The NSW Board of Studies has taken a stance that learning should be constructivist in its approach. But what is Constructivism, what are the alternatives and is it the right approach for the modern classroom.
What is Constructivism?
Marsh defines Constructivism as, ‘a mode of instruction that emphasises the active role of the learner in building understanding and making sense of information’ (2008, pg. 83). It is a theory of educating that puts the learner at the centre of the learning experience. Understanding is built via activities such as group work, research, simulation games, role playing and other such activities that require the learner to acquire an understanding of the subject matter and construct their own thoughts about it. It focuses strongly on problem solving, exploration and collaborative efforts.
What is the argument for?
A shift towards Constructivist classrooms has occurred over the past decade or so. This move has been predicated by the belief that it is the most optimal form of education. White-Clark et al, in discussing the findings of the learning methods for Math students, in particular the use of Constructivist approaches to Math education, noted that ‘students better understand the relevance of mathematical concepts and become more motivated and interested in their math courses, thereby improving math performance and meeting the standards’ (2008 pg. 41). Further to this, von Glasserfeld, in summarising the psychologist and proponent of Radical Constructivism, Piaget, notes that knowledge is not passively received but actively built upon the learner’s cognition of a subject. In this way, the argument for and the advantage of Constructivist modes of education is a greater engagement from the students and better results, as it is built upon a person’s natural learner behaviours.
What is the alternative?
There are a myriad of different theories of teaching out there, but the method of instruction that is mostly considered the antithesis of Constructivism is what is known as Direct Instruction. Though not diametrically opposed to Constructivism, it does provide the clearest alternative to a Learner based approach in the classroom. Direct Instruction places the teacher at the centre of the classroom, delivering the information to the students in a variety of ways, such as lectures, readings and demonstrations. Marsh notes that its main purpose is to ‘help students learn basic academic content in the most efficient way’ (2008 ph. 71), making it arguably ideal for a ‘teach to the test approach’. Ongoing Direct Instruction can be criticised as monotonous and unengaging for students.
The Quality Teaching Frameworks outlined by the NSW Board of Studies, Intellectual Quality, Significance/Relevance and Quality Environment, all encourage teachers to foster a Constructivist approach in the classrooms. Conversely, the NSW Board of studies also has an Outcomes based curriculum which is measured by standardised testing. Whilst Constructivism fosters quality learning environments by promoting student engagement and seeking relevance to their lives, one could argue that a Direct Instruction approach, via rote learning, would be the most advantageous in students achieving the tested outcomes. In this way, whilst Constructivism is probably the best the method of instruction, a combined approach, one that mixes Direct Instruction with activities that promotes Constructivist learning is probably the way to approach teaching in classrooms. It allows a greater breadth of activities to choose from and gives students the opportunity to find relevance, and develop greater understanding in what they have learnt via Direct Instruction, fostering greater motivation and communication skills in the classroom.
Campbell C, Information Technology for Teaching and Learning Powerpoint Presentation
Marsh, C (2008) Studies of Society and Environment, Exploring the Possibilities, 5th Edition, Pearson Education, Australia
von Glaserfeld E, An Exposition of Constructivism: Why some like it Radical: retrieved from: www.oikos.org/vonen.htm
White-Clark R, DiCarlo M, Gilchriest N (2008) “Guide on the Side” An Instructional Approach to meet Mathematical Standards, The University of North Carolina Press, retrieved from: http://blackboard.nd.edu.au/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_120723_1%26url%3D
The above graphic organiser is retrieved from Dr Chris Campbell’s Powerpoint presentation Information Technology for Teaching and Learning.
Which learning style/s does this ICT support?
This ICT supports a visual based learning style that likes to categorise information.
How could this ICT be implemented as a good cognitive tool within the learning environment?
It smartly arranges the key information into an easy to discern graphic organiser
How is this ICT enabling the development of creativity?
The graphic organiser provides the impetus for students to create their own graphic organisers and provides a good example how to synthesis complicated information into an easy to understand graphic.