Incorporating Theory into Practice

Posted: April 16, 2014 in Writing Center
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Thinking Through Theory: Vygotskian Perspectives on the Teaching of Writing by James Thomas Zebrosk; Chapter 6: A Vygotskian Theory of Writing

I first encountered Vygotsky’s theory of collaborative learning in and educational psychology class at York College. The basis of his theory is founded on the Zone of Proximal Development. It’s easier to show you than explain it.

Pretty much tutoring in a nutshell, right? I was browsing through the stacks at Towson Library and came across this book.

Chapter 6 outlines the ways writing works on different levels. From the looks of it, writing and tutoring are meant for each other like peanut butter and jelly.

  1. Social relation: leads to individual cognition and creates group processes–>writing is collaborative
  2. Developmental: progressive growth, building upon stages–>reflection is necessary in the writing process
  3. Inner speech: used in problem-solving context, may be related to writer’s block–>gets an outlet through brainstorming
  4. Dialogue: language is changing, need constant practice–>connects the inner world with the outer world

Now I’m not a huge fan of theory and prefer praxis instead, but these concepts I can handle. I can’t resist wondering how these levels come into play when two people sit down to revise, say a persuasive piece on why adults should exercise more.

Both tutor and tutee are interested in the topic. The tutee is pursuing a degree in nursing and includes many statistics and jargon in the draft. The tutor’s mom is suffering from heart problems because of her obesity. Both are emotionally invested in the paper. The tutee wants a good grade; the tutor wants the tutee to succeed.  The tutee expresses he has difficulty coming up with strong conclusions and didn’t write one yet.  

Social relation

  • Collaboration between the two incorporates logos and pathos into the paper but retains the tutee’s original thought processes and arguments. 


  • The tutor and the tutee work together to define the jargon in the paper. To break up the statistics, the tutor helps the tutee to develop vivid examples and correlations.

Inner speech

  • The tutor asks the tutee to verbally explain the paper in about 2 minutes. While the tutee speaks, the tutor takes notes. There are several similes mentioned. The tutee counts on his fingers when identifying main points.


  • The tutor allows the tutee to use the notes to write a conclusion paragraph. As the tutee writes, he asks the tutee about how to start. The tutor provides several sentence stems for summarizing. The tutee picks the one he thinks is the best fit and begins writing.In the final product, the tutee includes the similes he talked about and introduces sentences with first, second, third.

Incredible. Zone of Proximal Development. Collaborative Writing Theory. All working together. So cool.

  1. jayne bowers says:

    What I’ve always liked about this theory is the zone of proximal development. To me, it means the person is ready to learn the concept but needs a teacher (tutor, parent, another child) to introduce or explain it–provide scaffolding. For instance, there was no way I could learn long division at age 4 (was surely no child prodigy) but by middle childhood, I was ready. I like the saying (paraphrase), “When the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear.”

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