Ecological Model & Social Constructivism

Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model

People are social beings, which means that we are always surrounded by other people and influenced by our relationships with them. At an early age, a child’s interaction is narrowed to the immediate family: parents or caregivers and siblings. But gradually, more and more people enter the child’s life, like teachers, friends, neighbours, local community members, and finally, wider society, broadening the range of settings and factors that determine the child’s development over time.

The settings in which the child develops constitute the ecological environment of the child’s development (Bronfenbrenner, 1977), and they are multi-layered. The layer that is the most immediate to the child includes internal settings in which the child activity participates, for example, family, school, and peers (Bronfenbrenner, 1977). This microsystem is fundamental for the child’s development because here, the prototypes of roles and behaviours are set. The second layer, a mesosystem, is where the interrelations between family, school, and peers are constructed (Bronfenbrenner, 1977). For example, because the child spends time both at school and home, it creates networks of parents, teachers, and peers in which the child socialises, constructs knowledge, and develops. The third layer, an exosystem, includes external settings, for example, parents’ workplace, mass media, local politics (Bronfenbrenner, 1977). The child does not actively participate in them, but they influence the child’s development indirectly. For example, the change in the parents’ job (job loss) may influence the setting of the family (income decrease) and consequently affect the child’s development. Finally, the influence on the child’s development in a macrosystem—the fourth layer of the ecological environment—is done from a broader level of culture and ideologies that are common for a certain society (Bronfenbrenner, 1977).

All in all, from household and school to local community to broader cultural environment, the development of the child is influenced by different social settings and relations throughout the child’s life.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). The ecology of human development:
Experiments by nature and design. Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky’s Social Constructivism

A person learns something new almost every day, whether it is the information heard in a class in school, an interesting fact found on the Internet, or a new recipe read in a cookbook. Apart from being an integral part of human’s life, learning is also a deeply social process because it always requires at least two people: the one who shares knowledge and the one who receives it. In case of young children, the social nature of learning is undoubted. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that a young child would be able to gain new knowledge and develop skills without social interactions with others. Social collaboration is simply essential in the learning process of the child, and the theory that explains this idea is the social constructivism theory proposed by Vygotsky (1978).

Social constructivism considers the child’s learning, thus development, to be ongoing: from what the child already knows and can use without the help of others (zone of actual development) to the potential knowledge (zone of proximal development). The child’s potential development can be transformed into the actual one only under the guidance of more knowledgeable others—an adult or a more advanced peer (Vygotsky, 1978). In other words, at any moment of the learning process, the child has both ‘fruit’ and ‘buds’ of development, and the latter has the potential to ‘bloom’ and give ‘fruit’ only in cooperation with others (Vygotsky, 1978).

Teachers, as active mediators of the children’s development, can apply a variety of cooperative learning exercises to make children’s classroom learning fruitful. For example, teachers can use help of more advanced children by pairing them with children who need support in complex activities. Additionally, teachers can invite parents to come to the classroom to provide guidance. Apart from the more knowledgeable others, using technology is another scaffolding practice since devices can serve as the medium for social interactions and thus development. Whichever the practice is, scaffolding learning with social interaction helps children to continuously develop.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society. Harvard University Press.

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