After analyzing the work of various authors, we have extracted several characteristics of Vygotsky’s work, so that we can understand his contribution to education.
He understands the process of development as a complex dialectic process, characterized by periodicity, irregularity in the development of different functions, transformation, the interconnection of external and internal factors, and the adaptation processes that overcome and conquer all the obstacles that the child encounters. It also states that the learning process doesn’t depend entirely on the genetic factor, but is greatly influenced by the socio-cultural environment.
Further, we will try to explain some of the terms used above.
According to Vygotsky, the student doesn’t only respond to the stimuli around him, but he transforms them through his actions, with the aid of instruments.
He mentions the interconnection between the internal and the external factors, and the adaptation processes that help overcome the obstacles, because he considers that the student acquires the meanings from the external social environment (they are transmitted from one person to the other, from adults, who know more, to children), but they also have to be assimilated or absorbed by each child individually, thus allowing them to make contact with cultural instruments and adjust them to their own personality.
Vygotsky felt the need to formulate the concept of Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), in order to explain how the thinking process develops and reaches superior stages in a socio-cultural environment, where the individual starts from an external approach and gradually transforms it into an internal construction.
The Zone of Proximal Development is defined as the phase between the Zone of Real Development and the Zone of Potential Development. Physical and symbolic mediators, also known as “instruments” – school, society and activities – operate in the ZPD and they help the child reach his level of potential development.
“In time, the child needs less and less help in his efforts, as his self-regulation ability improves. Thus, he gradually progresses through the Zone of Proximal Development”, from the stage where he needs to be helped, to a level where he can obtain the same performance by himself.
The Zone of Real Development corresponds to the levels the child has already attained or, in other words, to the knowledge he has already got and the activities he can do by himself, without any help or guidance from other persons.
The Zone of Potential Development represents the activities that the child can do only with the help, support or guidance of a tutor. This zone comprises all the functions that are not yet well-developed, but are in course of development.