one says to oneself, “Ah, that’s why I’m doing it! That’s what’s happening inside thechild’s head!”
Cultural tools and the development of higher mental functions
Vygotsky believed that true education is not the mere learning of specic knowledge
and skills. It is the development of children’s
– that is, theircapacity to think clearly and creatively, plan and implement their plans, andcommunicate their understanding in a variety of ways. He believed this could be doneby providing them with a set of ‘cultural tools’ for thinking and creating.The key to human intelligence – the characteristic that makes us different fromanimals – is the ability to use various types of tools. Vygotsky claimed that, just ashumans use material tools (such as knives and levers) to extend our physical abilities,we invented psychological tools to extend our mental abilities. These tools are thesymbolic systems we use to communicate and analyse reality. They include signs,symbols, maps, plans, numbers, musical notation, charts, models, pictures and, aboveall, language.Cultural tools are not inherited genetically. They are developed and preserved in ourculture. Vygotsky believed that the purpose of education is to introduce children tothe full range of cultural tools and, show how to use them to analyse reality quicklyand successfully. Children can then look at the world, as Vygostkyan scholarZaporozhets put it, through “the glasses of human culture.”Using cultural tools, children develop new psychological qualities, which we callabilities. These are the mental habits people need to be successful in particular
intellectual or creative elds. The better children’s grasp of the appropriate culturaltools, the greater their abilities in any eld.The development of abilities leads to a owering of children’s personalities. They
begin to plan and organize their own activities, openly express their point of view,provide non-standard solutions for problems, interact freely with other people and,most importantly, believe in themselves and their own abilities.
Thought and language
The main premise of Vygotsky’s most famous work is the interrelationship betweenthought and that most universal of cultural tools – language. He maintained thatthought is ‘internalized language’.When small children are playing, they often keep up a running commentary on whatis happening: “And now the train’s going round the tower, and it’s banging in to thetower, and – oh no – the tower’s toppling down…”. Vygotsky calls this an externalmonologue. As time goes on, the external monologue is internalized as thought.
(When dealing with a challenging situation, children and adults often nd it helps to
externalize their thoughts again: they begin ‘thinking aloud’ to clarify what they aredoing or trying to understand.)