Teacher Zone : Blog : What Is Vygotsky's Theory and Why Is It Important To KS1 Literacy?

What Is Vygotsky's Theory and Why Is It Important To KS1 Literacy?

As a primary teacher, you know that all children learn differently; what makes the penny drop for Jamie could be confusing for Jade, while Jackson remains dedicated to staring out of the window. 

So, who could blame you for for having a healthy dose of scepticism when it comes to all-encompassing educational fads? PLTS, four-part lessons, lollipop-stick questioning… good teachers don’t need to rely on trends, right?

You could be forgiven for thinking that Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory is just another example of being taught how to teach, irrespective of how long you’ve been in the profession. You don’t need more acronyms, and you definitely don’t need another gimmick.  

However, in Vygotsky’s case, you’re probably using a lot of the methodology already – and it really does consider all your children’s differing needs in a single classroom.

Characterising many of our current norms in regard to how learning and development takes place, Vygotsky argues that learning happens through our social interactions, and is therefore dependent on experience; intelligence, as a result, is entirely fluid and depends on learning and culture. 


The Zone of Proximal Development

This key area of Vygotsky’s theory insists that there’s a big difference between what a child can do independently, and what they can achieve when assisted by an adult, or more competent peer.children leaning over their books, reading and writing

We’re not talking about copying or telling the child the answers – but what they can learn from the influence of others around them.

The term ‘proximal’, therefore, refers to skills that a learner is ‘close’ to mastering, and just needs a little guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner to master. 

Do you structure your teaching in any of the following ways? If so, have you considered why they work so well? Chances are, this is the Zone of Proximal Development at work in your own classroom:

1. Scaffolding and Modelling

We’ve all asked a question to a child and received a blank look in return. Hints and prompts can form the basis of instructional activities, by reading the measure of what the child needs to know in order to draw a logical conclusion. 

If a child can’t point to where a comma should sit, asking them to take a look at a sentence and tell you where they would ‘stop for breath’ will help them to establish how commas work, without needing to explicitly point it out.

This concept of ‘scaffolding’ – helping a child to read around the question and find the answer for themselves – is key to Proximal Development.


2. Co-operative Learning Activities

cartoon group of four children, all happy smilingGroup work, based on comparative ability, is a fairly obvious way to make sure that your teaching can be received equally – especially when classes are large.

But do you mix the children of varied abilities in the same group? For example, letting a child who’s a punctuation pro work with a child who hasn’t yet caught on with capital letters?

Pupils that have mastered a skill are often able to support other children to achieve the same; heterogeneous, rather than homogenous, groupings are a great way to get all of the class on the same page, even when skill levels are diverse.


Accessing the Challenge

If you’re using the techniques above, then you’ve successfully acknowledged that ability isn’t inherent or genetic. Rather, a child will learn best within their Zone of Proximal Development; having just enough information to unpick a problem for themselves, when helped by relevant prompts from teachers and peers.

If you haven’t had much experience with this technique yet, just remember – leading questions should direct a child to succeed, by undertaking a challenging task themselves. 

Emma with children


How Can Mighty Writer Help?

Mighty Writer is the ideal tool to prove that Vygotsky’s Theory works, as well as a truly innovative way to put it into action.
So, even if you’ve been using the underlining theory for some time, Mighty Writer can help to encapsulate already proven ideas in an all-new way.


Vygotsky’s belief that cognitive development happens through social learning is demonstrated through Mighty Writer’s strategy of working as a group.

The Mighty Writer tool supports cooperative learning activities so that groups of children at different levels can help each other learn.

Centred around a large mat with a host of picture and symbol tiles, Mighty Writer uses visual cues to help children structure sentences and learn accurate punctuation. 

Allowing teachers to use scaffolding, Mighty Writer simplifies the role of the learner (but not the task) through graduated intervention; for example, with punctuation, sculpted sentence openers and conjunctions. This enables all pupils to access the task at hand, in an engaging, group-orientated way.

Mighty Writer isn’t so challenging that it will alienate learners, but it’s certainly challenging enough for all children in the class to remain stimulated. By facilitating mixed ability groupings, children who are more competent writers can help others achieve the same level of understanding; as a result, children’s literacy can be transformed, almost overnight.

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