Social Constructivism

You are probably looking at your computer scene rather blanking, questioning what on earth Social Constructivism actually means. According to Wikipedia (the font of all knowledge), I got this definition:

“Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge that applies the general philosophical constructionism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings.”

Although this definition is valid, it’s just so long and boring. Social Constructivism effectively means group work. A place for ideas to be shared and knowledge to be distributed among attendees. I managed to say that in fewer words. I’m awesome like that.

Still have no idea what I’m talking about, why not check out this video:

Universities these days are trying to educate future teachers to shy away from the old ‘stick an over head up and get the class to write it all down’ method, rather are emphasising the concept of student based learning and the importance of group work.

There are two ways to view this form of education, first up is the ‘social construction’ side which is the concept of working in these smaller groups in an attempt to boost the discussion of ideas. Quite possibly the most important elements of this concept of learning is that the teacher/educator/whatever-they-want-to-be-called-this-week acts purely as a facilitator allowing the students to convey their informational both verbally and in a written format.

Having worked at a school first hand, I can say that this concept does work in a mid-upper ability class who are able to share their knowledge and understanding. If you’re teaching a lower ability group, this notion is harder to attempt, although not impossible.

Social Constructivism at work

The second form in which this concept is viewed is the ‘social constructivist’ idea, whereby it’s focused on the knowledge the individual gains from the group’s analysis due to involvement.

The big question of this blog however is does this actually work in a school environment. Because we’re not just talking about students working together, we’re talking about changing the physical environment of the classroom. No longer is the focus on the teacher, rather students are now sitting in groups of 4-6 in a rectangular shape or in a circle. The attention is lost from the from of the room isn’t it?

Two theorists, Jean Piaget and Lee Vygotsky don’t think so, if fact they welcome this idea!

Piaget proposes a system of cognitive development which focuses on the ability to acquire knowledge, understand and interpret it, and finally be able to use it wisely (knowledge = power?). This concept focuses on the learning processes and development of understanding from ages 7 to 11. Effectively, Piaget is saying that between these years, students gain core knowledge and understanding and it is from here that the school environment is meant to build upon this knowledge.

This all sounds pretty and nice, but Piaget’s theory basically suggests that by the time that the students reach school we can’t teach them anything new. This I think is a load of bollocks. I’m still learning things every day and I’m almost 22! I might end up writing a new blog about this in the future, so stay tuned for details.

Born in 1896 in Russia, this Soviet psychologist has been labelled as the founder of cultural-historical psychology. ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, *drum roll*…. Lee Vygotsky! His philosophy focuses more on psychological development – first being on a social level and then on an individual stage.

Vygotsky’s text, Thought and Language suggest that the relationship between words and consciousness arguing that children only develop knowledge through internalised verbal thought. It’s here I would like to through another quote by the alternative source of all knowledge, The Simpsons.

Homer: Will you knock it off, I can't hear myself think!
[the music stops]
Brain: I want some peanuts.
Homer: That's better!I want some peanuts.

(For audio of this scene, click here)

So with these two combined, we’ve got Piaget saying that we need to learn everything possibly by the age 11, because the moment we clock over to age 12 thats if, we can only build on that knowledge. Vygotsky wants students to verbally convey their information so that they understand it better.

I’ll end this blog by saying this. To me, education is about experiences. Learn by doing in other words. Although Piaget’s content is valid, I just don’t believe that it is worthwhile to be discussing in this modern world. After all, he’s got his facts wrong, you learn everything you’ll ever need to know in Kindergarten. Vygotsky’s discussion makes sense, and is something I’m attempting to put into practice at the school I work at, however it isn’t enough for students to just say the term in their head, they need to hear and use the term 7-10 orally before it will stick in their head. Trust me.

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One response to “Social Constructivism

  1. Pingback: Examinations, Assessment tasks and all of the above | petenowakowski

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