Essential criteria to characterize constructivist teaching: derived from a review of the literature and applied to five constructivist-teaching method articles
Volume 31 Number 4, March 2009; Pages 541–550
The authors identify four essential features of constructivism, or the constructivist theory of learning, and evaluate five articles that claim to offer, and test, constructivist teaching methods. The focus of the article is on personal rather than social constructivism. The first core feature of constructivism is eliciting prior knowledge from the student: the act of drawing on this knowledge is an essential aspect of acquiring new knowledge. The teacher needs to have a means to identify a student's prior knowledge accurately, in order to know how best to introduce the new information. The teacher also needs a means to direct the student toward the correct identification of relevant prior knowledge. A good way to elicit prior knowledge is through concept mapping, which requires students to apply relevant existing concepts and their inter-relationships. Prior knowledge can also be elicited through means such as informal questioning, formal pre-tests and formal interviews. However, a student's prior knowledge is not confirmed simply by the completion of relevant coursework. The second criterion for constructivism is creating cognitive dissonance: making students aware of 'a difference between his/her prior knowledge and the new knowledge'. To meet this criterion the teacher needs to present the student with the type of problem that requires them to move beyond, but also draw on, relevant prior knowledge. Third is the application of knowledge with feedback. The student needs opportunities to apply the new knowledge, consolidating it through applications in various contexts, and to compare it to that of their peers. Techniques to offer such opportunities include quizzes, presentations and group discussions. The fourth element of constructivism is reflection on learning, in which the student becomes aware of their new knowledge in the process of expressing it – for example through presentations or suitably designed tests, or having the student explain what they have learnt to a peer. On the basis of these four criteria the authors evaluated five articles designed to describe and test constructivist teaching methods, two of which offered good examples of the application of constructivism as a teaching method.
Key Learning AreasScience
The impact of casual teaching status on early career primary teachers is examined in a NSW study conducted in 2003–04. The study found that while casual teaching may suit some experienced teachers it is inappropriate for those new to the profession. The research involved a survey of 241 teachers. It also involved group and individual interviews with seven self-selected, newly graduating primary teachers, five in casual roles of varying duration, one with a year-long temporary position, and one permanent. The casual teachers reported a number of problems. One group of issues related to their professional learning in the classroom. They were unable to build on or even sustain the skills they had acquired during teacher training in areas such as programming and planning. They were also unable to follow through and evaluate their teaching over time. Short-term casual teachers in particular reported dismay that few of their skills were required of them. A second group of concerns related to relationships with students and staff. Over short employment periods they had no first-hand knowledge of the particular learning needs of the class, and were unable to build knowledge of or relationships with students. Many also faced high levels of student misbehaviour. The recognition they received from existing staff at the school, though occasionally good, was often poor and sometimes non-existent, with some staff unwilling to reply to them or answer practical questions. A third area of difficulty lay in practical problems. They also described the limitations of their access to school resources and, at each school, confronted the same set of practical introductory tasks faced only once by permanents. Analysis of quantitative data from the survey reinforced many of these findings. Casual teachers reported lower levels of learning about student assessment, report writing and building relationships with students and parents than respondents holding permanent or long-term temporary positions. A starting point for overcoming these problems would be to follow Scotland's example and reconceive the first year of teaching as part of the teacher-training period, as a basis for the review of induction and professional learning processes.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
New South Wales (NSW)
16 July 2009
Aesthetic literacy involves openness and sensitivity to new impressions of the world, and the ability to interpret them creatively and imaginatively. It needs to be distinguished from artistic talent and the romantic notion of groundbreaking work by individuals. Aesthetic education can take place in areas such as dance, photography and creative writing, but can also be a component of other subjects: within physical education, for example, teachers can cultivate students' awareness of style as well as skill, and in maths they can draw attention to the 'beauty in proof, numbers, equations and geometry'. However, the application of aesthetics to the curriculum is held back by several misconceptions about its nature. It is often seen as ethereal, or limited to the realms of high culture or purely private feelings. To reduce these misunderstandings it is helpful to consider aesthetic awareness as 'a mode of cognition, process or way of knowing'. With regard to assessment, the evaluation of aesthetic literacy does not lend itself to standard means of measurement. In fact, there is a tension between the very notion of standardised assessment and the aesthetic goals of autonomous creativity and individual expression. Aesthetic composition, however, can be examined for originality, flair, cultural interpretation and the capacity to synthesise personal ideas with established artistic conventions. This assessment should cover both the finished composition and the process of its development. It should measure the amount of learning that has taken place over a defined period rather than the level of the student's 'natural talent'. Another issue to keep in mind is the difference in the nature of the evaluation undertaken by audiences and formal assessors. Outside the educational environment, the artist's work includes an understanding of the public who receive it, and their expectations; the presence of the formal assessor complicates this relationship and introduces more formal, structured criteria for its evaluation.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Arts in education
How do novice art teachers define and implement meaningful curriculum?
Volume 51 Number 3, April 2010; Pages 233–247
Designing and implementing meaningful curriculums is an important skill requirement of art teachers, but can pose a challenge to novice teachers. Using interviews and classroom observations, the perspectives and curriculum design approaches of 11 novice art teachers in the USA were examined. The teachers overwhelmingly felt that a meaningful art curriculum should reflect their students' interests and backgrounds. Creating artwork and the examination of the cultural and historical context of artwork were also seen as important elements of a meaningful curriculum, while aspects such as teaching elements and principles of design, linking art with other disciplines, and teaching visual literacy were seen as less important. The majority of the teachers had autonomy in creating a curriculum, but some, particularly secondary teachers, were required to teach existing curriculums. The primary school teachers were more likely to plan interdisciplinary learning than the secondary teachers. Some teachers noted that addressing art in terms of an artist's culture and history helped students better understand art, while emphasising art principles or specialist vocabulary had a tendency to interrupt the flow of lessons. Secondary teachers, however, were under more pressure to teach specific studio skills and design concepts. While most of the teachers moved toward more student-centred approaches over their first year of teaching, many of the secondary teachers reflected that it was difficult to teach in such a manner when working within the limitations of a prescribed curriculum. Some of the teachers, at both primary and secondary levels, felt constrained by schedules that left little time for tasks such as reflection and art criticism. The responses indicate a need for novice art teachers to be supported in developing curriculums that make connections with students and that address social justice issues, as well as learning how to lead curricular change where necessary. Thematically designed curriculums and the use of open-ended, issues-based assignments may prove useful. Novice art teachers may also need support in balancing elements such as art creation with conceptually complex aspects such as art criticism and design concepts.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Arts in education
Volume 67 Number 6, 17 March 2010; Pages 6–11
Schools should act as a counterweight to the hectic digital environment by encouraging slow reading, in the sense of unhurried reading for pleasure. Early last century, slow reading was affirmed as the norm in education, linked to proficient oral reading. By the 1920s however the focus shifted to faster, silent reading. Although well-suited to the pace of modern life, silent reading lacks the primal appeal of the human voice and its speech rhythms, which is important for cultivating pleasure in the written language. There are a range of strategies to encourage slow reading. One is memorising text: when texts are memorised for their special qualities, the reader 'owns' them, and may recall and quote them throughout life. Another strategy is reading aloud, an activity of the primary classroom that 'dies too soon'. Read-alouds create a bridge to text for young readers and help struggling readers 'imagine a human voice animating the page'. Readers should also be encouraged to attend to beginnings of narratives, a place in which many qualities of the text are introduced. Reading tests should not be subject to strict time limits. Rather they should reflect most real-world situations in which struggling readers can take time to absorb a text's meaning. Students can be asked to annotate a page from a text that they like, marking the textual elements and devices they find most effective. A related activity is to copy out a favourite passage, to create intimacy between reader and writer, and then have the student explain their choice of the passage. Reading poetry, a genre that lends itself to slow reading, is also valuable.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Rewriting identities: using historicized writing to promote migrant students' writing
Volume 4 Number 1, 12 August 2009; Pages 24–43
A program in California has involved immigrant students in historicized writing. The program offered these students simultaneously opportunities to improve their writing skills and to develop a deeper and empowering understanding of their own social and historical context. The students were from farm-worker families of Central American or Hmong ethnic backgrounds, across the state. The four-week program was part of the Migrant Student Leadership Institute (MSLI) initiative, and was taught by post-graduate students from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). The course required the students to write about a poem on the theme of being a migrant student; three formal essays and essay drafts; and a longer autobiographical writing exercise. Instructors provided the students with feedback on content, style, form and grammatical conventions. The instructors also led discussions around the themes of history and society language and culture, race and class, and gender. The students’ hybrid language practices were valued and legitimized rather than being seen in deficit terms. The researchers evaluated the course based on video recordings of classes and photocopies of students’ written work. During the course some students moved away from the concept that social position is determined by ‘individual meritocracy’ associated with a deficit view of their parents’ low SES, towards a deeper understanding of the history and social situation of Latin American peoples. The historicized writing approach contrasts sharply with the prevailing educational approach applied to disadvantaged ethnic communities in the USA. The mainstream approach has responded to under-performance of students from disadvantaged ethnic minorities with ‘aggressive educational policies’, which have focused on the mechanics of writing excessively, and in isolation from the development of critical thinking and understanding of the social context that informs writing.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
United States of America (USA)
Supporting preservice elementary teachers' critique and adaptation of science lesson plans using educative curriculum materials
Volume 20 Number 6, December 2009; Pages 1573–1847
Educative curriculum materials, classroom materials that include explicit pedagogical support, can be used to help support new teachers in selecting, critiquing and adapting lesson plans to suit their students' needs. Fifty-three preservice teachers in the USA were required to critically assess three science lesson plans and make amendments to address any perceived weaknesses. Each lesson plan was accompanied by an educative support highlighting the need to address an important principle of practice, such as making students' thinking visible. The supports also provided rationales for the inclusion of these principles in a lesson plan. When provided with the supports alongside the lesson plans, almost all of the teachers incorporated the principles outlined in them into their analyses. Their lesson analyses were also more in-depth: they highlighted greater numbers of strengths and weaknesses in the lesson plans, and suggested amendments that drew on the rationales provided by the educative supports. However, when asked to critique lesson plans without the support materials, they were far less likely to attend to the principles, and if they did so, tended only to provide cursory rationales. This was true both prior to, and following, the intervention with the educative supports, indicating that extended use of such supports may be required in order to achieve long-term changes in practice. The design of educative classroom materials should not only attend to important principles of practice, but should also include appropriate rationales accessible to new teachers. The use of strong examples of classroom practice that effectively illustrate these principles may also be of benefit.
Key Learning AreasScience
Mathematics teachers' understandings of proto-hypothesis testing
Volume 4 Number 2, 2009; Pages 126–138
Although hypothesis testing is a central concept in statistics, it is widely misunderstood. The authors illustrate a number of these misconceptions about hypothesis testing in their report on at a small-scale professional development workshop for statistics teachers in the USA. The seminar involved eight high school teachers of statistics who had at least an undergraduate degree in mathematics or mathematics education. The authors sought to identify the difficulties the teachers faced in developing methods to test the validity of a claim made about a population when based on a single sample. They established that the teachers’ basic difficulty lay in the fact that they did not have a distributional, or stochastic, conception of probability, nor did they understand the logic of indirect argument. They found that teachers’ conceptual difficulties also derived in part from their ‘hidden commitment to the null hypothesis, and their belief that rejecting a null hypothesis means to prove it wrong’. The authors concluded the need to set up activities that confront teachers’ established beliefs about inferences from data. Since the participating teachers did not readily recognise hypothesis testing as a tool for making statistical inferences, professional development may also need to set up situations requiring the use of hypothesis testing.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Volume 20 Number 2, July 2010; Pages 118–136
A study in NSW has examined the impact of achievement grouping on the attitudes and practices of eight primary teachers at three NSW primary schools, with reference to literacy learning. Achievement grouping, also known as streaming, setting, tracking, regrouping or ability grouping, involves the categorisation of students by achievement level, in some or all subjects areas, across or within classes. Within the field of education research there is a consensus against the practice, for a range of reasons. It is thought to create self-fulfilling expectations of student performance among teachers and students; reduce the academic self-confidence of lower performing students; obscure the need to tailor teaching to individual students; create the danger of misallocating students; and reduce the time teachers spend with particular students, limiting their opportunities to build knowledge of and relationships with them. However, surveys of teachers have found that many support achievement grouping. Teachers have indicated that streaming makes it easier to teach students at a particular ability level; makes program planning easier, freeing up time for more interaction with students; and, by exposing students to more teachers, it reduces the development of personality clashes. The survey reported in this article involved three schools in the regional city of Newcastle, all with 200–300 students in disadvantaged areas. The teachers all supported streaming, for the reasons noted above, and this support did not vary by level of teaching experience. They also accepted that there were some drawbacks to streaming, including inflexible timetables and the need to report on more students in both their streamed and home classes. Prominent in their reasons for supporting streaming was the reduction in teaching workload it allowed. This reduction is a valid issue, given that it frees up their time for other aspects of teaching, but must be weighed against the overall disadvantages of achievement grouping.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
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