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constructivism

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From: Diane Gregory (dianegregory_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sat May 18 2002 - 14:11:06 PDT


Hi All,

I have been following the brief discussion on constructivism
and this topic
really interests me.

Constructivism is really much more than hands-on learning. A
whole lot more!
I see it as a revolution in the way teachers think about
learning and
teaching.

Constructivism is not merely hands-on learning. It is not
discover learning
either. It is not laissez-
faire learning. Done well, it is a highly demanding form of
teaching and
learning that requires students and teachers to truly get
lost in the
learning process to the extent that it becomes motivating,
life affirming and
life changing. It is difficult to truly implement in
today's schools unless
the entire system buys into it and even then it is extremely
challenging
because it challenges our very notions about what we kinow
or think we know.
"Truth" seems to become very elusive. That, for me, can be
very scarey.

Constructivism has some basic philosophical assumptions at
the core of the
philosophy which make it uniquely different than doing hands
on learning.

One of the most basic assumptions in constructivism is that
no one can
actually teach anyone anything. Real learning must occur
from the inside-out
and it must profoundly and fundamentally change the persons
way of thinking,
feeling and doing. Therefore, the word constructivism. The
learner, in order
to really learn something, must figure it out, wrestle with
it themselves
with guidance and actually take it in to the extent that the
learner's mental
structures or constructs about what they are learning are
fundamentally
changed. In other words, the light bulb goes truly on. The
goal is not to
replicate the teacher's understanding of the curriculum
within the minds of
the learner. The goal is to create a personal understanding
of the
curriculum within the minds of the learner that is unique to
each individual.

In art, this would mean more than just doing a project and
feeling good about
the product; this would mean understanding the implications
of the project
and having a profound effect upon the person's values,
meaning and life. This
would mean getting at the meaning and the purpose of art and
life for that
individual learner. The teacher must allow the student to
discover truly on
their own, not just do what the teacher really had in mind
all along.
Therefore, constuctivism does not do projects, it does
process that may or
may not culminate in what is traditionally known as a
product. It focuses
upon investigations and experiments and asking questions and
finding some
answers. It does things that relate to the child's immediate
life. It
encourages research. It encourages hypothesis testing. It
trys to get
students to think in terms of "I wonder what would happen if
I did it this
way instead of that way and comparing the two results." It
tries to get
students to think about how they even came up with that
question in the first
place. It tries to help students generate more questions
than answers. It
tries to help students evaluate the quality of their
questions and their
possible answers. It tries to help them analyze their own
thinking
strategies and to identify new ways of thinking. Their own
thinking about
the subject at hand becomes the curriculum.

At the risk of sounding like I am giving a
lecture....According to my
understanding, there are actually three main branches of
educational
constructivism: Piagetian constructivism, Social
Constructivism and Radical
Constructivism. Piagetian constructivism focuses on helping
students change
their schemas or mental constructions, primarily by a
process of encouraging
cognitive dissonance via assimilation and accomodation.
Social
constructivism, based largely on the work of Vgotsky,
focuses on helping
students change their mental constructs by interacting
authentically with
others. Radical constructivism is truly radical. It focuses
on thinking about
our own thinking. It also questions every thing. Nothing is
sacred.
Therefore, when a teacher says something, students are
encouraged to test the
validity of this statement. Students are challenged to
examine "truths."
Radical constructivism posits that schools have
unfortunately turned into
middle-class institutions that are really designed to
perpetuate the status
quo. Radical constructivists are really asking for a
revolution. They are
asking for people to really examine what they have been
taught and to really
figure things out for themselves. Primary sources, experts
in their fields
and direct immediate investigations are some of the
characteristics of
Radical constructivism, but the other approaches use these
strategies as
well. The difference between Radical constructivism and
social and Piagetian
constructivism is that Radical constructivism has a
political agenda. That
political agenda seems to be over throwing the current power
structures and
to establish a grass roots movement of learners who are
empowered not to just
accept everything they are told. Reconstruction or should I
say
de-construction of events and beliefs is the primary goal.

All forms of constructivism do this to an extent. When
studying Western art
in a constructivist manner, it would be good to point out
that Western
artists operate on a set of biases or viewpoints or
assumptions that are
different than other cultures. The role of the teacher would
be to help
students see these assumptions, identify what they are and
to examine their
validity.

For example, a good constructivist art history activity at
the high school
level would be to study how works of art get selected to be
put into art
museums in the first place. Related to that are questions
of how works of
art are excluded from art museums. Of course the study
would continue down
the road, depending on where students might take it. They
could certainly
invite a curator of a local museum, gallery or community art
center if
available and have him or her discuss the standards and ways
works of art
come to be part of their permenant collections. By doing
this type of
investigation, students would become aware of the political,
social,
psychological and art critical reasons and influences upon
what constitutes
so-called great works of art. Students might be able to
glimpse the larger
forces at work in determining the direction of various
trends in the art
world and therefore eventually the history of art itself.
This might
ultimatly get into issues of aesthetic standards, qualitiy,
bias, prejudice,
tradition, perception, etc. It would finally get to the
point of helping
students identify their own standards for what they believe
constitutes a
good work of art for their own art making.

Another example. The elements and principles of design. The
art education
establishment acts as if these constructs really exist. In
reality, they do
not. They operate as a construct that our culture and the
art education
culture can point to in order to think about the concepts in
art we want to
communicate about. Just like the alphabet is a construct.
Time is a
construct. These things are merely structures that humans
have created to
help us structure our world. The constructivist teacher
would help students
see this and help them to even develop their own perhaps
more valid or more
personally meaningful constructs.

I often sometimes wonder if the elements and principles of
design so confine
and limit students, that they actually and ironically get in
the way of
"true" learning about art.
Sarcastically, I am wondering how Da Vinci and Michelangelo
managed to create
art, without knowing the elements and principles of design?

Basing art curriculum around "projects" may actually do the
same thing.
Project oriented curriculums may make it seem structured and
provides a way
of thinking about making art, but is it really art? Do
working artists start
projects or do they make art? I believe contemporary artists
make art and the
art making springs up from an inner wellspring. It doesn't
spring up from
someone elses idea of what to do for an art project. Ralph
Efland in the late
sixties or seventies wrote a fascinating article about "The
school art
style." As I understood what he was saying, he was asking
art educators to
think about the following question: Do you teach school art
or do you teach
art?

It has been my experience, that many art teachers have never
thought about
art and art education in this way. Why not? Because our own
educational
experience learning about art and art education has not been
the kind of
education that would free us from our project oriented way
of thinking about
art and art education. Neither has it been the experience
of their teachers
and their teachers before them.

When I first discovered I did not truly know anything, I was
about 42 or 43
years old. I had a Ph.D. in art education but did not truly
know anything
about how people learn, think, feel or learn about art or
art education. I am
not saying this out of a false sense of humility. I really
came to believe I
knew nothing.

I became very depressed and angry at the educational
establishment that
churns out university professors that are encouraged to
perpetuate the status
quo. It has been a long tough journey to reframe my own
educational
experience and to transform my art education classes at the
university level
into constuctivist learning environments. It is a little bit
like trying to
see your own blind spot or shadow and trying to draw it. I
continue to learn
more than my students and I continue to have more to learn
about learning. I
now see my own classroom as a living "educational" research
laboratory. I
know now I will never arrive, but I hope my students will be
closer to
arriving for having investigated art and art education in
this manner.

One thing is for sure. Teaching and learning for me has
become much more
meaningful, rich and challenging since adopting this
constructivist approach.
In the last few years, I can really see that students are
making intellectual
and emotional connections with the subject of art education.
I can see their
minds working hard to think about their own thinking,
feeling, doing and the
entire educational enterprise. I can see they are
challenging themselves to
ask those big questions. How do people learn and how do
people learn about
art? What is the meaning to life and what does art
education have to do with
this? Most definately it has a lot to do with it. Art and
Art Education is
fundamentally about meaning and existence. My challenge is
to help my future
art teachers to grasp this vision and to help them educate
the next
generation of art students to encounter art authentically.
My concern is that
the structures of schools will turn them back into art
teachers who are on a
perpetual hunt for art projects, just to make it to the end
of the school
year. As an elementary art teacher in the state of Missouri
in the seventies
and eighties, this is what I thought art education was. I
am hoping that
where I am today in my thinking about art and art education
is more informed
than those early elementary art teaching days.

Well it is so much more and I can not even put it into words
to describe how
much more there is to it. For me, it is something I
experience and my
learning is ever unfolding and changing.

If you have gotten to the end of this long treatise, thanks
for listening and
I hope this has been useful for at least one person on this
list. In any
case, it has been a useful exercise for me to try to
articulate what I think
I am doing in my art education classes at the university
level. Thanks for
listening.

Respectfully,

Diane C. Gregory, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Art Education
Southwest Texas State University
dg09@swt.edu

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