Monday, March 08, 2010

Tools of the Mind

After reading NurtureShock, I immediately bought Tools of the Mind.  In my reading, what strikes me about the Vygotskian approach to early childhood education is that its goal is to arm children with tools that extend their mental abilities through PLAY.  What is important in this approach is "how the child can become what he not yet is."  For example, PLAY gives the child a tool that allows him to function on a higher level in this following technique:

"Seven year old Juan has written his own version of a story he has read.  The teacher asks him to "edit" his work by looking for spelling and capitalization errors.  He puts on a pair of special glasses called "Editor's Eyes" to help him step out of his role of writer and into the role of editor.  With the glasses on, he notices many more mistakes in his own writing."

More excerpts:

"These mental tools, or tools of the mind... extend our mental abilities... help us attend, remember, and think better...  When children lack mental tools, they don't know how to learn in a deliberate fashion...  When children have mental tools, they are no longer reactive learners.  They can take more responsibility for learning on their own because learning becomes a self-directed activity.  The teacher no longer has to take total responsibility for every aspect of the learning process.  Tools relieve teachers of this unnecessary burden, and more important, they can be applied across the curriculum, from reading to math or manipulatives to dramatic play."

"What the child is able to do in collaboration today he will be able to do independently tomorrow."

Vygotskian Tactics:

Using Mediators to "promote development and help children move from assisted to independent performance...  Unlike adults and older children, young children can only use mediators that are external and overt... visible to others and to the child, and can even be tangible."  For example: use of pictures, arrows, tickets to remember which centers to go to next in a classroom, timers, menus for reading, language and math... In the following case, a little boy has to use 4 mediators to enable independent performance: "Lani is very distractable during group meeting time and requires maximum mediation before he is able to attend through a story.  He does best hen he sits on a carpet square with his name on it, with a stuffed animal on his lap, between two children who hold his hands during the story, and in front of the teacher.  With this much mediation, he is able to sit through a story.  After successfully doing this for a week, the teacher begins to remove the mediators one by one."

Using Language: "Asking children to explain their thinking, to think while talking to peers, and to write and draw their understandings are ways that teachers can assist the process of unfolding verbal thinking... Written speech is not just oral speech on paper but represents a higher level of thinking.  It has a profound influence on development because
1. it makes thinking more explicit (allows you to look at your thoughts)
2. it makes thinking and the use of symbols more deliberate (only what is on paper communicates)
3. it makes the child aware of the elements of language... (words make up sentences)...
 ...  There are many parallels between how children learn to say their first words and how they learn to draw... Vygotsky considered young children's drawings a direct prerequisite to writing... Drawing can increase a child's awareness of her own thinking...  Children thus begin to master the purpose of written speech long before they actually learn to write."

Using Shared Activities to learn how to regulate another and promote self-regulation: "Playing or working next to each other is not enough.  The participants must communicate with each other by speaking, drawing, writing, or using another medium...  A beginning reader might resist reading 2 pages when it is assigned by the teacher, but be willing to read an entire book to a younger sister... In talking, writing, or drawing for someone else, thought becomes sequential and visible to the thinker... To communicate with another person, you must be clear and explicit."  Shared activities that are most beneficial for development include: cooperating with more/less/equally capable peers on same task or interrelated task, cooperating with virtual peer (i.e. drawing a map for a newcomer to campus), engaging in dramatic play and games.

Leading Activity for Preschoolers and Kindergarteners:  

Make Believe Play which helps them develop symbolic function, helps them begin to act on an internal mental plane, generate imagination, integrate emotions and thinking, and develop self-regulation.
"Vygotsky believed that play (dramatic or make-believe) promotes cognitive, emotional and social development...  Real play... has 3 components: children create an imaginary situation, take on and act out roles and follow a set of rules determined by specific roles."

Nonplay Activities includes games with rules, productive activities (drama, storytelling, block building, art and drawing), preacademic activities (early literacy and mathematics only if they emerge out of children's interests and only if they occur in a social context appropriate for young children - i.e. through play) and motor activities (large-muscle activities, i.e. Simon Says, Freeze, Follow the Leader, Duck Duck Goose).

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