Vygotsky’s theory of Cognitive Development – useful examples

News worth “tweeting” about

The BPS Research Digest tweeted (@ResearchDigest; 27/06/2012, 10:03am) a link to an article in the Guardian describing different counting techniques and how these differ in various parts of the world.

AQA A Psychology: Cognition and Development – Vygotsky

Teaching Vygotsky’s theory of Cognitive Development (A2 Unit 3, Topics in Psychology) is easier with concrete examples of the way in which culture influences what and how we think, as Vygotksy argued. Most textbooks refer, rather vaguely, to a counting system in Papua New Guinea (where parts of the body are used to represent numbers) but students usually find this quite hard to grasp without tangible examples of the specific differences.

Counting: cultural differences

The article entitled “What does the way you count on your fingers say about your brain?” (posted by Corrinne Burns; 26/06/2012, 18.11) provides a number of examples of cultural differs in counting and discusses the impact of numerical thinking. Forget the neuroscience the article cites (see earlier post on mis-reporting of neuroscience in the media) the article is full of examples of ways in which counting on fingers differs between regions such as Europe, the Middle East and China. Some of the differences included concern whether the left or right hand is the starting point or whether a closed or open fist is used to count.

In the classroom

Students could be asked to watch a short video and count the number of times a target action occurs (e.g. someone scratching their head). If they are asked not to write anything down they may choose to use their fingers as an aid. Prior to the task select some students to observe a portion of the class and how they use their fingers without letting on they are doing so). Discuss the similarities and ask students where they think any common method comes from. Sharing a few of the examples from the article about different cultural counting methods would be a nice way to introduce Vygotsky’s views about the role of culture, perhaps overlooked by Piaget.


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