The sociocultural theory of teaching and learning: Implications for the
curriculum in the Australian context

Year: 1992

Author: Renshaw, Peter D.

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The major portion of the paper provides an overview and analysis of the sociocultural theory of learning and its implications for the curriculum in the Australian context. The process of applying sociocultural theory can be likened to the process of remembering as described by Bartlett where certain features in the remembered text are omitted or given less prominence, and rationalisations are made that were not part of the original. In particular, the concepts most closely associated with the sociocultural theory of learning, such as, scaffolding, reciprocal teaching, and collaborative learning, highlight the social basis of learning, and the interactive processes that promote development. While these practices are valid instantiations of sociocultural theory in my opinion, the focus on process to the exclusion of cosideration of the content of the curriculum reveals a partial misunderstanding of the sociocultural perspective. In addition, the restriction of the sociocultural perspective to the investigation of face-to-face interaction between teachers and learners, obscures the broader cultural and political concerns that are central to the perspective. I became aware of Ôomissions and rationalisationsÕ over a period of time while teaching courses on collaborative learning and supervising research students' theses on topics such as parental scaffolding and reciprocal teaching. I noticed that sociocultural concepts were often misunderstood, for example, as nothing more than social learning theory notions of modeling, practice, and feedback. Also the difficulty in interpreting the writings of Vygotsky in translation and distanced from the historical and cultural context of the Soviet Union of the 1920s and 1930s has been recognised recently (see Wertsch,1985; Kozulin,1990). However, it was my reading and analysis of the elementary mathematics curriculum proposed by Davydov that highlighted for me the way that the key sociocultural concepts of the content of the curriculum, and the broader social and political context of education had been largely ignored in applying the theory in the Australian context.