ISSUE: Should schools adopt a constructivist approach to education?

7 pairs of students created the following consensus statements on this very issue


Although the adoption of a constructivist approach within schools could be problematic if educators are not properly prepared for the facilitation of this approach, we still hold that the constructivist approach should be promoted in our educational systems. The constructivist approach itself does not necessarily negate the need to expose students to a wide variety of disciplines, allowing for the mastery of the factual basis within each of these areas. Instead, constructivism can integrate the content knowledge from these areas and allow students to apply this knowledge in various ways to meet the common objectives of the lesson. When students engage in self-directed, collaborative activities, they build meaning into the experience, allowing them to process the information in greater depth than would traditional methods for transmission of content knowledge. We agree that critical thinking is a major competency of a contributing member of society, and a shared knowledge base and common discourse for communication are essential to critical thinking. Luckily, constructivism still allows for exposure to, and mastery of, various content areas and discourses in a manner that highlights the strengths, interests, and participation of individual students. Students that are charged as self-directed, life-long learners are more adequately prepared to participate in the discourse neccessary to interact with individuals in power positions in our society.

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In the information age, students should be provided the opportunity to engage in the constructivist culture of learning by discovery, inquiry, and collaboration. Students will enter a world which demands creativity, independent thinking, and quick application of facts and procedures to new situations and problems in order to be successful. The constructivist approach is “premised on the belief that learners actively create, interpret, and reorganize knowledge in individual ways.” It is in the application of knowledge in novel ways that we are assured that a thing has been learned. The classroom instruction should be modeled after the active knowledge construction that is natural to the learner. However, sole reliance on the constructivist approach does leave room for inefficiency and misconceptions. The constructivist approach assumes that students bring with them a core understanding of the world and does not allow for misconceptions or gaps in the students prior knowledge; this cannot be be addressed efficiently. Additionally, reconstructing all of human knowledge is not the most efficient way to move through our schooling. Finally, the current school culture does not fully support teachers’ proper implementation of consructivist techniques: a change that might prevent the adoption of this approach. We know well the time-tested approaches to build necessary skills, factual knowledge, and simple procedures. In the end, a blend of constructivist approaches with rote memorization and clearly stated goals might be the best way to address the needs of all our learners.

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The test of “Differences of opinion lead to inquiry, and inquiry to truth”. Thomas Jefferson Should schools adopt a constructivist approach? From Robin and Karen Our position is that students require a broad background consisting of the fundamental building blocks of learning, which can be delivered within a variety of frameworks, including both traditional and constructivist pedagogy. We believe that aspiring only to achieving critical thinking has limitations in that fundamental information may not be learned. There are many kinds of knowledge and all of them are necessary for people to become high functioning, self-actualizing adults. We view the acquisition of critical thinking skills as one of many goals of education. A good pedagogy must include facts and general “cultural background knowledge.” In any effective classroom, teachers need to maximize time on task and time interacting with students in order to ensure that students are constructing accurate and relevant knowledge bases. This is particularly difficult in constructivist classrooms, where teachers may be managing 30 students at different levels on different topics, and there is no guarantee that they will be learning what will later be assessed. If constructivist methodologies are going to be interwoven into the culture of the classroom, teachers need more resources (more teachers for fewer students, additional tutors, more class time, revised assessments, and more preparation for teaching in this way). Without these resources, constructivist pedagogies have the potential to actually hinder student academic achievement and motivation. Open questions: Is there an interaction between student age (developmental [...More...]

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Should a constructivist approach be adopted in all schools? We believe it depends. A professional teacher would use the best method for the learner given the situation. Situation analysis includes, but is not limited to, consideration of the tools available, type of content, type of learners, learning environment, financial resources and the constraints and affordances of all of these elements. For example, as a French teacher I could spend my given class period immersing the students in French, and maybe they would learn in a week the 10 words I need them to know; or I could design and very carefully deliver the needed information in a more efficient way in a single class period. They would then have a base of knowledge to go forth and construct their own knowledge for the remainder of the week. My current environmental constraint in this situation leads me to believe that the single day delivery of traditional learning affords the learner more successful opportunities for application of that knowledge within a constructivist framework as the week progresses. If that constraint were to change, the delivery of the content would be reexamined accordingly. Traditional learning can be incorporated within the constructivist theory or approach in terms of making sure those guideposts, scaffolding, accessing of prior knowledge, teaching academic and social discourses needed for participation in a democratic society. If only constructivist theory is used by the schools, important fundamental principles and discourse can be missed, leaving the most disenfranchised and disempowered without the [...More...]

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In order to equip learners with 21st century skills and knowledge, we need to prepare our students to be creative, responsible citizens who are intrinsically motivated, lifelong learners, and critical thinkers. Educators need to incorporate an eclectic approach that will blend both the traditional and constructivist methods. By doing this, schools will be able to teach students how to synthesize knowledge and apply new facts in complex situations.

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Schools should adopt a blended approach, carefully applying constructivist and educationally conservative methods. Because schools are still held to state and national standards, they need to meet certain outcomes-based criteria, but learners should be able to engage with that content as developmentally and personally appropriate. Teachers need to not only have content knowledge, but they also need to be able to teach students to be internally motivated and to demonstrate self discipline. Learners cannot truly be engaged in discovery learning if they are not capable of focusing their energy on the task at hand. Assessments should combine testing of content knowledge for mastery as well as being able to demonstrate and apply that knowledge. This blended approach helps to prepare students to be successful in the future because they can engage in authentic problem solving in creative ways within the structure of their given environment.

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Our position is to support an approach focusing on educational conservatism prior to adopting a constructivist model. Learners would demonstrate a predefined set of skills and knowledge and then be gradually exposed to constructivist experiences. Educational conservatism includes direct instruction, rote memorization, teacher-led activities, and drill and practice. Research shows that these techniques build a strong foundation of skills, and knowledge that can support future higher order thinking. Without this base, learners are susceptible to misunderstandings, errors, and erroneous judgments. Problems with lower level skills would severely impact the quality of higher order work. When learners have acquired a set level of knowledge they can move towards a more constructivist approach. In this model, they would be to apply their knowledge in more meaningful contexts and begin to generate new understanding.

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