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The social cognition learning model asserts that culture is the prime determinant of individual
development. Humans are the only species to have created culture, and every human child
develops in the context of a culture. Therefore, a child’s learning development is affected in ways
large and small by the culture–including the culture of family environment–in which he or she is

1. Culture makes two sorts of contributions to a child’s intellectual development. First, through
culture children acquire much of the content of their thinking, that is, their knowledge. Second,
the surrounding culture provides a child with the processes or means of their thinking, what
Vygotskians call the tools of intellectual adaptation. In short, according to the social cognition
learning model, culture teaches children both what to think and how to think.
2. Cognitive development results from a dialectical process whereby a child learns through
problem-solving experiences shared with someone else, usually a parent or teacher but
sometimes a sibling or peer.
3. Initially, the person interacting with child assumes most of the responsibility for guiding the
problem solving, but gradually this responsibility transfers to the child.
4. Language is a primary form of interaction through which adults transmit to the child the rich
body of knowledge that exists in the culture.
5. As learning progresses, the child’s own language comes to serve as her primary tool of
intellectual adaptation. Eventually, children can use internal language to direct their own
6. Internalization refers to the process of learning–and thereby internalizing–a rich body of
knowledge and tools of thought that first exist outside the child. This happens primarily through
7. A difference exists between what child can do on her own and what the child can do with help.
Vygotskians call this difference the zone of proximal development.
8. Since much of what a child learns comes form the culture around her and much of the child’s
problem solving is mediated through an adult’s help, it is wrong to focus on a child in isolation.
Such focus does not reveal the processes by which children acquire new skills.
9. Interactions with surrounding culture and social agents, such as parents and more competent
peers, contribute significantly to a child’s intellectual development.
Curriculum–Since children learn much through interaction, curricula should be designed to
emphasize interaction between learners and learning tasks.
Instruction–With appropriate adult help, children can often perform tasks that they are incapable
of completing on their own. With this in mind, scaffolding–where the adult continually adjusts
the level of his or her help in response to the child’s level of performance–is an effective form of
teaching. Scaffolding not only produces immediate results, but also instils the skills necessary for
independent problem solving in the future.
Assessment–Assessment methods must take into account the zone of proximal development.
What children can do on their own is their level of actual development and what they can do
with help is their level of potential development. Two children might have the same level of
actual development, but given the appropriate help from an adult, one might be able to solve
many more problems than the other. Assessment methods must target both the level of actual
development and the level of potential development.
READING Lev Vygotsky, L.S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Original work
published 1934)

Vygotsky's Theory on Constructivism
Lev S. Vygotsky believed that culture is the principal determinant of cognitive progress. In
Vgostsky's theory on constructivism, knowledge leads to further cognitive development.
The societal configuration of intelligence states that the individual growth could not be
comprehended without indication to the societal and cultural context where the
aforementioned evolution is entrenched mind development is continuous.

Vygotsky focuses on the actual mechanism of the development. He excludes discernible

stages of development as theories and assumptions. Vygotsky's theory on constructivism
does not adhere to the idea that a single abstract principle is able to explain cognitive
development. As a substitute to Piaget's constructivism, he argues that knowledge is
internalization of social activity.

Mediation refers to people intentionally interject items between their environment and
themselves, so that they are able to modify it and gain specific benefits. Mediation is the
key propoent of Vygotsky's theory of constructivism. His theory offers a harmonizing
viewpoint to the behaviorist view. Vygotsky's theory of constructivism supports that the
use of mediators helps the human to alter their environment, and this is her way of
interacting with the nature. Vygotsky's theory of constructivism also supports that the use
of activity mediators provides a way in which people are able to interact with the nature.
Mediation is also defined as the use of certain tools within socially organized activity.
There were two phenomena which encompasses the mediated relationship of individuals to
their environment. These are 1) Humans use language and physical signs to change social
relations into psychological functions between their minds and their environment. The
second thing was that higher intellectual progression will actually use symbolic mediation.

Zone of proximal development (ZDP) characterizes one of the biggest differences which
can be found between Vygotsky's and Piaget's differing views of cognitive development.
ZPD is defined as the rupture between a persons actual competence (on which level a
student is able to independently solve problems), and their individual prospective
development level (on which level the student could solve the problems assuming they
were given guidance from teacher).

ZPD is founded upon the psychological functions which have yet to mature but nonetheless
are in the process of maturing. The concept of ZPD as it functions within Vygotsky's theory
of constructivism supports a depiction of academic advancement based on permanence.
Learning is able to propel cognitive growth. The role of the teacher is one of a mediator
for the child's cognitive development. In Vygotsky's theory of constructivism, learning,
instruction and development are the only positive forms of instruction. These three lead
the cognitive development. Teachers must use teacher resources, worksheets, lesson
plans, and rubrics all in a combined attempt to aid the student's progress and measure said
progress as the child continues to grow in their abilities to solve problems independently.
Learning that is situated within the current developmental level is not desirable. More
Knowledgeable Other (MKO) goes hand in hand with ZDP, although in a more remedial
sense. The MKO is generally the teacher, or person of higher intellect and learning ability.

Learning Theory - Constructivist Approach
Constructivism is an epistemology, or a theory, used to explain how people know what they
know. The basic idea is that problem solving is at the heart of learning, thinking, and
development. As people solve problems and discover the consequences of their actions–through
reflecting on past and immediate experiences–they construct their own understanding. Learning
is thus an active process that requires a change in the learner. This is achieved through the
activities the learner engages in, including the consequences of those activities, and through
reflection. People only deeply understand what they have constructed.

A constructivist approach to learning and instruction has been proposed as an alternative to the
objectivist model, which is implicit in all behaviourist and some cognitive approaches to
education. Objectivism sees knowledge as a passive reflection of the external, objective reality.
This implies a process of "instruction," ensuring that the learner gets correct information.

History of Constructivism

The psychological roots of constructivism began with the developmental work of Jean Piaget
(1896–1980), who developed a theory (the theory of genetic epistemology) that analogized the
development of the mind to evolutionary biological development and highlighted the adaptive
function of cognition. Piaget proposed four stages in human development: the sensorimotor
stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage.
For Piaget, the development of human intellect proceeds through adaptation and organization.
Adaptation is a process of assimilation and accommodation, where external events are
assimilated into existing understanding, but unfamiliar events, which don't fit with existing
knowledge, are accommodated into the mind, thereby changing its organization.

Countless studies have demonstrated–or tried to discredit–Piaget's developmental stages. For

example, it has become clear that most adults use formal operations in only a few domains
where they have expertise. Nonetheless, Piaget's hypothesis that learning is a transformative
rather than a cumulative process is still central. Children do not learn a bit at a time about some
issue until it finally comes together as understanding. Instead, they make sense of whatever they
know from the very beginning. This understanding is progressively reformed as new knowledge is
acquired, especially new knowledge that is incompatible with their previous understanding. This
transformative view of learning has been greatly extended by neo-Piagetian research.

The Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky's (1896–1934) relevance to constructivism derives from
his theories about language, thought, and their mediation by society. Vygotsky held the position
that the child gradually internalizes external and social activities, including communication, with
more competent others. Although social speech is internalized in adulthood (it becomes
thinking), Vygotsky contended that it still preserves its intrinsic collaborative character.

In his experiments, Vygotsky studied the difference between the child's reasoning when working
independently versus reasoning when working with a more competent person. He devised the
notion of the zone of proximal development to reflect on the potential of this difference.
Vygotsky's findings suggested that learning environments should involve guided interactions that
permit children to reflect on inconsistency and to change their conceptions through
communication. Vygotsky's work has since been extended in the situated approach to learning.

Vygotsky and Piaget's theories are often contrasted to each other in terms of individual cognitive
constructivism (Piaget) and social constructivism (Vygotsky). Some researchers have tried to
develop a synthesis of these approaches, though some, such as Michael Cole and James Wertsch,
argue that the individual versus social orientation debate is over-emphasized. To them, the real
difference rests on the contrast between the roles of cultural artefacts. For Vygotsky, such
artefacts play a central role, but they do not appear in Piaget's theories.

For the American philosopher and educator John Dewey (1859–1952), education depended on
action–knowledge and ideas emerge only from a situation in which learners have to draw out
experiences that have meaning and importance to them. Dewey argued that human thought is
practical problem solving, which proceeds by testing rival hypotheses. These problem-solving
experiences occur in a social context, such as a classroom, where students join together in
manipulating materials and observing outcomes. Dewey invented the method of progressive
education in North America. The Fostering Communities of Learners (FCL) program, devised by
Ann Lesley Brown and Joseph Campione, is a current attempt to put Dewey's progressive
education theory to work in the classroom.

In summary, Piaget contributed the idea of transformation in learning and development;

Vygotsky contributed the idea that learning and development were integrally tied to
communicative interactions with others; and Dewey contributed the idea that schools had to
bring real world problems into the school curriculum.

Overall Teaching Recommendations – Vygotsky

 Assess child’s zone of proximal development
 Provide just enough assistance
 Use more skilled peers as teachers
 Encourage private speech, self regulation

Constructivist Processes and Education

There are a number of competing constructivist views in education. Constructivists tend

to celebrate complexity and multiple perspectives, though they do share at least a few
educational prescriptions.

Prior knowledge. Constructivists believe that prior knowledge impacts the learning
process. In trying to solve novel problems, perceptual or conceptual similarities between
existing knowledge and a new problem can remind people of what they already know.
This is often one's first approach towards solving novel problems. Information not
connected with a learner's prior experiences will be quickly forgotten. In short, the learner
must actively construct new information into his or her existing mental framework for
meaningful learning to occur.

For example, Rosalind Driver has found that children's understanding of a phenomenon
(interpretations that fit their experiences and expectations) differ from scientific
explanations. This means that students distinguish school science from their "real world"
explanations. Studies of adult scientific thinking reveal that many adults hold non-
normative scientific explanations, even though they have studied science. This is what
the philosopher Alfred Whitehead (1861–1947) referred to as inert knowledge. Asking
students what they already know about a topic and what puzzles them affords an
opportunity to assess children's prior knowledge and the processes by which they will
make sense of phenomena.

Real and authentic problems. Constructivist learning is based on the active

participation of learners in problem-solving and critical thinking–given real and authentic

In anchored instruction, for example, as advanced in the work of the Cognition and
Technology Group at Vanderbilt University, learners are invited to engage in a fictitious
problem occurring in a simulated real-world environment. Rich and realistic video
contexts are provided–not only to provide relevant information for solving the problem,
but also to create a realistic context. If the students buy in to the proposed problems,
they will be engaged in problem solving similar to what the people in the video are
engaged in.

There are also many examples of project-based learning in which students take on tasks
such as building a vehicle that could cross Antarctica. It is unclear whether these
constitute authentic problems–or what students learn from project-based learning.

Constructivist curriculum. A constructively oriented curriculum presents an emerging

agenda based on what children know, what they are puzzled by, and the teachers'
learning goals. Thus, an important part of a constructivist-oriented curriculum should be
the negotiation of meaning. Maggie Lampert, a mathematics teacher, guides students to
make sense of mathematics by comparing and resolving discrepancies between what
they know and what seems to be implied by new experience.

In constructivist classrooms, curriculum is generally a process of digging deeper and

deeper into big ideas, rather than presenting a breadth of coverage. For example, in the
Fostering Communities of Learners project where students learn how to learn, in
knowledge-building classrooms where students seek to create new knowledge, or in
Howard Gardner's classrooms where the focus is on learning for deep understanding,

students might study endangered species, island biogeography, or the principles of
gravity over several months. As students pursue questions, they derive new and more
complex questions to be investigated. Building useful knowledge structures requires
effortful and purposeful activity over an extended period.

Cognitive conflict and social context. According to Dewey, "Reflection arises because
of the appearance of incompatible factors within an empirical situation. Then opposed
responses are provoked which cannot be taken simultaneously in overt action" (p.326).
To say this in another way, cognitive conflict or puzzlement is the stimulus for learning,
and it determines the organization and nature of what is being learned. Negotiation can
also occur between individuals in a classroom. This process involves discussion and
attentive listening, making sense of the points of views of others, and comparing
personal meanings to the theories of peers. Justifying one position over another and
selecting theories that are more viable leads to a better theory. Katerine Bielaczyc and
Allan Collins have summarized educational research on learning communities in
classrooms where the class goal is to learn together, to appreciate and capitalize on
distributed expertise, and to articulate the kinds of cognitive processes needed for

Constructivist assessment. Assessment of student learning is of two types: formative

and summative. Formative assessment occurs during learning and provides feedback to
the student. It includes evaluations of ongoing portfolios, and demonstrations of work in
progress. Student collaboration also provides a form of formative assessment. In FCL,
for example, students report to each other periodically on their research. In knowledge-
building classrooms, students can read and comment on each other's work with the
Knowledge Forum software. Formative assessment rarely occurs in classrooms.

Summative assessment occurs through tests and essays at the end of a unit of study.
Summative assessments provide little specific feedback. From a constructivist
perspective, formative assessments are more valuable to the learner, but with the recent
emphasis in North America on standards, and due to the poor alignment of constructivist
approaches and standards, it is very difficult to harmonize formative and summative

Technology and constructivism. Cognitive research has uncovered successful

patterns in tutorial, mentoring, and group discussion interactions. However, typical
Internet chat and bulletin-board systems do not support a constructivist approach to
learning and instruction. During the 1990s, researchers created tools such as Knowledge
Forum, the Knowledge Integration Environment, and Co Vis to more fully address
constructivist principles. Each of these tools invites collaboration by structuring the kinds
of contributions learners can make, supporting meaningful relationships among those
contributions, and guiding students' inquiries. Teachers who use information and
communication technologies in their classrooms are more likely to have a constructivist
perspective towards learning and instruction. Additionally, sophisticated information and
technology communications tools can capture the cognitive processes learners engage
in when solving problems. This affords teacher reflection and coaching to aid deeper
learning. It also affords teachers the chance to learn from each other.

The teacher's role. The teacher's role in a constructivist classroom isn't so much to
lecture at students but to act as an expert learner who can guide students into adopting
cognitive strategies such as self testing, articulating understanding, asking probing
questions, and reflection. The role of the teacher in constructivist classrooms is to

organize information around big ideas that engage the students' interest, to assist
students in developing new insights, and to connect them with their previous learning.
The activities are student-centered, and students are encouraged to ask their own
questions, carry out their own experiments, make their own analogies, and come to their
own conclusions. Becoming a constructivist teacher may prove a difficult transformation,
however, since most instructors have been prepared for teaching in the traditional,
objectivist manner. It "requires a paradigm shift," as well as "the willing abandonment of
familiar perspectives and practices and the adoption of new ones" (Brooks and Brooks,
p. 25).

A constructivist approach to education is widely accepted by most researchers, though

not by all. Carl Bereiter argues that constructivism in schools is usually reduced to project
based learning, and John Anderson, Lynn Reder, and Herbert Simon claim that
constructivism advocates very inefficient learning and assessment procedures. In any
event, the reality is that constructivism is rarely practiced in schools.



Learning and Education." Educational Researcher 25 (4): 5–96.

BEREITER, CARL. 2002. Education and Mind for the Knowledge Age. Mahwah, NJ:

CONSTRUCTIVISM in Piaget and Vygotsky
Ozgur Ozer Category: Issue 48 (October - December 2004) Published: 01 October 2004
Constructivism is a new approach in education that claims humans are
better able to understand the information they have constructed by
themselves. According to constructivist theories, learning is a social
advancement that involves language, real world situations, and
interaction and collaboration among learners. The learners are
considered to be central in the learning process. Learning is affected by
our prejudices, experiences, the time in which we live, and both
physical and mental maturity. When motivated, the learner exercises his
will, determination, and action to gather selective information, convert
it, formulate hypotheses, test these suppositions via applications,
interactions or experiences, and to draw verifiable conclusions.
Constructivism transforms today’s classrooms into a knowledge-
construction site where information is absorbed and knowledge is built
by the learner.

In constructivist classrooms, unlike the conventional lecturer, the

teacher is a facilitator and a guide, who plans, organizes, guides, and
provides directions to the learner, who is accountable for his own
learning. The teacher supports the learner by means of suggestions
that arise out of ordinary activities, by challenges that inspire
creativity, and with projects that allow for independent thinking and
new ways of learning information. Students work in groups to approach
problems and challenges in real world situations, this in turn leads to
the creation of practical solutions and a diverse variety of student
products. Constructivist theories have found more popularity with the
advent of personal computers in classrooms and homes. PCs provide
individual students with tools to experiment and build their own
learning at their own pace. With the use of the web, the learner can now
conduct research, interact with diverse populations, share ideas, and
work on group projects. The assessment tool in a constructivist
classroom is not a test or a quiz, rather it is the learner product; most
of the time this is in a portfolio format that has been designed by the

Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky are two eminent figures in the
development of constructivist theories. They share the common belief
that classrooms must be constructivist environments; however, there
are differences in terms of their theories and variations as to how
constructivism should be carried out in classrooms.

Piaget’s Constructivism
Jean Piaget (1896-1980), remembered for his extensive research on
developmental psychology, explains the learning process by schemes
(the organization of information on how things work), assimilation (the
placing of new information into schemes), and accommodation
(transforming existing schemes or creating new ones). The motivation
for learning is the predisposition of the learner to adapt to his
environment, hence to institute equilibrium between schemes and the
environment. Continuous interactions among existing schemes,
assimilation, accommodation, and equilibrium create new learning.

Piaget explores four sequential stages of the psychological

development of the young learner and believes teachers should be
cognizant of these stages. During the Sensory-motor Stage, (before the
age of 2) sensory experiences and motor activities dominate.
Intelligence is intuitive in nature and knowledge; it is acquired through
mental representation during the Preoperational Stage (from age 2 to
age 7). At the Concrete Operational Stage (from age 7 to age 11),
intelligence is logical, conserved, and dependent on concrete
references. The Formal Operational Stage (after 11 years of age) is the
stage when abstract thinking starts and the learner starts thinking
about probabilities, associations, and analogies.

Piaget’s developmental theory of learning and constructivism are based

on discovery. According to his constructivist theory, in order to provide
an ideal learning environment, children should be allowed to construct
knowledge that is meaningful for them.

The Piagetian Classroom

Piaget believes that a constructivist classroom must provide a variety
of activities to challenge students to accept individual differences,
increase their readiness to learn, discover new ideas, and construct
their own knowledge.

Videodisks, CD-ROMs and simulation software enhance learning, while

telecommunication tools, like e-mail and the Internet, provide contexts
for dialogue and interaction within the classroom, the schools, and the
community leading to the social construction of knowledge. Students
have the opportunity to be exposed to other ideas, cultures, and forums
on global issues. Students can work on collaborative projects, which
may come in the form of a networked writing project, or the building of
separate phases of an engineering project that enables them to receive
and give instant responses.

In an elementary Piagetian classroom, concrete learning experiences,
such as drawing, drama, model building and field trips that involve
hands-on opportunities to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell are
essential. These early activities and the use of tangible manipulatives
and visual aids serve as building blocks for more sophisticated tasks,
such as reading comprehension.

Vygotsky’s Constructivism
Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934), known for his theory of social
constructivism, believes that learning and development is a
collaborative activity and that children are cognitively developed in the
context of socialization and education. The perceptual, attention, and
memory capacities of children are transformed by vital cognitive tools
provided by culture, such as history, social context, traditions,
language, and religion. For learning to occur, the child first makes
contact with the social environment on an interpersonal level and then
internalizes this experience. The earlier notions and new experiences
influence the child, who then constructs new ideas. Vygotsky’s (1978, p.
56) example of being able to point a finger displays how this behavior,
which begins as a simple motion, becomes a meaningful movement
when others react to the gesture.

Vygotsky’s constructivism is known as social constructivism because

of the significance of culture and social context. For Vygotsky, the zone
of proximal development “. . . the distance between the actual
development of a child as determined by the independent problem
solving, and the level of potential development as determined through
problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more
peers (Vygotsky: 1978)” suggests that cognitive development is limited
to a certain range at a particular age. However, with the help of social
interaction, such as assistance from a mentor, students can
comprehend concepts and schemes that they cannot know on their
own. Curriculum specialists and lesson plan builders can use the zone
of proximal development as a guiding reference.

The Vygotskian Classroom

A Vygotskian classroom emphasizes creating one’s own concepts and
making knowledge one’s property; this requires that school learning
takes place in a meaningful context, alongside the learning that occurs
in the real world. As seen earlier in the Piagetian classroom, this model
also promotes the active participation and collaboration of distinctive
learners. The Vygotskian classroom stresses assisted discovery
through teacher-student and student-student interaction. Some of the
cognitive strategies that group members bring into the classroom are

questioning, predicting, summarizing, and clarifying.

In a Vygotskian classroom, dynamic support and considerate guidance

are provided based on the learner’s needs, but no will or force is
dictated. Students are exposed to discussions, research collaborations,
electronic information resources, and project groups that work on
problem analysis.

Some examples of classroom activities that might be used in a

constructive classroom are as follows:

Students in a political science class can use a computer simulation to

decide on global issues as representatives of United Nations. A
geography class studying Turkey can take a virtual trip of tourist and
historical sites and parks. The journalism class may publish a
newsletter with scanned photographs, excerpts from the press and
charts about a recent journey to space. As a final project, a sixth-grade
history teacher may assign her students multimedia presentations of
civilizations that prospered in Southern America. An aquatic science
class could observe data on city water quality and communicate with
students in other schools. The multiculturalism class students can
build online genograms (family trees), and subscribe to genogram
databases in search for relatives and the origin of their roots.

Both Piaget and Vygotsky appreciated the essence of building
constructs and internalizing the knowledge given, rather than
accepting the information as presented through rote-memory.
Constructivist learning environments promote the learner to gather,
filter, analyze, and reflect on the information provided and to comment
on this knowledge so that it will result in individualized comprehension
and private learning.

This type of group learning will reduce the dissemination of false data,
prejudice, and atrocities among diverse groups and help build a moral,
scientific, information society in the new millennium. Be it
developmental or social as suggested by Piaget and Vygotsky
respectively, learning is the central activity for humans in search for
understanding the causes and effects of natural phenomena, the
progress of social events, and the meaning of life. By using such
learning approaches we can better introduce our children to the world
that God has created for us, and lead them to think about the miracles
that are all around us.


Social Constructivism (must watch) (watch Vygotsky from 5.25)

The level of potential development is the level at which learning takes

place. It comprises cognitive structures that are still in the process of
maturing, but which can only mature under the guidance of or in
collaboration with others.

Social constructivism is a variety of cognitive constructivism that emphasizes the
collaborative nature of much learning. Social constructivism was developed by post-
revolutionary Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky was a cognitivist, but rejected
the assumption made by cognitivists such as Piaget and Perry that it was possible to
separate learning from its social context. He argued that all cognitive functions originate
in (and must therefore be explained as products of) social interactions and that learning
did not simply comprise the assimilation and accommodation of new knowledge by
learners; it was the process by which learners were integrated into a knowledge
community. According to Vygotsky (1978, 57),
Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level and, later on,
on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child
(intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the
formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals.
Vygotsky’s theory of social learning has been expanded upon by numerous later theorists
and researchers.

View of Knowledge
Cognitivists such as Piaget and Perry see knowledge as actively constructed by learners
in response to interactions with environmental stimuli. Vygotsky emphasized the role of
language and culture in cognitive development. According to Vygotsky, language and
culture play essential roles both in human intellectual development and in how humans
perceive the world. Humans’ linguistic abilities enable them to overcome the natural
limitations of their perceptual field by imposing culturally defined sense and meaning on
the world. Language and culture are the frameworks through which humans experience,
communicate, and understand reality. Vygotsky states (1968, 39),
A special feature of human perception … is the perception of real objects … I do not see the world
simply in color and shape but also as a world with sense and meaning. I do not merely see something
round and black with two hands; I see a clock …
Language and the conceptual schemes that are transmitted by means of language are
essentially social phenomena. As a result, human cognitive structures are, Vygotsky
believed, essentially socially constructed. Knowledge is not simply constructed, it is co-

An Introduction to Using Vygotsky Scaffolding in the Classroom


If you’re new to the field of teaching, it’s

important to know the ways in which students learn and the ways in which their brains
develop. Effective teaching involves a careful knowledge of the specific students you teach
and where they are on their learning journey. Depending on what subject you teach, you
should have a clear idea of what knowledge and skills your students should be able to
clearly grasp by the time they have come to the end of your class. When you know where
your students are in relation to those expectations and compare where they’re at with
those expectations, you can begin to formulate some ideas on how to get your students to
where they need to be. If not, however, it’s okay because many important thinkers and
psychologists in the realm of education have studied the ways students
learn and developed theories that are very helpful to educators on what
strategies to take in order to help a student learn. One of those theories came
from Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky, and it’s a theory that is especially helpful for
teachers in the classroom. Vygotsky was a leading psychologist in the area of cognitive
development. His theory of cognitive development focused on the social aspect of
learning and the need for support in the learning process.

Vygotsky Scaffolding and The Zone of Proximal Development

Vygotsky proposed that in order for a student to learn a concept or skill, the concept or
skill had to be within what he called the student’s “zone of proximal development.” The
zone of proximal development is a theory used to determine what a student is capable of
learning. If a concept or skill is something that a student could do with the help of a
“more knowledgeable other,” then that concept or skill is something they could perform
on their own after learning it with support. Vygotsky called the support that students
receive in order to learn “scaffolding.”

The goal is to focus instruction on a level that is just a step above what the student is
capable of on their own without support. With support or scaffolding, the student can
learn the concept or skill and practice with their supportive mentor or more
knowledgeable other until they are comfortable to do it on their own. This is the point at
which the scaffolding is removed, and the student has mastered the concept or skill. If the
concept or skill that a teacher wants a student to learn is not something the student could
handle even with support, then Vygotsky would say that the concept or skill is outside of
the student’s zone of proximal development. An extreme example of this would be
expecting a first-grade student who has recently learned to read to answer an open-ended
response question on the thematic structure of a story they’ve just read. They’ve just

learned to read. An in depth analysis from their reading is something that is completely
outside of their zone of proximal development.

Why is This Important?

Vygotsky’s theory can be very beneficial in helping teachers to plan out their instruction.
It helps them to think the through the knowledge and skills that their students are
expected to master and determine the order in which to teach those things. Some
concepts require prior knowledge that the student may not already possess. If that’s the
case, then the teacher knows that the concept is currently outside of their zone of
proximal development, and it is something the teacher will have to slowly aim for, step-
by-step. Using the ideas of scaffolding and zone of proximal development could help a
teacher to line up the things they need to teach for a whole year and build a sequence by
which students will slowly build mastery over one concept before moving onto a next
level concept.

The theory can also help a teacher deal with any personal discouragement they may feel
when it seems like a student just isn’t understanding when he or she explains as clearly as
he or she can. That would be the moment to realize that students are on a journey of
cognitive development. While teachers should have expectations for their students, their
role is to provide the scaffolding that will help the student to master the concepts in a
sequential order.

Putting Vygotsky Scaffolding to Work

If you want to put Vygotsky’s theory to work in your classroom, here are some steps for
doing so. The first thing you’ll need to do is to determine all the concepts your students
need to master in your class. Consult your state’s educational expectations for what your
students need to know. Once you have your list of concepts in front of you, you’ll need to
spend some considerable time determining what concepts your students likely already
have mastered and the ones that are just a step beyond their capability. You might need
to do either some formal or informal assessment in class with your students to determine
where they’re at in regard to some of the concepts you plan to teach. You’ll need to
determine what concepts students will need to have mastered in order to move onto more
advanced concepts. Your goal is to develop a sequential order in which one concept
builds on another.

Once you have your sequential order in place, you can begin to plan your individual
lessons. Remember to teach concepts that are within your students’ zone of proximal
development, but currently a step above their capability on their own. Structure your
activities so that students have appropriate scaffolding for practicing the concept. Once
they’ve had plenty of practice with scaffolding, you’ll slowly remove the scaffolding until
the student has mastered the concept on their own. Another important thing to keep in
mind when thinking about your individual students is any learning disabilities they
may be diagnosed with and adjust your instruction accordingly.
Watching students learn is an incredible experience, and it is one that keeps teachers
dedicated to their job day in and day out. Vygotsky’s theory of scaffolding can be one of
the most beneficial concepts a teacher can put into place within their classroom. It relies
on the way in which students develop cognitively, and it provides a healthy and
structured environment for learning.

View of Learning
Vygotsky accepted Piaget’s claim that learners respond not to external stimuli but to their
interpretation of those stimuli. However, he argued that cognitivists such as Piaget had
overlooked the essentially social nature of language. As a result, he claimed they had
failed to understand that learning is a collaborative process. Vygotsky distinguished
between two developmental levels (85):
The level of actual development is the level of development that the learner has already reached, and
is the level at which the learner is capable of solving problems independently. The level
of potential development (the “zone of proximal development”) is the level of development that the
learner is capable of reaching under the guidance of teachers or in collaboration with peers. The
learner is capable of solving problems and understanding material at this level that they are not
capable of solving or understanding at their level of actual development; the level of potential
development is the level at which learning takes place. It comprises cognitive structures that are still
in the process of maturing, but which can only mature under the guidance of or in collaboration with

View of Motivation
Whereas behavioral motivation is essentially extrinsic, a reaction to positive and negative
reinforcements, cognitive motivation is essentially intrinsic — based on the learner’s
internal drive. Social constructivists see motivation as both extrinsic and intrinsic.
Because learning is essentially a social phenomenon, learners are partially motivated by
rewards provided by the knowledge community. However, because knowledge is actively
constructed by the learner, learning also depends to a significant extent on the learner’s
internal drive to understand and promote the learning process.

Implications for Teaching

Collaborative learning methods require learners to develop teamwork skills and to see
individual learning as essentially related to the success of group learning. The optimal
size for group learning is four or five people. Since the average section size is ten to
fifteen people, collaborative learning methods often require GSIs to break students into
smaller groups, although discussion sections are essentially collaborative learning
environments. For instance, in group investigations students may be split into groups that
are then required to choose and research a topic from a limited area. They are then held
responsible for researching the topic and presenting their findings to the class. More
generally, collaborative learning should be seen as a process of peer interaction that is
mediated and structured by the teacher. Discussion can be promoted by the presentation
of specific concepts, problems, or scenarios; it is guided by means of effectively directed
questions, the introduction and clarification of concepts and information, and references
to previously learned material. Some more specific techniques are suggested in the
Teaching Guide pages on Discussion Sections.

Vygotsky, Lev (1978). Mind in Society. London: Harvard University Press.

Lev Vygotsky's Social Constructivist Theory

Vygotsky’s theory of sociocultural learning highlights the role of social and cultural
interactions play in the learning process. This theory does not have stages, like Jean
Piaget’s theory. Vygotsky’s theory states that knowledge is co-constructed and that
individuals learn from one another. It is called a social constructivist theory because in
Vygotsky’s opinion the learner must be engaged in the learning process. Learning
happens with the assistance of other people, thus contributing the social aspect of the
theory. A fundamental aspect of Vygotsky’s theory is the Zone of Proximal Development.
This is a “range of tasks that are too difficult for an individual to master alone, but can be
mastered with the assistance or guidance of adults or more-skilled peers (Vygotsky,
1962).” Another part of this theory is scaffolding, which is giving the learner the right
amount of assistance at the right time. If the learner can perform a task with some
assistance, then he or she is closer to mastering it. This theory is relevant to healthy
adolescent development because if students work in pairs, they are interacting with
people and therefore can learn different academic ideas from one another. This theory
shows that students learn from each other; they can assist one another and co-construct

This theory can be applied in the classroom in several ways. The students can be
grouped such that the students who understand the content work with the students who
do not. For example, if a student did not understand factoring, a method to find the zero
or zeros of an equation, I could have another student explain the concept to them. The
more knowledgeable peer might use different language than I did as a teacher. The
student’s phrasing might make more sense to the other student. The more
knowledgeable student would also learn something, perhaps a deeper understanding of
the content or a way to explain the concept that they had not thought of before. Students
of different readiness levels will work together in groups when they do discovery
activities, such as problem-based learning activities. The groups would consist of at least
three students and they would be given a problem that would challenge them all, and as
a group they would have to solve the problem. I would set up the activity such that it
allows for everyone to contribute some ideas as to how to solve the problem before any
method is attempted.

Vygotskian principles on the ZPD and scaffolding

The zone of proximal development ( ZPD), is best understood as the difference between what a
learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. The concept was developed by
Soviet psychologist and social constructivist Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934).
Vygotsky stated that a child follows an adult's example and gradually develops the ability to do
certain tasks without help or assistance. Vygotsky's definition of ZPD presents it 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 (L.S. Vygotsky: Mind in Society: Development of Higher
Psychological Processes)
Vygotsky among other educational professionals believes the role of education to be to provide
children with experiences which are in their ZPD, thereby encouraging and advancing their
individual learnin. (Berk, L & Winsler, A. (1995). "Vygotsky: His life and works" and "Vygotsky's
approach to development". In Scaffolding children's learning: Vygotsky and early childhood
learning. Natl. Assoc for Educ. Of Young Children.)
The concept of scaffolding is closely related to the ZPD and was developed by other theorists
applying Vygotsky's ZPD to educational contexts. Scaffolding is a process through which a
teacher or more competent peer gives aid to the student in her/his ZPD as necessary, and tapers
off this aid as it becomes unnecessary, much as a scaffold is removed from a building during

"Scaffolding refers to the way the adult guides the child's learning via focused questions and
positive interactions." (Balaban, N. (1995). "Seeing the Child, Knowing the Person." In Ayers, W.
To Become a Teacher. Teachers College Press. p. 52)
How Vygotsky Impacts Learning:
Curriculum–Since children learn much through interaction, curricula should be designed to
emphasize interaction between learners and learning tasks.
Instruction–With appropriate adult help, children can often perform tasks that they are incapable
of completing on their own. With this in mind, scaffolding–where the adult continually adjusts the
level of his or her help in response to the child’s level of performance–is an effective form of
teaching. Scaffolding not only produces immediate results, but also instills the skills necessary for
independent problem solving in the future.
Assessment–Assessment methods must take into account the zone of proximal development.
What children can do on their own is their level of actual development and what they can do with
help is their level of potential development. Two children might have the same level of actual
development, but given the appropriate help from an adult, one might be able to solve many
more problems than the other. Assessment methods must target both the level of actual
development and the level of potential development.
Lev Vygotsky, L.S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Original work
published 1934)
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society: The development of higher psychological processes.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.