Rethinking science education: Beyond piagetian constructivism toward a sociocultural model of teaching and learning


  • This is a revised version of a paper originally presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL, April 1991.


In the first part of the article I present an epistemological critique of forms of pedagogy founded on Piagetian constructivism. Despite the appeal of the notion that learners construct their understanding, I argue that constructivism is problematic because it ignores the subjectivity of the learner and the socially and historically situated nature of knowing; it denies the essentially collaborative and social nature of meaning making; and it privileges only one form of knowledge, namely, the technical rational. I then present a critique of active learning and student-centered forms of pedagogy. I argue that in our models of teaching we rely on too many unexamined assumptions from developmental psychology and we take for granted the problematic notion that children learn by doing. My central thesis is that constructivism is flawed because of its inability to come to grips with the essential issues of culture, power, and discourse in the classroom. In the concluding section of the article I present a preliminary account of a sociocultural approach to teaching and learning that takes seriously the notion that learning is situated in contexts, that students bring their own subjectivities and cultural perspectives to bear in constructing understanding, that issues of power exist in the classroom that need to be addressed, and that education into scientific ways of knowing requires understanding modes of classroom discourse and enabling students to negotiate these modes effectively so that they may master and critique scientific ways of knowing without, in the process, sacrificing their own personally and culturally constructed ways of knowing.