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Educational Theory: A move toward constructivism

As a teacher, I’ve always championed project-based learning, student-centered classrooms, and the importance of curiosity as a precursor to learning. But over the last few years, the emphasis on standards has made me more behaviorist. I am happy that this class pushed me to learn more about how to re-introduce constructivism as a pillar of my pedagogy, especially as I become a teacher librarian.

Cooperstein and Kocevar-Weidinger (2004) offer a clear definition of constructivism as distinct from “active learning,” “hands-on learning,” and other similarly-termed educational theories. They argue that true constructivist learning must include the following four criteria: (1) learners construct their own learning, (2) new learning builds on prior knowledge, (3) social interaction aids learning, (4) learning develops through real tasks. The authors — citing writings by Dewey, Vygotsky, and Bruner, among others — suggest that a constructivist learning environment begins and ends with student inquiry, rather than teacher direction. Because the library offers a learning commons and access to technology, teacher librarians should capitalize on constructivist pedagogy when collaborating with classroom teachers. Though I find the authors’ perspectives idealistic, my transformations this semester — especially the Book 2 Cloud — give me hope that students would embrace more opportunities to build knowledge rather than to regurgitate it back to their teachers.

After becoming convinced of the potential of constructivist learning, I did additional reading to figure out ways teachers and teacher librarians have reconceptualized learning environments. Gordon and Markuson (2008) keep the question of constructivism simple: “Do your students want to be [in your library]?” Their slide presentation details the complex steps necessary in transforming libraries into learning commons. Some of these steps include collecting data and reinventing space to ensure presentation areas, flexible learning centers, and opportunities for groups of students to collaborate.

I also became fascinated with the flipped classroom model. Roxanne’s presentation and our classroom activity provided an epiphany about how the flipped classroom model relates to constructivist teaching. The idea, according to an excellent Knewton infographic, is simple: Construct knowledge together in the classroom, rather than having students do so at home. In a Math class, this means lectures go online (e.g., Khan Academy) for home viewing, while problem-solving, the main event, happens in class. Bergman and Sams (2007), who are cited as the inventors of the concept, note that the growing popularity of the flipped classroom as a constructivist pedagogy is, in fact, constructivist — as educators experiment and come to new understanding.

For me, a question remains: What’s the best way to flip an English classroom? Many English teachers have struggled to figure out how to flip their classroom. (Here is one teacher’s blog post; here is another. What should happen in class vs. at home? It is not entirely clear, perhaps because English focuses more on skill development rather than discrete content standards. Perhaps the question to answer is the following: What is at the heart of the ELA curriculum, particularly when augmented through collaboration with a teacher librarian? What is being constructed? Those questions (and more) will guide my next steps in reading and learning.

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  1. Pingback: Flipping the Classroom Facilitates 5 Active Learning Methods

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