Guest Blogger PostAs I reminisce on my undergraduate Education Psychology course and graduate courses that promoted the need for incorporating constructivist practices in the classroom to “prove” you are a student-centered educator, I often contemplated the effectiveness of the constructivist teacher in the classroom. Before revealing my perspective, let’s identify some key points related to constructivism.

5 keys of Constructivism

  • Constructivism is not a theory of learning instead it is philosophy that underlines various theories and combines them to form an epistemology
  • Constructivists promote the need for the learner to discover their own knowledge to enrich their experiences
  • Other names for constructivism are discovery learning and inquiry-based learning
  • According to constructivist, new knowledge acquired by the students must be re-constructed in the learners’ mind which involves eliminating any discrepancies to develop a knowledge structure that is meaningful to the student
  • Constructivist practices are usually prominent in science classrooms

Additionally, Tuncer Can stated on a blog post that students in a constructivist environment demonstrate the following qualities: self-controlling, realistic, scientific, and value generator just to name a few.

Before progressing let’s consider the following scenario: An algebra teacher is ready to introduce her students to the concept of pi (3.14) in the geometry portion of the lesson sequence. The students are enrolled in regular education classes and some have a solid understanding of basic algebra, while other students are lacking the necessary foundational skills to be successful with this concept. A constructivist would see this as a valuable opportunity to allow the students to discover the meaning of pi (3.14) through manipulating shapes, measuring shapes, comparing objects, etc.

However, if the students possess limited to no background knowledge of pi (3.14) are they truly able to construct their own knowledge? Will their knowledge of pi (3.14) be totally misconstrued or partially inaccurate? Are these inaccuracies acceptable because the student may have an epiphany and pi (3.14) will transform to knowledge in their minds? Do constructivists take cognitive overload into consideration when learning? How soon does the teacher intervene, since in the constructivist classroom the teacher is the “coach”?

Constructivism is a learning philosophy that has the potential to expand on a concept once it has been grasped by the learner, but if learners have limited knowledge are they able to construct (build) their own learning without the appropriate tool-background knowledge?

Being student centered means you take the needs of your learners first before delivering the instruction. A student centered educator is cognizant about the abilities of their learners and utilizes the instruction to bolster student achievement. When an educator has the students’ instructional levels, behavior characteristics, and effective strategies in their repertoire they are ensuring students are the primary focus from the development of the objectives to administering the evaluation. When learning is not achieved, the student-centered instructor determines the weaknesses and strengths of the learners and devises a plan on “how” to re-teach the concept/skill to achieve learner mastery.

Developing an in-depth knowledge regarding teaching and learning in order to diagnose and remediate instruction instantaneously to prevent frustration during instruction, and avoiding the possibility of a students’ motivation levels plummeting is student-centered instruction. Continuously providing students with motivational techniques to increase their confidence and performance level in the classroom promotes a student-centered environment. According to Dr. Kate Kinsella (2010), the research on motivation and learning states the most critical success factor for students is the ability for them to perceive themselves being successful. It would be quite difficult for a learner to perceive success while struggling to “discover” a new concept!  Delivering instruction customized to your learners needs and sustaining motivation in the classroom are the main ingredients of a students centered learning environment.  All of this can be accomplished in a classroom where the educator skipped the final exam essay question requiring him/her to support the constructivist viewpoint in an undergraduate Educational Psychology class!

References

Cruickshank, D., Bainer , D., & Metcalf, K. (1999). The act of teaching (4th ed) . Boston, MA : McGraw-Hill.

Can , T. (2007). Constructivist learner. Retrieved March 13, 2010 from Constructivist Education: http://constructivist-education.blogspot.com/.

Kinsella, K. (2010 March). Accountable student engagement in the READ 180 classroom. Webinar presentation presented on WebEX.

Reiser, R., Dempsey, J. (2007). Trends and issues in instructional design and technology(2nd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson

Guest blogger: Terica Butler is a former middle school reading/language arts teacher. She taught in an urban school setting for six years. After teaching, she transitioned into the role of an Implementation Consultant for Scholastic. She now has the opportunity to serve teachers and students in Memphis, Tennessee and other large urban districts.  Terica is presently pursing a doctoral degree from the University of Memphis. Her interest in education include: urban education, professional development for teachers, instructional design embedded in technology.  After completing her degree, Terica plans to continue improving the lives of teachers and students in school districts across the country!

About Michael M Grant

Dr. Michael M. Grant is a passionate professor, researcher, and consultant. He works with faculty members, schools and universities, and districts to integrate technology meaningfully and improve teaching and learning. When 140 characters just won't work, then he blogs here at Viral-Notebook.com. He has a beautiful wife and three equally beautiful daughters, who will change the world.

4 Thoughts on “Warning: Constructivists read at your own risk!

  1. Jeremy on March 27, 2010 at 8:19 am said:

    Hey Terica,

    Great post! In my own school we have recently been talking about what we can do to incorporate more “student-centered” teaching methods as described by various constructivist based methods like problem-based learning or discovery learning. My issue, as you stated in your blog post, is that most of the learners that are in my classroom (7th-8th grade) are very much novice learners. Many of the things that we (teachers at my school) cover are things that the students have no (or limited) prior knowledge of. To be truly “student centered” teachers need to realize both the potential and the limitations of our students. To begin a new topic using a constructivist approach with students could cause students to have a lot of failure and become demoralized. Despite the problems with constructivism, I can see it being useful. I think that constructivist approaches could be great if students have proper, and plenty of, prior knowledge. Unfortunately, supplying students with plenty of direct instruction to give them proper prior knowledge and then also teaching the material again using a constructivist approach takes a lot of time and time is one thing that teachers do not have. The inefficiency (not necessarily the ineffectiveness) is why I frequently doubt the usefulness of constructivism in K-12 classrooms.

  2. Terica on March 29, 2010 at 7:31 am said:

    Thanks Jeremy. I believe that constructivism has its place with certain phases of learning. I totally agree once the learners have mastered a skill, concept, etc., expanding on their mastery with constructivist practices is a wise decision. I am not totally against constructivism. When used appropriately, the effects of constructivism can allow students to become more involved with their learning and highly motivated throughout the process. However, if used incorrectly students will have the tendency to become frustrated and as educators we know frustration impedes learning. Excellent input Jeremy!

  3. Terica, thanks for bringing up the “hot” topic of constructivism. I’ve read and engaged in numerous discussions about it since beginning my graduate degree. In many ways, I still am unsure about my own perspective. I have recently accepted an instructional design position in a corporation. From my encounters so far, most of the training deployed online adheres to behaviorist principles; however, one of the projects I’ve been assigned seems to have constructivist ideals. For example, the instruction contains on-the-job scenarios that trainees must complete. I’m interested learning more about applying these principles to adult learning. Thanks for a great post!

  4. Terica on April 1, 2010 at 7:51 pm said:

    Stacy,
    Thanks for your response. I understand your “internal” battle. I truly believe constructivism has its place in learning. However, I am not completely sold on constructivism being the best to facilitate all phases of learning. Teachers really have to consider the learners, content, and phases of the learning process when determining how to achieve results in the classroom. My biggest concern with constructivism is the lack of knowledge some learners posses AND the practicality of incorporating the strategies on a regular basis. Congrats on your new position!!!!

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