Constructivism in the Classroom and Beyond

EDU 6655: Human Development & Principles of Learning–Blog  for Week 6

The article I selected for this week’s reading was, Toward A Pragmatic Discourse of
Constructivism: Reflections on Lessons from Practice
, by Mordechai Gordon. The author addresses the insights of Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Freire, and points out that “there are quite a few different types of constructivism that have some common elements, but also significant differences, such as individual, social, psychological, cognitive, radical, critical, and trivial constructivism, among others (p.40). This notation and my relatively weak previous knowledge of constructivist theories, (as well as the length of the article!) caused me to feel a bit overwhelmed at first, however, as I continued to read, it became apparent that the author’s genuine intent was to investigate and examine the various theories and approaches, and draw out practical implications for educators working in the field with real students. As cited by
Gordon, “According to MarkWindschitl (1999), constructivism is based on the assertion
that learners actively create, interpret, and reorganize knowledge in individual ways” (p. 39). Naturally, the word “individual” appealed to me as a special education teacher. Gordon includes a description of two specific classroom teachers and examples of their weaving together previous with new methods of teaching practices with students. One of the teachers conducted a student survey and used student feedback to modify her teaching approach. “…the vast majority of students had positive reactions to Dusting’s teaching approach. She, therefore, learned how important it is to not only attend to her own agenda as a teacher, but to be
equally mindful of the students’ needs and experiences” (p. 47).  Of course, I also found this statement to be congruent with my focus on accommodations for individual students.

I see the constructivist approach, as noted within Gordon’s
article, as significantly impacting my role as a teacher,
and much to my surprise I noted a number of ideas within the article to which I was able to make direct connections to my work with special education students in a largely inclusive high school setting. “… in good constructivist classrooms, students learn in a variety of ways, which include trying to solve problems on their own, sharing their ideas with their peers, and asking the teacher to explain issues and concepts that are unclear…. good constructivist teaching ought to be flexible and attend, first and foremost, to the actual needs of students, and not just to the teacher’s perceptions of those needs” (p. 48-49). This approach seems to match the “ideal” and reciprocal relationship of teachers taking into consideration a student’s possible need for an accommodation, based on his/her disability, and a student developing strong self-advocacy skills in order to address the impact of their disability.

A question also came to mind regarding the issue of inclusion when I read the following statement by Gordon, and I wonder if this statement lends additional support for having students participating in the general education setting to the greatest extent possible?

….Vygotsky also insisted that teaching should be tied more closely to the level of potential development than to the level of actual development. In his words, “the only ‘good learning’ is
that which is in advance of development” (Vygotsky, 1978, 89). This insight—that good teaching should always help students advance to the next level of development—has been incorporated by many constructivist teachers (p. 52).

What are some concerns, limitations, or even reservations you have regarding the application of cognitive development to the classroom? Initially, my concerns
pertaining to the application of cognitive development to the classroom stemmed more from my limited view of “the classroom”. While I could visualize content and process-oriented classroom situations benefitting from the constructivist approaches as described in the two examples referenced in this article, I was unable to at first make a clear connection to my work with individual students. As I continued to read, I realized that, the term “classroom” includes the broader view of helping students to generalize and apply basic skills (reading, writing, math, organizational, behavioral) to the school setting throughout the day. Upon further reflection, I have few–if any, concerns with the Gordon’s “pragmatic discourse of constructivism”, but rather appreciate the stated “sense of balance” which it embraces.  “…a good constructivist classroom is one in which there is a balance between teacher-and student-directed learning, and one that requires teachers to take an active role in the learning process, including formal teaching” (p. 47).

Gordon, M. (2009). Toward a pragmatic discourse of Constructivism: Reflections on lessons from practice. Educational Studies: Journal Of The American Educational Studies Association, 45(1), 39-58.

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