As educators we are in charge of teaching hundreds of students and ensuring that they are grasping the actual contents of the lessons we are teaching. What we need to ask ourselves is, “What defines that our students are learning?” The constructivism theory of learning changes the way we answer this question. No longer is getting the “right” answer the sole determining factor of whether a student has learned a particular lesson. In this theory learners create and drive their own learning. The role of the teacher is vastly changed as the teacher becomes an instigator of learning instead of the leader.
The constructivist view on learning has greatly changed ...view middle of the document...
Stemming from Piaget’s theory, Vygotsky extended on the concepts of constructivism by emphasizing that the social environment acts as a facilitator of development and learning. Vygotsky’s theory stressed the interaction of interpersonal (social), cultural-historical, and individual factors as the key to human development (Tudge & Scrimsher, 2003). Vygotsky believed that all upper mental functions begin in the social environment- a thought that was controversial (Vygotsky, 1962). Another key concept of Vygotsky’s theory was the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) as the “distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). This concept explains the learning relationship that is created when a teacher and learner work together to achieve a task that they could not do independently due to their individual lack of knowledge needed to complete said task. While the ZPD has been somewhat distorted in its meaning over the years, the overall thought on how the social environment plays a role in the ZPD is still significant. The interaction that is created through social environments can have a major impact on one’s mental development which is an important concept.
Vygotsky’s emphasis on the interactions between persons and their environments creates a form of dialectical (cognitive) constructivism (Schunk, pg. 242). While his claims have a lot of truth, the degree to which he believed the social environment affected higher mental functions has been questioned. This stems from research which has shown that children develop certain knowledge well before they can have cultural experiences (Bereiter, 1994) and are biologically predisposed to acquire certain concepts which are not dependent on the environment (Geary, 1995). Despite Vygotsky’s overly strong beliefs in the effect of the social environment on learning, certain concepts of his theory should still be considered when developing a learning environment. His thoughts on the social environment as having a primary role in learning provides educators with new ideas on how their classroom environments and lessons should be set-up to encourage social interaction.
Based upon Vygotsky’s theory, educators can create learning environments that can assist students to reach new levels of learning. Taking from Piaget’s theory to understand that not all students function at the same level is equally important for an educator to realize. Even more importantly, we need to remember that God created each of us uniquely in our mother’s womb (Psalms 129, NIV). When creating lesson plans, it is important that a teacher is aware of their students’ individual learning abilities as well as their uniqueness as an individual. For example, if we are teaching children with...