Friday, April 07, 2006

Key Concepts in Constructivist Education

An important concept for social constructivists is that of scaffolding which is a process of guiding the learner from what is presently known to what is to be known. According to Vygotsky (1978), students' problem solving skills fall into three categories:
1. skills which the student cannot perform
2. skills which the student may be able to perform
3. skills that the student can perform with help
Scaffolding allows students to perform tasks that would normally be slightly beyond their ability without that assistance and guidance from the teacher. Appropriate teacher support can allow students to function at the cutting edge of their individual development. Scaffolding is therefore an important characteristic of constructivist learning and teaching.
Multiple perspectives, authentic activities, real-world environments these are just some of the themes that are frequently associated with constructivist learning and teaching. There were many similarities between the perspectives of different researchers in this brief review of the literature.

The following section presents a synthesis and summary of the characteristics of constructivist learning and teaching as presented by the above review and as suggested by the previous section on constructivist theory. These are not presented in a hierarchical order.

1. Multiple perspectives and representations of concepts and content are presented and encouraged.
2. Goals and objectives are derived by the student or in negotiation with the teacher or system.
3. Teachers serve in the role of guides, monitors, coaches, tutors and facilitators.
4. Activities, opportunities, tools and environments are provided to encourage metacognition, self-analysis -regulation, -reflection & -awareness.
5. The student plays a central role in mediating and controlling learning.
6. Learning situations, environments, skills, content and tasks are relevant, realistic, authentic and represent the natural complexities of the 'real world'.
7. Primary sources of data are used in order to ensure authenticity and real-world complexity.
8. Knowledge construction and not reproduction is emphasized.
9. This construction takes place in individual contexts and through social negotiation, collaboration and experience.
10. The learner's previous knowledge constructions, beliefs and attitudes are considered in the knowledge construction process.
11. Problem-solving, higher-order thinking skills and deep understanding are emphasized.
12. Errors provide the opportunity for insight into students' previous knowledge constructions. 13. Exploration is a favoured approach in order to encourage students to seek knowledge independently and to manage the pursuit of their goals.
14. Learners are provided with the opportunity for apprenticeship learning in which there is an increasing complexity of tasks, skills and knowledge acquisition.
15. Knowledge complexity is reflected in an emphasis on conceptual interrelatedness and interdisciplinary learning.
16. Collaborative and cooperative learning are favoured in order to expose the learner to alternative viewpoints.
17. Scaffolding is facilitated to help students perform just beyond the limits of their ability.
Assessment is authentic and interwoven with teaching.

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