Educational Psychology Constructivist Theory of Learning Constructivist Teaching Essay

Pages: 7 (2438 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 15  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Teaching

Constructivist Theory

In today's educational context, teachers are faced with many challenges. Not least of these is the fact that children come from so many different cultural and intellectual backgrounds that it can no longer be assumed that even two children in class can be approached in a uniform manner and deliver the same education outcomes. Further complicating the matter is the increasing recognition that each child has a unique set of innate intellectual abilities and needs. Among these is the fact that each child has a specific learning style of which teachers should be aware. To create an environment that optimizes the learning process as far as possible for every child in the classroom is therefore no mean feat. Another challenge is the education system itself. Teachers are bound by internal and external school constraints when implementing educational strategies, particularly where these are somewhat different from the historically accepted norm. This is also true of the constructivist approach of instruction. In fulfilling their roles according to this philosophy, teachers are faced with the challenge of not only making sense of its premises and meanings to themselves, but also with implementing the theory in a classroom that has become more diverse than ever before in the education system.

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Windschitl (2002, p. 131), for example note that teachers are profoundly challenged by the necessity of reorienting the cultures of their classrooms according to constructivist theory in the face of educational conservatism that often remains the norm, despite the fact that diversity and a need to respond to this diversity has become an increasing fact in the educational setting. Authors like Windschitl (2002) then write on the basis of the premise that teachers can be supported in their attempts by critical attention to the many issues they face within the classroom.

In this attempt, one of Windschitl's goals is to fully explicate the range of challenges teachers face in this regard. He summarizes these in what he refers to as four basic "dilemmas" in terms of implementing constructivist theory in the classroom (Windschitl, 2002, p. 132).

Essay on Educational Psychology Constructivist Theory of Learning Constructivist Teaching Assignment

The first challenge is conceptual dilemmas, which, as mentioned above, is the teacher's own attempts to understand constructivist theory on the basis of its philosophical, psychological, and epistemological premises. Pedagogical dilemmas have also been mentioned, and refer to the teacher's attempts to use his or her understanding of the conceptual framework to implement constructivism gainfully in the classroom by means of curriculum design en learning construction. Cultural dilemmas refer to the challenge of managing the collective classroom culture during the reorientation phase, where roles and expectations are modified to meet the constructivist demand. Finally, political demands refer not only to the overall corporate culture at the specific school where the teacher works, but also to the various stakeholders in the classroom experience, such as parents and politicians. Various degrees of resistance might be expected from these stakeholders with the implementation of any new theory or premise in the classroom.

Windschitl (2002, p. 137) also summarizes the specific duties of teachers in terms of the constructivist approach. Teachers, for example are to elicit students' ideas and experiences in relation to the topics being considered in class. The classroom learning situations should then be constructed in such a way as to help students expand or restructure their existing knowledge. In other words, the theory requires teachers to use, rather than ignore or attempt to transcend, the diversity with which they are faced in the basic modern classroom. Students should also receive the necessary tools in terms of technology and other equipment to facilitate their learning process. These are then used as a basis for collaborative learning, in which students work together to solve the complexities of the learning situation presented to them. The outcome is then, ideally, that students learn to think autonomously while using input from the teacher and their fellow students to arrive at conclusions for their learning challenges. The teacher, in turn, must use various assessment strategies to measure these outcomes for each student as fairly and impartially as possible.

In providing a basis for these duties by teachers in the constructivist classroom, Hendry (1996, p. 20), provides a number of assumptions regarding knowledge, some of which are unique to the constructivism philosophy of learning. The first basic assumption is that "Knowledge exists only in the mind," which means that there is no external source of knowledge that can be consulted or compared to what is found in the human mind. All knowledge is constructed by human beings and exists only because it has been constructed in this way. In the classroom, this is a powerful assumption, because it also allows the teacher to empower students in terms of their own knowledge construction. When students are made aware of their own capacity for knowledge construction, it can have a powerful effect upon their interactions with each other and with the existing body of human knowledge. This in itself is based upon a second assumption, that knowledge is built and expanded by means of interaction with others. The teacher's main duty is then to provide the media through which students can build their own knowledge, while also providing the opportunity for interaction in order to help students learn from the knowledge residing in each other.

Derry (1996, p. 169), however, recognizes the fact that no teaching theory exists in isolation. Along with the slow schema change occurring in schools, teachers are also faced with various debates within constructivism itself, which further complicates the conceptual challenges they already face. However, according to Derry, one of the main premises that might be found commonly across constructivist ideals is the assumption that meaningful learning is constructed by means of active knowledge construction rather than by passive absorption of knowledge divulged by the teacher. The main task of the teacher in this regard is then also to provide students with the opportunity to construct their own knowledge rather than providing ready-made knowledge materials to absorb and regurgitate.

This is confirmed by the majority of writers in the constructivism field, including Harris and Alexander (1996, p. 116), who note that the most important constructivism-based approach to learning is the premise that knowledge is actively constructed, and that this construction occurs best when collaborating with others in a stimulating context. The student's responsibility is therefore to interact with others and expand his or her learning in this way. The teacher's responsibility is to provide the best means and most stimulating context possible to facilitate such learning, and to assess the outcomes of this learning in an appropriate way.

The most challenging aspect of this theory is probably to help children connect their existing set of experiences and knowledge with material that is new to them. This is the basis for the success of collaborative learning. Each child in a group of six, for example, has unique experiences. By using the constructivist approach, teachers can help these students to not only gain new knowledge, but to do so in terms of valuing the knowledge that resides in others, including their fellow students and their teacher. From a social point-of-view, this is a good way to stimulate mutual tolerance, effective communication, and a collaborative approach to problem solving, especially if the group members are not in agreement on how these outcomes should be achieved.

Another important concept noted by Hardy et al. (2006, p. 308) is that constructivist education does not assume that existing student knowledge is necessarily viable, scientifically, or even materially correct. Constructivist education is then used to help students arrive at a better premise than their existing conception of the world. In this way, no conception is discarded as "incorrect" or dismissed as wrong or valueless. Indeed, the fact that even faulty premises of the world exist is used as a valuable asset in constructing the learning process.

The authors specifically note the propensity of children in this regard to spontaneously construct conceptions about the world they observe. Rather than focusing upon whether these are scientifically viable or not, constructivism uses the tendency to construct knowledge to help students expand and modify their own knowledge in such a way as to provide a more scientifically viable view of the world.

In order to help teachers face the variety of challenges inherent in implementing the constructivist approach in their classrooms, Nyikos and Hashimoto (1997, p. 515) make the rather radical suggestion of subjecting teaching students themselves to the constructivist method of knowledge construction. One important revelation from their investigation is that the power relationship within the group context, and how this can be used to promote effective critical thinking and other constructivist skills, has a powerful effect on the learning situation. Furthermore, by placing teachers in the learning context that their future students will find themselves in, they can learn first-hand how their interactions and reactions can be used to promote optimal learning and cognitive development.

Concepts such as the dynamics of social interaction are therefore a very important consideration in all… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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