Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

In the Zone

in the zoneMy first exposure to the theory of Constructivism made me uncomfortable. Its claim that “human knowledge is always to be seen as a ‘construct,’ a product of the human mind”[1]seemed arrogant. I later learned that a much more common—and reasonable—approach says that understandings of knowledge are built by human beings as they interact with reality. I feel comfortable saying that learning can be a process of constructing understandings of knowledge that are refined as we check them against the reality that exists in the mind of Yahweh.

Social Constructivism adds the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development or the ZPD, the space between where a learner currently is and where s/he can and needs to be. Building understandings helps learners traverse the ZPD. One of the reasons why I like this way of viewing learning is that it makes the teacher’s job clear: to figure out where learners are and what they already know and to help them get where they feasibly can be by the end of a period of learning.

What’s also interesting about the theory is its collaborative nature. Learning is not only an individual process but also an interaction or collaboration between various players. The learner interacts with what s/he already knows and the material to be learned. Then, while building understandings of knowledge, s/he also collaborates with the teacher, “experts” (like parents, older siblings, or “native speakers” of the target knowledge) and other learners traveling through their similar ZPDs.

When I consider Yahweh as the Master Teacher, I see Him engaging learners in seemingly individual lessons. Daniel was alone in the lion’s den for a lesson in trust. (I don’t think the lions were naturally cooperative.) His counterpart Nebuchadnezzar spent a solitary season figuring out that Heaven rules. On the other hand, I also see the Master Teacher engaging followers in collaborative learning. He gave partners to Adam, Moses, and Barak when they were struggling or just because He knew it wasn’t good for them to go it alone. One of His education proverbs reads: “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”[2]

In Yahweh’s classroom, where the ZPD seems to be taking us toward deeper faith and greater glory, another player collaborates with us. This player participated in my Chinese language learning. While attending a local fellowship and attempting to understand a sermon series on the book of Mark, the gap in my ZPD was wide. My background knowledge helped. I’d interacted with Mark in my native language. The teacher’s mode of communication also helped. It was clear both linguistically and ideologically. Afterward, conversations with my friends in Chinese and classmates in English deepened my understanding. Frequently, in those conversations, someone would say, “I felt like he was preaching directly to me.” He was by the power of the other player in the process. Specific to each listener’s ZPD, the Holy Spirit made plain the lesson to be learned, both the Chinese words and their deeper meaning.

Whether our students acknowledge Him or not, the Master Teacher is a player in the process of their learning. He goes with us into every classroom because He goes with us everywhere. With His long years of experience as a teacher, He can turn a well-planned lesson into something specific to each learner, both words and deeper meaning, and take each from point A to B across the ZPD.

[1]Richard Fox (2001), “Constructivism Examined,” Oxford Review of Education, volume 27 (1), p. 26.
[2]Ecclesiastes 4:12, New International Version.

Further exploration

  • Some links to other resources.
  • Kids, take charge,” a TED Talk by Kiran Sethi the founder of Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India. In this talk, she describes how students are lead toward their school philosophy of “Doing Good AND Doing Well.” Elements of Social Constructivism are evident in the collaborative approach taken in the school.
  • Z is for ZPD” by Scott Thornbury on An A-Z of ELT.

 What’s your perspective?

  • What understandings of Constructivism and the ZPD have you built that might be different from what you read here?
  • How does the Master Teacher enter your ZPD? How do you enter your students’?
  • What’s your favorite learning theory, and how does it connect to your faith?

Post Author

Melissa K. Smith

Photo Credit: Tyrven via Compfight cc

4 comments on “In the Zone

  1. Patrick Seifer
    January 20, 2016

    I love the idea of thinking and knowing the Master has entered my ZPD. I really meditated on this thought this morning. Where would I be if He didn’t come? I wouldn’t have naturally gone to Him, so I am thankful He thought I was worth it to come to me and enter into my world of need, otherwise known as ZPD.


    • Melissa
      January 21, 2016

      Your words gave me food for thought. Thank you, Patrick. It is good to dwell on and in the Master’s entrance into our ZPDs. I could also learn a lot from His patience as He takes me from point A to B, sometimes over and over again until I finally “get it.”


  2. Marilyn
    January 21, 2016

    I was reflecting on how we can become too personal in our understandings. Now and then it’s good to see what can be learned from theorists whose starting points (i.e. brains) may not be the same as ours but who, without knowing it, have the same origin.


    • Melissa
      January 21, 2016

      I’ve also thought some recently about how just because someone doesn’t acknowledge Yahweh that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of speaking Truth. I wonder if we would be better off focusing in on Truth in what people say rather than nitpicking at what isn’t Truth.


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This entry was posted on January 20, 2016 by in constructivism, favorite theories, Melissa K. Smith, zpd.



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