Explore Nueroscience in Education with Dr. Lori Desautels

Developmental Theorists Come to Life for First Year Teachers

Below are the words and experiences of my graduate students/ first year teachers in some of the most compromised schools in Indianapolis! As I read and assessed these response papers I learned so much from them. I wanted to share as Maslow, Erikson, Vgotsky and so many others have been integrated into the classroom cultures and instruction by these teachers. Just so well done!

Maslow’s Hierarchy in the Classroom

Another frigid January morning set in over Indianapolis, bringing in a two-hour delay and my students bundled up against the cold. My kids came in and got settled for the day. While frantically trying to organize myself in the way that only a first year teacher can, one of my girls walked up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. She pointed to a bright red spot on her arm and explained that the heat in her house had been turned off. She had spent the night sleeping by a space heater. She was so cold she had not realized until the morning her arm had been on the heater the whole night. I stopped what I was doing and looked at her, then around my room at my motley group of students in their patched school uniforms, shoveling mildly questionable egg and sausage sandwiches in their mouths. How was I supposed to expect them to learn about, much less care about, graphing linear equations or adding fractions when some of their most basic needs were hardly being met?
Abraham Maslow’s work in psychology falls in line with the concerns I see daily in my fifth grade class. Maslow theorized that all people have a hierarchy of need. “The central premise in Maslow’s theory is that people spend their lives striving to satisfy an ever-changing series of needs” (Swartwood, 2012, p. 213). It is this drive to obtain these needs that motivates and drives people forward. Maslow posited
It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled. At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on. This is what we mean by saying that the basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency (McLeod, 2014).
The bottom four levels of Maslow’s hierarchy are the basic or deficiency needs. The lowest level of the hierarchy consists of physiological needs. These are the needs for food, drink, shelter, and sleep. Next in the hierarchy are the safety needs. This is the need for protection, security, and stability. Next comes the need for belongingness and love. These are also called the social needs. In this stage, people seek affection and a sense of belonging from family, friends, peers, and romantic partners. The fourth stage of the deficiency needs is the need for esteem. Esteem needs include the need to gain approval, recognition, and respect. (McLeod, 2014).
According to Maslow, deficiency or deficit needs must be fulfilled and met before any further progress can be made. “Within the deficiency needs, each lower need must be met before moving to the next higher level. Once each of these needs has been satisfied, if at some future time a deficiency is detected, the individual will act to remove the deficiency” (Huitt, 2007). Maslow theorized the lower levels of the hierarchy were like passages or progressive levels, and passage into the next level could not be obtained until the needs from the prior level had been fully met.
Once the deficit needs have been satisfied, a person may then pursue the growth needs. “Growth needs surround things like, learning, appreciation of the arts, and ultimately, self-actualization” (Swartwood, 2012, p. 214). The growth needs, which originally consisted only of the need for self-actualization, have grown over time. More recent theorists added cognitive and aesthetic needs into the hierarchy. Cognitive needs regard the pursuit of knowledge and aesthetic needs constitute a search and appreciation for beauty in the world (McLeod, 2014). The pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualization. Self-actualization is “the need to reach our fullest potential” (Swartwood, 2012, p. 214). In this stage, a person realizes and reaches for the experiences that will make him the best he can be.
Maslow presents a very ordered, albeit rather simplistic, progression of human psychological growth that I see mirrored in my fifth grade classroom every day. 98% of the families in my school are identified as living in poverty. Moreover, the population is very transient. My students often struggle with meeting their deficit needs, but the state, the administration, and their own teacher all expect them to reach the level of seeking knowledge and beauty regardless of where they fall in the hierarchy of needs. While many critics of Maslow’s theory argue that this pressure to fulfill different levels of needs simultaneously is a normal part of human life (Swartwood, 2012, p. 214), that does not mean it is necessarily developmentally appropriate.
I see my job and duty as an educator, specifically an educator in a low-income community, is not to be the one who takes her students from fighting for physiological needs to self-actualization in the course of nine months. Rather, it is my responsibility to create a culture and an environment that makes attaining knowledge, beauty, and self-actualization a possibility, even if it is only a possibility for eight hours out of the day.
Often my students come to school in the mornings cold, hungry, and very often tired. One day a student had and outburst in class that was dramatic enough to warrant a visit to the principal’s office. The first question the principal asked my student was, “How much sleep did you get last night?” She responded by saying only a few hours. While I do not have the ability to give my students a naptime or provide a three-course lunch, I strive to create an environment where students can get what they need or at least feel comfortable expressing that they do need something. I often keep granola bars and crackers in my drawers and closets, and I let students keep water bottles in the room. Moreover, I have tried very hard to establish relationships with my students so they feel comfortable talking to me. More than once I have had students tell me before class that they had a rough night and did not sleep much or they did not get a chance to eat breakfast. While I tell them it is not an excuse, it is an explanation and when there is a reason for a bad mood or decreased participation, it becomes something we can work with rather than against.
My students also are often operating in a fight or flight mode, feeling deficiencies in their need for safety. I once had a student tell me that she “just sometimes wakes up angry and can’t let it go.” Layering on top of the general safety concerns caused from a difficult home life, many adolescents face the fear of being bullied at school. One of my students told me he brought a bee-bee gun to school in the second grade because he was being picked on. I have broken up my fair share of fights on playgrounds and in hallways that developed out of fear more than anything. While I still struggle most with defusing feelings of fear and anxiety in my students, I fully recognize that they cannot learn if they are in a constant state of stress. Every day I verbally stress the message that we are a team, and I am always a safe person to talk to, but ten to twelve year olds are not quite that easy to soothe. What I do provide for them is stability in both my presence and my attitude. I also try to create a soothing environment with instrumental music and soft lighting.
Physiological and safety needs are the most prevalent needs in low-income communities, but belongingness and love are arguably the most conspicuous needs for adolescents. There is nothing of greater importance to an eleven year-old than his or her social life. More often than not, the tears that have been spilled over my desk have been over loss of friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, and on occasion the loss or absence of a family member. More than once I have had a student refer to themselves as “stupid” or “ugly” or “not good enough.” While it is not much, and it is coming from the teacher, I make sure my kids know every day that I love and appreciate them. I have never said the words “I love you” and “You are so smart!” more times than I have in my six months in the fifth grade. I recognize achievements such as pass+ on Acuity tests or honor roll. Moreover, though, I try to show some kind of recognition for every student in my class. Our first awards ceremony, I gave awards to my students who did not fit the typical award recipient description such as outstanding citizen or honor roll student. I wanted to make sure all of my students knew they were appreciated in our room. The culture I try to create is one where everyone is accepted, loved, and appreciated.
When my students have overcome the hurdles of working through the deficiency and deficit needs, then they can tackle the growth needs. I believe school is where we should be able to pursue the need for knowledge and beauty and truly realize who it is that we want to become. Going forward, I want to ask myself how I can better meet the most basic needs during the eight hours my students are with me so that I can push them to discover not just knowledge but rather a passion for that knowledge. My goal is to start framing my thoughts and plans for my class in terms of “How will this meet the needs of my students?” rather than “How will this help us pass the ISTEP?” I want to begin aiding my students in meeting their deficiency needs so that I can begin aiding them in truly developing who it is they want to become.

Huitt, W. (2007). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Educational Psychology Interactive.
Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved 17 Feb. 2014 from, http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/regsys/maslow.html
McLeod, S. (2014). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology. Retrieved 17
Feb. 2014 from http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
Swartwood, J. (2012). Educational psychology. Redding, CA: BVT Publishing.

The Teacher’s Responsibility to Close the Gap
Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

To enhance his skills and become more successful at his craft, Peyton Manning watches film of “the greats” – players who excelled in their respective positions. Manning then heads to the field to implement the moves, strategies, and decision-making he witnessed in the film, being given guidance and feedback by the quarterback coach and the head coach. With practice and support, Manning internalizes what he viewed in the film, successfully making the moves, strategies, and decision-making independently during a game. Manning developed his skills through the influence of others – modeling off the past players from film and implementing the coaches’ feedback. “Through others we become ourselves,” as Lev Vygotsky wrote, not only applies to Manning’s success, but also to how scholars develop success in the classroom (Fisher & Frey, 2010). Vygotsky’s theory centers on the premise that development does not occur in a vacuum but rather in the interactions between people in society. In the classroom, the interaction between the teacher and student as well as the interactions between students are vital for developing higher order thinking skills. It is through these interactions that students can develop skills that were once out of reach without assistance, skills that are in what Vygotsky refers to as the zone of proximal development. Exploring methods to best enable this development, such as scaffolding and student-led discussions, are vital to continuing to push a scholar’s development and growth as a thinker.
Vygotsky diverged from other developmental theorists due to his focus on the process rather than the product of development. As a process theorist, he chose to study “nature of the path making these [developmental] changes possible” (Swartwood, 2012, p. 40). Central to this process for Vygotsky is social interaction and the cultural context of the child, or in the classroom-setting student. Vygotsky believes “mental actions occur in the socially mediated space between individuals,” such as Manning watching film of “the greats” then being provided detailed feedback, or a student in a classroom being asked guiding questions by a teacher to push their thinking on a given math problem. Both these examples involve the interaction between two people – the “learner” (Manning and student) and the “knower” (“the greats” and coaches, and teacher). As a foundation for these developmental changes, Vygotsky asserts that children possess elementary functions, such as perception, memory, attention, and language (DeSautels, 2014). These basic functions are transformed into the higher cognitive functions through interactions with others as in the Manning and student examples aforementioned.
Vygotsky’s theory gained popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, when scholars realized the application to education, specifically his theory on the zone of proximal development. As defined by Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development is “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). The function of this zone is to define what students are capable of achieving on their own and what they are still in need of assistance working on. To borrow an example from Vygotsky, flowers are already matured, like the skills that students are capable of achieving independently. Buds on the other hand have not yet matured, but with nurturing will develop into flowers, just as the student, who with modeling and feedback from teachers or more knowledgeable peers, is able to develop. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). Through social interactions, students are able to develop new skills – intermental changes, since the changes in thinking are occurring between people. To fully attain the skills, it is crucial that students are then able to apply the thinking independently – intramental changes. As a teacher it is vital to provide those social interactions to develop intermental changes, but also to create the practice and give the feedback to allow for intramental changes to occur.
As a teacher, the key to the zone of proximal development is knowing where a student lies in skill and cognitive ability – what are their flowers and buds. Multiple intelligence tests, diagnostics, and more will help determine where a student can already work independently and where the guidance needs to occur. This school year, I gave multiple intelligence surveys; however, I did not utilize these to the full potential. Starting next school year, I plan to track students’ multiple intelligences in order to plan instruction to best teach to students’ strengths. In addition, I plan to be better aware through diagnostic tests that measure the skills mastered last year and the skills to be taught the upcoming year. This will enable my planning to encourage the growth of all students. Too often the focus is on the students, whose deficits in cognitive skill are evident; however, it is important to find the zone of proximal development for students who are ahead as well, to push their thinking and encourage their growth.
I heartily agree with Vygotsky that the role of a teacher is to close this gap that the zone of proximal development forms, turning the bud into the flower. The popular method for achieving this closure is to use scaffolding. Although not a term used by Vygotsky, scaffolding has been linked with the zone of proximal development and Vygotsky’s theory since the 1970s when Jerome Bruner introduced the term (Swartwood, 2012, p. 45). Scaffolding is a buzzword in the education field that refers to “a method of instruction that supports learning by helping the student engage in purposeful and meaningful use of psychological tools” (Swartwood, 2012, p. 45). In other words, scaffolding refers to “breaking up the learning into chunks and then providing a tool, or structure, with each chunk” (Alber, 2011). The goal is to meet students where they are in order to achieve growth – closing the gap in the zone of proximal development. Scaffolding can take many forms; for instance, think-pair-shares to give time to process information with a partner; pre-teaching vocabulary to ensure students have seen the key terms before they are used in context; tapping into prior knowledge to build the framework for applying new skills; and visual aids, such as graphic organizers, to organize thinking and guide students to apply their thinking (Alber, 2011). While each of these scaffolding examples apply to my 7th grade problem solving math classroom, I focus heavily on graphic organizers to structure thinking through the key information in a word problem and what it is asking and Frayer vocabulary models to pre-teach key math terms. However, perhaps due to still developing classroom management, think-pair-shares and other peer-to-peer interactions have been minimized.
Through studying Vygotsky’s theories, it is clear that peer-to-peer interaction is just as vital as teach interaction. Peers are the social unit for 7th graders, where who your friends are and what they think is extremely important – peers are the social context. Pairing students with peers of higher ability will allow for that social interaction that Vygotsky calls for, while also permitting the peer interaction that 7th grade students are craving. There are times in my classroom, where I have explained and modeled a concept, only to have students stare at me blankly. A fellow student then in a sentence or less is able to explain the misconception, clearing up the confusion. Although it is my role to see where my students need to go, sometimes I need to provide more a monitoring and feedback role as students work together to push each other’s thinking. In my first period girls cohort, partner work has become a frequent occurrence. Students are able to talk out problems, work together, usually as some form of competition with other groups in the class or with other classes I teach. They are motivated and talk out the problems together, developing their skills. I have seen the success of partner work, yet am still hesitant to implement it for my other cohorts. While I wholeheartedly agree with Vygotsky’s assertion of the need for social interaction, the protocols and expectations for turn-and-talks, think-pair-shares, write-pair-shares, and other partner and group work activities must first be clearly taught. This is the area where I struggle and where I am currently working. I feel that all of my classes would be performing much stronger had I given them the opportunities to work in partners as I do with my first period girls.
Manning and my students each develop in a process. There is film watching or the modeling from the teacher to first learn the skills; then practicing the skills through throwing the football or through thinking about and working out math problems; with feedback given by coaches or by teachers and peers. This process serves to close the gap between what Manning and students are already capable of achieving on their own and what skills they need appropriate assistance in order to achieve. This zone of proximal development as Vygotsky notes is central to the continually maturing of cognitive skills through social interactions. It is these social interactions that I will strive to continue fostering in the classroom, using scaffolding techniques to provide the supportive framework for thinking, as well as creating greater opportunities for students to learn from peers. While my students are not setting out to win super bowls like Peyton Manning, they are setting out to improve their abilities to achieve their goals and feel successful in their life.

1. Alber, Rebecca. (2011). Six scaffolding strategies to use with your students. Retrieved from
2. DeSautels, Lori. (2014). Child and adolescent development [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved
from http://www.scribd.com/
3. Fisher, Douglas, & Frey, Nancy. (2010). Scaffolds for learning: The key to guided instruction.
Guided instruction: How to develop confident and successful learners (chapter 1).
Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/111017/chapters/Scaffolds-for-Learning@-The-Key-to-Guided-Instruction.aspx
4. McLeod, Saul. (2010). Zone of proximal development. Retrieved from
5. Swartwood, Jeff. (2012). Educational psychology. Redding, CA: BVT Publishing.
6. Vygotsky, Lev Semenovich. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher
psychological processes. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books

Let’s Start with Maslow

My first year in the classroom has so far brought me to tears numerous times, sent my frustration levels through the roof, made me laugh on countless occasions, and unfortunately, allowed me to witness (for the first time in my private school sheltered life) physical fights at school. These fights, I’m grateful to say, have never occurred within my classroom and they have been relatively rare, but when they happen in the hallway, I have noticed a recurring phenomenon that haunts me often.
Once an adult steps in and restrains the students, those fighting continue to struggle, frantic to break away and continue their battle so that they won’t be seen as “weak,” “a punk.” They hurl threats and insults in broken screams at their attacker until they have been separated into different rooms. Most disturbingly, for a few moments, they lose their laughter, their inquisitiveness, their anger, their sadness: whatever they were carrying with them that day flees and they take on pure panic in their eyes. As I watch this, I truly do not see meanness or hatred in them, but simple desperation. They are trapped animals, and their pride (truly their most prized possession and their social protection) has been mortally threatened, trampled. That look in their eyes in that instant devastates me.
Every day, students enter our school with fuses made of all of their personal problems and emotions that can so quickly get lit and explode into fights like the ones I have seen. When they are thrown into a school environment that demands that they follow behavior and time management systems so rigid that they virtually squeeze the life from their days, we blatantly ignore their personhood (that’s right – they are not just students, but people) and their needs… and yet we are somehow shocked when the result is infuriatingly flawed.
Abraham Maslow proposed that there is a progression of human needs that flows from the most basic (physiological needs) to the most elevated (the need for self-actualization) and that the most basic needs must be met before a person can focus on the higher-level needs. I can easily call to mind students who fall at each level of this hierarchy: the quiet, quirky boy who can’t keep his head up in class because school lunch is the only meal he will eat all day at the level of physiological need, the outspoken, spunky girl who shows up late to school constantly, explaining that her mom had been drinking and didn’t wake up in time to drive her at the level of safety need, the stubborn, funny girl who claims she “doesn’t trust anyone, doesn’t care about anyone” at the level of belongingness need, the brilliant girl who will do anything to avoid class participation at the level of self-esteem need, and finally, the ahead-of-grade-level boy who checks out of class and keeps his head down at the level of self-actualization need. In my opinion, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is not just a theory to be acknowledged. It is a truth fundamental to understanding our students’ ability (or perceived inability) to learn, and we as educators need to employ empathetic strategies for assessing where our students fall in that hierarchy and how we can constantly work to meet their needs in order to elevate them.
In terms of solutions for students’ physiological needs, I think that a truly nutritious school food program is the a critical way to fully maximize fulfillment of this need for our students. Giving students sustainable, well-made, healthy food that tastes good would ensure that they are full of energy throughout the school day! I also have begun and will continue to incorporate mindfulness practices and classroom yoga into my teaching, because I think that this also addresses the physiological needs of our students. Helping them to emotionally regulate, focus, relax, and lower those cortisol levels so that they can move to more elevated thinking.
To help fulfill my students’ needs for safety, I want to create a physical space in my classroom that makes them feel safe and comfortable, incorporating soft lighting, places to relax, neutral/refreshing scent, quiet music, lots of stimulating visual posters and art, and indoor plants. While these details may seem superficial, I think that they send a message to students about how I feel about them, how they should treat the space, and how they can feel secure while they are in my class. I didn’t at all consider this at the beginning of this year, and I have to admit that my room was quite spartan. Since then, I began playing music daily (sometimes Pandora with lyrics, but often instrumental cellos), decorated my desk with white Christmas lights, brought in succulent plants, and always keep a clean scented plug-in in my room. Students notice and comment on these details, and I think that they make me happy throughout the day, but also reinforce the message that I value students enough to create a space for them to enjoy, not endure.
I believe that the safety tier, along with the next two tiers are the most critical for my students, because I can safely say that most of them lack true fulfillment of one of these tier’s needs, ranging from safety to belongingness to self-esteem. I also think that this lack is the root cause of so many behavior problems and low academic achievement levels in low-SES schools today. In his article, “The Relationship Trauma Crisis,” Scott Larson discusses how of our human needs is for connection, and while this need for connection would logically fall into the tier of belongingness, I personally think that it applies to all three I have mentioned here (because a strong relationship with a healthy adult can contribute to a child’s feelings of safety, and can boost and maintain their self-esteem as well). Larson posits relationship-focused and healing-based discipline for negative behaviors would be a much more productive and healthy way to deal with problematic behavior, which aligns with Maslow’s caution that punishment will never “cure” the child of their behavior, because punishment does not fulfill the need that is the root cause of the behaviors. I think that relationship building has been the key to my successes in the classroom: if nothing else, my students know that I care deeply about them and that I wake up and come to work for them, and I think that this knowledge has created a lot of trust and both personal and academic growth.
Next year, I will be very focused on making sure my classroom is a space that promotes my students’ fulfillment, creating flexible structures for them to work together, and especially teaching and focusing on empathy, which I believe will help with belongingness needs because students will be able to take more sensitive and caring perspectives on their peers, but also boosting self-esteem as we use empathy to help solve real-world problems in compassionate ways.
To me, it is clear that the academically rigorous higher order thinking we all desire our students to engage in is impossible without acknowledging and addressing their personal needs. I think that educators who want to ignore these and focus on zero-tolerance management and content instruction may, through their high expectations and consistency, see growth on test scores, but my question is: is it worth it to prepare children for the next grade level as students without preparing them for the world as people?

Esta es mi amiga Rosa. This is my friend Rose. First grade students happily jumped around their tables in the classroom, introducing their “friends” to each other in Spanish. Their “friends” were the paper hand puppets they just created and named, and Spanish is a new language for almost all of my students. By providing short phrases to my students that they could immediately practice with each other in a realistic, yet imaginative context, my students were actually authentically communicating in Spanish with each other, instead of just repeating phrases I say with no purpose. They heard me say something, and then they heard each other and themselves saying it in context. This combination of teacher-to-student and peer-to-peer communication and learning was Vygotsky in my classroom.
In this paper I will be looking at two important aspects of Vygotsky’s developmental theory: the importance of social interaction in the process of development and “the zone of proximal development”; and I will make meaning of this theory by looking at where I currently observe it in my classroom and how I plan to utilize it to strengthen the teaching and learning that takes place during my elementary and middle school level Spanish classes at the Center for Inquiry School #27. Vygotsky focuses on the process of development rather than the product (Swartwood 2012, p. 40) and examines how social interaction and communication develop the way we think. His work posits that our interactions with others are the most important factors in the process of our development. Coming out of his ideas about how important social interaction between humans is for development is his educational theory of the zone of proximal development. This “zone” is the place where learning can occur for children: starting with what they already know how to do on their own and then “stretching” to where they can reach with assistance and guidance. This assistance may come from teachers (adults) or from peers who have already acquired the skills or knowledge. This idea was further explained and discussed by Bruner and he referred to instruction that supports students in their “zone” as scaffolding (p. 45.) Second language acquisition researcher Krashen has a theory similar to Vygotsky about comprehensible input for people acquiring a new language. This is that i is what communicative level the person is currently at, and that they need to receive comprehensible input in the target language that would be i+1. Krashen’s research helps make sense of Vygotsky’s theory in the second language acquisition classroom. Although second language teachers may not always be assisting students in reaching a higher order thinking skill or solving a more advanced problem, even developing basic communication skills in a new language is taking a student from where they are (perhaps even no knowledge of the new language) and with your assistance getting them to a more advanced level that they are capable of in the language.
Vygotsky primarily discussed the development of speech and language in relation to a child’s first language, but his work is readily applicable in second language acquisition. In the past, “foreign language” education was typically teacher-centered, lecture style, and grammar focused and many teachers still feel this is the best way. Vygotsky’s theory are excellent for supporting the case for student-centered and communication focused classrooms for second language acquisition. I want a balance of listening, speaking, reading, and writing in my classroom and in the assignments I give students, and I emphasize and plan for activities where I can interact with students in the new language (Spanish) and have them interacting with each other. The anecdote from my introduction comes from a recent attempt to increase the amount of social interaction in the language in my classroom. By planning a unit around “Love and Friendship” for the month of February, my goal was to focus on the importance of socializing in communication and language development. We read aloud a picture book where two little girls who speak different languages begin to learn each other’s languages just by playing with each other. All the things they had in common allowed them to understand each other and learn from each other, even with a language “barrier.” In my observations, giving students an opportunity to interact with each other in a context that relates to the content allows students to develop new skills in the language.
A challenge that many second language teachers face is ensuring that when students are participating in a communication activity they are actually using the target language and not just finding a way to rely on their first language. I had a discussion with my sixth grade students about this and their idea was that they should not let each other speak English during activities, and if someone tries to do the activity with you in English, you should help them do it in Spanish instead, and refuse to participate with them if they won’t. I emphasized that I thought it would work really well if they helped each other. I wanted students to realize that if they are quicker to feel comfortable using the new words and phrases in conversation if they see that someone else is hesitant or struggling, rather than just give in to using English, they could assist their peer in speaking Spanish.
The other, maybe even more obvious way that Vygotsky fits into my Spanish classes, is through the constant scaffolding I must do for students to understand the new language. Because translation between the first language is not the ideal method for acquiring a new language, visual scaffolding is essential in my teaching. I am constantly using images and motions or actions to help students come to understand the meaning of what I am saying. One way I can use Vygotsky to strengthen my teaching is to attempt to teach 90% in the target language while being sure to have plenty of visual and physical scaffolding tools for students to understand what I am saying. This also means simplifying a lot of what I say and the content I want students to engage with. However, even simplified and basic communication in the target language between teacher and students and between students leads to the social interaction that Vygotsky found was key to children’s development. And starting from there, my students’ zones of proximal development will eventually begin to include the more complex and abstract ideas in the target language.

Curtain H. & Dahlberg C. A. (2010). Language and Children: Making the match: New Languages for Young Learners, Grades K-8. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Mahn, H. (2012). Vygotksy and Second Language Acquisition. Blackwell Publishing.
Moussa, L. (?) An Investigation of Social Interaction in the Second Language Learning Process: An alternate approach to second language pedagogy in Greece. Retrieved from: http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/19741/TLM22-Second-Language-Aquisition-MA-TESOL-University-of-Brighton-Laura-Moussa.pdf
Shoebottom, P. (1996-2014). ESL Workshop: Scaffolding theory. Retrieved from: http://esl.fis.edu/teachers/fis/scaffold/page1.htm
Swartwood, J. (2012). Educational Psychology. BVT Publishing.

Lev Vygotsky’s innovative ideas on development were controversial in comparison to his predecessors Jean Piaget and Maria Montessori, yet the ideas have transformed how educators think about development. The fact that Vygotsky did not have formal training in psychology and development led to a fresh perspective that has had a far-reaching impact on educational practices. Vygotsky believed in the importance of personal experiences, but he also believed social experiences cannot be thought of separately. He is quoted as saying “learning and development are interrelated from the child’s very first day of life,” (Mooney, 2013, p. 99) and he points out that a person’s development is shaped by his family, communication, socioeconomic status, education, and culture. Most importantly, children learn from each other and benefit from an ample amount of playtime. Vygotsky’s most important contribution to our understanding of a child’s development is the importance of the interactions that take place between a child and his teachers and peers (Mooney, 2013, p. 101).
One of the most important concepts of Vygotsky’s theory is the zone of proximal development, or ZPD. The ZPD is the distance between the most difficult task a child can perform alone and the most difficult task he can do under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers. The assistance provided by the teacher or peer is known as scaffolding. Just as a bricklayer uses scaffolding to reach higher, a student can use his peers or teacher to cognitively reach further. The most important aspect behind this is a teacher using keen observation skills. The teacher must carefully watch and listen to his students in order to fully understand how the students are developing. After soundly watching the students, the teacher can create curriculum to match the students’ levels of comprehension. Another aspect that sets Vygotsky apart from his predecessors is his belief that children should be pushed to new heights. Piaget felt as though cognitive development was tied to physical development, which leads to teachers not wanting to push too hard. By correctly deducing a student’s comfort levels with material, a teacher can take that student to new heights by providing more engaging opportunities.
Another innovation Vygotsky pioneered was the idea that learning is an interactive experience, and teachers and adults should encourage conversations. Teachers do not always need to break into conversations to correct students; they should allow students to make incorrect statements, let them argue and discus, and come to their own conclusions. This allows young people to experience the process of problem solving, experimenting, and naturally regulating their own learning. The teacher should be there to provide context to the situation and foster the growth of the conversation. Children can learn just as much from a more capable peer than from a teacher, so allowing those conversations to take place is extremely important (Mooney, 2013, p.114).
My biggest takeaway from Vygotsky’s theories on development is working to be a better observer. I find that I get caught up in the grind of teaching far too often, and I do not allow myself to truly understand where my students are. I look at a student like Nate, and after speaking with his mother I realize that Nate did not have as many social opportunities growing up as many of his peers. He lived with his grandparents from the time he was two until he was 12. They did not allow him to have many chances to interact with other children at an early age, and the deficiencies are blatantly visible now. His inability to be mentally present in class does not allow him to partake in new experiences.
On the other side of it, I look at the interaction I observed between Tyler and Jasmine. Tyler had a firm grasp on the material we were covering, where as Jasmine was really struggling. I had finished my delivery and was allowing the students to work more independently, and I watched as Tyler taught Jasmine how to solve the equations. He was so patient and delivered the material in a manner that Jasmine could more easily understand. I did not realize it at the time, but this was Vygotsky’s theory coming to fruition. Now, I just need to provide more opportunities for this collaboration to take place. One of the difficulties I see arising is the pride factor. Jasmine had a strong desire to understand the material, so she was very accepting of the help offered by Tyler. I can imagine other students of mine not being so inviting, however. They might take the tutoring from a peer as a slight. I am anxious to see more positive interactions, though, so I will work to allow more peer conversations. My role as a “scaffolder” is to be an elite spectator in my classroom and then take that knowledge and spin it into more engaging opportunities for my students.

Abraham Maslow developed the hierarchy of needs in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”. Maslow used the terms Physiological, Safety, Belongingness and Love, Esteem, Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence needs to describe the pattern that human motivations generally move through. He studied what he called exemplary people like Albert Einstein instead of mentally ill or neurotic people because “the study of crippled, stunted, immature and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and cripple philosophy”. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental levels of needs at the bottom and the need for self-actualization at the top.
The pyramid starts out at the bottom with physiological needs. These are physical requirements for human survival. Examples include breathing, food, water, sex, and sleep. These are basic needs that even animals seek. Maslow believed that these needs are the most basic and instinctive needs in the hierarchy because all needs become secondary until these physiological needs are met.
The next stage of the pyramid revolves around security needs. These would include the necessity of safety and security. These are important for survival but they are not as demanding as the physiological needs. It is natural for someone after the first stage to need steady employment, health care, safe neighborhoods and shelter from the environment. The second stage issues could come as a result of war, natural disaster, family violence, or even child abuse. Economic insecurity could be a result of an economic crisis or a problem with job security. This level is more common in children because they general have a greater need to feel safe.
The 3rd stage revolves around love and belonging. This is especially strong in childhood and can even sometimes come before safety. An example of this would be a child who still continues to cling to abusive parents. Humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among social groups, regardless of how big or small. These relationships could involve romantic ones or simply friendship.
The 4th stage involves esteem or the need to feel respected. This includes self-esteem and self-respect. Esteem presents the typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others. People need to feel some sort of acceptance or value. This could come as a result of a job or hobby to gain recognition. Imbalances like depression can hinder the person from obtaining a higher level of self-esteem or self-respect.
The final and top part of the pyramid involves self-actualization. This is the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Self-actualizing people are self-aware, concerned with personal growth, less concerned with the opinions of others, and interested fulfilling their potential. Maslow believed that to understand this level of need, the person must not only achieve the previous needs, but master them.
Maslow’s theory relates to my students in a variety of ways. When I think about the kind of environment that some of them have grown up in, they aren’t receiving the amount of food that they should be, their house could be a little run down and they probably aren’t getting enough sleep at night. A few particular students come to mind after they have told me stories how their drunk uncle came in and woke everyone up in the middle of the night or they are being counted on to handle the babysitting while the adults go out and have fun. With that being said, it’s easy to think that some of my students barely even get passed the 1st stage of Maslow’s hierarchy.
Security can be one of the main issues with some of my students. Some of them could have no sense of safety with the neighborhood that they live in. Aside from that, their family’s financial situation probably has its ups and downs which can weigh on the student’s mind throughout the day and night. Although some of their problems might not be their own, the family issues still have a major impact on their behavior. Some students come in on Monday and I immediately know from their behavior and actions that the main reason for them is because of whatever happened at home the last few days. Students have mentioned that they would rather be in school than at home. It’s something that I took for granted while I was growing up and can’t even imagine the things that they go through at such a young age.
The 3rd stage of love and belonging also resonates with me regarding how it affects my students. I try not to judge what goes on with their home life, but based on some talks with certain students, the love and belonging that they should feel at home just isn’t happening. It’s no wonder why their behavior is the way it is. Even at school, some of them are so resistant to allow me to help them because they probably think I’m not going to be here the next day. It’s hard for them to wrap their head around someone caring for them because it doesn’t happen enough at home.
My students would also have a hard time getting passed the 4th stage because a lot of them haven’t seen the success that most students have their age. They don’t believe in themselves and have been so accustomed to giving up in school to the point where they don’t even try. Motivation is a problem because at this point, they figure that if they couldn’t do something the first time, why even try. I have one student that is constantly saying that he is dumb. He was abused as a child, which also plays a major part in his behavior, understandably. It’s so difficult to reach him because of his past experiences.
The 5th stage, self-actualization would almost seem like an impossible stage to get to in high school. So much stress and attention is given to social acceptance that my students don’t care about their personal growth. Again, the motivation factor isn’t their either. Few of them show that desire to want to get better, which in turn, is frustrating for a teacher. I’m still trying to find ways to motivate my students to want to be better. Part of me expects them to want that the way students wanted that when I was in high school. But I also have to remind myself of the things that are going on at home and the different stresses in their life that affects their behaviors. Overall, I think the hierarchy puts it all in perspective. There’s always a reason why students act the way they do. I constantly have to remind myself of that.

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