Socio-cultural assessment is realising and understanding the way a child responds to challenges and change. Their responses and perceptions are based on the world in which they live. Their understanding of the world comes from the values and beliefs of the adults, community, socio-economic status, education and culture that surround them. (Mooney, 2000). When making an assessment on an individual child it is necessary to consider the background and culture in which they exist. Berger (2005), states that "human development results from dynamic interactions between developing persons and their surrounding society and culture." (p.45).
Every child is influenced by their own individual socio-cultural and historical environments. Infants are by nature attuned to engage with the social and cultural environment of their family and the wider community they live in. All environments are culturally constructed, shaped by generations of human activity and creativity, and fashioned by their complex belief systems. The way parents care for and teach their children is largely shaped by their cultural beliefs about what is appropriate and desirable, in terms of both goals of child development, and the means to achieve these goals. (Rogoff, 1990).
A socio-cultural perspective of learning promotes social interactions with more knowledgeable others, therefore extending children's capabilities. It is encouraged that knowledge from all cultures within the centre is shared rather than belonging to the individual. (Dahlberg, Moss & Pence, 1999). Te Whāriki believes that, "The early childhood curriculum supports the cultural identity of differences, and aims to help children gain a positive awareness of their own and other cultures". (Ministry of Education, 1996, p 16).
Active participation in these learning experiences will enable children to participate increasingly effectively as learners in their cultural communities, therefore allowing them to make better sense of the wider world they live in. (Dahlberg, Moss & Pence, 1999). Te Whāriki contribution goal 2 states, "Children develop a sense of "who they are," their place in the wider world of relationships, and the way in which these are valued". (MoE, 1996, p.68).
The socio-cultural perspective of development derives from the work of Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, who held the view that children are products of their social and cultural worlds, and to "understand them we must comprehend the social, cultural and societal contexts in which they develop" (Berk & Winsler, 1995, p.1). Vygotsky believed that because cultures differ in the activities they emphasise, and in the tools they use, all human activity and mental processes lead to knowledge and skills that are essential for success within a particular culture. Adults or other community members guide children's participation in activities to promote the development and knowledge of these skills. (Berk & Winsler, 1995). "Vygotsky's socio-cultural theory asserts that complex forms of thinking have their origins in social interactions rather than in the child's private explorations" (Boyd & Bee, 2006, p. 40).
Within this theoretical framework, an effective learning strategy is scaffolding, which assumes the role of teachers and facilitators to be instigators of the learner's development. They provide support structures for children to progress to the next stage or level of cognitive development through collaboration and interaction with others. The various means of assisted performance include modelling, feedback, instructing, questioning, and cognitive structuring whereby the student transitions from other-assistance to self-assistance to unassisted internalised learning. (Raymond, 2000). Te Whāriki values this belief by suggesting, "Adults provide "scaffolding" for the children's endeavours - supports and connections that are removed and replaced when and where they are needed". (MoE, 1996, p.43).
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Berk, L. E. & Winsler, A. (1995). Scaffolding children 's learning : Vygotsky and early childhood education. Washington, DC : National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Boyd, D. & Bee, H. (2006). Lifespan Development (4th Ed.). NY: Allyn and Bacon.
Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., & Pence, A. (1999). Beyond quality in early childhood education and care: Postmodern perspectives. London: Falmer Press.
Edwards, S. (2003). New Directions: charting the paths for the role of sociocultural theory in early childhood education and curriculum. In Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. 4(3),pp. 251-266.
Hausfather, S. J. (1996). Vygotsky and Schooling: Creating a Social Context for Learning, Action in Teacher Education. 18 (1-10). Retrieved May 17, 2007 from http://chd.gse.gmu.edu/immersion/knowledgebase/theorists/ constructivism/vygotsky.htm.
Ministry of Education. (1996). Te Whāriki, He Whāriki Matauranga mo nga Mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early Childhood Curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.
Ministry of Education. (2004). Bicultural assessment, He Aromatawai Ahurea Rua. In Ministry of Education (Ed.), Kei Tua O te Pae Assessment for Learning: Early Childhood exemplars (Book three). Wellington: Learning Media Ltd.
Raymond, E. (2000). Cognitive Characteristics - Learners with Mild Disabilities. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Rogoff, B. (1990). Apprenticeship in thinking: Cognitive development in social context. New York: Ozford University Press.
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