to development.

* Learning occurs through interaction between an expert and a novice. The expert provides "scaffolding", such as structured prompts, to enable the learner to assimilate more complex ideas and concepts than could be managed alone. This potential is described by Vygotsky as the "zone of proximal development".

* "What a child can do in co-operation today he can do alone tomorrow.

Therefore, the only good kind of instruction is that which marches ahead of development and leads it."

* Symbolic literacy refers to the representational use of signs (symbolic mediators) in the development and understanding of concepts, language being a prime example.

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