Tuesday, May 14, 2013

“The Quest of Essence”

Aligning curriculum to state standards, dolling out rewards or punishments based on student performance, focusing on high standards, and answering factual based questions are all examples of common teaching practices that are seen every day in schools across the country.  Putting students first, putting learning in the hands of the learner, teacher’s facilitating learning by being the provider of experiences, and students creating their own meaning are all examples of the learning theory known as constructivism.  This theory has been seen in bits and pieces throughout classrooms across the country but is gaining ground.  Teachers have been heard to say clearly that they are looking to move away from “teaching to the test”, they are tired of watching their kids motivation for learning diminish, and they want to bring back the connections and meaning they use to have when there was less to cover in the classroom and more time to devote to the process of learning.  Thus, moving to a constructivist classroom is an obvious natural step.

Constructivism is an inquiry-based learning theory that offers a student-centered learning community where students work collaboratively together to solve real world problems.  Four areas that can encompass constructivism include backward design, assessment, effective instructional strategies, and action research.  The focus of backward design is a quest for essence.   Essence is the individual, real or ultimate nature of a thing.  In order for a student to become the ultimate nature of learner, the process of learning must begin with an essential question.  This question takes the learner where they are at, in all of their understanding, and brings them to new heights of understanding.   The teacher fits into this journey by guiding, focusing, suggesting, and continuing to evaluate the progress of the learner.  Effective instructional strategies focus on “high yield” results for the learner.  Making meaningful connections is the key to growing learners.  Marzano wrote about nine principles highly effective schools use to engage students in the learning process.  Marzano found all yield high results.  #9 especially works to promote the deeper learning that constructivism is rooted in.  The focus of assessment is to bring about this kind of deeper learning.  Students create their own meaning rather than the teacher making them learn facts simply to spit them back out on a formal or informal assessment.  Essential learning does not come about in this way.  Lastly, action research can be practiced by using high impact assessments that put the focus on the learner and what meaning they are making rather than on factual outcomes.  Through action research, teachers know how to guide learners into making meaningful connections after analyzing the results of their observations and ongoing monitoring. 

Learning has definitely been observed as growing lower level thinkers who are encouraged and often rewarded for spitting out fact-based material.  In these classrooms, the teacher knows all and “gives” that knowledge to their students.  Constructivism is a learning theory that is student centered and teacher facilitated with the ultimate goal to bring about essential learning.  This learning can be seen through backward design that starts with the essential question and works back, instructional strategies that yield high results, assessments that focus on student understanding, and action research that looks to intervene where learners are at.  When these areas are integrated into the classroom, with the learner at the center, only then can the constructivism learning theory be seen at its best.

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