Thoughts on Social Constructivism Theory

Throughout my university studies I have been introduced to many different learning theories. One such theory which I have used frequently in lesson plans both in assignments and on prac, is constructivism. I have advocated the use of constructivism in many lesson plans, one in particular was a Year 5 lesson on ‘friendship’, whereby, collaborative learning activities such as ‘round robin’ were used as a means for students to problem solve and grouping students to create the scenario’s they would use for role play, allowing them to be in control of their own learning. I have read a lot about constructivism, a modern approach which moves away from a traditional didactic approach to teaching (which was reminiscent of my schooling years) and rather, promotes a learning environment whereby, students have the choice to be creators of their own scenarios, and teachers act as facilitator of student learning.

I embraced constructivism, wholeheartedly believing it was the only way to teach. This was until I read Donald Clarke’s (2013) blog regarding social constructivism. Clarke said he believed it is inefficient, socially inhibiting and harmful to some types of learners and blocks better theory and practice. The more I started to delve into this, I realised there were many others who sat on Clarke’s side of the fence. It is fair to say I was completely surprised by this viewpoint, one which I had never considered. As a result of all I had read, been told or experienced, I had been unwavering in my belief of constructivism as essential in today’s classroom. My childhood memories of school definitely influenced this, however, when I really stopped and thought about it, some of that traditional direct instruction I received at school, did help me to remember certain knowledge.

I now question whether placing students in groups to be in charge of their own learning does not actually marginalise the disadvantaged students and allow the brighter, more confident students to dominate and excel, leaving the less skilled behind. More importantly, I realised that some students would require more carefully guided instruction and were perhaps not capable of self-directed learning.

From reading others perspectives on social constructivism, I have been enlightened to both sides of the coin and will take this new-found perspective with me in my future development as a teacher. Whilst I do still believe classrooms should encapsulate elements of constructivism in learning activities, I don’t think it should be the sole approach. Constructivism should not be at the expense of, or negate other forms of learning or teaching. I now believe there are indeed times for direct instruction and learning by rote and it is important that neither one style should dominate. This viewpoint concurs with the following website which outlines some pros and cons of constructivism and a need to provide a balanced approach. Further insights into constructivism can be found by following this link from a fellow education student, who highlights a great example of how she has integrated constructivist approaches in the classroom.


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