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Implementing Vygotsky’s Social Learning Theory in the Classroom Jodi Zeman Growing and Learning Theories VTE-ED 571 October 25, 2010 Sheryl Bunn 2 Implementing Vygotsky’s Social Learning Theory in the Classroom Contrary to Sigmund Freud’s theory, Lev Vygotsky’s concept is anchored in the idea that a child learns new complex tasks from a more advanced adult or sibling helping him or her through these new situations. His cognitive-developmental approach based on an idea Jerome Bruner later labeled “scaffolding” (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976).

This person leads the child through tasks that might otherwise be too advanced for a developing child alone, but with the guidance and help from the leader these are attainable. This gives the child a guide as he or she progresses and eventually begins to conquer problems or new tasks independently. A large part of the success of the child has to do with the structure or “scaffolding” the child has in place to help him or her along the journey thus making social interaction a vital part of his theory. This concept applies directly to the high school physical education “classroom”.

There are unique challenges that a teacher comes across when trying to use traditional instructional methods in an atypical classroom. The learning environment is not always conducive to the educator communicating important points with visual, audio and tactile cues to help. There is no “note taking” or list of terms on the whiteboard used to offer reinforcement. Instead of an educator lecturing the theories and fundamental rules involved in an activity, the teacher must take an active role to engage with the students.

Vygotsky’s approach is very hands-on, in that there is no formal distance between the teacher and the 3 students in instruction. The teacher interacts with the students and helps them to complete tasks that might otherwise be more advanced than they would be able to handle on their own. An example of this in the area of physical education would be illustrated in an introduction to volleyball. We would start by reviewing techniques used to do basic fundamental skills needed for volleyball while introducing the terms and names for these techniques.

The teacher would then demonstrate these techniques for the students to use as a visual guide for what the skill set might look like, and also go over common pitfalls students might face in the physical activity to alleviate pressures some of the students might have before attempting the exercise. We would start with basic technical skills and give each student a chance to participate in the exercise. Once all the students demonstrate the basic skill discussed, we would introduce a slightly more challenging version of the first drill.

For instance, initially the teacher or a partner would toss a ball up in the air to the person demonstrating “the pass” and the participant would then try to pass the volleyball back to the tosser. The other students would watch and support the students when they were successful. The nature of a physical education class does lend itself to Vygotsky’s cooperative ideas and team learning style. The students can break up into groups and work together to improve the skills set forth for the class.

A modification of this exercise to make it more challenging would be to pair the students up and instead of tossing the ball back to each other they would try to pass the ball back and forth in a controlled manner to the other partner. They would try to keep the passes going in a controlled manner back and forth to each other. I would then 4 observe and let the students try to explore the task with a partner. If there were people who struggled with the initial drill I would pair them up with a classmate who successfully completed the task.

Once we complete the initial introduction to the basic skill of passing we would then introduce the class to the actual playing area. This would serve both the struggling student and the one acting as a peer tutor to understand the skill further. The nature of Vygotsky’s theory is grounded in the concept that the environment we are in will have a direct and powerful role in how we might learn and grow. This is why it is so incredibly important for students to receive positive praise for their efforts.

Anytime the students complete a requested task there should be a lifting up of that student and recognition that the goal was met. Physical education can be a bit tricky because you have so many students with different athletic levels and backgrounds. The students also may have self-esteem issues which are often put into the forefront when having to demonstrate skills in front of others. This leaves the student open to the possibility of failure of the task and consequently, ridicule. That is why in P. E. the instructor has to emphasize the importance of effort more than execution.

A positive attitude and a effort-filled attempt is a praise-worthy demonstration of an exercise. Mastery will only come if the student feels comfortable enough to put himself or herself out there to try it.

References Bee, H. , & Boyd, D. (2004). The Developing Child. Retrieved from the University of Phoenix e-Book        Collection database. Barbara Blake and Tambra Pope (2008). Developmental Psychology: Incorporating Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s Theories in Classrooms. Journal of Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives in Education Vol. 1, No. 1 (May 2008) 59 – 67.



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