In the last decade there has been an increasing interest in studying how to teach writing based on the theories of Lev Semenovich Vygotsky. In fact, many universities have established chairs in Vygotsky’s theory of learning to write, and even some entire departments have been established around it! The interest is understandable. For decades, teaching writing—or more generally, literacy—was considered the exclusive domain of teachers, with little or no attention paid to the topic from a cognitive and developmental perspective.
However, recent years have seen some major theoretical and practical shifts that have made it possible to bring Vygotsky’s theories to bear on the issue of how to teach writing. This interest has manifested itself in both the UK and USA in the form of major national research projects looking into the mechanics of writing and how to teach it effectively. This article will briefly examine some of these advances and how we as teachers can take advantage of them.
Advances In Vygotsky’s Theories Of Learning To Write
In the early days of the field, researchers used to focus predominantly on the mechanisms of learning to write. This was understandable; after all, if we are going to try and teach someone to write, it makes sense to study how they learn to do it. What is important though, is that over time, as the field matured, researchers began to see literacy not simply as a skill that is learned but as a set of abilities that are developed throughout a person’s life. Teachers, parents, and children themselves began to see reading and writing differently—not simply as a means to an end but as a set of skills that can be developed and refined through dedicated practice.
One of the most significant theoretical advances in the last decade concerns developmental dyslexia. This is a learning disability that frequently manifests itself in a difficulty with reading and writing. It is fairly common; the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that somewhere between 10 and 20% of the population has developmental dyslexia. It is important to note that not all people with dyslexia will necessarily have problems with writing; indeed, many individuals with the condition are very capable of expressing themselves in writing. It is merely the act of writing that is often problematic for them. In fact, dyslexia is sometimes referred to as a “writing disability.”
Developmental dyslexia is sometimes referred to as “surface learning disability,” which is a useful way of thinking about it. This is because, as the name suggests, it is generally associated with difficulties with reading and writing on the surface. However, it must be remembered that this is just a surface manifestation of a much deeper problem—a problem that extends well beyond reading and writing and into other areas of cognition such as phonology, morphology, and syntax. Dyslexia is also sometimes referred to as a “hidden disability,” which is equally as accurate but more complicated to explain.
Why Are Researchers Interested In Hidden Disabilities?
Part of the appeal of developmental dyslexia is that it provides an explanation for so many different kinds of problems that plague children and adults alike when it comes to reading and writing. As a cognitive neuroscientist who studies learning disabilities in children, I can tell you that it is quite common for children with this condition to have a difficult time with phonics—the study of sounds and how they are put together to form words and meanings. This can result in a wide range of problems from struggling with simple tasks like pronouncing letters correctly to more complex ones such as reading complex texts or filling in the right forms. As a result, there has been a lot of interest in studying developmental dyslexia recently as it provides an explanation for so many different kinds of problematic reading and writing.
One of the fascinating things about developmental dyslexia is that it seems to run in families. This is significant because it means that there are likely several genes that contribute to its development. Although genetics plays a role, so does the environment. For instance, if a child is heavily distracted when learning to read, it can have an adverse effect on their development.
Another significant development in this area of research is that scientists have begun to unravel the differences between the many subtypes of developmental dyslexia. This is significant because it means that we can more accurately identify those children who are disadvantaged when it comes to their reading and writing, and provide them with the appropriate support. Moreover, it means that if we know the specific type of dyslexia that a child suffers from, we can design specific treatments to address the problem. In the past, many children with this condition were simply labeled “dyslexic” and given the same generic instruction regardless of what type of dyslexia they suffered from. Now, thanks to advances in technology, we can more accurately identify the type of dyslexia that a child has and provide them with the appropriate treatment.
Special Education For Special Purposes
Nowadays, not all children with dyslexia will necessarily need or want special education. This is partly because educators have become more aware of the condition, and partly because a lot of children with dyslexia are able to work effectively with their disabilities. Nevertheless, sometimes it is necessary to provide special education for special purposes. This can be particularly useful for children who have additional needs that make it harder for them to cope on their own. For example, if a child is blind or has low vision, it can be hard for them to read any text, let alone work out how to write something themselves. In these cases, it can be beneficial to have a teacher or tutor help them with their studies.
These are just some of the theoretical and practical advancements that have made it possible for researchers to study writing based on the theories of Lev Semenovich Vygotsky. It is only fair to say that this area of research is as exciting now as it was a decade ago when the topic was first established. Moreover, as mentioned above, there is now even some interest in applying these theories to other parts of literacy, such as speaking. This is significant because it shows just how broad and how far-reaching these theories are, which provides us with a greater understanding of how literacy is acquired and how it can be improved upon.