Instructional Strategies: Constructivism & Zone of Proximal Development

Does constructivism promote academic excellence?

Constructivism absolutely leads to academic excellence because it requires that students are actively engaged in their own learning.  In Classroom Instruction that Works, we read that this type of engagement integrated through Cooperative Learning positively affects “both academic and socioemotional achievement, self-esteem, motivation, and engagement with school” (p.46). 

To really understand constructivism one must understand the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Lev Vygotsky a Russian psychologist first introduced the ZPD in the 1930s, but his ideas were unknown until the 1970’s when his writings were translated in a book called “Mind in Society”.  In this construct the teacher plans the lesson activities structured by scaffolding, allowing the students to build their knowledge with assistance and in collaboration with their peers.

The variation in students’ abilities is what Vygotsky (1978) calls the zone of proximal development: “it is 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” (p.86).

ZPD
ZPD: Zone of Proximal Development

The ZPD is a way in which to bring students of varying understandings and abilities to solve a problem or grasp a concept. The scaffolding allows the teacher to provide assistance as students evaluate, create, study, analyze, process and communicate.  Constructivism offers a more authentic learning experience because the teacher is encouraging the student to identify their own understanding of a concept or problem and “create” their own solutions. They are also learning through experience, “learning by doing”, in addition to connecting their learning to previous knowledge, they are developing a deeper understanding.

Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun remind us in Models in Teaching that the “implementation of democratic methods of teaching has been exceedingly difficult. They require the teacher to have a high level of interpersonal and instructional skills.” The development of the curriculum is purposeful, therefore teachers must differentiate in order to meet the needs of all their students. Students can reach mastery with these aids and can also then teach or model for other students. I believe that when I am teaching my students how to learn for themselves, I am teaching them the most valuable lesson.

Dean, Ceri B.; Hubbell, Elizabeth Ross; Pitler, Howard; Stone, BJ. Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, 2nd edition. Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Dewey, J. (1897). My Pedagogic Creed. The School Journal

Joyce, Bruce R.; Weil, Marsha; Calhoun, Emily. Models of Teaching  (9th Edition). Pearson.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press

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