My teaching thus far has been a mixed bag when it comes to learning theories. With regard to constructivism, my approach shows some elements of the principles, but the activities do not.
I follow a regimented yearly lesson plan and am required to follow it according to my superiors. This scheduling means that if our classroom conversation strays from the primary lesson, I redirect my students to the topic at hand. In an ideal constructivist-learning environment, I would encourage my students to delve into new ideas of thought and use them to expound upon and relate back to the original lesson. We would spend more time brainstorming and less time working in books. The freedom to explore would greatly enhance the learning experience. In a different (ideal) school, we’d toss away the workbooks and engage in more hands-on activities, field trips, and role-playing to understand the world around us.
My teaching could also be improved with more opportunities for collaboration and peer interactions that would encourage MKOs (more knowledgeable other/s other than myself) to model for their classmates. Students would really benefit from being able to work through challenging problems together. Any differing beliefs they have are an opportunity to explore and solidify their understanding. But I’m always concerned the result of such interactions will be copying, rather than constructing knowledge, at such a young age.
In some ways, I think my teaching reflects some constructivist ideals. I always make a point to make the lesson relevant and relatable to the children’s own experiences. For example, in lesson about the /ar/ sound, we pretend to be pirates saying Arr! We talk about words with /ar/ and talk about where we have seen sharks, what color scarf we each have at home, whose favorite shape is a star or something else, why we feel scared of the dark.
I think I successfully guide my students with appropriate scaffolding and modeling. We always review and relate what we’ve learned previously to what we are learning today. As an individual child’s ability improves, I encourage her to be more self-reliant and aware of her process. For example, a student will read each individual sound in a word, faster and faster, until she can hear the composite word. Some students still struggle to hear the final word so I will read with them, saying the letters aloud myself, faster and faster, and sometimes they hear the word. Other students can always hear the word when I say the sounds, so now I encourage them to say the sounds quietly to themselves until they hear the word.
My assessments of student learning are always based on multiple perspectives rather than a one-time evaluation. I prepare bi-monthly reports on each child to track development and changes (positive, negative). How does this child behave in, engage with, and react to lessons? How does the student approach challenges? Can the child apply what he has learned in different scenarios? Can he explain his thinking?
In the future I want to find more opportunities to let my students direct their learning through collaboration and hand-on experimentation. I like Papert’s description of constructivist teaching as ‘dirty’. Get in to the grit and grizzle of it and build some knowledge that you can use!