Sunday, September 24, 2006

Giving Constructivism its Due...

You know the great thing about having a blog, is having commenter’s. I consider myself especially blessed to have several readers that are way more intelligent than I am, and who are willing to keep me on the straight and narrow re education. Obviously as an education blogger, with no teaching experience, limited reading on the subject (I am slowly fixing that), and no formal training, I have a lot to learn. It’s been my experience that some of the most useful sources of learning are actually in the comments of blog postings.

In my last post, rightwingprof’s pointed out that constructivism does have its uses. I realized my last post was an over the top satire of the problems with constructivism. It inspired me to do a bit of reflection on what and where I think constructivism might be useful and not so useful in my own children’s education. So in a nutshell here are a layman’s views on where and when constructivism might be useful is a K-8 situation, since its obviously not applicable to soccer coaching :)

Book reports and literature analysis is one of the areas that I think constructivism could be useful in promoting higher level thinking. Once a learner student digests a book, the student has to take what he has read and somehow relate his understanding of the world with the new knowledge, concepts, or themes that he identified in the book. Critical thinking here is key, because different students are going to read the book with a different world view or idea as to what is important in the world. Because of this, you can’t just instruct or drill into a student what the underlying message or themes of work of literature are. To properly interpret literature, it is probably useful to be involved in some group discussion and to learn by trial and error. Unfortunately, analyzing literature is one of those skills that doesn’t lend it self to standardized multiple choice testing. A certain amount of comprehension is going to be testable, but higher level critical thinking is probably best judged on a subjective scale… i.e. book reports, essay questions.

There are several other uses that I can see constructivism being useful, such as science application through science experiments and identifying themes in history. Of course I think at the K-5 levels of education, constructivism should be used mainly as a temporary diversion or break in routine, and used only to tie together content knowledge that has been mastered. Having said this, it’s probably mathematics that I have the hardest time seeing any benefits to constructivism. I am sure that some people would argue that constructivism teaches the application of math skills, but it seems that the schools try and teach applications way to early in a child’s educational career. Unless the mechanics of math are understood intuitively, it seems like any sort of “discovery” learning would serve no purpose.


KDeRosa said...

The term constructivism has a justly deserved bad name and reputation. I prefer the term inductive learning to label what you're describing. Inductive learning is merely the ability to discriminate between two or more examples, recognizing similarities and differences, in order to draw conclusions. A necessary pre-condition to inductive learning is the student's relevant background knowledge, otherwise the student is baing ask to discriminate between gibberish. This is the folly of constructivism.

In contrast, inductive learning is a very effective teaching method for teaching early reading.

rightwingprof said...

I agree. Constructivism is one of the most abused methodologies in education. What honks me off is that eduwackjobs have abused the term "data analysis" to the point that it is justifiably starting to become a pejorative.

KDeRosa said...

Don't forget that anything that isn't constructivism is "rote learning."

The problem with the "data anlysis" is that it is getting in the way of competent math instruction.