In this section we have focused on sociocultural theory and in particular the notion of discourse and the application of a sociocultural perspective to the analysis of classroom talk. Some concepts from sociocultural theory have been introduced. The main ones are: scaffolding and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). We have also introduced some concepts used in the analysis of classroom discourse. These included IRF, educational ground rules, exploratory, disputational and cumulative talk and (in the context of second language learning) private speech.
One of the key features of a sociocultural perspective is that language is identified as figuring in two ways. First, language is seen as the principal medium for the process of teaching and learning. Second, language is the goal or ‘message’. Following Vygotsky, sociocultural researchers describe language as a cultural tool and a psychological tool, and argue that it is through the acquisition of ways of using language that some of the most profound changes in ways of thinking take place. In all subjects, not only in learning languages, the development of knowledge and understanding involves the acquisition of certain ‘ways with words’. Curriculum subjects each have their own specialised discourses, and becoming knowledgeable in a subject means becoming fluent in the relevant discourses. Becoming fluent will not simply be a matter of learning specific technical terms and concepts, but also of learning to use language to reason – both collectively and individually – in ways that are associated with the practices of the relevant academic communities.