Constructivism, according to Russian Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934), is the idea that human activities and mental development depend upon culture and the interaction people have with adults, peers, teachers and parents. This is consistent with the art historical period of Constructivism which arose in Russia around 1919 and which took as its goal "art that serves a social purpose." This idea would be directly influential in the formation of the BAUHAUS in Weimar, Germany, a school for design and architecture that would prove hugely influential in the Twentieth century and beyond. Vygotsky, however, was a prolific psychologist who emphasized the active role of the learner in building understanding and making sense of information. Thus, the interaction between teacher and learner is a "co-constructed" process that is dependent upon language--a sign and symbol system--which enlarges and shapes our understanding. Vygotsky's Socio-Cultural Theory states that cognitive development is built upon social interaction and language. Education takes place in the Zone of Proximal Development, which occurs between a child's current developmental level and their level of possible achievement. Thus, a teacher guides a student in work that is just beyond their reach, but, with effective "scaffolding" and appropriate instruction, leads the student to their next cognitive level. Critics of this epistemology tend to point out that children actually learn a lot on their own, and human beings aren't simply "blank slates" that passively take the "shape of the cultural glass" within which they exist. Tragically, Vygotsky did not live long enough to expand on his theories, and it would've been fascinating to hear his ideas about how the cognitive processes that underlie developmental change take place. Nonetheless, his contribution to educational psychology is essential, and it's sad that he is sometimes overlooked in the historical record.

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