The constructivist theory explains learning as the process of gradual acquisition of knowledge and skills characterized by construction of knowledge. Knowledge is first constructed in the social environment and is then internalized by the individual. Piaget focused on individual cognition while Vygotsky focused on individual learning through socio cultural context. The debate is on – Piaget claimed that the development of the child precedes learning, while Vygotsky believed that social learning happens first before development. A good relief, is that both Piaget and Vygotsky agreed on the role of the teacher – a facilitator/ guide and not a director.
How do I become an effective constructivist teacher?
I like the propositions in the book – Dynamic Teachers: Leaders of Change, which suggested that dynamic teacher take on no less than seven roles, as follows:
- “The Moral Steward,” recognizing the worth, capabilities, and rights of their students
- “The Constructor,” who understands the subject matter and knows different ways to teach it in order to accommodate students’ various ways of learning
- “The Philosopher,” who reflects critically about what is and isn’t working in the classroom and makes midcourse corrections as necessary
- “The Facilitator,” creating conditions in which students feel safe to take risks and make mistakes and have time to try again
- “The Inquirer,” who depends heavily on assessment to find out what students have learned and what they need to learn more about
- “The Bridger,” a partner with parents, other teachers, and the community to ensure that their classrooms are responsive to the community’s needs and wishes
- “The Change maker,” actively pursuing change in classrooms, schools, districts, professional associations, and policy arenas.
The above roles are fitting if teachers’ take seriously their role in facilitating student learning. The above list clarifies my first impression that constructivism puts so much power on the learners that teacher’s role as facilitator becomes easy.
In my imagination, my role as a teacher is like an Orchestra Conductor – who is an expert in the field of music and knows well the talents of my group members. As a conductor, I may never play a single note, but will have to combine the different parts (members of the orchestra) to produce an excellent musical rendition.
As a classroom teacher in a constructivist teaching and learning set-up, I may assign students to work in groups. The students then contribute to their group outputs based on the skills and knowledge that they bring to class. However, to be an effective “orchestra conductor,” I have to put together, the work of all groups to produce a more powerful output. In doing so, a teacher has to be an expert on the subject matter, in order to be able to add context and bring the learning process into a higher level of cognitive learning according to Bloom’s taxonomy. And such facilitation tasks goes beyond the classroom as indicated in the “change maker” role, which requires advocacy and connections with education policy makers and parents.
Thus, teachers make change happen. I am proud to be in the field of education.
- Resources for Constructivism, retrieved from http://www.sedl.org/pubs/sedletter/v09n03/credits.html
- Mindshift, retrieved from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/04/teachers-most-powerful-role-adding-context/