Moll L C (2014) L S Vygotsky and Education London: Routledge

Number of pages: 173

Cost: unspecified

This book examines how Vygotskian theory influences education in such diverse ways as child development, bilingual learners, development of language and literacy and inclusive practices. It is divided into four chapters beginning with biography of Lev Vygotsky. The remaining three chapters relate to the author’s research with a particular focus on bilingual learners. The sample for the research is a group of Native American Spanish and English speakers in an elementary school in a Latino working class community school. The classrooms involved in the research featured the arrangement where the same pupils would spend part of their day in a Spanish language room then move to an English language classroom for the remainder of the day.

The focus for the second chapter is to observe reading being taught and learned in two different language environments. The study focused on one class of third graders and one of fourth graders with the same classroom arrangements.  Pupils needed to be fluent in English to be part of the research. There was a Vygotskian focus in that central to the study was to investigation into how language affected the practices of teachers within the two classes.

Chapter three focuses on the flexibility of bi-literacy such as the ability to read in one language but discuss the issues in another which the author suggests is a bilingual Zone of Proximal Development. The final chapter considers the effects of the social and emotional lived experiences which are essential to Vygotskian theory such as the role of families, social networks and social contexts. It purports that pupils who have a wide social experience of which formal schooling is just one part will gather greater knowledge than those with little social interaction. The latter part of Chapter four considers how the social context, in four different countries – New Zealand, Spain, Australia and the United Stares of America – support the learning of pupils. This suggests that Vygotskian theory applies across countries, cultures and languages. The book concludes that all lived experiences mediate our thinking, learning and development.

The book is heavily based on the social constructivist theory of Vygotsky. It takes the basis of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and applies it to bi-literacy establishing a bilingual Zone of Proximal Development. The author refers to what Backhurst (2005) calls strong culturalism which means that human beings through their life experiences construct meaning and therefore the effect of social influences cannot be discounted. In fact the author suggests that aligning the theoretical and methodological was a constant challenge for Vygotsky. The author’s aim therefore is to highlight the reciprocal nature of scientific and everyday social activities which is a fundamental view of Vygotskty to address contemporary issues in education.

The author explains how imaginative play creates its own unique Zone of Proximal Development as the pupil always behaves beyond the chronological age, exploring different concepts and real life situations.

Within the boundaries of the author’s ‘experiment’ with the bilingual classes he finds that for learning to develop then the instructor or teacher should always aim at the proximal level not the actual developmental level so that the capabilities of the pupil is in no way underestimated.

The social aspect of Vygotsky’s theory is strongly supported in the book with an emphasis on the need for a range of social networks of which the classroom is only one. A key social network in the author’s study is family identity as the pupils in his study were bilingual from Spanish and English speaking background but he also proposes that interaction with artefacts, institutions and political ideologies all support the learning of pupils.  The author suggests that education is a social and cultural process and pupils who have a broad range of social networks will have a dynamic and robust educational experience and it is therefore important that educators connect the curriculum taught to meaningful experiences in the pupils’ lives.

The ideologies of a social constructivism such as those by Vygotsky are perhaps well known by English teachers. Many government documents detail not only the importance of involving parents and carers in pupils’ education but also involvement of the local community. A key learning point may be that in order to maximise learning, teachers should aim at the proximal level rather than at the developmental level of pupils. The importance of play is also well documented in the sections relating to the Early Years. However, it may be that if pupils beyond the early years are encouraged to engage in imaginative play, role play or drama then they too would operate beyond their chronological age. It may also be interesting to research if the pupils regarded as more able or gifted and talented have engaged with more imaginative play than others. This is not to suggest that there is a direct correlation between intelligence and imaginative play but imaginative play provides a different social situation and the essence of Vygotsky’s theory is that learning is socially constructed.

It is a interesting book that explores the importance of pupils engaging with social situations to extend learning. The language used is accessible and the ‘experiment’ is clearly explained with actual transcripts and supporting information. The strong emphasis on the American education system does not transfer easily to the English system although initial teacher education trainees and newly qualified teachers may find the transfer of Vygotskian theory into practice interesting and Early Years teachers and parents may find the section on the importance of play informative.

Dr. Sue Faragher

Head of Primary and Early Years programmes, LJMU