As a student, I was more familiar with Jean Piaget than Lev Vygotsky. I had subjects in Psych 101 and in Psychiatric Nursing that referenced Piaget’s work. It was only when I took EDS 103 that I was introduced to Vygotsky.
The stages identified by Piaget made sense to me especially when I was studying Mother and Child Nursing because his stages showed how development progresses in a child as s/he ages. It helped reinforce concepts I had already known or previously learned and observed. This, in Piagetian principles, is me assimilating and accommodating information to achieve equilibrium.
Vygotsky, on the other hand, took note of how culture and language influences knowledge acquisition. I agree with the statement that our language limits us to make sense of our world. We cannot experience things that we have no words for; nor can we understand them.
Case in point, the Eskimos, whose environment is dominated my snow year-round, have seven words for snowflakes. They had a word for newly falling snow, day-old snow, and the likes. For someone who lives in a tropical country (whose reality does not include snow), all those seven words will only mean one thing: ice. The best way to understand it is to understand the context in which the words were created or, if possible, experience it firsthand.
In the classroom, it is often difficult to teach abstract concepts to students. I remember a discussion on the scientific process I had with a previous class. Students, when asked to define what each step meant, usually gave textbook-definitions. When asked to define them in their own words, the same students were usually at a loss. It was also a challenge for most students to think of everyday applications of the scientific process until I gave them simple scenarios like picking out a dress to wear for a party.
I gave other simple yet everyday scenarios and had the students identify which process they use in resolving each situation. Once they had the hang of it, I then asked them to pair up and think of ways they apply the scientific method in their daily life. When they were able to see that the scientific method is not only applicable to science per se, they were able to define each process individually.
There are many other theories that aim to explain how learning occurs. I admit, I get confused when I try to analyze which theory is at work during each classroom activity. I think, though, that understanding the basic tenets of each can help me design my activities based on what will work best for my students.