Critiques of Social Constructivism Written by Kim

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.