A major consideration to the development of any curriculum for children or adolescents is the students’ developmental level. Research has identified stages in development, recognizing that not all children progress through these stages at the same rate, but all do pass through each as they mature. Emerging adolescents have particular characteristics reflecting their emotional, social, moral, physical, and intellectual growth. A consideration of these characteristics defines the implications for successful learning. According to Jon Wiles and Joseph Bondi in their book Curriculum Development, A Guide to Practice, emerging adolescent learners are the most diverse group of students at any organizational level of schooling. Because of the body’s maturational changes, pre- and early adolescents experience dramatic transformations. The authors state that more biological changes occur in the bodies and minds of students between the ages of ten and fourteen than during any other period of their lives, with the exception of the first nine months of development. It is critical that any curriculum planned for this age group consider the major developmental changes of adolescence.
Lev S. Vygotsky (1896 - 1934) was a Soviet psychologist who is responsible for the social development theory of learning. He theorized that cognitive development is primarily influenced by social interaction with others. Vygotsky’s contemporaries included the founders of the Gestalt psychology as well as those professionals who advocated the theories of stimulus-response. Vygotsky recognized the validity of both approaches, but felt that neither of them sufficiently explained the higher levels of human thinking. He spent the last seventeen years of his life experimenting with thought and language development. Before his untimely death due to tuberculosis in 1934, he outlined how cognitive development is a life long process that is dependent on social interaction. He published Thought and Language in 1934; that text is still regarded as one of the most influential treatises to human psychology. That Vygotsky lived during the time of Stalin leads one to consider the vast influence of socialism on his theoretical findings; language development is, of course, social, but one must also recognize the impact of books, computers, and other forms of communication that are not directly social in nature. However, many of today’s developmental and educational foundations are based on the work of Lev S. Vygotsky.
In Thought and Language, (1934, 1986), Vygotsky theorizes that full cognitive development requires social interaction. He states: “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (inter-psychological) and then inside the child (intra-psychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals.” Once the child realizes that everything has a name, each new object presents the child with a problem of identification. The solution to this problem is to name the object. These words are the beginnings of concept formation. Language becomes a crucial tool for cognitive development because advancing modes of thought are expressed through words.
Vygotsky’s theory extends to describe the “zone of proximal development”, the difference between what a child can do with help and what he or she can do without guidance. A child’s actual developmental level refers to all the functions and activities that a he or she can perform independently, without the help of another. The zone of
proximal development includes all the functions and activities that a child can perform only with the assistance of someone else. The person in this scaffolding process could be an adult or a peer who has already mastered that particular function. The educational import of Vygotsky’s theoretical framework offers empirical proof that learning based on his social development theory is superior to other forms of instruction. The impact on curriculum development is clear: teachers must provide ample opportunities for students to discover the language of newly formed concepts and to practice this language with others. In addition, teacher modeling of concepts, with lots of discussion, is critical to understanding.