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Social Constructivism

The level of potential development is the level at which learning takes place. It
comprises cognitive structures that are still in the process of maturing, but which can
only mature under the guidance of or in collaboration with others.
Background
Social constructivism is a variety of cognitive constructivism that emphasizes the
collaborative nature of much learning. Social constructivism was developed by postrevolutionary Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky was a cognitivist, but rejected
the assumption made by cognitivists such as Piaget and Perry that it was possible to
separate learning from its social context. He argued that all cognitive functions
originate in, and must therefore be explained as products of social interactions and
that learning was not simply the assimilation and accommodation of new knowledge
by learners; it was the process by which learners were integrated into a knowledge
community. According to Vygotsky (1978, 57),

Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the
social level and, later on, on the individual level; first, between people
(interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies
equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of
concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between
individuals.

Vygotsky’s theory of social learning has been expanded upon by numerous later
theorists and researchers.
View of Knowledge
Cognitivists such as Piaget and Perry see knowledge as actively constructed by
learners in response to interactions with environmental stimuli. Vygotsky emphasized
the role of language and culture in cognitive development. According to Vygotsky,
language and culture play essential roles both in human intellectual development and
in how humans perceive the world. Humans’ linguistic abilities enable them to
overcome the natural limitations of their perceptual field by imposing culturally
defined sense and meaning on the world. Language and culture are the frameworks
through which humans experience, communicate, and understand reality. Vygotsky
states (1968, 39),

A special feature of human perception … is the perception of real objects … I do
not see the world simply in color and shape but also as a world with sense and

I see a clock … Language and the conceptual schemes that are transmitted by means of language are essentially social phenomena. learners are partially motivated by rewards provided by the knowledge community. Cognitive motivation is essentially intrinsic — based on the learner's internal drive.meaning. Because learning is essentially a social phenomenon. he claimed they had failed to understand that learning is a collaborative process. it is coconstructed. However. Knowledge is not simply constructed. because knowledge is actively constructed by the learner. the level of potential development is the level at which learning takes place. The learner is capable of solving problems and understanding material at this level that they are not capable of solving or understanding at their level of actual development. Social constructivists see motivation as both extrinsic and intrinsic. essentially socially constructed. The optimal size for group learning is four or five people. As a result. View of Learning Vygotsky accepted Piaget’s claim that learners respond not to external stimuli but to their interpretation of those stimuli. It comprises cognitive structures that are still in the process of maturing. Vygotsky distinguished between two developmental levels (85): The level ofactual development is the level of development that the learner has already reached. As a result. Since the average section size is ten to . I do not merely see something round and black with two hands. View of Motivation Behavioral motivation is essentially extrinsic — a reaction to positive and negative reinforcements. Vygotsky believed. human cognitive structures are. he argued that cognitivists such as Piaget had overlooked the essentially social nature of language. but which can only mature under the guidance of or in collaboration with others. However. Implications for Teaching Collaborative learning methods require learners to develop teamwork skills and to see individual learning as essentially related to the success of group learning. learning also depends to a significant extent on the learner's internal drive to understand and promote the learning process. and is the level at which the learner is capable of solving problems independently. The level of potential development (the “zone of proximal development”) is the level of development that the learner is capable of reaching under the guidance of teachers or in collaboration with peers.

More generally. collaborative learning should be seen as a process of peer interaction that is mediated and structured by the teacher. it is important to note that Vygotksy never used this term in his writing. and it was introduced by Wood et al. the introduction and clarification of concepts and information. Vygotsky believed that when a student is at the ZPD for a particular task.within the zone of proximal development.fifteen people. with the benefit of scaffolding. p86). For instance. 1978. masters the task. although discussion sections are essentially collaborative learning environments. He suggests that teachers use cooperative learning exercises where less competent children develop with help from more skillful peers . Discussion can be promoted by the presentation of specific concepts. and references to previously learned material. (1976). providing the appropriate assistance will give the student enough of a "boost" to achieve the task. or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Vygotsky. problems. Wood et al. The ZPD has become synonymous in the literature with the termscaffolding. it is guided by means of effectively directed questions. Lev Vygotsky views interaction with peers as an effective way of developing skills and strategies. (1976. They are then held responsible for researching the topic and presenting their findings to the class. p. . However. students may be split into groups that are then required to choose and research a topic from a limited area. thus permitting him to concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within his range of competence'. The zone of proximal development (ZPD) has been defined 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 scenarios. 90) offer the following definition of scaffolding: 'Those elements of the task that are initially beyond the learner’s capacity. the scaffolding can then be removed and the student will then be able to complete the task again on his own. collaborative learning methods often require GSIs to break students into smaller groups. Once the student. Some more specific techniques are suggested in the Teaching Guide pages on Discussion Sections. in group investigations.

She was doing everything else correctly. He notices that her stance is perfect. Building the model was too difficult a task for a4 year old child to complete alone.It is important to note that the terms cooperative learning. she prepares early. and then assists her in changing her grip. Weeks go by and they learn how to properly serve and hit a backhand.Scaffolding The following study provides empirical support the both the concept of scaffolding and the ZPD. so too will students in our classrooms be able to achieve tasks that would otherwise be too difficult for them. Maria's forehand turns into a formidable weapon for her! In this case. stressing that she should keep her index finger parallel to the racquet. she turns her torso appropriately. During the week of learning the forehand. Provided with appropriate support at the right moments. . Maria was in the zone of proximal development for successfully hitting a forehand shot. With a little practice. but just needed a little coaching and scaffolding from a "More Knowledgeable Other" to help her succeed in this task. the instructor notices that Maria is very frustrated because she keeps hitting her forehand shots either into the net or far past the baseline. Wood and Middleton (1975) . However. he notices that she is still gripping her racquet the same way she hits her backhand. scaffolding and guided learning all have the same meaning within the literature. Zone of Proximal Development Example Maria just entered college this semester and decided to take an introductory tennis course. He models a good forehand for her. 4 year old children had to use a set of blocks and pegs to build a 3D model shown in a picture. so he goes over to her and shows her how to reposition her hand to hit a proper forehand. He examines her preparation and swing. she became able to achieve her goal. Her class spends each week learning and practicing a different shot. When that assistance was given. and she hits the ball at precisely the right height.

they gave increasingly specific instructions until the child started to make progress again. and Vygotsky's concept of the ZPD. (1976) named certain processes that aid effective scaffolding:  Gaining and maintaining the learner’s interest in the task.  Demonstrate the task.  Control the child’s level of frustration. Scaffolding (i.g. they became less specific in their help. The type of support included:  General encouragement e. . Mothers whose assistance was most effective were those who varied their strategy according to how the child was doing.g.Wood and Middleton (1975) observed how mothers interacted with their children to build the 3D model.’  Direct demonstration e. When the child was doing well. When the child started to struggle. This puts them in a position to achieve success in an activity that they would previously not have been able to do alone.  Making the task simple. ‘get four big blocks. ‘now you have a go. assistance) is most effective when the support is matched to the needs of the learner.  Emphasizing certain aspects that will help with the solution.’  Specific instructions e. Wood et al. The study illustrates scaffolding. showing the child how to place one block on another. The results of the study showed that no single strategy was best for helping the child to progress.g.e.