Review of Social Constructivism

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First Review

Alissa Beard

University of Houston

Clarity of Information

The chapter is appropriately titled and contains some pertinent content. For the most part, the author’s statements are generally clear, using appropriate language for the intended audience. While some statements are concise and could be expanded on to generate a better understanding, other statements are verbose and may leave the reader slightly confused. The content is objective and a relatively equal amount of attention is given to each concept. There are several errors in citation in this chapter. First of all, a significant amount of information is credited to Shunk (2000), but there is no citation for this author in the list of references. One can only assume that the author is referring to the learning theorist Dale Schunk. The author also cites information from Wertch (1991) and Vygotsky (1987) within the text but omits their names from the reference list. Furthermore, one author is listed several times with different spellings of the last name (Prawat & Floden, Prat & Floden). These types of careless errors lead one to believe that these sources were not used by the author, but were perhaps cited within one of the sources the author actually used.

Content Summary


The chapter begins with a vignette describing one example of a real world application of the theory. This is a helpful anticipatory set used to situate the reader. The author goes on to define social constructivism and explain its underlying assumptions. Next, intersubjectivity of social meanings is explained. In this section, the author has used a flash graphic to help convey the meaning of the concept. This is a great way to incorporate graphics online; however, the author should consider using graphics that are equally effective online and in print. The author goes on to describe social context. This particular section has several grammatical errors. First, the author seems to be presenting a list that notes two aspects of social context which affect learning, but there is no actual list. There is a sentence fragment describing the first aspect followed by a few complete sentences describing the second aspect. An additional paragraph further discusses this information. Had the reader not been familiar with social constructivism prior to reading this section, it would be unclear what exactly the two aspects they mentioned were. The author next presents some social constructivist perspectives on learning. This section is more clearly formatted, and the author gives just enough information to describe each perspective. To end the chapter, some instructional models based in social constructivism are presented. As social constructivism seems to be the theory that most educators have been attempting to push towards in recent years, much more explanation could have been provided in this topic.

Additional Information to Consider

Although the information presented was generally explained well, there was a large amount of information left out. As the author notes, social constructivism is based heavily in the theories of Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner, yet these theorists’ ideas were not explained. It is difficult to understand how the author can note that the theory is rooted in the ideas of Vygotsky, Bruner, and Bandura but then fails to mention any of their profound work in the field. These theorists are not listed in the references at all and obviously so.

Although the author briefly mentions symbolic systems and language, a chapter on social constructivism would greatly benefit from discussions on Vygotsky’s key ideas such as the zone of proximal development and language acquisition. Bruner’s thoughts about forming enactive, iconic, and symbolic representations could have benefited this discussion as well. Another idea from Bruner and Vygotsky is that of scaffolding instruction. As an educator in a constructivist classroom, one attempts to build on prior knowledge and create meaning and understanding for the individual and the group. The concepts of zone of proximal development, spiral curriculum, scaffolding, and language acquisition are essential to social constructivism, and they were not mentioned at all. Bandura’s ideas about self-efficacy and modeling behaviors could also serve to explain the theory in a more precise way.

Real World Application

Social constructivism can be applied in the classroom on a daily basis with some extensive planning by the instructor. It is an engaging and effective manner for students of all ages to learn in a variety of social contexts. Learning is achieved both formally and informally. People learn from everyone and everything around them: at home, in a classroom, at work, in the community, or perhaps at an athletic facility. While the theory itself if applicable to many contexts, this article is not for all of the aforementioned reasons.

Final Evaluation

The author’s saving grace was the vignette about the English teacher developing a social constructivist approach for her students to understand Hamlet. It was a perfect of example of how the theory could be applied in the classroom; however, if relying solely on this article to understand social constructivism, one would be at a complete loss. The author lacks depth of knowledge about the theory. The points considered to be important enough to include, while significant, do not clearly explain or exemplify the theory as a whole.

It seemed as though the author had no theoretical assumptions of his own because the majority of the article was information almost directly quoted from ill-cited secondary sources. The author should consider going straight to the source. Study and read the actual works of theorists like Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner, and Albert Bandura. Their thoughts and ideas seem to be intertwined and form the basis of what it is to be a social constructivist. When one is disseminating information about popular theorists such as these, it is important to remain objective; however, it is important to have one’s own theoretical assumptions and meta-assumptions about the learning process in order to develop a deeper understanding of the material and present it in a logical, effective way.


Second Review

Amy Mulholland

University of Houston

Through the use of a vignette, a narrated power point, a creative animated illustration and well organized paragraphs Ms. Kim attempts to define social constructivism, discuss theoretical issues and provide perspectives on learning.

The chapter begins with a link to a narrated power point and a vignette. Though I tried several times I was never able to open and view the power point. I was, however, able to open the power point script which closely mirrored the information provided in the chapter which followed. The vignette describes a high school English class where the teacher is struggling get her students engaged in the reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The teacher decides to divide the students into groups and have them make puppets to tell the class their assigned portion of the play. The vignette then describes how the participants assigned themselves roles within the group according to their interests and talents. The groups then added personal touches to the plays like the use of a Cajun accent and hip hop music chosen for the background. The work in groups allowed students to feel ownership in the final product and to learn from each other as each person contributed a new understanding of Shakespeare’s play based on their position in the classroom culture. The vignette is almost 1/3 of the content of the chapter and I think it was well worth the space. Kim defines social constructivism as having an emphasis on “the importance of culture and context in understanding what occurs in society and constructing knowledge based on this understanding (Kim, 2001),” this definition is certainly supported by the vignette. Interestingly, though it is not credited to the site, this definition is very similar to the definition provided on the Wikipedia site ((Social Constructivism (Learning Theory), (2007)).

In the section entitled “What is social constructivism?” Kim further references the developmental theories of Vygotsky, Bruner and Bandura as closely related perspectives. These theorists are indeed often cited as support for constructivist theories (Schunk, (2004) and Hamilton & Ghatala (1994)); however, Jean Piaget is noticeably absent and given his importance to constructivist theory an explanation of his contributions, I feel, is certainly warranted. I believe the definitions sections would be more complete with an explicit discussion of how social constructivism is situated in relation to constructivism, along with a historical perspective of its development. Specifically, how are they different? This explanation is particularly relevant given that another chapter within the wikibook is entitled “Vygotsky’s Constructivism.” I was confused by the titles and think perhaps the other chapter should be renamed.

The next section discusses the assumptions of social constructivists and provides more specific information on the fundamental assertions in regards to reality, knowledge and learning. These brief explanations provide further support for the vital nature of human’s social activities in constructing an individual’s reality, knowledge and learning processes. This section adds depth and clarity to the definition of social constructivism provided earlier. This understanding is further built upon with a discussion of intersubjectivity which is defined as “a shared understanding among individuals whose interaction is based on common interests and assumptions that form the ground for their communication.” The vignette provided earlier was a very good example of this. Within the play’s learning communities for, students were not just able to learn communication skills but they were also able to gain new perspectives and knowledge through the interactions of group members. Within the section Kim effectively uses an animated illustration of two people discussing how rainbows are formed to further demonstrate how conversations between people can help to form new understandings. The development of these understanding can be affected by two aspects of social context which are briefly discussed in the section entitled “social context for learning.” Kim lists inherited historical knowledge like language, logic and other symbol systems which determine how and what is learned, along with the learner’s interaction with an erudite member of society. This last idea sounds like Vygotsky’s notion of a “more knowledgeable other (MKO)” but while it was attributed to him in the written power point script it was not credited to him within this chapter. Other than the reference within this section to historical knowledge having a cultural basis, culture as having an impact on learning is not specifically discussed within the chapter. As this was a primarily component of the definition provided earlier, a section devoted specifically to this would in my opinion make the chapter stronger.

The final two sections of the chapter contain descriptions of approaches to social constructivism and instructional models. Kim defines four approaches; cognitive tools, idea-based, pragmatic and situated cognitivism. In all four we find a blending of other philosophies and theories with the notion that learning has a social context and occurs within the classroom community in cooperation amongst the students. Similarly the suggested instructional models involve collaboration and exchange between students and include: peer collaboration, reciprocal teaching, problem based instruction and web quests, to name a few.

Overall I found this to be an instructive and helpful introduction to social constructivism. I found the paragraphs to be clear and well developed. In addition, supporting terms and theories are clearly explained, relevant and effectively used to provide clarity. The vignette, animated illustration and presumably the power point are effective ways of providing the information in a variety of modalities. One section that is noticeably missing is one on those currently working in the field. It was also disappointing that the link to the power point was not working, neither were several of the additional links at the end. As stated earlier my biggest concerns were in the lack of definition and discussion of the role that culture plays in social constructivism, as well as social constructivism’s overall position with in the larger theoretical base. One possibility maybe to covers less but in a more in depth fashion. I think that this chapter lays a great foundation for explaining social constructivist theory and with a few changes could be even stronger.

References

Hamilton, R. and Ghatala, E. (1994). Learning and instruction. New York: McGraw Hill.

Schunk, D. H. (2004). Learning theories an educational perspective. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.

Social Constructivism (Learning Theory). (2007, September 14). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Constructivism_%28Learning_Theory%29