As 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!
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!