In my first post, I mentioned that I consider myself a constructivist as an educator, and it has occurred to me that not everyone knows what that means.  Some may also have a misguided understanding of constructivism.  I was at a conference recently where I overhead another educator say the word as if it left a bad taste in her mouth.  I hope to be able to clearly share my views of constructivism and why I believe in constructivism as a teaching method.

I remember being involved in a class discussion in an education class early in my undergrad program.  The professor was sharing with us a variety of different educational philosophies.  Of these, two really stuck out to me.  The first of these is behaviorism and the second is constructivism.  Behaviorism centers around the belief that it is the teachers job to fill the students with knowledge.  Students are essentially viewed as empty vessels which need to be filled with everything the state decides is important.  This is essentially how much of education has been done in past century or so and most often how it continues to be done in today's classroom.  Students come in, are asked to intake (learn) all the knowledge the teacher has to give them, and then regurgitate it for the test.

Constructivism starts from a different place.  To a constructivist, a student already comes to the classroom with a quantity of knowledge, often on the material to be learned in class.  The instructors role is then to help the student find that knowledge, bring it to the surface, connect with it and build on it.  Much of constructivist theory comes from the work of psychologists Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky.  From them comes the concepts of surfacing prior knowledge, which is this tapping into what students already know, the zone of proximal development, which is the range of activities that a child can complete independently, and scaffolding, which refers to working with individual students to help build up from where they are to where they need to be.  Some modern educators who have helped me greatly in understanding what is important in the classroom include Richard and Patricia Schmuck with their book Group Processes in the Classroom and Nancy Atwell with her book In the Middle.

Here are some other random thoughts about constructivism and what it means:
  • a constructivist teacher is more facilitator and collaborator than authoritarian and lecturer
  • a constructivist classroom looks very different from a traditional classroom
  • a constructivist classroom is more student driven and less teacher driven
  • a constructivist classroom provides opportunities and resources, not facts and knowledge
  • assessment looks very different in a constructivist classroom
  • you need patience to build a constructivist classroom, because you have to unteach traditional methods before you can have full student buy-in into constructivist methods
  • classroom management is based on building relationships, mutual trust, and respect with your students instead of on authoritarian power
  • in my experience, learners retain better what they learn, when they learn in a constructivist manner
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  I encourage you to comment, share, question, and engage with me on this issue, whether you agree or not.  More will be coming soon on some concrete ideas of what an ideal classroom lo
 


Comments

Kathy
11/18/2011 13:58

Nicely done! From your rockin secretary. :)

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