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

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Parents and toddlers: Teaching and learning at home

2.2 Levels of control

Vygotsky claimed that co-operation with a more able peer could also create a zone of proximal development (ZPD) within which a less experienced child can learn and develop. Owen clearly has had more experience in manipulating the small Lego pieces than Joe. Also he understands that the instruction diagram tells him in which order the pieces fit together. You will have noted, however, that most of Owen's interactions with Joe are in the form of specific verbal prompts (SVPs) and instructions (e.g. ‘Joe, find four wheels’, ‘Joe, can you give Owen the engine please?’). SVPs are classified as the second lowest level in Wood's scheme.

It is clear from Video 1, however, that Joe needs much higher levels of support than this. In this episode Megan supports Joe by preparing bits of Lego so that Joe can fit them together, and by holding the model still for him. She does not simply tell him how to fit the pieces together or issue verbal instructions as Owen does. If Owen were an adult, the support he offers Joe would not be described as ‘contingent’, according to Schaffer's and Wood's definition. Owen's instructions are not at an appropriate level for Joe given this particular task.

Vygotsky's claim about more able peers has led psychologists to compare differences between children and adults in terms of the nature of the assistance they offer in JIEs when their partner is younger, or less experienced, than themselves. You should note that although Owen does most of the construction work himself and rarely encourages active participation from Joe (even when specifically prompted to do so by his mother), Owen would probably claim that he is helping Joe as he is showing Joe how to put the model together. Owen, however, is a less experienced teacher than his mother and his own interest in making the model clearly conflicts with his attempts to involve Joe in the activity.

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