Cultural Historical Psychology

Cultural Historical Psychology says that culture and history (the way that our environment has been shaped by our ancestors, and the ensuing present situation we live in) is intrinsically linked to the way we think and feel, and everything that we learn. Our mind does not work in a vacuum, but rather reacts to outside artefacts (Vygotski calls these tools), all of which have in some way been influenced by culture and history. These tools could be anything from language, to a bicycle to the action of pouring milk from a jug.

These tools have various roles:

1) They are embodiments of culture and history. (see Cultural mediation)
2) The concept of their existence, and how to use them in the way society dictates represent a learning challenge (a child first needs to learn that a fork is for eating food, and then how to use it to do that).
3) They act as accelerators, by providing a short cut to understanding concepts that may have taken our ancestors a lot longer to learn (metal tools with sharp prongs, as well as fingers, can be used to eat food). (see "3. Vygotski and Language" here)
4) Because they are shortcuts, they may in some cases render the “missed out” information unnecessary (children do not need to know that stones and sticks can be used as tools to eat food).
5) They provide a platform for imaginative learning (a child may use a fork as a drumstick). (see here)

CHP says that a special human quality is our ability to adapt to, accommodate, and initiate our young into the different cultural historical environments we find ourselves in.

CHP says that knowledge is first attained outside of our mind through interaction with the environment and is then created internally. 2.3 Thought and Language

Some interesting quotes

culture shapes the mind... it provides us with the toolkit by which we construct not only our worlds but our very conception of our selves and our powers' (ibid.: x). This orientation 'presupposes that human mental activity is neither solo nor conducted unassisted, even when it goes on "inside the head" (ibid.: xi). Smith, M.K. (2002) 'Jerome S. Bruner and the process of education', the encyclopedia of informal education

"Current applications of Vygotsky's work
A contemporary application of Vygotsky's theories is "reciprocal teaching", used to improve students' ability to learn from text. In this method, teacher and students collaborate in learning and practicing four key skills: summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting. The teacher's role in the process is reduced over time. Also, Vygotsky is relevant to instructional concepts such as "scaffolding" and "apprenticeship", in which a teacher or more advanced peer helps to structure or arrange a task so that a novice can work on it successfully.

Vygotsky's theories also feed into current interest in collaborative learning, suggesting that group members should have different levels of ability so more advanced peers can help less advanced members operate within their ZPD."

Other useful links