Constructivism Is an Important Learning Theory Term Paper

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Constructivism is an important learning theory for the modern classroom. The main idea behind Constructivism is that the learner constructs all learning that is accomplished, not that the teacher creates the learning for them. Students are able to memorize, repeat, and regurgitate information without truly understanding it, which is what occurs in most traditional classroom learning situations. In order to truly understand the information, students must actually understand the processes which lead to true construction of understanding. Students must also be able to apply the information to situations removed from the "lesson" setting so that they will actually be able to learn information and develop understanding from learning experiences that take place outside of the classroom, and in the absence of an authoritarian teacher. Children that have special needs or learning disabilities can particularly benefit from constructivism. Those with special needs or learning disabilities are most likely to have problems with traditional memorization and retaining information, and other problems functioning well within the traditional authoritarian classroom setting. It is necessary to create a classroom environment in which the special needs student truly understands the material in order for them to get the most out of their educational experience, and constructivism is easily the best means by which to achieve this kind of classroom environment. Constructivism will more often avoid traditional grading systems and standardized testing which can be of particular hindrance to special needs students, and not really helpful for any students. Constructivism will instead use individual evaluation methods such as portfolios. The difference between a traditional hierarchal classroom and a constructivist one can be poorly but perhaps somewhat accurately be described as analogous to the difference between giving a man a fish for dinner to feed him once, or teaching him to fish and therefore feeding him for life.

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Educational standards set by the No Child Left Behind act, however, are an obstacle for constructivism in the classroom. No Child Left Behind sets a legal obligation for schools to implement standardized tests and get students to achieve high test scores. The way in which constructivism can be applied to a class where national standards must be met is by using the constructivist way of teaching and learning in the classroom to not only educate on subjects, but also to teach children test taking skills. Children can be taught in a constructivist way to approach tests in a creative and analytical way, as they would any other problem in life, and therefore learn how to score well on tests. A good constructivist classroom must not fall prey to No Child Left Behind and become focused on high test scores, but rather overcome this need to create a truly positive educational environment.

The theoretical idea behind No Child Left Behind, that every child regardless of ability or disability level, deserves a great education and equal treatment is certainly a part of the Constructivist classroom, though in actuality the act does not live up to this theory. Valuing alternative learning styles and providing a healthy environment for all students is vital to constructivism in the classroom.

Constructivism as a concept is widely accepted in theoretical pedagogy. It is frequently taught in schools, and most academic educationalists understand the concept well, even if it is not regularly applied to actual classroom environments. Constructivism vastly differs from one incarnation to the next due to the nature of theoretical schools of thought.

Some constructivism advocates are rather extreme in their ideas of how it should be applied to the classroom, while others are more moderate and seek to make small changes to the traditional hierarchy system. The more extreme constructivist thinkers propose a complete abandonment of all classroom hierarchy, leaving the class to be completely led by the students and evaluated by the individual, rather than any outside authority. This concept has wonderful theoretical potential, however it is not applicable in the public educational system as it stands today due to politics and unfortunately social circumstances. Other constructivists suggest merely bringing a higher level of student input into lesson planning and having more critical thinking in the classroom. However, like the radicals of many movements, the radical constructivists may have made such an impression that many will dismiss the very notion of constructivism without further consideration of more moderate applications of the theory to education.

While the actual term "constructivism" is a modern term, the theory behind it is as old as written history itself. Throughout the evolution of humanity and humanitarian thought, theories very much like constructivism can be identified and traced in areas like sociology, philosophy, anthropology, mythology, psychology, and education. (Handley, 1994) in the days before Socrates in ancient Greece, a sort of constructivism was taught that believed learning is founded in activity and cognition, not memorization. Socrates would go on to argue that learning by rote, or memorization, is pointless, in his educational writings of Meno. Socrates believed that all people already have access to all of the true knowledge of the world. The Socratic method itself is a great example of constructivism in a more extreme form. In the Socratic method, the learner is not told anything, but rather asked questions and guided to discovering, recognizing, or constructing their own understanding of the correct answer, of truth.

In the 1700s, an educational theorist named Giambatista Vica wrote about his ideas, which were very much like those of modern constructivism. Vica said, "one only knows something if one can explain it." (Hanley, 1994) This is a constructivist view of understanding, because simply repeating something back does not mean one can explain it. The philosopher Kant also touched on constructivist theories, despite his usually conservative viewpoints.

According to Kant, it is not possible for a person to be passive in their reception of knowledge. This indicates that there is a reaction between the teacher and the student -- a constructivist concept. Piaget, however, is generally considered to be the father of modern constructivism. Piaget specialized in child-development theories, and he was able to identify and interpret the adaptive processes that children use to learn about the world around them in ways that had never before been approached. Piaget was one of the first to explain that language is the factor that helps define the world for people, and that acquiring language is a social process and also an adaptive process.

The Constructivist educational approach seeks to equip each student as a learner and provide the student with the skills needed to learn from all experiences, it does not just provide students with random facts and figures and information. Plourde and Aliweye (2003) explain that constructivism proposes "people create their own meaning and understanding, combining what they already know and believe to be true with new experiences with which they are confronted."

This means that people do not just absorb the knowledge that is given to them by authorities or teacher, whether that be directly or passively. Each person always, according to this concept of constructivism, must interact with both the new knowledge and their old knowledge to create a new version of reality and understanding. By these means, each person's reality is constructed by their experiences and their interpretations.

Some would label the very basic forms of constructivism as "trivial" because the concepts are so simple. "Knowledge is actively constructed by the learner, not passively received from the environment." (Dougiamas, 1998) Von Glasersfeld, who has a more radical view of constructivism, for example, says there is very little substance to this claim. However, this is the basic framework on which Von Glasersfeld's interpretation of constructivism sits. His theory of constructivism includes the concept that knowledge is not absolute, due to the fact that knowledge is created by each individual learner, and because no two learners that construct this knowledge are the same. Knowledge is simply an illusion which can be shifted, and each individual student created their own concept of what is real and what is not real. An individual's understanding of reality does not necessarily line up with other people's understanding of reality, even if the same basic information was made available to both. This existentialist idea of reality is strongly interwoven with constructivism, but constructivism also teaches that there are constraints which allow thinkers to participate in the same shared mainstream reality. (Glasersfeld, 1992)

One form of constructivism that is very relevant to the classroom is the idea of cybernetic constructivism. This theory states that the human mind learns in the same fashion as a highly advanced computer program or artificial intelligence. This is somewhat related to behaviorism, sharing the idea that animals and machines both use loosely similar and comparable forms of communication and control processes. In both the human mind and the mechanical mind, according to this theory, processing of information and knowledge is based on feedback loops, trial-and-error adaptations, and microscopic binary differences. In a computer processor, this would be the switches that are controlled by the on-or-off binary code, while in the human brain this would… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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