CONSTRUCTIVISM

Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the dolng is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.
— John Dewey

KEY PLAYERS:

  • David Moshman (1951- ) :a professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and book review editor of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. Created distinctions between three types of constructivism: Exogenous, Endogenous, and Dialectical.

  • John Dewey: (1859-1952): an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Believed that our science and art should be conjoined. Wanted a science that took lived experience as the beginning and end point of inquiry.

  • Jean Piaget (1896-1980): a Swiss psychologist known for his work on child development. Piaget's theory of cognitive development and epistemological view are together called "genetic epistemology". Piaget placed great importance on the education of children.

  • Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934): a Soviet psychologist, the founder of an unfinished Marxist theory of human cultural and bio-social development commonly referred to as "cultural-historical psychology"

IMPORTANT STUFF:

Constructivism and Learning

Constructivism is an approach/theory to learning which emphasizes community learning, the use of authentic real-world tasks, and the use of tools to support learning. Although (like most things in Ed. Psych.) there is debate and confusion regarding what constitutes a constructivist approach, there are some universal beliefs including the taking into account the social aspects of learning (e.g. interactions with peers, influences on the community, environmental tools) See Figure 1.

Dialectical Constructivism

This kind of constructivism refers to knowledge gained through an interaction between the individual and the environment. Unlike Exogenous Constructivism, which emphasized knowledge gained through environmental factors and Endogenous Constructivism, which emphasizes knowledge gained through individual assimilation and adaptation, Dialectical Constructivism emphasizes the importance of both - especially the context (social factors and the environment) of the learner.

This approach also emphasizes 1) social participation, 2) scaffolding, 3) authentic real-world tasks, 4) the use of tools (e.g. calculators, language, computers, textbook), and 5) an interaction of some kind with the environment around the learner (e.g. creating an exhibition).

Scaffolding refers to a process of enabling a learner to solve a problem or achieve a goal that is beyond their skill level by the more-knowledgeable-other through gradually fading support until the learner can complete the problem or achieve the goal without support. This is in agreement with Vygotsky’s concept of Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), which is the difference between what the learner can do on his or her own and what the learner can do with help. That area is called the Zone of Proximal Development.

An example of scaffolding would be slowly transitioning the learner into a teacher role by 1) providing the learner with information while they watch the teacher model the completion of a task, then 2) allowing the student to help the teacher complete a task with guidance, then 3) having the student complete a task taking a more central role with the teacher acting as the helper, and then 4) having the student model the completion of a task without any teacher help or guidance.

For an example of Scaffolding and an illustration of ZPD, see Figures 2 and 3.

Types of Instruction

In order for a type of instruction to fall under the umbrella of a constructivist approach, it needs to include all five of those characteristics listed above. So, a traditional lecture classroom would not be a constructivist approach nor would a class that simply assigns experiments where there is no social interaction and have no real-world application.

The teaching approaches must also involve a knowledgeable-other (e.g. teacher or peer) whose presence fades away (scaffolding) so that the learner can complete the problem or exercise without the teacher by the end.

Research Methodology

Since research from a constructivist point of view emphasizes the five characteristics (e.g. social participation, scaffolding, authentic tasks, tools, environmental interaction), it is often difficult to study quantitatively. Context matters greatly as a constructivist, and often quantitative researchers cannot tell the whole story by reducing subjects to numbers; therefore, qualitative research makes more sense for a constructivist.

Criticism

Some of the teaching approaches such as Problem-Based Learning and Inquiry Learning are considered by some to be approaches that require very minimal guidance by a teacher. Some consider these approaches less effective because students are simply moving through the procedures prescribed by the discipline and not partaking in open-exploration in order to reach a solution.

KEY TERMS:

  • Constructivism: An approach/theory to learning which emphasizes community learning, the use of authentic real-world tasks, and the use of tools to support learning.

  • Exogenous: From the outside; External; Refers to knowledge gained from external factors such as the environment

  • Endogenous: From the inside; Internal; Refers to knowledge gained from assimilation and adaptation within oneself rather than from the environment.

  • Dialectical: Refers to knowledge gained through an interaction between the individual and the environment.

  • Sociocultural: emphasizes the environmental factors of society, culture, and social interaction regarding learning

  • Social Constructivism: A variation of dialectical constructivism that emphasizes the gaining of knowledge through discourse and participation within a community.

  • Schema: a pattern of thought or behavior that organizes categories of information and the relationships among them.

  • Cognitive (Dis) equilibrium: A cognitive state. Learning occurs during a state of cognitive disequilibrium where the information may be new, confusing, and incomprehensible. Through assimilation and adaptation, the learner begins to understand the new information and enters a state of cognitive equilibrium.

  • Problem-Based Learning: Collaborating in groups to solve a complex problem that does not have a single correct answer.

  • Project-Based Learning: Using driving questions to focus students’ inquiry processes which leads to the design and production of an artifact.

  • Scaffolding: A process of enabling a learner to solve a problem or achieve a goal that is beyond their skill level by the more-knowledgeable-other through gradually fading support until the learner can complete the problem or achieve the goal without support.

  • Zone of Proximal Development: refers to the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a knowledgeable-other.

  • Authentic Tasks: Experiences that are situated in the real-world.

  • Tools: Cultural-specific things that provide support for cognitive activities such as a calculator, language, digital readers, and mobile phones.

  • Dyad: A social group

  • Apprenticeship: Learning from a more knowledgeable other (often a master of a subject) through observation, coaching, and practice.

  • Reciprocal Teaching: A process where the teacher models a task-process for a student and then slowly shifts his/her role to student and the student to the teacher role.

Figure 1: Constructivism — From https://lo.unisa.edu.au/mod/book/view.php?id=610988&chapterid=102052

Figure 1: Constructivism — From https://lo.unisa.edu.au/mod/book/view.php?id=610988&chapterid=102052

Figure 3: Zone of Proximal Development — From http://www.innovativelearning.com/educational_psychology/development/zone-of-proximal-development.html

Figure 3: Zone of Proximal Development — From http://www.innovativelearning.com/educational_psychology/development/zone-of-proximal-development.html

Figure 2 - Scaffolding Example in Reading — From http://www.myread.org/scaffolding.htm

Figure 2 - Scaffolding Example in Reading — From http://www.myread.org/scaffolding.htm