Guided Participation Teaching

Guided Participation teaching describes teaching tactics that are most natural to families and children, because they are derived from observing natural human parenting across the world.

All mammals have parents and were parented to some degree. We parent our children in ways that evolved over hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years, and there are consistent parenting traits demonstrated across all human cultures that we consider indigenous to our species, and species like us. The famous Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky described how people learn and teach through personal relationships while engaged in collaborative social interaction.

Guided Participation is a concept developed later on by disciples of Vygotsky (Rogoff, Bruner, so called “neo-Vygotskians,” and others. Guides actually support the apprentice’s potential skills “…through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky et al, 1978, p. 86.). More experienced partners (“Masters” or “Guides”), usually in heterogeneous age groups, provide the “guidance” less experienced partners (Apprentices) need. Social interaction continues to build and refine the thinking abilities of all individuals, whether in the Guide or Apprentice role, throughout the lifespan.

Vygotsky and his intellectual followers developed tactics useful for special needs students, and practically every adult-led developmentally based intervention emanates from Guided Participation theory.


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Guided Participation Teaching and Autism

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For 8 years (2004-2012), I was a RDI Program™ Certified Consultant. I parted ways with the Connections Center in Houston in October 2012, by declining to renew my certification. We parted ways on mutually good terms, and I still recommend RDI to families that can make the commitment necessary and find a Certified Provider.

I wanted to learn RDI because of its focus on the quality of life of individuals who are on the Autism Spectrum and who have had early intervention and special education. The results were dismal, showing that after twenty or so years of ABA and Special Education, the vast majority lost almost all contacts except their immediate family, had few if any other social contacts, and only 3% were regularly and gainfully employed. According to it’s founders, they developed RDI as a response and possible solution to this problem. I learned to think about quality of life and to imbue it this blog and in everyday practice at Sponderworks.

Learning RDI was amazing. I was already in the business already for many years, practicing ABA and Floortime and learning about the neurological foundations of development and autism throughout, and never expected the depth and breadth of what Dr. Steven Gutstien and Rachelle Sheely had to teach me. RDI was and is a brilliant mix of the most current findings in the neurodevelopment of autism, systems and attachment theory, emotional development and cognitive psychology.

RDI Methodology rests on a foundation of Guided Participation, a term first used by Barbara Rogoff in her book Apprenticeship in Thinking. Guided Participation describes essentially a social process of learning. While Piaget emphasized the child’s independent efforts and mechanisms or means to explore the world, Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky developed a ["sociocultural"] theory of learning based on social collaboration.

Vygotsky’s original work has become an enduring and systematic force in education, that other scholars and researchers continue to strengthen and elaborate. While Vygotsky made important contributions to the field of special education as well, the genius of RDI is how to apply Vygotskian principles to intervention with autism and related disorders. RDI uses neo-Vygotskian collaborative teaching models developed by others to teach relationship and dynamic thinking skills. While Gutstien’s developmental of relationship development skills hierarchies has changed over the years, the foundations for RDI intervention come directly from Vygotskian theory and noted neo-Vygotskian theorists like Rogoff, Jerome Bruner  and others.

I’ve gone back to the original works of Vygotsky, Rogoff, Bruner, and I’ve retained what I’ve learned from RDI in order to apply their principles to programs in the family home and in school programs. However, I do not claim current certification as a RDI™ CC. If you are interested in working with a current list of RDI™ Program Certified Consultants, click here.