Social constructivism reflects the work of a Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, who researched the role of social interaction in learning (Brophy, 2002; Schunk, 2012). This theory assumes that understanding, significance and meaning are developed jointly by individuals (Jonassen, 1999). Vygotsky (1978) argued that cognitive development first takes place socially and later within the individuals (Brunning, 1999; Enggan & Kauchak, 2004). That is, children learn socially appropriate behaviour by observing their parents’ way of doing the things, listening to their speech, and then trying to imitate them as models in their world (Gelman, 2009). As the children practice through imitation, parents will play their roles in guiding, correcting and providing challenges to them to do better in the future. Similarly, a teacher who provides the students such practices related to language skills does not only encourage them to understand others and construct knowledge in a social context but also allow them to relate themselves to the surroundings (Roth, 2000). This is further supported by Vygotsky’s (1978) view that learning process does not happen in isolation. It is driven by external forces including culture, language and social interaction and that every mental function has a social component (Roya Jafari Amineh & Hanieh Davatgari Asl, 2015). According to Leeds-Hurwitz (2009), there are two most important elements of this theory. First, human beings justify their experience by forming a model of the social world and how it functions. Second, language is both a symbolic system of communication and a cultural tool through which humans construct reality.
Furthermore, Vygotsky (1978) proposed two types of knowledge: spontaneous concepts and scientific concepts. Spontaneous concepts are ideas that are individually and independently constructed as the result of everyday life experiences. Scientific concepts are more formal ideas which are imposed upon a learner by a more knowledgeable individual. In relation to mastering scientific concepts, Vygotsky (1978) believed that with assistance of a more knowledgeable individual, a student’s potential for learning is much greater than independent potential. He called the difference between a student’s independent potential and the potential with assistance of the zone of proximal development (ZPD). ZPD is 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 in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86).
The ZPD is the opportunity where learning can take place. When considering the ZPD, a teacher should be able to identify those students who face difficulties in mastering a particular subject or skill. With the guidance, facilitation and motivation from the teacher who has a higher level of knowledge, the student can then begin to experience mastery with the new knowledge. This suggests that students, whether child or adult, need to have good relationships between teacher-student and student-peer where social learning can take place. For social constructivists, the role of the teachers is integral to the learners’ development to assist learners develop in the zone of proximal development (Verenikina, 2008; Abbas Ali Rezaee & Zeinab Azizi, 2012). Teachers can make use of instructional supports (later known as scaffolding) to keep learners active within their zone of proximal development in order to foster meaningful construction. The assistance guidance that students receive must have features of intersubjectivity, scaffolding and guided participation.
Scaffolding is an effective technique used to support learners in their gradual understanding of the objects or concepts. Teachers should be available and present to provide feedback to learners as they grasp the concepts or need more help. Guided participation encompasses scaffolding and refers to shared interactions between the experts and students. Three examples of social constructivist teaching methods are reciprocal teaching, situated learning and anchored instruction (Kaya Yilmaz, 2012). Reciprocal teaching involves small groups of students teaching concepts to each other. Situated learning promotes learning that is meaningful, relevant and active. Anchored instruction uses relevant and interesting material to engage students. In short, the best learning involves students interacting socially, culturally, and verbally with others such as teachers and peers within the ZPD. The students are able to gain new knowledge that was otherwise impossible on their own. Each scaffolding experience provides a little challenge to the students with more complex ideas.
Vygotsky (1978) viewed peer interaction as an effective way for students to develop new skills and strategies. Peer learning in education has been recognised as an excellent way to reinforce critical thinking, communication and self-confidence (…). The literature has revealed a positive …..