Sociocultural Learning Theory

Is this Really Needed in Schools Today?

Sociocultural learning theory is based on the work of Lev Vygotsky. The main premise is that our understanding stems from our social interactions. Sounds obvious, right? Especially for those who teach in middle or high school! Colleagues and I talk daily about how social our middle level kiddos are! Socialcultural theory gives us a structure to maximize on this trait if we are puposeful in our planning.

There are three areas of sociocultural learning theory, and if we plan for each of these in coaching situations and in the classroom, we will boost student and staff learning.

What is it, really?

  1. Social Interaction: Knowledge and understanding stem from interaction with others. As we communicate with others, we develop and grow.
  2. The More Knowledgeable Other: Someone who has a greater understanding and a higher level and ability than another in a relationship should model desired behaviors and actions, as well as give support.
  3. Zone of Proximal Development: Language and learning occurs within this zone. These are the skills learners can do with guidance from others who can already do them independently.

What Does it Look Like?

When I think about my growth as a teacher, there are certain people who immediately come to mind- teachers I talk openly with, who are willing to be honest with me when I share areas I need to grow, and who help me by sharing strategies and letting me observe them as they teach. Considering Vygotsy’s Socioculteral Theory and the peer coaching format, it makes perfect sense that reflecting on our work, learning from each other’s strengths, and pushing each other’s thinking and practices has helped us grow.

Social Interaction: As we communicate with others, we develop and grow. Peer coaching is most rewarding when teachers form these relationships on their own versus being paired by administration. One of the goals of peer coaching is to reduce teacher isolation. In my own practice, I have two peer coaching relationships. Both were formed organically out of our own needs. Both relationships took time to develop as we learned to trust each other enough to share the issues and concerns we had about our practice. Our interactions are informal and cyclical- its a lot like having a really high-functioning, 24/7,  professional learning community!

The More Knowledgeable Other: One person might be more knowledgeable in one area while the other has more experience in another area. Peer coaching focuses on individual growth with two important goals being to increase student learning and to promote collaboration among colleagues. In my peer coaching relationships, we each have different strengths, and the “more knowledgeable other” changes based on the current topic. One of my peer-coaching relationships is with our school’s instructional coach because is my role as a reading specialist I also coach teachers. Our instructional coach is the more knowledgeable other in terms of strategies for teaching adults while I am the more knowledgeable other in terms of literacy strategies. We learn from each other’s strengths daily!

Zone of Proximal Development: Learning occurs within our personal learning zone, which is a bit beyond what we can do independently. The wonderful thing about peer coaching is that it is specific to each person’s needs. Understanding our own needs requires reflection (another goal of peer coaching), and when we’re honest with ourselves about areas we need to grow, and we’ve formed a trusting relationship with a colleague (or two), we can work with them on the best approach to learning within our zone.


Social Development Theory (Vygotsky). (2016, September 8). Retrieved from




On Teaching: What am I Thankful for and What Will I Give?

For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time to pause and feel thankful for family, friends, and for our blessings. When I was growing up, it also meant our traditional dinner from Grandma Phyllis- “corn mush”, mashed potatoes, homemade bread… with the fire in the background and all of us around the dining room table. It was the turning point from fall to winter, and winter was cookie baking, a window-peering walk down State Street to see Marshall Field’s Christmas windows, Santa PJ’s and GIFTS! My mama fought over Cabbage Patch dolls like the best of them!

Today, Thanksgiving means all of these things, but my thanks are a result of and have changed since I was a child who was granted these luxuries and privileges. And I also recognize my part in giving.

On Teaching: What am I thankful for?

  1. My students believe me. They had no reason to trust me when they walked into the classroom in August, and they made that clear. They trust me now. They also trust each other.
  2. I have colleagues I can run to, vent with, and be there for. I’ve been at my school for a long time. We’ve seen people come and go, and that’s not always easy. But we’ve become stronger with time. When I need ideas, input, or help? I have friends to ask.
  3. My administration believes in my thinking, understands family comes first, and supports my work. How incredible is it that I can be open and controversial, off the straight and narrow in terms of approach, and still have bosses who support me and raise me up?
  4. A community of educational revolutionaries– some whom I have not yet met! Online and in person, these people mirror my thinking, challenge my ideas, and share perspectives I haven’t realized.equity
  5. This blog. I do not stop thinking of education. Period. I need a place to put my ideas. I need them to be out there for others to read and think about in their own time. (There is a point each summer when the break is made. I never know when it’s coming, but once it happens, nothing brings me back until our first contract day!)

On Teaching: What will I give?

  1. I will advocate for my students beyond our local levels. I will be more involved in the politics of their needs at the state and national levels.
  2. I will find more substantial ways to connect my students’ families to our school life and to me.
  3. I will be certain that my students see themselves as pillars of our community. I’ll continue with my plan for students to build and care for Little Libraries in neighborhoods of their choice. (I ditched that idea after some negative feedback, but I’m back on board.) In just the last week, as one student reminded a female student that we all thought that she has what it takes to be president one day, another student, taken by surprise, said, “A Mexican president?” This student was also Mexican. The class laughed. (This is a class of 9 reading-intervention students, one of which is not Hispanic.)
  4. I will knock on colleagues doors, visit them at lunch, and follow them to their cars to ask what they want from me as a reading specialist. I’m going to listen more.
  5. I will make it certain that all of our students know it in their bones that every single peer is equal in worth. Many of our students do not know this. They recognize the inequality, and they’re not always offered equity. That leaves them with this: “I just don’t measure up.” They joke about it amongst themselves and across social, racial, economic, and educational divides, saying things like, “[This teacher] only helps the rich kids.” and “[This teacher] just thinks I’m always doing something bad, but I’m not.”

I hope that you have time to reflect on your “thanks” and figure out your “gives”. I know that teaching is all-consuming. It is also a ballet dance- between our passions and the passions and needs of the kids who come to us each day. I compare teaching to ballet because both are artistic, needing an ebb and flow to share the artistry. Both are highly structured, but an outsider might never notice this. Both are influential and invigorating, for the “dancers” and audience members.

I’d love to hear your thanks and gives. Comment here or send me a message. Let’s have this conversation.