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  • Audience: Elementary Teachers
    1) Background Theory
    2) Theorists
    3) Assumptions of Social Constructivism
    4) Constructivism vs. Constructionism
    5) Social Constructivism on Learning
    6) Current Classroom Applications
    7) Activity
    8) Questions
    9) References Used
    Activity Audience: Elementary students
  • 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, including the
    developmental theories of Jean Piaget (cognitive development), Lev Vygotsky (social
    development), and Albert Bandura (social cognitive theory) (Shunk, 2000).
    Social constructivism emphasizes the collaborative aspect of learning.
    The parents/teacher play an integral role in the social constructivist vein.
    Social constructivism was developed by post-revolutionary 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.
    Theorists to help develop the theory:
    Jean Piaget
    Albert Bandura
    Lev Vygotsky
    Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society. London: Harvard University Press.
  • Jean Piaget
    Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher who focused on development studies of children.
    Building blocks of knowledge (a way to organize knowledge)
    Each helps relate one aspect of the child’s world, including actions, objects and concepts (McLeod, 2009)
    Using an existing schema to deal with a new object or situation. (McLeod, 2009)
    When a child’s existing schema is unable to process an event, it needs to be changed to deal with this new object or event. (McLeod, 2009)
    Considered the force to move development along. It occurs when the child’s schemas can deal with most new information through assimilation. When new information is unable to be processed by existing schemas, accomodation is used in order to master the new challenge, changing the existing schema, and allowing the child to increase their cognitive development through experience. (McLeod, 2009)
    EXAMPLE: Consider a toddler as it begins to process the world around them. They are able to slowly walk and begin to touch and grab things. The child encounters a large toy, never having encountered it
    before, so the schema needs to be modified. The child assimilates the large toy by understanding that it may need to use both hands and/or close their fingers in order to grasp the item. The accomodation
    occurs when the child learns to use both hands or grasp the toy with closed fingers, changing the schema for future use.
    Stages of Development:
    a) Sensorimotor (birth to age 1): Children begin to experience the world through movement
    and their five senses, but are unable to process other people’s points of view.
    EXAMPLE: Learning to suck their thumb / insert bottle or nipple into mouth for nourishment.
    b) Preoperational (2-3 to 7-8 years of age): Learn to use language and logical thought
    processes begin. The child has difficulty differentiating between reality, possibility, and
    necessity in problem-solving situations (Gredler, 280).
    EXAMPLE: The child sees
    c) Concrete Operational (7-8 to 12-14): Logical ways of thinking linked to concrete objects are
    developed. The child begins to understand multiple problem-solving methods and the
    beginnings of which to use based on the situation (not fully developed yet).
    d) Formal Operational (older than 14 years): Performs theoretical reasoning, reality subordinate to possibility, and hypothetical reasoning.
    Four Assumptions:
    Knowledge is created by the learner (constructivism).
    Knowledge comes from transforming reality.
    Person and knowledge object cannot be separated.
    Knowledge is not stable.
    Intelligence is an organized system.
    Factors in Cognitive Development:
    Physical Environment
    Social influences: parents, playmates, or colleagues
    Equilibriation: a need for order (steady state)
    Assimilation and accomodation
    Schemas (organizational systems) and subsystems
    Whole and parts
    Piaget, J. (1968). Six Psychological Studies. Anita Tenzer (Trans.), New York: Vintage Books.
    McLeod, S. A. (2009). Jean Piaget. Retrieved from
  • 1) Introduced the idea of modeling as a way of learning behavior. A child will observe a model, such as a parent, family members, characters on television, or friends at school. They help to provide behavior to imitate and observe (both masculine and feminine).
    2) The child will pay attention to their behavior, encoding their behavior, and may imitate the behavior they have seen. Reinforcement then plays a role in the continuance or discontinuation of the behavior.
    EXAMPLE:A child sees his parents washing their hands after they use the bathroom. The child imitates the behavior, washing hands after use of the bathroom. Both parents positively reinforce this behavior.
    The child is more likely to continue usage of this behavior.
    Believes the environment plays a more important role in shaping our behavior
    We learn through:
    a) Direct Experience
    b) Observing Others
    Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences.
    Necessary conditions for effective modeling: (December 2012)
    a) Attention — various factors increase or decrease the amount of attention paid. Includes distinctiveness, affective valence, prevalence, complexity, functional value. One’s characteristics (e.g. sensory
    capacities, arousal level, perceptual set, past reinforcement) affect attention.
    b) Retention — remembering what you paid attention to. Includes symbolic coding, mental images, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, motor rehearsal
    c) Reproduction — reproducing the image. Including physical capabilities, and self-observation of reproduction.
    d) Motivation — having a good reason to imitate. Includes motives such as past (i.e. traditional behaviorism), promised (imagined incentives) and vicarious (seeing and recalling the reinforced model)
    Interesting Note:
    Children who are able to delay gratification at age 5 are less likely to become alcoholics or drug addicts later in life.
    Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2012, December). Social Learning Theory (Bandura) at Retrieved December 4th, 2012 from
  • Vygotsky’s theory is one of the foundations of constructivism. It asserts three major themes:
    Social interaction plays a fundamental role in the process of cognitive development. In contrast to Jean Piaget’s understanding of child development (in which development necessarily precedes learning), Vygotsky felt social learning precedes development. He states: “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological).” (Vygotsky, 1978).
    b) The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). The MKO refers to anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a particular task, process, or concept. The MKO is normally thought of as being a teacher, coach, or older adult, but the MKO could also be a peer, a younger person, or even a computer (2012).
    c) The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD is the distance between what a student is able to complete a task with adult oversight or peer collaboration and the ability of the student to solve the problem themselves. Vygotsky believed that learning occurred in this zone.
    Vygotsky focused on the connections between people and the sociocultural context in which they act and interact in shared experiences (Crawford, 1996). Humans used tools that developed from a culture, such as speech and writing, to successfully navigate their social environments. Initially, children developed these tools to serve solely as social functions, as methods to communicate their variety of needs (hunger, shelter, etc.), and Vygotsky believed that internalizing these tools promoted the development of higher thinking skills.
    Applications of the Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory
    A great many schools provide a traditional learning model that provided a teacher or lecturer that share information to students, where the teacher would be the primary focus, and the students would simply be expected to learn.
    By contrast, Vygotsky’s theory allows the learner to play a much more active role in their learning experience. The traditional role of student and teacher are dismissed in favor of the teacher providing a more collaborative relationship with students to promote a more reciprocal learning experience for both student and teacher.
    Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2012, December). Social Development Theory (Vygotsky) at Retrieved December 4th, 2012 from
  • The zone of proximal development (sometimes abbreviated ZPD), is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help.
    It is a concept developed by Soviet psychologist and social constructivist Lev Vygotsky (1896 - 1934). Vygotsky stated that a child follows an adult's example and gradually develops the ability to do certain tasks without help or assistance.
    Vygotsky's often-quoted definition of zone of proximal development presents it 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 among other educational professionals believes the role of education to be to provide children with experiences which are in their ZPD, thereby encouraging and advancing their individual learning.
    The concept of ZPD has been expanded, modified, and changed into new concepts since Vygotsky's original conception. The concept of scaffolding is closely related to the ZPD, although Vygotsky himself never mentioned the term; instead, scaffolding was developed by other sociocultural theorists applying Vygotsky's ZPD to educational contexts. Scaffolding is a process through which a teacher or more competent peer gives aid to the student in her/his ZPD as necessary, and tapers off this aid as it becomes unnecessary, much as a scaffold is removed from a building during construction. According to education expert Nancy Balaban, "Scaffolding refers to the way the adult guides the child's learning via focused questions and positive interactions."[4] This concept has been further developed by Ann Brown, among others. Several instructional programs were developed on the basis of the notion of ZPD interpreted this way, including reciprocal teaching and dynamic assessment.
    The development of language and articulation of ideas was central to learning and development (Atherton 2011).
    The common-sense idea which fits most closely with this model is that of "stretching" learners.
    It is common in constructing skills check-lists to have columns for "cannot yet do", "can do with help", and "can do alone". The ZPD is about "can do with help", not as a permanent state but as a stage towards being able to do something on your own. The key to "stretching" the learner is to know what is in that person's ZPD—what comes next, for them (Atherton 2011).
    Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society. London: Harvard University Press.
    Atherton, J., S. (2011). Learning and Teaching; Constructivism in learning [On-line: UK] retrieved 30 November 2012 from
  • 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 (Kim 2001).
    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 (Kim 2001).
    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 (Kim 2001).
  • In the constructivist classroom, the focus tends to shift from the teacher to the students. The classroom is no longer a place where the teacher ("expert") pours knowledge into passive students, who wait like empty vessels to be filled. In the constructivist model, the students are urged to be actively involved in their own process of learning.
    In the constructivist classroom, both teacher and students think of knowledge as a dynamic, ever-changing view of the world we live in and the ability to successfully stretch and explore that view - not as inert factoids to be memorized.
    Key assumptions of this perspective include:
    What the student currently believes, whether correct or incorrect, is important.
    Despite having the same learning experience, each individual will base their learning on the understanding and meaning personal to them.
    Understanding or constructing a meaning is an active and continuous process.
    Learning may involve some conceptual changes.
    When students construct a new meaning, they may not believe it but may give it provisional acceptance or even rejection.
    Learning is an active, not a passive, process and depends on the students taking responsibility to learn.
    The main activity in a constructivist classroom is solving problems. Students use inquiry methods to ask questions, investigate a topic, and use a variety of resources to find solutions and answers. As students explore the topic, they draw conclusions, and, as exploration continues, they revisit those conclusions. Exploration of questions leads to more questions.
    There is a great deal of overlap between a constructivist and social constructivist classroom, with the exception of the greater emphasis placed on learning through social interaction, and the value placed on cultural background. For Vygotsky, culture gives the child the cognitive tools needed for development. Adults in the learner’s environment are conduits for the tools of the culture, which include language, cultural history, social context, and more recently, electronic forms of information access.
    In social constructivist classrooms collaborative learning is a process of peer interaction that is mediated and structured by the teacher. Discussion can be promoted by the presentation of specific concepts, problems or scenarios, and is guided by means of effectively directed questions, the introduction and clarification of concepts and information, and references to previously learned material.
    Role of the teacher
    Constructivist teachers do not take the role of the "sage on the stage." Instead, teachers act as a "guide on the side" providing students with opportunities to test the adequacy of their current understandings
    Theory Implication for classroom The educator should consider the knowledge and experiences students bring to class
    Learners construct their knowledge through a process of active enquiry
    ‘Discovery’ is facilitated by providing the necessary resources
    Knowledge is actively constructed & learning is presented as a process of active discovery
    Provide assistance with assimilation of new and old knowledge
    Learning programme should be sufficiently flexible to permit development along lines of student enquiry
    Due to its interpretivist nature, each student will interpret information in different ways
    Create situations where the students feel safe questioning and reflecting on their own processes
    Present authentic tasks to contextualize learning through real-world, case-based learning environments
    Support collaboration in constructing knowledge, not competition
    Encourage development through Intersubjectivity
    Providing Scaffolding at the right time and the right level
    Provide opportunities for more expert and less expert participants to learn from each other
    Role of the student
    The expectation within a constructivist learning environment is that the students plays a more active role in, and accepts more responsibility for their own learning.
    Theory Implication for classroom The role of the student to actively participate in their own education
    Students have to accommodate & assimilate new information with their current understanding
    One important aspect of controlling their own learning process is reflecting on their experiences
    Students begin their study with pre-conceived notions
    Students are very reluctant to give up their established schema/idea & may reject new information that challenges prior knowledge
    Students may not be aware of the reasons they hold such strong ideas/schemata
    Learners need to use and test ideas, skills, and information through relevant activities
    Students need to know how to learn or change their thinking/learning style
    Because knowledge is so communally-based, learners deserve access to knowledge of different communities
    For students to learn they need to receive different 'lenses' to see things in new ways.
    Learners need guidance through the ZDP
    In social constructivism tutors and peers play a vital role in learning
    Social Constructivism in the classroom
    Reciprocal Teaching
    Where a teacher and 2 to 4 students form a collaborative group and take turns leading dialogues on a topic. Within the dialogues, group members apply four cognitive strategies:
    This creates a ZPD in which students gradually assume more responsibility for the material, and through collaboratation, forge group expectations for high-level thinking, and acquire skills vital for learning and success in everyday life.
    Cooperative Learning
    More expert peers can also spur children’s development along as long as they adjust the help they provide to fit the less mature child’s ZPD.
    Situated Learning
    As early as 1929 concern was raised (Whitehead) that the way students learned in school resulted in a limited, ‘inert’ form of knowledge, useful only for passing examinations. More recently several theorists have argued that for knowledge to be active it should be learned:
    In a meaningful context
    Through active learning
    The general term for this type of learning activity is situated learning. Situated learning proponents argue that knowledge cannot be taught in an abstract manner, and that to be useful, it must be situated in a relevant or "authentic" context (Maddux, Johnson, & Willis, 1997).
    Anchored Instruction
    The anchored instruction approach is an attempt to help students become more actively engaged in learning by situating or anchoring instruction around an interesting topic. The learning environments are designed to provoke the kinds of thoughtful engagement that helps students develop effective thinking skills and attitudes that contribute to effective problem solving and critical thinking.
    Anchored instruction emphasizes the need to provide students with opportunities to think about and work on problems and emphasizes group or collaborative problem solving.
    Other things you can do:
    Encourage team working and collaboration
    Promote discussion or debates
    Set up study groups for peer learning
    Allocate a small proportion of grades for peer assessment and train students in the process and criteria
    Show students models of good practice in essay writing and project work
    Be aware of your own role as a model of ‘the way things are done...’be explicit about your professional values and the ethical dimensions of your subject
    Constructivists believe that assessment should be used as a tool to enhance both the student's learning and the teacher's understanding of student's progress. It should not be used as an accountability tool that serves to stress or demoralise students. Types of assessment aligned to this epistemological position include reflective journals/portfolios, case studies, group-based projects, presentations (verbal or poster), debates, role playing etc.
    Within social constructivism particularly there is greater scope for involving students in the entire process:
    Brooks and Brooks (1993) state that rather than saying "No" when a student does not give the exact answer being sought, the constructivist teacher attempts to understand the student's current thinking about the topic. Through nonjudgmental questioning, the teacher leads the student to construct new understanding and acquire new skills.
    Selected Bibliography
    Driscoll, M. (2005). Psychology of learning for instruction. Allyn & Bacon, Boston: MA
    Hill, W.F. (2002) Learning: A survey of psychological interpretation (7th ed), Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA.
    Jordan, A., Carlile, O., & Stack, A. (2008). Approaches to learning: A guide for teachers. McGraw-Hill, Open University Press: Berkshire.
    Ormrod, J.E. (1995). Human Learning (2nd ed.). New Jersey, Prentice Hall.
    Ryder, M (2009) Instructional Design Models. Downloaded from on 30 March 2009)
  • Current Classroom Application:
    A back-and-forth discussion opportunity with you and your audience.
    1) Ask your audience if they apply any of the social constructivist aspects to their current pedagogy. If so, ask them to share their experiences.
    NOTE: The point of this presentation is not only to inform the audience, but also to help keep them actively engaged, and provide an opportunity learn
    from one another. Your audience may be able to provide new and inventive methods that could prove both helpful and effective.
    If your audience isn’t very responsive, try to invite discussion by asking general questions:
    1) What grade do you teach?
    Junior high?
    High school?
    2) Ask them Perhaps try to get their input on aspects of their teaching pedagogy that they might already employ that emphasizes social
    NOTE: If the audience is actively engaged, continue the questions portion as long as possible. However, if the audience interest
    level is lackluster, simply thank them for their time and end the session.
  • You will break the room into groups of 3-5 (depending on the number in the audience). You’ll want to make sure that the groups will contain a more or less equal number of members in order to put everyone on equal footing. You will then give each group an elementary grade to focus their activity.
    FOR EXAMPLE: If you give a group 2nd grade as their focus, they would then develop an activity within the ZPD scope of that group. Since
    most students are ages 7-8 at this grade, you might want to take this into consideration when you guide your groups into
    developing an activity that would keep their students both interested and engaged. A possible activity developed could have
    the 2nd graders broken into groups of 5 (you want to make sure you don’t have all of the high-performing students in one
    group…break them up equally, if possible). Each group would be assigned a story to read and each member of the group
    would read a section. At the completion of each section, each student could talk about what the story means to them so far.
    At the end of the reading the story, you would write several questions on the blackboard to help guide discussion. The
    group would then talk about it (you may need to help guide the discussion to start or jumpstart stagnant discussion).
    NOTE: This should take no more than 10 minutes. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing the
    attention span of your audience.
    2) A representative for each group will share their group’s activity with the rest of the room. The group will
    also answer any questions posed by their peers (5-10 minutes).
  • Highlight some of your key points, reinforcing them to your audience.
    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, including the
    developmental theories of Jean Piaget (cognitive development), Lev Vygotsky (social
    development), and Albert Bandura (social cognitive theory) (Shunk, 2000).
  • Be prepared to answer any additional questions the audience may have during the course of your presentation.
  • Here are the references used to create the notes for the overall presentation.
  • Final_Presentation

    1. 1. Social Constructivist Theory By Sean Getchell 6304.62
    2. 2. Overview 1) Background – Theory – Theorists (Piaget, Bandura, and Vygotsky) 2) Assumptions of Social Constructivism 3) Constructivism vs. Constructionism 4) Social Constructivism on Learning 5) Current Classroom Applications 6) Activity 7) Conclusions 8) Questions 9) References
    3. 3. Background • What is the Social Constructivist Theory? – Importance of Culture – Importance of Collaboration • Key Theorists: – Jean Piaget – Albert Bandura – Lev Vygotsky
    4. 4. Background – Jean Piaget • Three Basic Components to Piaget’s Theory: – Schemas – Equilibrium, Assimilation, and Accomodation – Stages of development
    5. 5. Background – Albert Bandura Bandura’s biggest contribution to learning theory: – New patterns of behavior can be acquired in the absence of external reinforcement – We can pay attention to what others do, and repeat their actions
    6. 6. Background – Lev Vygotsky Three major themes: - Social Interaction - MKO (Most Knowledgeable Learner) - Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)
    7. 7. Background – Lev Vygotsky (cont.) • What is the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)?
    8. 8. Assumptions of Social Constructivism –Reality –Knowledge –Learning
    9. 9. Social Constructivism Classroom 1)The role of the student. 2) The role of the teacher.
    10. 10. Current Classroom Applications Discussion Topic: Do you apply social constructivist aspects to your classroom? If so, how?
    11. 11. Activity One • Based on the elementary grade given, work with your group to develop an activity that could help illustrate the social development theory in the classroom. • A representative from each group will discuss the activity they developed and how they think it will benefit their learners. Additionally, they will answer questions posed by their peers.
    12. 12. Conclusion Social Constructivist Theory emphasizes the importance of: a) Collaboration b) Culture c) Context
    13. 13. Questions?
    14. 14. References • Atherton, J., S. (2011). Learning and Teaching; Constructivism in learning [On-line: UK] retrieved 30 November 2012 from • • Derry, S. J. (1999). A Fish called peer learning: Searching for common themes. In A. M. O'Donnell & A. King (Eds.) • Ernest, P. (March 23, 1999). Social Constructivism as a Philosophy of Mathematics: Radical Constructivism • Gredler, M.E. (2009). Learning and instruction: Theory into practice. Columbus, OH: Pearson. • Katerin, D. K., Isabel, D., Flament, I., and Gerrit, L. (2004). Two practices, one perspective, many constructs: on the implications of social constructionism on scientific research and therapy. Brief Strategic and Systemic Therapy European Review, 1, 74-80. • • Kim, B. (2001). Social Constructivism..In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved <insert date>, from • Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2012, December).Social Learning Theory (Bandura) at Retrieved December 4th, 2012 from • McMahon, M. (1997, December).Social Constructivism and the World Wide Web - A Paradigm for Learning. Paper presented at the ASCILITE conference. Perth, Australia. • Piaget, J. (1968). Six Psychological Studies. Anita Tenzer (Trans.), New York: Vintage Books. • Prawat, R. S., &Floden, R. E. (1994).Philosophical Perspectives on Constructivist Views of Learning. Educational Psychologist, 29(1), 37-48. • Shunk, D. H. (2000). Learning Theories: An educational perspective (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ.: Prentice-Hall. • Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.