Who is Your Vygotsky or MKO?
I learned to ask this question last spring when two of my theory students informed me that they were working together and helping each other out with their online assignments. At the time, I did not make much of their comment. As a seasoned K – 12 vocal music teacher, I see and hear many students “working together” – a.k.a. divide up the assignment or share answers – all the time.
But this time, it was different. These two students were learning and teaching each other and not just sharing the answers. Each student realized that the other possessed specific musical skills and understanding that could help them with their theory assignments and fill in their knowledge gap. One student was a freshman and is a phenomenal jazz guitarist and saxophonist who performs regularly with local college and professional musicians. The other was an outstanding All-State tenor who is currently a freshman at the University of Hartford studying music theatre at The Hartt School.
The key to their success? These two young musicians initiated and maintained a collaborative relationship through which they assisted each other in their classwork as both a peer student and teacher.
My initial thought was that these two students sought help from one another because they were already outstanding and dedicated musicians. But I now realize that they are outstanding and dedicated musicians because they learned to grow musically through the eyes of both a student and a teacher. They learned to be each other’s More Knowledgeable Other.
The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO)
My two theory students were what Russian psychologist and Sociocultural Cognitive Development theorist Lev Vygotsky called each other’s More Knowledgeable Other. The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) is identified as a more experienced teacher assisting a less experienced student through a challenging problem, concept, or skill. The gap between what students can understand independently and what is beyond their ability to learn alone is what Vygotsky called the Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD. If you are interested and have a few minutes (13:36), below is an excellent overview of Lev Vygotsky and his Sociocultural Theory.
Who is Your Vygotsky?
This proposed question modifies the traditional vertical teacher-to-student top down interpretation of an MKO. It creates a horizontal peer-to-peer relationship between a student mentor and a student mentee. This vertical to horizontal paradigm shift produces a noticeable improvement in music students’ learning and autonomy:
- Peer mentoring programs can have a positive impact on academic achievement, health and safety, and social and emotional development (Jekielek, 2002)
- Through reflection and articulation, both the mentor and mentee learn from the shared experience (Hayward, 2001)
- Both the mentor and mentee benefit from experiencing different learning styles and approaches (Loong, 1998)
- When working with challenging problems or skills, peer interactions can inspire new perspectives (Jaramillo, 1996)
ADIF and the Subject Matter Expert
In the Agile Development Instructional Framework (ADIF), the horizontal peer-to-peer More Knowledgeable Other’s paradigm is presented to each ensemble member, as all students are given the title of Subject Matter Expert or SME. This title recognizes that each choir member can assist other students through their ZPD and help the individual and ensemble accomplish their goal. The Agile Development Instructional Framework and the Agile Centered Classroom identifies each student as a prospective SME teacher and tutor.
Every year, I tell my students that “each of you has a unique skill or talent that is valuable and essential to the choir’s success. AND, throughout the year, your specific knowledge and skills will be called upon during our voice lessons, choir rehearsals, and concerts”.
This validation of my students’ worth, skills, and peer support pertains to every member of the ensemble – from the choir president to the shy alto who is in French VI to the boisterous bass who races motocross on weekends.
All students can be someone’s Vygotsky.
So, when a student becomes someone’s Vygotsky and finds themselves in the position of being a peer mentor or tutor, how do they respond? How will they help others learn? I am afraid the answer is how they have been taught since kindergarten – by mostly using the Direct Instruction Model. Kolb and Kolb (2017) presents four teaching roles in the Experiential Learning Cycle that will help teachers (and students) provide a productive and sound framework for instruction.
Know your Kolb KERP
To help my students become effective Vygotsky’s for each other, next week, I will be introducing my ensembles to the four teaching roles found in the Kolb Educator Role Profile (KERP). This instrument is specifically designed to help teachers identify their instructional tendencies and presents information on how to shift teaching roles between the Facilitator, Expert, Evaluator, and Coach. These teaching roles will be modified for the peer mentor and teacher, and the essence and core characteristics of each role will be maintained.
First Things First
For now, my first challenge is presenting Lev Vygotsky to my choirs and asking them to answer the question, “Who is your Vygotsky, and why?” For their Individual Ensemble Musicianship (IEM) project this week, they will complete this Google Form and watch a few short YouTube videos about Lev Vygotsky, the More Knowledgeable Other, and the Zone of Proximal Development.
In this activity, each student will select four classmates to be their Vygotsky’s or MKO this semester: two classmates to help with their Choir Fundamental assignments such as a Self-Sprint, and Two to help with their IEM Projects.
Conclusion: Who is Your Vygotsky?
Who is that colleague you can call or email to help you work through a challenging situation or technical question? If you are like me, chances are it is not your superintendent, chancellor, or curriculum coordinator. Though they may be outstanding educators, your Vygotsky is probably someone who is in the trenches with you – a peer MKO.
I believe the same needs to be and must be true for our students. Each student would benefit from receiving help and learning from their peers and friends as well as through their teachers. Our challenge lies in providing our students with the experiences and skills they need to become autonomous and successful music students. One way to provide this opportunity and have our students achieve musical independence and autonomy is to allow them to teach, to question, and to stumble at times – to become someone’s Vygotsky.
We are all someone’s Vygotsky.
Students Teaching Students and Review and Renew Videos
For the past five years, my students and I have been working on a program we call Students Teaching Students. This project develops and features the students’ ability to identify, create, and participate in various activities in and for the choral rehearsal environment. With all my ensembles participating in a virtual high school choral music program this semester, we decided to create “review and renew videos” for each other and for our middle school choir.
Below is an example of a Review and Renew Video for the bass section that a few of my young vocalists created for The Star-Spangled Banner, arranged by Russell Robinson. The video is by no means perfect, but it is keeping my ensembles singing and hopefully maintaining their vocal chops.
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Kolb, Alice Y., and David A. Kolb. The Experiential Educator: Principles and Practices of Experiential Learning. Columbia, MA: Experience Based Learning Systems, 2017.