Brian Burns, Emily Campbell, Jessica Dobaczewski, Liz Doneathy, Jesse Langevin, Jenn Lortie, Daniel Lufty, Megan McMillan, Andrea Secord, Cameron Smith, and Pam Watson

Sociocultural - Historical Theorysociocultural_projects.jpg

“Humans develop through their changing participation in the sociocultural activities of their communities, which also change” (Rogoff, 2003: 11).

Theoretical Focus

The sociocultural – historical theory defines the child as an active member of a constantly changing community of learners where knowledge is constructed by the larger cultural systems around them. The theory “presents a culturally focused analysis of participation in everyday life, in both formal and informal learning settings, that offers teachers and researchers a way to meaningfully use or analyze students’ practices in the classroom or research project” (101). As teachers we can link the idea of intention, or the constitution, of literacy knowledge to the dynamic learning processes that occur in classrooms which are rooted in the sociocultural – historical theoretical context.

 Social Origins of Learning

The sociocultural historical theory has its ground in theories of child development from staple theorists like Piaget and Vygotsky.
Learning occurs through participation in all aspects of life (social, cultural and historical) both in formal and informal settings. furthermore, With this theory “community is expanded to include the larger society as a community of practice or, multiple communities of practice, to which children are being socialized on multiple levels” (106). On a typical day a child will walk through a multitude of different communities, both private and public from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed This type of community interaction can both continue for generations and be constantly changing participation on multiple planes.

Cultural Mediation “refers to how humans modify mental and material objects to regulate interaction with the world and with others. Language and literacy are key mediating artifacts for meaning construction” (102). In the classroom this can affect how desks are set up or how students are groups or paired. Literacy knowledge is developed through tools (books, computers, objects, text messages, blogs etc.) that everyone including teachers, children, adults use in everyday life both in and out of school. Teachers can use this knowledge of how their students communicate and interacts with the world around them to better understand how they learn and use literacy.

Linking To Literature

Wells’ version of education grew out of Vygotsky’s social constructivist theory which recognizes learning and teaching as being both exploratory and collaborative. Two ways of accomplishing this are through mediated joint activity and collaborative communities.

Mediated joint activity is the co-construction of knowledge by more mature and less mature participants, and where different maturity levels engage in activity together. The less mature are assisted to appropriate the culture’s existing resources and guided as they use and transform them for the solution of the problems that they consider important” (Wells 2000:12). Collaborative communities occur with the teacher as leader, and is where all participants learn from and with each other. They co-construct knowledge as they engage together in dialogic inquiry (Wells 2000:12).

Investigatory activities / collaborative inquiry:
· Should involve whole persons: arouse students’ interest, feelings and values
· Should allow diversity and originality: be sufficiently open-ended as to allow new / alternative possibilities for consideration and challenge individual students’ current abilities
· Should encourage collaboration with others in constructing shared understanding
· Should further students’ understanding not only of factual knowledge, but knowledge growing out of , and oriented to, socially relevant and productive action

“…education should be conducted as a dialogue about matters that are of interest and concern to the participants” – G. Wells

A vital aspect of collaborative communities is communities of inquiry. Communities of inquiry occur when the curriculum is seen as being created in the many modes of conversation. Teachers and students alike dialogically make sense of topics of individual and social significance through action, knowledge building and reflection (98). Inquiry also has implications for the teacher as researcher, “who systematically investigates her or his own practice in an attempt to improve it” (Wells 1999: 13) when teacher colleagues co-participate in using the constructivist framework to collect evidence and carry out changes.

Multiple Literacy's and Using Technology in the Classroom

Keeping up with technology and knowing your students are all vital relevancies of today’s classroom. However, one problem associated with integrating technology and the literacy’s that students are familiar with is that they may have minimal exposure to the types of literacy. The key is variety within the texts they are exposed to.

"[Literary instruction] can be a more effective way to convey and assess truths about life than, say, philosophy, because literature's connecting link to "everydayness," as my student called it, gives it immediacy and accessibility." - Dan Morgan

Linking Theory to Curriculum Documents

Oral Communication:
· Listening to Understand: listen in order to understand and respond appropriately in a variety of situations for a variety of purposes.
· Speaking to communicate: Using speaking skills and strategies appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Reading and Literature Studies:
· Reading for meaning: read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of informational, literacy and graphic texts, using a range of strategies to construct meaning.

· Using knowledge of form and style: draft and revise their writing, using a variety of informational, literacy, and graphic forms and stylistic elements appropriate for the purpose and audience.


Assessment Tool


College English, VOL.55, No,5 (Sept.,1993), pp.491-50.

Wells, G. (1999). Dialogic Inquiry: Toward a Sociocultural Practice and Theory of Education. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wells, G. (2000). Dialogic Inquiry in Education. In C.D. Lee & P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), Vygoskian perspectives on literacy research: constructing meaning through collaborative inquiry (pp. 51-85). New York: Cambridge University Press.