Parents and toddlers: Teaching and learning at home
Parents and toddlers: Teaching and learning at home

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Parents and toddlers: Teaching and learning at home

1 Teaching and learning relationships in early childhood

In this course we will look at how children's early experiences with their caregivers and peers contribute to the learning of new skills and problem-solving strategies. We will pay special attention to the way talk is used in teaching and learning exchanges as this is the principal means by which older, more experienced members of a society communicate social and cultural practices, knowledge and collective wisdom to younger apprentice learners.

An interview with Harry Daniels

Read the notes below and then listen to the audio clip attached below. You may find it helpful simply to listen to the interview the first time, and then to listen to it again concentrating and making your own notes on the meanings of the concepts and ideas discussed.

An interview with Professor Harry Daniels (MP3, 4.4 MB)

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Interview with Professor Harry Daniels
Skip transcript: Interview with Professor Harry Daniels

Transcript: Interview with Professor Harry Daniels

Hello. This is the second audio for the course ED840 Child Development in Families, Schools and Society. I’m Martin Woodhead, I’m a member of the Centre for Human Development and Learning at the Open University and I’ve been chair of ED840 during course production. Band one of this audio is an interview with Harry Daniels, professor of education at the University of Birmingham. Professor Daniels has been especially interested in Vygotsky’s theories about cognitive development and on the ways these theories can inform educational practise. I began by asking him why Vygotsky’s ideas have attracted so much attention in recent years.
I think his ideas are attractive because they are optimistic, in contrast with Paiget who was interpreted as saying its not much use trying to teach somebody until the developmental machine has done its job, or the behavioural account, which almost denied a notion of development beyond the structure of the curriculum. Here Vygotsky presents us with a story that says instruction promotes development, it leads it. Education has a formative role and it’s interesting in Russian, parenting is often described by a word which is probably best translated as “forming” and parents talk about “forming” their children. Well, that’s a rather deterministic view of it, but nonetheless if education is about preparing people for their futures and preparing, helping them to prepare for the future which we think is desirable then we’re not waiting for some biologically-driven machine to do its job for us. We can set that agenda; society can set that agenda through the kind of education it creates. Education has profound psychological impacts.
You’ve explained to me why Vygotsky’s ideas are attractive but what is that is particularly distinctive about the Vygotskian approach?
It’s distinctive in that it’s a story of the social formation of mind, it’s distinctive in that it starts to talk about how the social and the individual are related, about what he calls the means of mediation, the tools that operate between the individual and the social such as speech, such as cultural artefacts like algebra that are used by individuals to engage with the social world, not to copy the social world, but to engage and create their own interpretation of the social world.
One of the first ideas that students come across in this study of Vygotsky is, of course, the ZPD. Can you explain exactly what Vygotsky meant by that concept?
The Zone of Proximal or Zone of Next Development was a term that he developed to describe the distance between what a person could do on their own unaided, and what somebody could do with the benefit of support. Whether that was with an adult or with a more capable peer is a matter of debate whether he actually wrote that but nonetheless it’s the difference between what you do on your own and what you do with somebody else. If you wanted an example of that feeling, if you’re in a seminar with somebody and an idea is raised that you’ve not come across before and you talk about it together and you think “yeah, I’ve got that” and you walk out the door and you think “well, can I write that down? No I can’t write that down” I haven’t what would be called appropriated that idea. I haven’t made it my own yet –
It hasn’t become internalised so you can’t say it’s a part of my own conceptual understanding -
Your understanding apparatus yet, and so there is renegotiation there, to do what Luria subsequently talked about is, is going from regulation by the other, in other words, at the far end of the zone of proximal development, working together with somebody was essentially a lot of the control was with the supporter to the point at which the control was entirely with the learner. It’s a gradual process of making something ones own from something which was originally social.
And the concept of scaffolding came in, as I understand it, to bridge the gap between…?
Yes. The scaffolding idea was, as promoted as by the famous Wood, Bruner and Ross paper, was the idea of the structures you enabled people to learn through. It has been criticised, of course, for being rather too rigid. And the idea of the structure was something that the scaffolder created rather than actually in a more clinical interview kind of setting, where you actually are negotiating what that structure would be. Now I expect Wood, Bruner and Ross would say “that’s what we meant anyway”. But there is an interpretation of the concept scaffold which associates it with something that’s being built by the other rather than being negotiated between the learner and the, shall I say –
And a little bit of the situation there surely are teaching learning situation where scaffoldings not a bad metaphor.
I entirely-
But on the ones where there are more fluid negotiator transactional metaphor might be more appropriate.
I think there are some instances in which predetermined scaffolds might be actually be actually in the mass production of schooling quite appropriate but when we come unstuck particularly and over certain matters it’s the need for sensitive tuning-in and responding to the attempts that the learner is making to negotiate in the zone of proximal development to tune in to the learner, to whatever phrase you want to use. As I understand it the original conception was very much like the Paigetian Clinical Interview, whereas in some of the North American work its been reduced to a set of standardised prompts which can be administered and then you measure the amount of help that someone needs in terms of how many prompts they need. Assuming that the prompt that I give you is as useful to you as it is to the person sitting next to you, and I don’t actually agree with that.
Can we turn to another key Vygotskian idea and that’s about the role of language. Vygotsky spoke of language as a symbolic tool but what on earth did he mean by this?
If, as he was trying to develop a theory which spoke of the social formation of mind, one has to ask what is the main means of mediation, the main way in which the social becomes the individual, and one of the major characteristics of humans is that we talk. And talk is social, talking is a social activity, we’re using speech to communicate and that’s the way things which are social out there in the social world are used by us and become we don’t internalise but we work with and make our own the ideas that were once social and become part of our inner world. Become part of what are in his terms are inner speech, so it’s not a copying of the outside world it’s a tool for working with ideas which are being developed in the social world and become internal tools for operating internally with the development of ideas and concepts.
One of the criticisms that I often hear about Vygotsky’s theory is that, at least in the way its being followed through by in current research there’s too much emphasis on simple dyadic interaction, scaffolding within a parent-child relationship and so on, and when you actually try to look at an everyday classroom situation, these notions fall apart because the dynamic is so much more complicated with a large group process. Can Vygotsky’s theory in fact address large classrooms in British modern society?
Yes I most definitely think it can. What we’re trying to do with the Vygotskian theory and after all it’s only a tool. I don’t regard it as a truth that’s to be worshipped as I think I inferred earlier. It’s something that’s there for us to stimulate our thinking and to ask questions about what should be done next. And it helps us to ask questions – you know – does organising the classroom in one way or another way have any impact so for example every one can say “Well I’m committed to the integrated day method of primary school teaching”, or “I think the children should be sitting in rows doing group teaching”. Now, of Vygotsky in his socio-institutional guise there are going to be profound psychological impacts of those different forms of organisation. What are they? How do we set about investigating those? So, there’s the face-to-face instruction element and there’s the understanding the impact of different forms of social organisation on the way children think and learn. I think that is a major part of the agenda which Vygotsky sets us and is clearly of enormous importance.
That was Professor Harry Daniels talking about the relevance of Vygotsky’s ideas for education.
End transcript: Interview with Professor Harry Daniels
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Interview with Professor Harry Daniels
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

In the interview Martin Woodhead asks Professor Harry Daniels to comment on why it is that Vygotsky's ideas have become so attractive in the world of education. His main questions are:

  • (a) What is it about Vygotsky's ideas that make them so attractive to education?

  • (b) What is it about Vygotsky's ideas that are distinctive?

  • (c) Why does Vygotsky emphasise the role of language in development?

  • (d) Can Vygotsky's theory be applied to understanding teaching and learning in classroom contexts as well as to understanding simple dyadic interaction?

In the interview Daniels introduces and defines the following key Vygotskian concepts:

  • mediation;

  • psychological tools and cultural artefacts;

  • the zone of proximal development (ZPD);

  • appropriation;

  • scaffolding.

Try to familiarise yourself with Daniels’ definitions of these concepts.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus