Lev Vygotsky , my Russian hero
It started out as a research project for my second class paper in Global Education. The requirement was to find a transformative global educator and write about how they have impacted global education. Although I have not yet started the paper for the course, my discovery gave me a great deal of validation about the way I teach literature and how "facilitating" discussion in a social construct or online community differs from "teaching" a piece of writing. It's all in the wording.
Throughout the course of my extensive graduate work I have come to the belief that we learn and retain much more information when we seek out the answers ourselves and utilize our critical thinking skills to make meaning where before there might not have been any, or we were staunchly stuck in our own old beliefs.
We are influenced by the lives we have lead, experiences we have had, environment we grew up in and the people who have surrounded us in our lives. As such, we often do not question the meaning we have made about things because we have always felt that way, or we have not been challenged to think otherwise.
If we continue our education, we sometimes have instructors who call us out and ask us to make meaning or critically analyze why we believe the way we do. Not always happy to go outside our comfort zones, we either rationalize our decision making processes or choose to ignore new information we may become aware of. After all, change is something anathema to many of us. We usually feel a sense of comfort in the tried and true and often remain in relationships long dead just because it is something we "know".
But I digress...
Teaching literature online,I find discussions to be exceptional when the students are willing to break the bonds of fear and offer up their thoughts, opinions and analyses of the great books and come to some sense of understanding gleaned from their own social constructs. But the most amazing thing is when challenged by others social constructs in a less strict forum the ability to synthesize and assimilate information increases exponentially making the experience less an "us VS them" and more a communal buffet of ideas offered up and served in a platter. I am reminded by a man named Stretton Smith, who lectured on prosperity, how one might have a buffet available for them to feast on but unless they GET UP AND GET IT themselves, they will go hungry...as no one is there to ":serve you". Or ...most succinctly put: " you only get what you give"! (In the words of the New Young Radicals music group!
So where you ask does Vygotsky fit into this fine epistle? According to the article I read, Vygotsky's view of speech, (which is central to making meaning since we all have different experiences of words) asks that students to write TO learn and discover what they have to say. Central to this is the idea that the purpose of learning is to have a playful or experimental approach and to not have a central driving fear of being "wrong" in their analysis.Generation of ideas is key and creativity is encouraged! By having a place where one can be less formal on how students can think or speak about a topic it is possible that a whole class can take a on a new more spontaneous and expressive role. Formal lectures do not allow the students to think on their own! YES!!!!
Soon I felt as though I had found the Holy Grail! It mattered not that anyone else taught the way I did, but what made my so validated was that someone else thought of it first and utilized it and found it as successful as I had, and I had not know the theory even existed! The author speaks of the classroom as a community, a social construct where, like a book club people meet, co-construct meaning, think about new ideas, find the links to their own worlds, eat muffins and drink coffee (if they wish) and most of all had the ability and the permission not to simply regurgitate the teachers meaning, but make their OWN! They could go up and choose from the buffet! To then construct a paper on how the reading impacted them by being allowed the ability to create something else was another area I utilized. Every student (for the most part) starts out anxiously nervous about how to do this assignment, and by the end has found their little creative niche, along with the caveat that they honestly enjoyed the process and learned a great deal about themselves in the process.
One thing I never counted on was finding out what I was doing was so globally transformative. I once heard life beings at 50. Now I know it is true.