Teaching, Writing Support

Vygotsky and supporting your child

One of the simplest, yet most effective, ways to support your child’s learning comes from a psychologist by the name of Vygotsky. In grad school, we learned all about Vygotsky and scaffolding learning – here’s the upshot.

You want to challenge your student. If you give your child a task that’s too easy, there’s no growth. But if you give a child something that’s too hard, then it’s overwhelming and frustrating (to everybody!). The solution? Give them a task that’s juuuuuuust about their ability level, then, give them the tools to make the step between what they can do too now (that’s too easy), and what you’re wanting them to accomplish.

In education, we call this scaffolding. Scaffolding just means that you provide support (don’t worry, I’ll explain what this can look like) so that eventually they can do the task on their own. You don’t ask your five year old to put away the dishes all by himself. First, you ask him to give you all the plastic cups and show him where they go. Then, you ask for the plates, and show them where they go (which, in my case, is on the counter because I don’t want him climbing on a chair to put them in the cupboard). Next time he helps with the dishes, you can instruct him to “put away the plastic cups” and since you showed him where they went last time, and how to shake them so there’s not excess water, you know he’s now capable of putting them away. Same with the plates. And eventually, he’s able to put away all of the dishes by himself, because you broke down the steps and showed him each step of the way. (And let me tell you, my son can now put away the dishes by himself, and it’s AMAZING! … but I digress).

So what does this have to do with learning?

It’s the same process as putting away the dishes, you’ve got to break down the steps and provide just enough support to allow them to accomplish the task on their own.

We call this Zone of Proximal Development or ZDP, but we’ll just refer to it as I Do – You Do – We Do (I know, not very catchy) because it’s easier to remember what it means that way.

That means that I, as the teacher, am going to model what to do. And I’ll explain the steps and what you’re thinking while I’m doing it.

Now we do it together. We work on it together, and let the child slowly start to take over parts of the operation on his own.

Now he (or she*) can do the task independently! Wahoo!

See how easy that is? The biggest take-away is: challenge your child! But first step back and model it, let him slowly take over the process, and then soon he can do it on his own.

So what kind of support can you provide for an academic task? Well, I will be writing more about different subjects / abilities / ages more in different posts cause there are sooooo many different ways, but here are some ideas.

  • For handwriting, write the words in a highlighter and let them trace the words
  • For reading, take turns reading each page
  • For math, model how to find the number on a hundred chart, then slowly make it more complicated (Find 10; now, find 15. Find 30; now, find 36)
  • For an art project, show them how to color the outline first, then fill in the inside

So now; how do you feel about scaffolding your child’s learning? Does that feel do-able? Still unattainable? Would you be able to teach your child something new using this? Or help your child with an assignment from his teacher? Let me know in the comments!

*he/she is used interchangeably when I’m writing about a hypothetical student. I know the modern grammar rules are arguing the proper form to refer to a hypothetical person. But the old-school grammarian in me reverts to “he” since that was the way I was taught.