Key Features of Teaching Approaches

Introduction and Background
Social-constructivist pedagogy emphasises the importance of language and culture in the cognitive development of children. Psychologists such as Vygotsky and Bruner state that learning is a collaborative process in which knowledge is constructed as a result of social interactions. They have suggested that in order for children to develop cognitively they must internalise processes external to themselves through the use of language and social interactions (Alfrey, 2003). Motivation to learn is both intrinsic and extrinsic due to learning being a social behaviour. This means that children are motivated to learn by rewards provided by their social and cultural groups as well as having an internal drive to want to learn.
Social constructivist pedagogy emphasises the role of the adult in cognitive development. Vygotsky believed that through language, children are instructed how to think and learn by more knowledgeable members of their social or cultural group (adults, teachers, siblings and peers). He believed that the instruction provided by these adults was essential in order for children to develop an abstract understanding of the world around them. Therefore adults should support children through the learning process as their influences on children’s thinking and learning skills are very important.

Vygotsky also proposed two stages of development; the zone of actual development in which a child can independently solve problems and the zone of proximal development in which learning takes place. Learning is most effective when a child is working within the zone of proximal development as they are working at a level in which they are not capable of working at by themselves but are capable of reaching with the guidance of teachers or collaboration with peers (Wray, 2006).
As the social-constructivist approach is largely based on the social and collaborative nature of learning there are many implication for learning and teaching methods in the classroom. For example teachers may plan activities which are discussion based such as group work or talk partners as they promote peer interaction and help children to work collaboratively and co-operatively. They not only provide children with the opportunity to use and develop their thinking and language skills but allow children to support each other in their learning. During classroom exchange, children should also be encouraged to express different points of view and ask questions. This is supported by Moore (2000) who states ‘it is important to work towards a student-teacher relationship which invites and encourages dialogue rather than a monologue’ (p.19).
Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development also has had many practical implications in the classroom as the activities set by teachers should be appropriately sequenced and be in a child’s zone of proximal development for learning to be effective. However this requires the teacher to know the exact ability of each child so tasks are not too difficult but challenging enough for children to develop and progress. Teachers should also provide scaffolds (e.g. demonstrating and modeling concepts and ideas) to guide and support children through their learning, allowing children to move through the zone of proximal development.
Finally, as there is a large emphasis on the role of culture in the social-constructivist approach, teachers should be aware of the social and cultural backgrounds of the children in their class. Vygotsky believed that the way children interpret the world depends on their cultural or social background therefore knowing the background of a child may explain why a child thinks or behaves in a certain way.
Class room exchanges – an analysis

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