Sunday, October 5, 2008

How to be a great teacher? Lessons Learned from Erikson, Piaget, & Vygotsky

How to be a great teacher? Lessons Learned from Erikson, Piaget, & Vygotsky
EDI 600 Psychological Foundation of Education
School of Education
Long Island University, C. W. Post
September 22, 2008

One of the requirements of effective teaching is for teachers to understand how students learn, how they think and how they view the world. In my elementary classroom, I will integrate the theories of Erikson, Piaget and Vygotsky’s into my teaching practice, to develop this understanding.

Erickson’s theory will help me to understand the personality development of students. Piaget’s theory will guide me in planning lessons which will develop the students’ knowledge, and Vygotsky’s theory will assist me in understanding how I can take advantage of the social interaction among students, to develop formal instructions that will shape students’ learning and thinking. As I read about these theories, it was interesting to note that as a teacher, I can utilize the computer to promote student’s cognitive development.

Erikson believed that childhood is very important in personality development. He proposed that people develop through eight psychosocial stages, each with distinct ranges and defining characteristics. For example, in the elementary school years, Erikson’s Industry versus Inferiority stage is especially important. Children begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments and abilities during this stage. Only with a successful completion of each stage, can children develop healthy personalities and engage in successful interactions with others. My role as a teacher during the elementary stage is very important --- it is important for me to recognize my role in helping students to develop a sense of their own identity.

In Erikson’s theory, the school is a defining moment; parents are no longer the sole authoritative figure. Children now have to build relationships with their schools and even their neighborhoods. Within the schools environment, academic success leads to a sense of competence, and new social relations are formed --- failure within these areas results in feelings of inferiority. In the classroom, students need to experience a sense of industry. Praises, words of encouragement and presenting students with tasks they can complete successfully, are some ways of ways, I can limit feelings of inferiority within my classroom environment.

Piaget tells us that children construct knowledge from their own experiences. He advocates children’s active involvement in learning activities to be the primary means of promoting cognitive development.

Piaget provides teachers with a framework for understanding the way children at different age levels are likely to think about objects and events. As a teacher, I will use Piaget’s framework to develop the objectives of my lesson plans. Piaget’s view is that as children mature, there intelligence increases. Further, children at certain ages cannot understand things in certain ways. For example, as a first grade teacher, I will give students the opportunity to explain things through the use of artwork, body movements, and role play. As a teacher of students from grades three through six, Piaget’s concrete operational stage, I will create students’ learning opportunities in mental processing --- according to Piaget, students at the third grade level are literal thinkers, whereas students in the fourth graders are critical thinkers.

In addition to supporting student’s current knowledge, I will create disequilibrium in learning. The resulting gap between students’ current knowledge and the new information, will provide students with learning opportunities that will take them to the next developmental step. During the process, I will allow students to experiment with materials to gain new understandings and to discover information through active participation. These activities will be moderately challenging “in order to maximize assimilation and accommodation” (Snowman et al., 2009 p. 45).

Piaget’s view is that educators should help children learn how to learn. As a teacher, I can promote student’s learning by providing opportunities for students to work in pairs, and in small group activities in the classroom. In summary, Piaget theory encourages me to plan developmentally appropriate curriculum that will enhance students learning as they move through Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development. Piaget’s theory can be put into practice in my classroom as I assume the role of a guide to my students’ learning.

Snowman, McCown, and Biehler (2009) states Vgotsky believed “that cognitive development is aided by explicitly teaching students” (p. 69). Vgotsky believed that cognitive development is linked to the input children receive from others. And, that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition.

Vgotsky’s believed that learning occurs at an individual’s zone of proximal development (ZPD); it is the point where children cannot complete a task by themselves without the help of teacher, adults or peers. As teachers, it is important to determine what students can achieve with an adult, as well as what they can achieve unaided.

According to Vgotsky, teachers can use a technique known as, scaffolding, to challenge learners through a sequence of activities, at the same time, teachers provide quality support and guidance as students’ progress in the activities. As the students become capable of completing a task, the teacher must withdraw their support. It is at this point that new learning takes place, and children can perform more challenging task.

Vgotsky believed that social interaction is crucial in the cognitive development of children. He believed that children can regulate their own behavior and thinking by internalizing elements of social interactions. To encourage social interaction within my classroom, I will have students of differing levels of ability working in cooperative learning groups.

According to Vgotsky’s theory, teachers should prepare and provide educational content which will be the stepping stones for learners to move beyond their current level of understanding, to a higher level of understanding. Basically, the elementary cognitive functions are transformed into higher mental functions through interactions with more knowledgeable adults.

The use of computers is also important in children’s cognitive development “as they expand the range of the experiences of students” ((Snowman et al., 2009 p. 52). In the classroom, I will encourage my students to use this technology to build on their existing knowledge as they explore topics of interest. This approach is more in line with Piaget’s theory.

According to Vgotsky, computers can be utilized in the scaffolding process of teaching. Here, knowledgeable peers and experts are linked to learners through the use of the computer. As a teacher, and where possible, I will utilize the computer to work on line to support student’s learning.


Snowman, Jack; McCown, Rick; & Biehler, Robert. (2009). Psychology Applied to Teaching. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

1 comment:

Roberta Levitt said...

Thank you for sharing your understanding of "How to be a great teacher?" Your role models: Erikson, Piaget, & Vygotsky would be proud of your discussion.

As we all can see by the Journal of Classroom Teaching & Learning blog, the computer is a great tool for us to listen, read, respond, and learn together.

Thank you for sharing your learning and enriching our knoweledge.