Defining Constructivism by g2Y24F99


									Running Head: SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                          1

          Social Constructivism and Constructivist Classroom Characteristics

                                     Carla Maza

                          University of Texas, Brownsville
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                      2


Vygotsky as an epistemologist is often cited in the constructivist theory. The main
characteristics of a constructivist epistemology are discussed as well as Piaget and Vygotsky as
leaders. Similarities and differences in their work are included. An emphasis on Vygotsky and
the constructivist epistemology implemented in the classroom are discussed. Roles that teachers
and students undertake in a constructivist classroom and characteristics of the classroom
methodologies are presented. Finally a discussion about reasons teachers and students do not
emphasize a constructivist classroom and criticism of the Vygotsky’s constructivist epistemology
are analyzed.

Key words: Constructivist, zone of proximal development, cognitive constructivism, social

SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                         3


    The constructivist epistemology has received quite a bit of acclaim in recent years. Its basis

is that people learn from experiences and these experiences affect how they understand concepts

(Colburn, 2007). As people go through new experiences, their opinions and ideas also change.

This is indicative of the idea that a person’s schema alters to encompass new knowledge about a

phenomena. There are two definitive leaders of constructivism; Piaget and Vyogtsky. Piaget’s

epistemology stems from cognitive constructivism contrasting Vygotsky’s social constructivism.

Recent research endorses a constructivism classroom stemming from the epistemologies of these

two theorists. This paper will focus on describing and comparing Piaget’s cognitive

constructivism and Vygotsky’s social constructivism. The work of Vygotsky presents interesting

questions that will be discussed like: what is the basis to Vygotsky’s constructivist epistemology

and what would a constructivist classroom resemble in pedagogy and responsibility for the

teacher and student? Although Piaget’s theory is essential to the constructivist movement; this

paper will describe Vygotsky’s constructivist epistemology with an emphasis on what a

constructivist classroom would resemble in characteristics, responsibility of teacher and student,

and methodology. To help facilitate the picture, a brief description and analysis of both

epistemologies has been included.

                     Characteristics of Piaget’s Cognitive Constructivism

     Cognitive constructivism, Piaget’s theory, focuses on the idea that people cannot simply be

given information to which they have the ability to create knowledge from (Powell & Kalina,

2009). Instead, in order for knowledge to be fully understood and applied, a sequential order
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                            4

must be followed. Piaget’s cognitive constructivism relies heavily on his four stages of

development that are essential for one to construct knowledge. These stages are sensorimotor,

pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operational. These stages represent the

cognitive growth necessary for the acquisition of logical thinking. Piaget also includes

assimilation and accommodation as necessary for knowledge acquisition. Assimilation is when

children are able to bring new knowledge to their schemas and accommodation is being able to

change a schema to make room for new information (Powell & Kalina, 2009). Both, the

sequential acquisition of knowledge and assimilation and accommodation are important for

learning new knowledge. The learner will forego illogical thinking and replace it with the

construction of new knowledge that can be manipulated and synthesized in many different

situations. Green and Gredler (2002) reiterate that new constructions are a direct result of the

manipulation of knowledge and differentiation between perceptions and the new information.

Hence, Piaget stresses the ability of an individual to learn and construct knowledge based on the

individual stage of development.

                     Characteristics of Vogotsky’s Social Constructivism

    Contrary to Piaget’s cognitive constructivism, Vogotsy’s social constructivism illuminates

the importance of interactions between students and the teacher. Two interrelated developmental

concepts are essential: learning the meaning of the written language and symbols of a culture and

how to use these symbols in the application of cognitive tasks (Green & Gredler, 2002). The

teacher is of the upmost importance as students use the teacher for modeling and practice of

these symbols and language. Through these methods, the student will internalize the knowledge
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                              5

and create or construct new knowledge based on previous knowledge. These social

constructions require higher order critical thinking.

     Vygotsky also had a theory that was considered crucial to his epistemology. In its most

basic definition, zone of proximal development (ZPD) is the zone in which learning occurs with

help from one who has more knowledge (Powell & Kalina, 2009). In essence the zone of

proximal development is the scaffolding of knowledge from one who is knowledgeable with one

who is learning is important. The learner exhibits success on one level of understanding prior to

the sequential movement to a more difficult concept to be learned. Learning occurs within this

zone. Instruction below the zone will not develop critical thinking skills and information above

the zone leads to frustration, where no learning will occur due to cognitive barriers. Once

knowledge is acquired, the zone grows. Inclusive of the zone of proximal development theory is

cooperative learning; which if implemented correctly; will help scaffold learning to the next

level. Learning is supported by the social interaction. Green and Gredler (2002) define

Vygotsky learning as “socially shared cognition that is co-constructed within a community of

participants” (p.53). Therefore, social interaction is essential to the learning process in social

constructivism. Social interaction includes teachers and peers as part of the zone of proximal

development and cooperative learning environment. Thus, Vygotsky’s social constructivism

requires social interaction to develop new knowledge and transmit and acquire knowledge.

             Similarities of Vygotsky and Piaget’s Constructivism Epistemology

    Similarities of the two theorists include a student centered environment and an inquiry based

methodology (Powell & Kalina, 2009). Piaget and Vygotsky also are inclusive of the student
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                          6

being a predominant force in learning and the teacher facilitating that learning. Learner centered

environment means that instruction focuses on the individual learner with regards to their

experiences, interests, background etc and implements instruction based on best practices that

promote motivation, learning and achievement (Henson, 2003). In a constructivist view, this

means that the students must use their own prior experiences and knowledge to construct or

create new knowledge and teachers are there to facilitate this transpiration of knowledge.

Inquiry based learning involves engaging students through exploration, discovery of

explanations, and elaborations constructed by the student (Orgill & Thomas, 2007). Typically,

one would associate this method of learning with science, but constructivists utilize inquiry

learning as premises to their theory. Constructivists emphasize motivation to learn by first

engaging the student by ascertaining and extracting prior knowledge. Opportunities for

exploration facilitated by the teacher soon follow. As new knowledge is constructed,

explanations and elaborations are synthesized and applied by the student. Both the student

centered environment and inquiry based methodology necessitate the teacher and student

interact. The teacher guides the students to the construction of knowledge. Piaget relies on the

individual to cognitively develop the knowledge that the interaction provided while Vygotsky

believes the knowledge is affected by the interaction. Regardless, the correlation to the

knowledge acquisition is the interaction.

             Differences in Vygotsky and Piaget’s Constructivism Epistemology

    There are fundamental differences between Vygotsky and Piaget’s epistemologies as well.

Piaget believes that student will be self directed to learn, contrasting Vygotsky who believed that

self learning must be taught as a skill by the teacher (Green &Gredler, 2002). This fundamental
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                             7

difference implies the role of the teacher is substantially different. Piaget delineates spontaneous

activity to promote learning while Vygotsky utilizes the teacher in a reciprocal manner. In

essence Vogotsky is student directed while Piaget is largely student discovery. For Piaget, the

student understands and knows the implication of seeking knowledge, creating motivation.

Contrary to self awareness; Vygotsky believes the teacher should take part in developing and

leading the learning.

    Piaget and Vygotsky also differed on the importance of inner speech. Piaget believed one

outgrew inner speech so it was not important to thinking and learning while Vygotsky thought

inner speech was integral to learning (Powell & Kalina, 2009). This represents a fundamental

difference in processing as Piaget discounted the effect of inner speech on cognitive processing

and Vygotsky identified it as essential to the learning and thinking process.

    Another difference between Vygotsky and Piaget is the idea about the sequence of thought

and language. Piaget identified thought as a predecessor to language, evolving as it is processed,

while Vygotsky believed language came before knowledge (Powell & Kalina, 2009). For Piaget,

this comes from inquiry activities and Vygotsky cites social interaction as important.    This is

intertwined in a third difference, the role of the student on learning. Piaget encapsulates

individual ability to process information and experiences to learn while Vygotsky felt the

interactions between the child and the teacher were important to the learning process (Powell &

Kalina, 2009). Although interaction occurs with both, Piaget turns back to the individual’s

ability to process and Vygotsky relies on the experiences within the interaction for learning. In

compendium, although both theorists are identified as constructivist, there are fundamental

schools of thought that differentiate the two.
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                             8

            Traditional Classroom and Constructivist Classroom Characteristics

Characteristics of a Traditional Classroom

     More emphasis has been placed on creating a learning environment that resembles a

constructivist approach and less of a traditional one in recent years. The main differences

between the traditional classroom and a constructivist classroom are in the teacher, student, and

the method of instruction.

    Typically in a traditional environment the teacher holds a great deal of power. The teacher

is the sole proprietor of knowledge and will disseminate it to the students through direct

instruction, lecture, and objective testing. Traditional pedagogy promotes a passive learner with

little inquiry past the dictated information. The lecture method and direct instruction rely on the

teacher to create a lesson that promotes little interaction between the teacher and student. The

function of the learner is to absorb the information that is being presented and repeat it almost

verbatim on an objective measured assessment. Social construction following the Vygotksy

epistemology is divergent of the traditional school of teaching especially in the role of the

teacher, the role of the student, and the pedagogy used for the acquisition of knowledge.

Characteristics of the Role of the Teacher in a Constructivist Classroom.

    In a constructivist classroom, the role of the teacher is quite different than that of a

traditional classroom. Teachers will spend more time focusing on the student understandings of

a concept and will actively use prior knowledge to promote reasoning, ideas, discussions, and

inquiry (Strait & Wilke, 2007). This direct focus on the student leads to a much different role for

the teacher. The teacher then becomes a facilitator of the learning process. There will be limited
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                             9

lecture with the teacher standing before the students and the teacher being the arbitrator of

information. Instead, the students will participate in hands on activities, collaboration, and

cooperative learning activities that are relevant to them so that the construction of knowledge

develops from prior knowledge and new experiences. A constructivist teacher would promote

task orientated learning activities (Kumar, 2006). These activities would promote critical

thinking on all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and the student to articulate either by verbal or

written means what their analysis and thought processes are of the new material. The teacher’s

role would be to facilitate the activities and probe the students with questions that would require

deeper concentration and thinking (Kumar, 2006). If students lack the prior knowledge

necessary to be able to construct new knowledge, then the teacher must enable the students to

incrementally gain the knowledge necessary for the construction of new knowledge through self

discovery activities.

    In addition, the teacher’s responsibilities deter from that of the traditional teacher where the

teacher lectures and asks questions that require a correct or incorrect factual answer.   Instead

the teacher models, coaches, and provides scaffolding (Kumar, 2006). Modeling occurs as the

teacher demonstrates specific activities or tasks relevant to the student. As a coach, the teacher

provides feedback, questioning, redirection, or appropriate interventions. Following Vygotsky’s

zone of proximal development, the teacher will scaffold the information to facilitate learning at

an appropriate level and move forward as learning occurs.

    Finally, in a constructivist learning environment, the teacher must take into account the

students perceptions, environment, interest, emotional states of mind and learning styles.

According to Henson (2003), learning occurs best when it is relevant and meaningful. Teachers
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                           10

need to take into account the student as a person with emotions, interests, and preconceived

perceptions about their environments. Traditional teachers teach each child the same, but

constructivist teachers promote the differentiation and individualization of student learning.

Once these concepts are accepted and accounted for, students feel appreciated, respected, and

motivated to learn (Henson, 2003). Whereas traditional teachers teach in a teacher centered

methodology, constructivists inaugurate the importance of the learner to the learning process.

Characteristics of the Role of the Student in a Constructivist Classroom

    Students in a constructivist environment participate more actively in their learning than their

traditionalist counterparts. In a traditional classroom, the student is considered a passive learner.

In the constructivist classroom the verbiage describing the students is indicative of that change.

The verbs used to describe what the student will do or learn involve active movement learning

rather than passive quiet learning. Hands on learning experiences, student centered activities,

and active learning is prescriptive to a constructivist classroom.

    As part of the constructivist environment social collaboration is essential. In today’s world,

student learning has changed dramatically. Students today, use technology to supplement their

environment. The teacher is no longer the expert when collaboration using technology has

opened up the world where interactions with experts can occur (Carter, 2008). This is consistent

of Vygotsky, who suggests that interacting with experts will help promote learning. As part of

student centered learning, students expect to have a coach or mentor to supplement their

instruction (Carter, 2008). Through cooperative learning, rubric grading, experimentation, and

inquiry learning, students are still in need of teacher facilitation to guide them through the
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                            11

learning process. This is contradictory to the traditional classroom where students relied solely

on the teacher for knowledge.

    Being actively engaged in learning follows the constructivist view. Constructivists think

that learning occurs when students are actively engaged (Orgill & Thomas, 2007). To the student

this requires a shift from sitting in the desk observing the teacher to manipulating objects and

constructing new schemas from experiences. In addition, active engagement dictates that the

learners create a connection to the material. Typically this occurs when the information is made

relevant to the student. The integration of new material with prior knowledge shifts perceptions

in the student. Students can facilitate this knowledge by participating in the opportunities that a

constructivist environment necessitates. The student is provided the opportunity to construct

new knowledge by vicariously living in a plethora of worlds. Carter (2008) cites that the

millennial generation will actively participate in the use of computer technologies, handheld

technology, primary sources, and human resources to promote learning. This is different from

the traditional classroom where the teacher was the sole source of information and the

exploitation of many resources to supplement instruction was unavailable.

 Pedagogy Strategies in the Constructivist Classroom

    Tradition dictates that the teacher teaches in a specific manner in which to be successful.

This traditional classroom typically would reveal lectures by the teacher, question and answer

time, and worksheets. A classroom where students were quietly working on worksheets was

viewed as appropriate. Constructivists delineate from this description. Cooperative learning,

collaboration, and interactions with fellow students and the teacher are essential.
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                             12

    Cooperative learning and collaboration follows Vygotsky’s epistemology with the zone of

proximal development. The zone of proximal development uses scaffolding and other people to

support learning (Powell & Kalina, 2009). Students help each other learn by interacting and

sharing prior knowledge. Through collaboration, students are able to move to subsequent levels

of learning. Interaction and dialogue with other students helps promote academic vocabulary

which in turn promotes maturation of learning. Vygotsky asserted that collaboration and

interaction promote learning (Boudourides , 2003). The theory is that although each student will

internalize and adapt their own individual schema at the rate that is appropriate to their social

experience, it was the experience with others that caused the change. Thus the interaction with

other students and the teacher is necessary for the change to schema. Vygotsky also believed

that development is determined by language (Boudourides, 2003). Although there is a variance

to the rate of development between language and thought, language development promotes the

automatic decision making; which in turn promotes thinking skills. These automatically in turn

promote the construction of changed knowledge by adjusting the schema.

    Collaboration with others is often viewed as inappropriate and often unethical in an

academic setting. This school of thought is not universally sanctioned. Generally students are

encouraged to interact with others in almost every other facet of their lives. They are encouraged

to work as a team in athletics and are exposed on a daily basis to people with opposing views in

politics, religion and cultural norms. For constructivists, these students then are expected to

continue this collaboration in school (Carter, 2008). In these settings there is a strong expectation

of teamwork, collaboration, and accomplishment. This idea of teamwork follows Vygotsky with

the idea of ascertaining the experience of the students in order to create a relevant, meaningful
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                          13

curriculum. Through dialogue, the students activate prior knowledge and critical thinking.

Teachers should use students’ verbal inclination to their advantage to promote critical thinking.

This concession is outside the norm of what they are used to. Once students think critically, they

gain a more personal meaning and can construct meaning (Powell & Kalina, 2009). The

encouragement of dialogue once viewed as detrimental to traditional teachers has become

essential to a constructivist classroom. On task interactions construct knowledge by altering

schemas and stimulating thought processes.

                      Reasons for Not Teaching in a Constructivist Style

Reasons Teachers are Reluctant to Implement a Constructivist Style

    Although the research has indicated that the constructivist epistemology is conducive to

learning, many teachers are not implementing it into their classrooms. Researchers cite that

teachers do not have the time, training, or student ability to implement a constructivist

epistemology effectively in their classrooms. This begs the question if this truth or an excuse to

teach traditionally and comfortably?

    Many teachers claim to not have the time or training to implement a constructivist

environment effectively. It takes time and resources to create a cooperative learning experience

correctly. Many teachers simply have not been trained in how to implement cooperative learning;

therefore problems arise as students are off task or unmotivated. Teachers will need training on

how to foster independence and self directed learning (Green & Gredler, 2002). In collaborative

and cooperative learning groups, there is the additional concern for students who are low

performing or in need of help. Teachers must be flexible in their grouping in order to provide
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                              14

opportunities for the child to benefit from the group activity (Green & Gredler, 2002). One idea

is to use the high, low, middle strategy. By placing a trusted high student with a low student and

middle student, the high student can help promote learning for the others. This reflects

Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development with the interaction of high students and low students.

   In addition, more holistic assessments take longer to grade than traditional standardized

assessments. Teachers often are unsure of how to develop untraditional assessments (Green &

Gredler, 2002). Learning to create assessments that have fidelity is time consuming and requires

appropriate training. On way to help mold a constructivist environment is to provide ample

opportunities to assess knowledge in a variety of contexts. The opportunities a teacher provides

for the learning will vary based on their skill or comfort level with the constructivist theory

(Green & Gredler, 2002). A teacher who has the training to implement this environment will

take the time to do so; while those without the training do not see the benefits of constructivist

teaching and their assessments will be reflective of this. Lane (2007) conducted a case study for

pre- service teaching students observing self titled constructivist math teachers at a university.

His findings indicated that the pre-service students were exposed to a constructivist environment,

but the amount of constructivism varied for each professor. Professors who professed to embody

a constructivist methodology did so in increments. No one professor embodied a full

constructivist environment. This is indicative of teachers’ complaints. They do not have the

training, or exposure to implement this pedagogy, therefore the time for preparation is not

relevant since true exposures and trainings have not occurred so that teachers could be effective

and successful in implementing constructivist pedagogy in their classroom.
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                           15

Reasons Students are Reluctant to Embrace a Constructivist Pedagogy

     Students often have not experienced a constructivist environment and do not know how to

react in one when exposed to one. Often students are unaware of the different expectations in

one. Students who have only been exposed to a traditional environment where there is solely

direct instruction will not know how to appropriately interact with others (Green & Gredler,

2002). Traditional teachers do not typically endorse collaboration and verbalization so when

asked to participate in this environment it is foreign to students. Teachers often encounter

students who have had limited exposure to a constructivist environment so it takes time to

reinforce critical thinking and verbalization skills in a task appropriate manner. Much time is

spent modeling how to participate.    Students often are not self directed as a constructivist

paradigm necessitates so thoughtful discourse must be modeled and taught to the students, thus

taking time to shift to this archetype. Green and Gredler (2002), make the postulation that

teachers may need assistance to exemplify this type of shift so that students learn to initiate

learning when past experiences define the teacher as the provider.

    In synopsis, teachers and students who have not had the proper exposure and training to

effectively implement a constructivist environment will use this theory with a rudimentary

approach and often struggle with implementation. Many teachers, although willing to create a

shift in paradigm, are untrained. Students have not been exposed to self directed learning so they

are unable to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner to facilitate their own learning

process. Culminate these issues with the holistic learning that is characteristic of constructivism

and these are reason that constructivist learning environments are often absent.
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                             16

                      Questioning Zone of Proximity and Social Learning

    Although the constructivist epistemology has gained popularity in recent years, there are

those that question it and Vygotsky’s meaning behind it. Vygotsky, a Russian, had his work

translated to English. Translation itself raises an issue of fidelity. However, other aspects are

also questioned. Among these are the zone of proximity and social learning.

 Questioning the Meaning of Zone of Proximity

    Universally accepted is the definition of the zone of proximity. Powell and Kalina (2009)

define the zone of proximity as “a zone where learning occurs when a child is helped in learning

a concept in the classroom” (p.243). The definition is not what is questioned; it is the meaning

behind the definition. The context in which the zone of proximity is used in the United States

was taken from early translations and used in simplicity. Thus the contestation of the meaning

is revealed. Zmagorinsky (2007) defies the importance of zone of proximity to Vygotsky’s work

citing repetition among his later work to a short phrase in his earlier work. The implication is

that zone of proximity was not essential to Vygotsky’s epistemology rather it was a repetition

that was used in justification for methodology. In addition, as Vygotsky’s work was transcribed,

the zone of proximity was taken out of context (Smagorinsky, 2007). The insinuation is

reiterated that had zone of proximity been of prominence to Vygotsky, it would have been

written about in a more lengthy and complex manner.

Questioning the Meaning of Social Learning

    A central concept to Vygotsky and social constructivism is social learning. Vygotsky

epitomizes the use of others to facilitate learning by helping to construct meaning for the
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                            17

individual. However, there is contention among researchers as to the role of others in learning.

Liu and Mathews (2005) denounce Vygotsky’s social learning because it polarizes the individual

and social group. The implication is that the individual and group cannot be separated to explain

if individual development was from the social interaction or from another phenomenon. It is

difficult to ascertain if causation was the group or the development.

    In addition, teachers misunderstand what Vygotsky meant by social learning. Opponents of

Vygotsky link social learning to historical and social contexts rather than modern socialization

environments. Opponents make the claim that social learning is not just group interaction as

modern educators portray but that social learning is a dialogue with the learner themselves

(Smagorinsky, 2007). The learner attempts to construct meaning through thinking about what

they have observed. These observations can encompass speech, routine and anything else that

creates routine for the individual (Smagorinsky, 2007). Through the attempt to create routine,

people construct new meaning as their schema changes. Therefore, the idea that Vygotsky

promoted learning by social interactions is misinterpreted to be autonomous of interactions

between other students and the teacher rather than interactions of self, observations, routines and

all other aspects that include social learning. Social learning has thus been simplified to be that

individuals must contribute to the group in order to learn. In summary, differentiation in the role

of other aspects of socialization for learning has not been counted as authentic and important.

Vygotsky did count other aspects as important but oversimplification of social learning has

diminished their importance and reduced it to that of interactions between teachers and other

SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                             18


    Implementation of the constructivist epistemology and pedagogy practices has increased in

recent years. The constructivist epistemology dictates that learning occurs as new knowledge is

constructed from social experiences. The two leading philosophers of constructivism are Piaget

and Vygotsky. Although both men are characterized as constructivists, they have differing

theories in regards to learning. Piaget focuses on the cognitive aspect of learning which entails

four stages of cognitive development. Vygotsky ‘s social constructivism includes the zone of

proximal development and social learning. Similarities in the epistemologies include a learner

centered environment and an inquiry based pedogogy. Interweaving within these epistemologies

are differences also. Vygotsky believed students need to be taught to be self directed learners

while Piaget claimed students were automatically self- directed in regards to learning. Another

difference is whether instruction should be student discovery or student directed learning.

Finally, the epistemologists differed on the importance of inner speech and the sequence of

thought to speech.

    In a constructivist classroom, the role of the learner and teacher are quite different than that

of a traditional classroom. Among these differences is the idea that the teacher is a facilitator

rather than the sole proprietor of information and students are responsible for learning.

Additionally, the pedagogy of the classroom requires a paradigm shift in how instruction is

delivered. Constructivists utilize cooperative learning and collaboration to scaffold instruction to

the learner’s zone of proximal development. The emphasis of interaction between students and

the teacher are of the upmost importance.
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                           19

    Opponents to the constructivist classroom cite time, lack of training and unprepared students

as reasons for not implementing constructivist pedagogies as part of their instruction. Lack of

exposure to this type of classroom has enhanced reasons why students are unprepared to

participate in this environment. Vygotsky’s epistemology itself has come under scrutiny with its

repetitious use of zone of proximal development and social learning theory. Misinterpretation in

translation is the common blame for the over- simplification of Vygotsky.

    The implication of this literature review is that Vygotsky’s social constructivism can be

beneficial to students. Through the use of scaffolding, interactions, and collaborations, students

use their existing schema to generate new schema and thus expand learning. Many teachers are

unable or unwilling to implement the necessary pedagogies that a social constructivist classroom

necessitates. Teachers often lack the training to facilitate a transition from the traditional

classroom to a constructivist one and students have not been properly prepared to participate.

This implies that although the research indicates that the social constructivist classroom

environment is advantageous to students, there are many barriers keeping the pedagogy from

being delivered appropriately. Further research on the social constructivist epistemology could

be beneficial; especially in research on the effectiveness of specific pedagogies.

    Limits to the literature review include not having quantitative or qualitative sources to back

up the claims made by the researchers. Many researchers described this epistemology and

practices but did not conduct research to substantiate their claims. Without evidence in which to

draw conclusions, fidelity of the review can be diminished. In addition, the information

reviewed specialized in low or special education students. There was not information presented

for the benefits of this type of pedagogy on average or gifted students. Therefore, although the
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                          20

information presented in the literature review suggest that using a constructivist pedagogy in the

classroom is beneficial, there was limited qualitative and quantitative studies to analyze for


    To close, Vygotsky and social constructivism has been cited as beneficial to learners for its

learner centered environment and concentration in social interaction. Opponents of the

epistemology cite translation misrepresentations as evidence of overuse of specific Vygotsky

theories. Classroom environments and roles are specific to the constructivist epistemology and

teachers who do not use the constructivist approach, pontificate specific reasons for not doing so.

Regardless, research has indicated that the social constructivist approach to learning is beneficial

to the students. This lends itself to further research opportunities like analyzing if a

constructivist classroom is truly more effective for all students.
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                    21


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SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THE CLASSROOM                                                      22

Liu, C.H. & Mathews, R. (2005). Vygotsky’s philosophy: Constructivism and its criticisms

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Powell, K.C. & Kalina, C.J. (2009). Cognitive and Social Construction: Developing Tools for an

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