Child Development Theories (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Apr 30, 2014

The Sociohistorical Approach

The more cultural approach of Vygotsky (1978) affected learning and development through an emphasis on sociohistorical context, language and literacy learning, and the scaffolding of an adult or more able peer within a child's zone of proximal development. Although Vygotsky (1978) emphasized the salience of culture and language, the zone of proximal development concept probably has had the biggest effect on education.

The zone of proximal development is the instructional level of a child, the area in which the child can most benefit from instruction with the help from an adult or more knowledgeable peer. According to Vygotsky (1978), that which a child can do today with help from a teacher (or more able peer), the child can do tomorrow by herself. Trying to figure out a child's zone of proximal development, however, is somewhat nebulous and difficult. Vygotsky (1978) did not expound on the nature of the child's zone of proximal development, how to determine it, or how to work with a child within that zone. For children exhibiting attention and activity-level difficulties, the zone of proximal development may be even more difficult to determine and utilize.

Ecological Systems Theory

Another theory used to guide education in the late 20th century and early 21st century is Bronfenbrenner's (1989) ecological systems theory. Bronfenbrenner (1989) proposed that children are influenced by, and thus influence, the multiple systems in which they reside, either directly or peripherally. These systems include the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, and the macrosystem. Applications of this contextual theory focus on the seemingly endless variables within the child, and between the child and the numerous contexts affecting her. Although few people would quarrel with the importance of these influences, trying to account for all the endless interactions and variables affecting a child is exhausting and impractical. How would we ever have enough information about children's temperament, activity levels, attentional states, or learning capacities as they relate to the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem?

Multiple Intelligences Theory

The multiple intelligences theory of Howard Gardner (1983) is a more recent influence on education. Traditional views of intelligence favored particular cognitive processes, including certain types of problem solving (mathematical-logical intelligence) and language abilities (linguistic intelligence). According to Gardner (1983), however, these are just two types of intelligence. Five other intelligences—musical, visual-spatial, bodily kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal-must be considered. Gardner (1983) has also added an eighth intelligence he calls the naturalist. A naturalist is someone who has the ability to recognize important distinctions in the natural world (Checkley, 1997).

Multiple intelligences theory shows promise in developing appropriate practices for children who do not fit the traditional mold or do not excel in the math or linguistic areas. Teachers can use children's types of intelligences to assist in planning and teaching in areas in which they are not as gifted. Schools and teachers, however, are not usually equipped equally to deal with multiple intelligences. For example, children from lower socioeconomic areas may not have many opportunities to explore music or visual-spatial intelligences, even if these are areas in which they might thrive. More efforts need to be made to understand multiple intelligences fully and to develop the resources necessary to support them.

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