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RE: Making constructivism simple? A primer

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From: Esa Tipton (tmtartseducation_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun May 19 2002 - 15:20:02 PDT


I'm sure you can find some writers who will say the
teacher isn't necessary but if you look at Bruner's
work, which is where the contemporary evolution of the
term started, it's not doing away with the teacher,
it's redefining the way the teacher interacts with the
content, the student, and the material. It's opening
up the learning process to self-organizing systems of
thinking and doing. It's based on the fact that our
brain weaves together relationships and asks that our
teaching practice mimics it.

But I don't think that we necessarily start from the
theory to get to practice. In many cases, including
Project Zero, people started with practice and
developed theory. Innovations that needed to be
supported become "theory." I think it's an operative
term, not a fixed entity. And as Henry rightly points
out, all of what we consider "knowledge" is changing
or has changed. I think we are really discussing ways
in which we give students new skill sets, not
knowledge. And that is just as relevant to art as it
is to other subjects. Actually, even Gardner is now
redefining his work and discussing "Multiliteracies"
instead of multiple intellegences.

Does this "Primer on Constructivism" from Vermette and
Foote (2001) help?

CONSTRUCTIVISMS:

C is for Connections: Students develop new meaning and
understanding in relation to their prior knowledge and
experience. Learning results when students establish a
connection between new information and prior
understanding.

O is for Options: In constructivist classrooms,
students are often given choices and options in
assignments. Teachers work with students to design
projects that will facilitate learning. The work
effort in these settings is more meaningful and
interesting and thus produces more powerful outcomes.

N is for Negotiation: Constructivism is built on the
premise that learning is the integration of new
information with prior understandings. Teachers need
to allow students the opportunity to actively research
and manipulate information as they work to negotiate a
personal meaning.

S is for Scaffolding: The support and assistance
teachers provide for students as they interact with
new information is known as scaffolding. Scaffolding
can take the form of questions, prompts, suggested
tasks, available resources, challenges, and classroom
activities.

T is for Time: In traditional school models, time is
held constant. Students have a set amount of time in a
particular class. The school day and the school year
are unyielding. Each student spends roughly the same
amount of time in the school setting. Since students
vary in their learning rates, inevitably, the level of
learning in this model varies from student to student.
When students are given time to explore interesting
and relevant problems they can create meaningful
connections and reach higher standards. The
constructivist model therefore, allows learning for
all students at high levels, given appropriate time
and support.

R is for Rubrics: Rubrics are statements that describe
different levels of accomplishments for a specified
outcome and the best of them are developed jointly
with students. When used in that manner, students gain
a deep understanding of what is expected of them and
what counts as quality in the products they create.

U is for Understanding: Central to constructivism is
the notion that teaching for simple rote memory (or
what laypeople call "cramming for a test") is a doomed
proposition: nothing is understood or retained very
long in such a situation. Students need to engage in
deep processing of ideas and they need to be in a
position of explaining the material to others.
Understanding results from many student applications
of ideas, not from teacher "coverage" of the material.

C is for Collaboration: One powerful way to help make
content meaningful is to have it shared, using the
concept of "purposeful talk." Cooperative
problem-solving and collaborative project construction
allow opportunities for students to examine,
elaborate, assess and build their knowledge in a
social context, one which demands that they verbalize
much of their thinking and which provides great
feedback for their efforts.

T is for Technologies: The advent of new technologies
means that computers are not just for instructional
rehearsal but exist as avenues for research and
analysis. Students have access to a great deal of data
and information. Constructivist instruction will help
them use it as evidence or as answers to important
questions.

I is for Inquiry: Students in a constructivist mode
are often searching for data or information that
answers a question, helps solve a problem or helps
them prepare a demonstration or presentation.
Glasser's (1998) famous dictum "education is about
using knowledge, not acquiring it" applies here.
Investigations change knowledge from inert to useful
and they help students take responsibility for their
own learning.

V is for Variety: Students enter a classroom from a
variety of backgrounds. They are different in their
social, cultural, and linguistic heritage. Learning is
most effective when teachers consider these
differences. There are also a variety of strategies
compatible with constructivism. Those teachers who are
adept at using many strategies will be better able to
sustain student attention and facilitate learning.
Finally, students can demonstrate their learning in a
variety of ways. Constructivism focuses primarily on
the process of learning rather than the product. If
the student can accurately explain how the product
demonstrates the learning process, then the product is
valid, whatever form it may take.

I is for Intentional Teaching: Although the teacher
takes on more of a guide role in constructivist
classrooms, this should not be misinterpreted as a
sort of free form teaching. Constructivist teachers
need to be intentionally aware of the prior
experiences of students. They need to intentionally
organize materials and resources to promote student
research and inquiry. Intentional teachers examine the
activities of students as they are learning to
determine if modifications need to be made, and they
gather information to determine if students have met
required objectives (Slavin, 2000).

S is for Student-Centered: Constructivism focuses on
what the students do, not what the teacher does. The
learning process begins with the students' prior
knowledge and ends with their demonstrations. The
teacher is thought of as a facilitator; guiding,
leading, and coaching the learners toward their own
accomplishments.

M is for Motivation: Students' motivation is enhanced
when they are convinced of the importance of the
material they are learning and view the tasks they are
completing as useful and relevant (Zahorik, 1996). In
the traditional classroom the teacher organizes and
presents information to students. Students then are
asked to complete assignments demonstrating they have
learned the material. In a constructivist class, a
problem relevant to the lives of the students is
presented first, thus raising student curiosity.
Students are then motivated to learn the information
that will lead to a solution. These students are in
effect reaching out to the teacher for the new
knowledge rather than acting as passive recipients who
one day might have a use for what is being taught.

S is for Standards: Constructivism does not mean that
"anything goes" or that there are no standards being
met. In truth, the standards movement itself means
different things to different people, including the
simplistic generation of lists of facts-to-be-learned
(see Brady, 2000). However, the best of the new
standards call for students to be able to think deeply
or critically, that is, to categorize, hypothesize,
generalize, synthesize, apply, analyze and elaborate
issues of content (see for example the New York State
Learning Standards, 1996 or Wisconsin's Model Academic
Standards, 1998). These are precisely the operations
inherent in constructivist approaches and reflect the
time-honored cognitive purposes of education.

> But maybe perfect for a constructivist approach.
> After all we want the kids constructing knowledge
> for and amongst themselves without too much input
> from the teacher. Still seem pretty risky. I don't
> know.
>

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