Lev Vygotsky

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934)

It has been said of the Russian psychologist Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky that he possessed a Mozartian genius, yet he lived in a time and place that was not receptive to Mozarts. In his youth he was interested in literature and literary analysis, becoming a connoisseur of poetry and philosophy. At 18, he wrote an essay on Shakespeare's Hamlet that was later incorporated into one of his psychological writings. After entering the medical school at Moscow University he promptly switched to the law school and simultaneously enrolled in a private university to study literature once more. He became interested in psychology only at the age of 28.
Vygotsky taught literature for awhile in a provincial school and then taught at a teacher's college where he gave his first lectures on psychology. His first large research project was The Psychology of Art (1925) -- he used this as his Ph.D. thesis in psychology at Moscow Institute of Psychology. Vygotsky never had formal training in psychology.
Vygotsky's collaborators included Alexander Luria and Alexei Leontiev, who helped create the body of research now known as the Vygotskian approach. During his lifetime, Vygotsky was under pressure to adapt his theories to the prevailing political ideology in Russia. After his death from tuberculosis in 1934, his ideas were repudiated by the government but his ideas were kept alive by his students and later revived. Vygotsky's pioneering work in developmental psychology has had a profound influence on school education in Russia, and interest in his theories continues to grow throughout the world.

Vygotskian approaches in US K-12 schools

Best Practices in Education is interested in helping US schools adapt Vygotskian practices in the teaching of literacy and math, especially in cases where the practice is in successful use in another country. One such example is the Tools of the Mind project in the Denver Public Schools. Another is the Vygotskian Math Project at the Susquehanna School in Binghamton, New York.

Web resources on Vygotsky

There are numerous resources on the Web that relate to Vygotsky and his work; here are just a few:

Vygotsky -- A Learning Construction Zone


Social Development Theory (L. Vygotsky)

JALT -- Featured Links 6/96

Vygotsky Centennial Project

Vygotsky's Thought and Language

L. S. Vygotsky and the Contemporary Human Sciences

Cultural-Historical Psychology



Here is a very brief bibliography of books by and about Vygotsky and his work that are readily available in English.

Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (1996). Tools of the Mind: The Vygotskian Approach to Early Childhood Education. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Merrill, an imprint of Prentice Hall.

Luria, A.R. (1976). Cognitive Development: Its Cultural and Social Foundations. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Van der Veer, R., & Valsiner, J. (1991). Understanding Vygotsky: A Quest for Synthesis. Oxford: Blackwell.

Vygotsky, Lev (1986). Thought and Language. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.