Social Constructivism

Social Constructivism

Introduction of Constructivism

Constructivism is a term that should be used with caution.

It is widely used in many disciplines. It is obvious that the term constructivism is used with very different meanings. It is used to describe learning and teaching as well as curricula and assessment. It is also used in a more philosophical or epistemological meaning.

Social constructivism views each learner as a unique individual with unique needs and backgrounds. The learner is also seen as complex and multidimensional. Social constructivism not only acknowledges the uniqueness and complexity of the learner, but actually encourages, utilizes and rewards it as an integral part of the learning process (Wertsch 1997).

What is Social Constructivism?

Social constructivism emphasizes the importance of culture and context in understanding what occurs in society and constructing knowledge based on this understanding (Derry, 1999; McMahon, 1997). This perspective is closely associated with many contemporary theories, most notably the developmental theories of Vygotsky and Bruner, and Bandura’s social cognitive theory (Shunk, 2000).

Assumptions of Social Constructivism

Social constructivism is based on specific assumptions about reality, knowledge, and learning. To understand and apply models of instruction that are rooted in the perspectives of social constructivists, it is important to know the premises that underlie them.

Reality: Social constructivists believe that reality is constructed through human activity. Members of a society together invent the properties of the world (Kukla, 2000).

For the social constructivist, reality cannot be discovered: it does not exist prior to its social invention.

Knowledge: To social constructivists, knowledge is also a human product, and is socially and culturally constructed (Ernest, 1999; Gredler, 1997; Prat & Floden, 1994).

Individuals create meaning through their interactions with each other and with the environment they live in.

Learning: Social constructivists view learning as a social process. It does not take place only within an individual, nor is it a passive development of behaviors that are shaped by external forces (McMahon, 1997).

Meaningful learning occurs when individuals are engaged in social activities.

Overview of Social Constructivism

Vygotsky’s constructivist theory, which is often called social constructivism, has much more room for an active, involved teacher.

For Vygotsky the culture gives the child the cognitive tools needed for development.

The type and quality of those tools determines, to a much greater extent than they do in Piaget’s theory, the pattern and rate of development.

Adults such as parents and teachers are conduits for the tools of the culture, including language.

The tools the culture provides a child include cultural history, social context, and language.

Today they also include electronic forms of information access.

General Implications of Social Constructivism

If Vygotsky is correct and children develop in social or group settings, the use of technology to connect rather than separate students from one another would be very appropriate use.

A constructivist teacher creates a context for learning in which students can become engaged in interesting activities that encourages and facilitates learning.

The teacher does not simply stand by, however, and watch children explore and discover.

Instead, the teacher may often guide students as they approach problems, may encourage them to work in groups to think about issues and questions, and support them with encouragement and advice as they tackle problems, adventures, and challenges that are rooted in real life situations that are both interesting to the students and satisfying in terms of the result of their work.

Teachers thus facilitate cognitive growth and learning as do peers and other members of the child’s community.

All classrooms in which instructional strategies compatible with Vygotsky’s social constructivist approach are used don’t necessarily look alike.

The activities and the format can vary considerably.

Four principles of vygotskian classroom

  1. Learning and development is a social, collaborative activity.
  2. The Zone of Proximal Development can serve as a guide for curricular and lesson planning.
  3. School learning should occur in a meaningful context and not be separated from learning and knowledge children develop in the “real world.”
  4. Out-of-school experiences should be related to the child’s school experience.

Types of Instruction of Social Constructivism

Technology provides essential tools with which to accomplish the goals of a social constructivist classroom. Below are a few examples of the way information technology can support social constructivist teaching and learning:

  • Telecommunications tools such as e-mail and the Internet provide a means for dialogue, discussion, and debate — interactivity that leads to the social construction of meaning. Students can talk with other students, teachers, and professionals in communities far from their classroom. Telecommunications tools can also provide students access to many different types of information resources that help them understand both their culture and the culture of others.
  • Networked writing programs provides a unique platform for collaborative writing. Students can write for real audiences who respond instantly and who participate in a collective writing activity.
  • Simulations can make learning meaningful by situating something to be learned in the context of a “real world” activity such as running a nuclear power plant, writing up “breaking” stories for a newspaper, or dealing with the pollution problems of local waterways

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