Constructivism and the role of a teacher

To have a child centric educational system ,we have to move towards a constructivist approach to learning. This approach refutes the myth that a child is a vacant tumbler which can be filled with knowledge. According to ‘Constructivism’ we construct our own knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. In this view of learning ,a teacher understands the student’s preexisting conceptions and guides the activity to address them .Learners actively construct their own knowledge by connecting new ideas to existing ideas on the basis of activities presented to them. Constructivists believe that child is a creator of his /her own knowledge.

We believe that a child learns mechanically and learning is simply a response to an external stimulus. Thus teacher’s role is to provide necessary stimulus for progressive change in behavior .We think that extrinsic motivation leads to learning .Thus Punishment, rewards and repetition becomes the important components of our ‘teaching methodology’. The emphasis is on teaching than ‘self learning’ by students. Even today many of us boast to have best results in the examination by practicing these age old methods. Our strong belief in Behaviorist Approach to teaching is evident when we stick to these teaching methods. For us training is equivalent to education. We consider that Teacher’s role is very important and he/she is the one who decides the content and methodology of learning/teaching in the classroom.

But according to Cognitive Constructivists the content and activities should be decided both by teacher and taught. Teacher’s role is limited to creation of learning situations. Through continuous exposure to different situations the child creates his own knowledge and the same is evaluated by either the teacher or taught. The four important factors effecting such a cognitive development are Maturation, Experiences, Social Environment and equilibrium. According to Cognitive Constructivists, experience plays an important role in cognitive development. Though the child has innate potential, the learning can only take place with proper maturation. And the teacher should be aware of this, and the learning should match the child’s age. The cognitive Disequilibrium is the cause or motivating force for a child to learn. The child learns when a cognitive challenge is posed. Instead of just giving information to a learner, a teacher should create situations through which the children will be able to investigate and find an answer for themselves. Thus as teachers we should understand that child is an investigator. Teacher has to create a dis-equilibrium by creating situations from where the child learn to solve problems and learn new things.

Though Cognitive Constructivism has paved the way for a new mode of learning the most accepted Constructivist approach is Social Constructivism. In this approach the teacher and taught together determines the area of learning and activities. Though the child learns through activities the teacher interacts and have dialogue with the learner frequently and assists wherever required. This continuous dialogues help in forming mental constructs which are evaluated further by the teacher or taught. Though these are the two main approaches to constructivism both these approaches are based on fact that children learn from their own experiences and create their knowledge.

It is high time that from rigid Behaviorist approach we need to move towards Constructivism. One need to understand that teacher has to change from one who is ‘teaching’ to a mediator between the learner and knowledge. This can happen only by a new way of learning called as collaborative learning. Teacher and learner in a classroom are going to share their experiences and knowledge.
This focus on ‘Collective Knowledge’ helps to transform a teacher to a learner and in turn teacher and taught becomes one entity. The student in such a classroom has the freedom of expressing his/her disagreement on any aspect of learning with teacher. Moreover the heterogeneous grouping of children in a class for collaborative learning helps for the development of affective and psychomotor aspects of learner’s personality.
Thus Constructivist approach totally changes the role of a teacher in a classroom. Teacher now becomes a facilitator rather than a ‘teacher’ in the conventional sense. An autonomous learner is the hallmark of any constructivist classroom. Hence the teacher should encourage and accept autonomy of learner. Developing the art of questioning is another area where teacher may emphasize upon.
The terminologies used can be classify , analyze , predict ,create etc instead of routine terms like define, name etc used in normal classrooms. Though lesson planning is important, he/she should allow student- response to drive lessons and change instructional strategies and content accordingly. Wide variety of experiences (mostly contradictory to his/her earlier experiences) may be given so as to arouse curiosity among learners.

The constructivist teacher provides tools such as problem solving and inquiry based learning activities with which students formulate and test their ideas , draw conclusions and inferences. This can only happen if an atmosphere for dialogue is provided in the classroom. For this a teacher should be open-minded and nonjudgmental towards learners. In short constructivism does not dismiss the active role of the teacher or the value of knowledge.

This approach modifies that role , so that teachers help students to construct knowledge rather than to reproduce a series of facts. It is important that teachers go for this approach as it leads ultimately to joyful learning . It promotes social and communication skills by continuous exchange of ideas among peer learners. The learning elevates its status from rot memorization to thinking and understanding. We may be using this approach to some extent in our classrooms . If we can extend this further so as to accommodate all kinds of learners in a classroom then it shall be a great service to the ‘learners’.

Instead of finding excuses in prevailing system of education let’s be the torchbearers for a change in Pedagogy. To have a child centric educational system ,we have to move towards a constructivist approach to learning. This approach refutes the myth that a child is a vacant tumbler which can be filled with knowledge. According to ‘Constructivism’ we construct our own knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. In this view of learning ,a teacher understands the student’s preexisting conceptions and guides the activity to address them .Learners actively construct their own knowledge by connecting new ideas to existing ideas on the basis of materials /activities presented to them. Constructivists believe that child is a creator of his own knowledge.

We believe that a child learns mechanically and learning is simply a response to an external stimulus. Thus teacher’s role is to provide necessary stimulus for progressive change in behavior .We think that extrinsic motivation leads to learning .Thus Punishment, rewards and repetition becomes the important components of our ‘teaching methodology’. The emphasis is on teaching than ‘self learning’ by students. Even today many of us boast to have best results in the examination by practicing these age old methods. Our strong belief in Behaviorist Approach to teaching is evident when we stick to these teaching methods. For us training is equivalent to education. We consider that Teacher’s role is very important and he/she is the one who decides the content and methodology of learning/teaching in the classroom.

But according to Cognitive Constructivists the content and activities should be decided both by teacher and taught. Teacher’s role is limited to creation of learning situations. Through continuous exposure to different situations the child creates his own knowledge and the same is evaluated by either the teacher or taught. The four important factors effecting such a cognitive development are Maturation, Experiences, Social Environment and equilibrium. According to Cognitive Constructivists, experience plays an important role in cognitive development. Though the child has innate potential, the learning can only take place with proper maturation. And the teacher should be aware of this, and the learning should match the child’s age. The cognitive Disequilibrium is the cause or motivating force for a child to learn. The child learns when a cognitive challenge is posed. Instead of just giving information to a learner, a teacher should create situations through which the children will be able to investigate and find an answer for themselves. Thus as teachers we should understand that child is an investigator. Teacher has to create a dis-equilibrium by creating situations from where the child learn to solve problems and learn new things.

Though Cognitive Constructivism has paved the way for a new mode of learning the most accepted Constructivist approach is Social Constructivism. In this approach the teacher and taught together determines the area of learning and activities. Though the child learns through activities the teacher interacts and have dialogue with the learner frequently and assists wherever required. This continuous dialogues help in forming mental constructs which are evaluated further by the teacher or taught.

Though these are the two main approaches to constructivism both these approaches are based on fact that children learn from their own experiences and create their knowledge. It is high time that from rigid Behaviorist approach we need to move towards Constructivism. One need to understand that teacher has to change from one who is ‘teaching’ to a mediator between the learner and knowledge. This can happen only by a new way of learning called as collaborative learning. Teacher and learner in a classroom are going to share their experiences and knowledge.

This focus on ‘Collective Knowledge’ helps to transform a teacher to a learner and in turn teacher and taught becomes one entity. The student in such a classroom has the freedom of expressing his/her disagreement on any aspect of learning with teacher. Moreover the heterogeneous grouping of children in a class for collaborative learning helps for the development of affective and psychomotor aspects of learner’s personality.

Thus Constructivist approach totally changes the role of a teacher in a classroom. Teacher now becomes a facilitator rather than a ‘teacher’ in the conventional sense. An autonomous learner is the hallmark of any constructivist classroom. Hence the teacher should encourage and accept autonomy of learner. Developing the art of questioning is another area where teacher may emphasize upon.
The terminologies used can be classify , analyze , predict ,create etc instead of routine terms like define, name etc used in normal classrooms. Though lesson planning is important, he/she should allow student- response to drive lessons and change instructional strategies and content accordingly. Wide variety of experiences (mostly contradictory to his/her earlier experiences) may be given so
as to arouse curiosity among learners.

The constructivist teacher provides tools such as problem solving and inquiry based learning activities with which students formulate and test their ideas , draw conclusions and inferences. This can only happen if an atmosphere for dialogue is provided in the classroom. For this a teacher should be open-minded and nonjudgmental towards learners. In short constructivism does not dismiss the active role of the teacher or the value of knowledge. This approach modifies that role , so that teachers help students to construct knowledge rather than to reproduce a series of facts. It is important that teachers go for this approach as it leads ultimately to joyful learning . It promotes social and communication skills by continuous exchange of ideas among peer learners. The learning elevates its status from rot memorization to thinking and understanding.
We may be using this approach to some extent in our classrooms . If we can extend this further so as to accommodate all kinds of learners in a classroom then it shall be a great service to the ‘learners’. Instead of finding excuses in prevailing system of education let’s be the torchbearers for a change in Pedagogy.

Originally published at : http://cbse.gov.in/cenbosec/jan-mar-2008/page-1-30.pdf

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