Research Proposal: John B. Watson and Behaviourism

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Lev Vygotsky's Sociocultural Pespective

Lev Vygotsky's theory of sociocultural development holds that social factors are the main determining factor in human cognitive development. This perspective also influences his ideas of language and speech development, as well as learning. Like other theories of development, Vygotsky's theory places the most important stage of human development within the childhood. The first social setting that the human is exposed to occurs during childhood, within the family.

The zone of proximal development is then also-based within this first social setting to which a child is exposed. Parents and other persons within the child's family provides a space within which children are allowed to develop. Vygotsky's perspective is that children need the help of others to develop to their full potential. In other words, they cannot develop as much on their own as they can with the help and stimulation that others provide. It is therefore vital that the social setting be populated with helpful and loving persons, who care about the development of the child. In this way, decisions are made about the development of the child, over which the latter has no control and about which he cannot make any choices. The size and learning potential provided by the zone of proximal development is unique for each child and helper combination.

Another important element in Vygotsky's perspective is the one of language, which is held to be of great importance in cognitive development. Specifically, Vygotsky believes that how language develops and is used is closely connected with cognitive development. This manifests itself in the way in which children's understanding of concepts grows. According to Vygotsky, a child's understanding develops in four stages, which can be seen concomitantly with the four stages of language development. These include the vague syncretic stage, the complex stage, the potential concept stage, and the mature concept stage.

The vague syncretic stage manifests itself in little verbal expression and little understanding of concepts. Speech and thought are pre-intellectual and pre-verbal. Utterances are little more than monosyllabic sounds that revolve around demands for attention, food, and other baby needs. During the complex stage, the child begins to realize that there are concepts to be understood. While attempts are made in this direction, the child is generally unsuccessful. Language and thought begin to develop, but the connections between these are still very vague or non-existent. The potential concept stage represents simple beginnings towards developing connections between thought and language. Strategies are developed in order to understand concepts, but these are focused on one feature at a time. Finally, the mature concept stage features a successful formation of concepts. Speech becomes both self-directed and internalized. Thought and language are connected.

When the complexity of thought and language, and the connection between these, begins to mature, the individual is able to interact with others in a more complex way as well. Here Vygotsky's zone of proximal development is important for the more mature stages of development as well. Cultural influence also becomes important at this stage. The specific cultures in which children grow up have been shown to directly affect how they solve problems and the perspective they take towards these.

Peter D. Renshaw (1992) considers Vygotsky's work on the level of further psychological development. Once the child gains language and thought, and connects the two in order to communicate successfully, such a child is able to make further use and choices in terms of his or her zone of proximal development. At this stage, the child gains sociocultural tools for thinking by means of learning. These tools are made available by a growing number of social agents. The initial parents and caregivers are now supplemented by teachers and other social leaders and teachers such as ministers or political agents. At a young age, the child is a cultural apprentice, who needs leadership and guidance provided by these social agents in their role as interpreters and guides. Once the child enters the final stage of language learning, he or she is on a platform from which to learn from others on the level of social context and exchange, and also on a practical level, by means of social interaction. Thinking, problem-solving skills, and remembering are for example the type of tools developed in this way. The cultural agent of learning is imitated and the language and gestures are internalized. In this way, culture is perpetuated during the learning process.

Speaking and thinking, as seen above, are the processes by which the individual learns to influence the material and social world. These are the individual's tools for making a success of his or her life within culture and society. These are then of primary importance during the growing and learning process. This process begins as a manifestation of thinking and speaking tools to interact with others. As the individual grows, thinking and speaking are internalized to also serve the individual in his or her personal problem-solving and thinking skills. The social and individual functions then combine to create a mature individual. According to Vygotsky, this is also a function that requires the help of supportive adults within the learner's zone of proximal development.

In Vygotsky's perspective, it is vital to begin cognitive and lingual development by means of interaction with others. Only by interacting and externalizing language, can it later be internalized to make sense of individual experience, and think critically about it. By reflecting upon these experiences, the individual begins to make sense of them on an individualistic level. This creates a platform for independent and critical thinking, which is a vital step towards mature cognitive development. According to Vygotsky, this experience is impossible without the help of others from childhood until the level of maturity. The quality of such help will reflect within the excellence of thinking and language skills eventually developed. Social structures and help therefore directly reflect upon the level of language developed.

According to Renshaw, Vygotsky identified two separate lines of development for the human being: the natural and the cultural line of development. He furthered this idea of duality via a number of other ideas as well, such as the distinction between rudimentary mental functions and higher mental functions. Vygotsky used these dualities to demonstrate the formative and generally beneficial influence of cultural, abstract and organized processes upon the natural, spontaneous and elementary processes. He summarized these by referring to them as spontaneous and scientific concepts.

While the natural and elementary processes are viewed as an essential basis for the influence of the scientific influence, they are not viewed as sufficient for progress towards the full potential of thinking tools that cognitive development can yield. For Vygotsky, the most important aspect in this is culture. The cognitive being is internally prepared by the natural development of skills, which can then find a point of connection with influential factors from the environment. Organic development is therefore simply a platform for what Vygotsky views as absolutely necessary cultural influence and development.

This has wide-ranging implications for education, as well as understanding and optimizing child development. In this, Vygotsky's views have influenced many theorists; particularly those focusing on the field of education. Specifically, Renshaw mentions Davydov in this regard.

Education, according to Renshaw, is the perfect platform for testing and elaborating Vygotsky's views on cultural development. When entering the school environment, a child's zone of proximal development broadens from that of the parental home, the immediate family, caregivers, and circle of friends. The school environment is a microcosm that represents society at large, which the mature child will enter upon leaving school. As such, the cultural setup in school is vital to a child's preparation for his future as a productive, useful, and creative thinker within society.

Education on every level is then a progressive collaboration between the natural development of a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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