M.Sc., M.Ed., JRF & NET
Lecturer in Physical Science, Arafa Institute for Teacher Education
Constructivism is a learning theory that has foundations in Philosophy, anthropology and Psychology. In constructivism learners construct their own knowledge by testing ideas and approaches based on their prior knowledge and experience. Learning is active reconstruction and re-interpretation of experience. Learner constructs knowledge using
1. Previous Knowledge
2. Newly assimilated experience
3. Newly developed insights
In constructivist theory learner autonomy and initiative is accepted and encouraged. Students learn how to learn as teachers give training for students in taking initiative for their own learning experiences.
According to Andrew Gray, the characteristics of a constructivist classroom are
• The learners are actively involved.
• The environment is democratic.
• The activities are interactive and student centered.
• The teacher facilitates learning in which students are encouraged to be responsible and autonomous.
Furthermore in the constructivist classroom, students work primarily in groups and learning and knowledge are interactive and dynamic. There is a greater emphasis on social and communication skills, as well as collaboration and exchange of ideas. This is contrary to the traditional classroom where students work primarily alone, learning is achieved through repetition and the subjects are strictly adhered to and are guided by a textbook.
The underpinnings of constructivism:
• Genetic Epistemology by Jean Piagget
• Discovery learning by Jerome S. Bruner.
• Social Developmental Theory by L. Vygotsky.
• Multiple Intelligence by Howard Gardner.
Jean Piagget suggests that a learner experiences disequilibrium while facing a challenging unfamiliar situation which prompts him for learning it. The learner links the new situation with his prior experiences (schemas) and assimilates the new instance to be part of his cognition. This process of tolerating the newness of the unfamiliar situation is called accommodation. Thus the initial disequilibrium dissolves into a well adjusted equilibrated state by “adaptation”.
Discovery Learning is a method of inquiry-based instruction and is considered a constructivist based approach to education. Jerome Bruner is thought to have originated discovery learning in the 1960s, but his ideas are very similar those of earlier writers (e.g. John Dewey). Bruner argues that “Practice in discovering for oneself teaches one to acquire information in a way that makes that information more readily viable in problem solving". Discovery learning takes place in problem solving situations where the learner draws on his own experience and prior knowledge and is a method of instruction through which students interact with their environment by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments.
Vygotsky is of the opinion that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition. He suggests three zones of development.
1) The zone of actual development,
2) The zone of proximal development and
3) The zone of potential development.
Vygotsky's term Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) relates to the gap between what the child can learn without others help, and what he or she can learn with the help of an adult or a more capable peer. The notion of ZPD implies that a child's development is determined by social interaction and collaborative problem-solving. Research indicates that communicating knowledge is essential for understanding. There are many ways in which knowledge can be shared for example, conferencing between teacher and student, small group activities in which students voice their interpretations, oral reports, projects, role playing and demonstrations.
Gardner suggests that each individual manifests varying levels of these different intelligences, and thus each person has a unique "cognitive profile." Gardner lists 9 areas of intelligence. 1. Linguistic 2. Logical –Mathematical 3. spatial 4. Bodily-Kinesthetic 5. Musical 6. Interpersonal 7. Intra personal 8. Naturalistic 9. Existential. A child who masters the multiplication table easily is not necessarily more intelligent overall than a child who struggles to do so. The second child may be stronger in another kind of intelligence, and therefore may best learn the given material through a different approach, may excel in a field outside of mathematics, or may even be looking through the multiplication learning process at a fundamentally deeper level that hides a potentially higher mathematical intelligence than in the one who memorizes the concept easily. Gardner's theory argues that students will be better served by a broader vision of education, wherein teachers use different methodologies, exercises and activities to reach all students, not just those who excel at linguistic and logical intelligence.
A SHIFT TOWARDS THE NEW APPROACH
Traditional instructional concepts are based on behavioural psychology which explains learning on the basis of stimulus – response theories - right from the twentieth century, the conclusions of which were questioned throughout the world. Gestalt Psychology, Psycho-analytical theory, Humanistic Psychology etc were the schools which questioned the mechanical nature of behaviourism.
The human intelligence is acknowledged to have more of powers than just remembering and reproducing. Information processing, reasoning, analysis, problem solving, attention, anticipation etc are also attributed to the learning process. The cognitive abilities of the learner makes him capable of constructing knowledge by assimilating new experiences with the past. Students must activate prior knowledge in order to extend and refine this knowledge. The most effective activities for knowledge use are problem-solving activities (Steffe & Gale, 1995). This encourages students to continue to examine and build on their knowledge. When students work in groups to solve problems, it is more useful than when they work alone because they have the opportunity to constantly voice ideas and receive feedback (Chaille & Britain, 1991).
A list of activities that can be used in a constructivist classroom
q Collection of specimens
q Small scale survey
q Model making
q Group discussion
q Bulletin board
q Nature observation
q Outdoor learning
q Study tour
q Library reference
Classroom Management (managing group work)
1. The task to be performed in the group should be clearly told before the group work.
2. If the activity is an experiment provide the required learning materials and handouts with instructions and questions to assist them consolidate the experiment results.
3. If the activity is an observation give the necessary hints as “what to observe” what and to note down the necessary points.
4. If the activity is a discussion give clear cut directions, points for discussion and necessary support materials to facilitate discussions.
5. If the activity is a classification provide paper slips to do so or classify and consolidate with the help of a chart
6. If the activity is solving numerical problem necessary steps and required data should be given in paper slips. The consolidation may be done on black board.
7. If the activity is brain storming teacher may encourage group members to come out with wild ideas and to list them in a paper slip.
8. If the activity is book reference sufficient books along with necessary hints should be supplied.
9. For any activity to be successful, the teacher should give hints, provide support materials, do scaffolding during the activity, and lead the essential part of “consolidation of group activity”.
10. Teacher should ensure participation of of all members of the group for the group activity.
11. Teacher should fix the time for completion of the activity. The activity should not prolong as the spirit looses within the group as time elapses. For this (1) make the task simple (2) the instructions about doing the task should be clear (3) scaffold properly so as to make the groups on right path towards completion.
12. Teacher should constantly evaluate the group as well as individual performances.
13. Teacher may ensure that each group is a mix of slow learners as well as fast learners.
14. Teacher may try to foster healthy competition among groups to complete the task perfectly