Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky he died aged 37 having achieved much as a Soviet psychologist. But did you know he made a significant contribution to study of Special Educational Needs and disability?
The status quo
He suggested a Special Education can, at its worse be akin to social isolation and represent a bleak lack of aspiration. He believed Special Education should comprise of a bespoke solution to an individual’s needs and provide more than a minimised mainstream education.
Vygotsky described an environment which would support disabled people using teaching methods to communicate and any skills most appropriate to an individuals needs. He outlined the need for teachers with specialist training, potential technological interventions and a purposeful curriculum.
He looked at the whole person, especially the positives
Vygotsky described a “positive differential approach”, as with Reiser & Mason disabled people’s individual abilities merits and strengths are considered before disability. He went on to criticise batteries of psychometric testing and the negative evaluation of disabled young people considering this as less relevant than their levels of overall independence
He makes a distinction between how a disability can be viewed from either a biological or social context…If natural variations and differences exist in biology and in nature, individuals are only classified as abnormal when considered in a social context.
When individuals are living successfully with their own adaptations, in like communities the label of abnormality fades, only when placed in a wider context of society do we only start to view a person as disabled.
So for Vygotsky it is societies views and unfavourable comparisons that shape disability. As with Wolfenberger he emphasised the importance of a quality of life and social relations to live it.
The Zone of Proximal Development
Vygotsky developed a theory known as the Zone of Proximal Development or what a individual can achieve with help and guidance, or to mix metaphors… it’s like goldilocks , not being thrown in at the deep end unsupported, or left dry staring at the shallow end unchallenged.
This Zone is where potential lies, where skills and ability exist but are not fully formed, the difference. Between actual and potential development
It’s here that one can be guided by a more experienced person, a teacher or a mentor to progress. The mentor can help to provide a scaffold, tools such as a dialogue or other training techniques can help move individuals learning. The idea is to train or teach just beyond their current stage of learning. It’s vital When that concept is grasped then the mentor or teacher fades their support
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