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Notes: Vygotsky, Piaget, and Education



DeVries, R. (2000). Vygotsky, Piaget, and Education: a reciprocal assimilation of theories and educational practices. New Ideas in Psychology, 18(2-3), 187–213. doi:10.1016/S0732-118X(00)00008-8

Citekey: @devries2000vygotsky



1. Introduction (p. 1)

The current state of my search is one of some confusion. It has been di$cult to resolve a paradox in Vygotsky’s work. On the one hand, Vygotsky often sounded like a behaviorist. On the other hand, Vygotsky often sounded like a constructivist. (p. 2)

2. Vygotsky as a behaviorist (p. 2)

In 1926, Vygotsky wrote a short course on Pedagogical Psychology in which he presented the idea, quoting Munsterberg, that `the pupil is a reacting apparatusa. (p. 2)

By 1930, just four years prior to his death, Vygotsky still presented the conditioned re#ex as a prime example of a psychological tool or instrument. He stated, `the whole composition of the instrumental act can, without exception, be reduced to a system of stimulusresponse connectionsa (Vygotsky, 1930b/1981, p. 140). (p. 2)

As for the individual, Vygotsky (1930a/1981) de”ned stages in terms of conditioned re#exes that are peculiar to particular individuals: `the conditioned re#ex is peculiar to only a particular individual not in accordance with nature or heredity, but as the acquired conditions of experiencea (pp. 173}174). (p. 2)

3. Vygotsky as a constructivist (p. 3)

However, challenged by those who read Vygotsky in Russian and who say he is a constructivist (for example, Bedrova, Valsiner, and Wertsch), I reread Vygotsky and concluded that Vygotsky’s behaviorist statements should be interpreted in the context of his advocacy of more constructivist ideas. Evidence for Vygotsky as a constructivist comes principally from his theory of the dialectic. (p. 3)

4. Theoretical similarities between Vygotsky and Piaget (p. 4)

4.1. Social factors play a central role in child development (p. 4)

Vygotsky’s position that social factors are central in development is well known. Piaget, however, is often misunderstood as viewing the child as a lonely scientist apart from the social context (e.g., Damon, 1981; Haste, 1987; Go$n, 1994; Lubeck, 1996; New, 1994; Santrock, 1997). It is true that his research focused mostly on individuals in a laboratory setting (the study of children’s marble play being an exception). However, it is important to distinguish between Piaget’s statements as an epistemologist and his statements as a psychologist. His main goal was epistemological } to explain how knowledge develops, not how the child develops. (p. 4)

When he spoke (less frequently) as a child psychologist, Piaget emphasized the central role of social factors in the construction of knowledge. For example, even in his early work (Piaget, 19281995), he sounded like Vygotsky when he said that social life is a necessary condition for the development of logica (p. 120),social life transforms the very nature of the individuala (p. 210), and that (the progress of) reason is due to social mechanismsa (p. 199). In later work, Piaget (1950/1995) stated thatrelations among individuals2modify the mental structures of individualsa (p. 40). Further, he unequivocally equated intellectual and social operations as identical (p. 4)

It is therefore clear that Piaget and Vygotsky were in agreement that when one speaks of child development, one must give great attention to social factors. (p. 4)

4.2. Internalization is not a process of copying material from the environment but is a transformative process (p. 5)

Vygotsky emphasized internalization in development, but it is not easy from reading Vygotsky’s works available in English to determine exactly what he meant by his famous statement: We could formulate the general genetic law of cultural development as follows: Any function in the child’s cultural development appears twice, or on two planes. First it appears on the social plane, and then on the psychological plane. First it appears between people as an interpsychological category, and then within the child as an intrapsychological category (Vygotsky, 1930a/1981, p. 163). (p. 5)

The key to understanding this passage is to emphasize that it is cultural development that “rst appears on the social plane. I see no problem for a Piagetian in agreeing with this statement. (p. 5)

it is akin to Piaget’s conventional knowledge (p. 5)

4.3. What develops is the individual (p. 6)

While Vygotskians criticize Piaget for having a theory of individual development, Vygotsky certainly saw the higher mental functions of the individual as the goal of development. (p. 6)

5. Di4erences between Vygotsky and Piaget (p. 6)

5.1. Nature of the stimulus (p. 6)

For Piaget, the stimulus is not a stimulus until acted upon by the subject, in contrast to Vygotsky’s empiricist views presented above on conditioned and unconditioned responses that depend on the action of the environment. (p. 6)

Vygotsky focused on the content of the stimulus while Piaget focused on the structure of the knowing individual. (p. 6)

5.2. Nature of knowledge and psychological instruments (p. 7)

While Piaget (19281955, 19501995) went further than Vygotsky in specifying how social and intellectual functions have the same structure and develop in corresponding ways, he did not see psychological instruments as social in origin but as originating in the action of the individual. (p. 7)

5.3. Nature of self-regulation (p. 7)

However, for Vygotsky, self-regulation is behavioral. For Piaget, it is psychological. For Vygotsky, self-regulation appears after and as a result of regulation by others in a speci”c task. For Piaget, self-regulation is present from early infancy in the child’s equilibration of actions, and regulation by others does not have to come before self-regulation in a speci”c task. (p. 7)

5.4. Nature of novelty in intellectual development (p. 8)

Vygotsky saw novelty in the content of conditioned responses arising out of unconditioned responses; for him, novelty is thus some form of mediation. Piaget saw novelty in both content and structure of mental adaptations. (p. 8)

5.5. Direction of development (p. 8)

Vygotsky (1930a/1981) criticized the idea of development as `what proceeds from the inside outa (p. 169). (p. 8)

In contrast, Piaget’s picture of development is more a matter of proceeding from the inside out. Viewing the child’s adaptation as constituting development, Piaget saw the developmental process as one in which the child is in control. (p. 8)

5.6. The concept of social development (p. 8)

While Vygotsky emphasized the role of the social in determining development, he did not write about social development itself. In contrast, Piaget wrote extensively on social development (p. 8)

5.7. The role of language in development (p. 9)

This di!erence is perhaps the most well-known between the two theories. While Vygotsky saw words as giving children scienti”c concepts, Piaget emphasized that children often use the same words as adults but mean something quite di!erent. For Piaget, understanding scienti”c concepts is a matter of progressive construction through stages where reasoning becomes increasingly more adequate and corresponds to what society considers correct. In this conception lies the possibility for going beyond society and constructing something new to society. (p. 9)