The Failures of Constructivist Approach in a Classroom
What is Constructivism?
According to Branscombe et al (2000), constructivism is defined as a scientifically researched theory that explains learning as a physically and mentally active process. They claim that constructivism as a theory takes into account experience, growth, and development overtime (maturation), social interaction with peers, being puzzled about things that don’t fit with what is already known, and autonomy (moral and intellectual). To them, autonomy means that a person has the ability to know what is morally just and intellectually true. As far as they are concerned, autonomy is an aim of education. Still on constructivism, the authors explain further that autonomy is evident when you consider others’ perspectives, co-ordinate your own views with theirs, and make a reasoned and informed decision based on that co-ordination. They further claim that teachers should develop curriculum by listening to children and learning about what the children know and are interested in. To them, a constructivist perspective holds that we always start with what we know and that learning is the expansion and transformation of that knowledge.
Jonassen et al (2003) in defining constructivism, they claim that the students’ task should not be to understand the world as the teacher does. To them, students should construct their own meaning for the world. They further claim that if they do then the teachers’ roles shift from dispensing knowledge to helping learners construct more viable concepts of the world.
According to Devries et al (1987), constructivism as an educational theory makes us to clearly see that autonomous teachers do not just accept uncritically what curriculum specialists give them. To them, the teachers should think about whether they agree with what is suggested, because they should take responsibility for the education they are offering children.
Looking at these definitions of constructivism given above it is clearly seen that it is a child-centered educational theory. It is a theory that gives power to learners to decide what the teachers should teach them. This is ridiculous!
The Strategies of Constructivist Approaches to Education
Branscombe et al (2000) as constructivists totally disagree with traditional teaching methodology because it focuses on acquiring information from an expert source, memorizing it, and then offering it to others. They claim that constructivism does not fit into this model of learning. They explain further and emphasize that each person constructs knowledge rather than merely accepting information that someone else has transferred to him or her. The authors state that it is interesting to understand how to interact with ideas about knowing rather than memorizing facts. To them, constructivism provides healthy skepticism, within limits, that leads to evaluation of information rather than blind acceptance.
Therefore, based on the rejection of traditional methodology of learning, the authors came up with eight strategies one needs to know to study children and the early childhood education field using a constructivist perspective:
4. Analyzing and synthesizing through discussing
8. Documenting through portfolios
1. Questioning: According to Grubber (1995), he defines questioning as a spontaneous search for information. Branscombe et al (2000) claim that questioning under constructivist approach helps a constructivist teacher to gather information, construct knowledge, and build theories about his own learning and his own teaching approach.
2. Interviewing: Branscombe et al (2000) claim that interview is a series of questions; the primary purpose of an interview is for a constructivist teacher to gather information about someone’s thinking, beliefs, ideas and preferences on a specific topic. They affirm that it is not a time or place for the teacher to express his views, to gossip, or to argue with the other person. To them, no idea is stupid; everyone’s idea is sensible and correct based on the understanding of the
3. Observing: According to Chaile et al (1997), they claim that observation is the basis for everything the constructivist teacher does. Branscombe et al (2000) also confirm and state that observation means to think about what the teacher sees, and raises questions.
4. Analyzing and Synthesizing through Discussing: Branscombe et al (2000) affirm that analyzing means that a constructivist teacher finds patterns in his information that helps him identifies motives or causes, finds evidence, and draws conclusions. To them, when a constructivist teacher analyzes his data, he should study and identify the parts of a situation, event, interview, or experience that causes the outcome or leads to the reasoning of a person. The authors explain further on synthesizing, they claim that synthesizing is when a constructivist teacher puts what he learns about the data, and from the data into a whole. To them, in other words, a constructivist teacher co-ordinates and combines his idea or categories so that he has some main ideas about what he observes. The authors conclude that when a constructivist teacher analyzes and synthesizes, he uses patterns to advance his thinking.
5. Researching: According to Branscombe et al (2000), when a constructivist teacher moves into interviews and observations, he simply moves into a more formalized and detailed aspect of research. They further claim that when the teacher begins analyzing and synthesizing his compiled data, he is studying it to construct new knowledge; this is called research in a constructivist approach of learning. Still on research, Ann Berthoff (1978), a Vygotskiah philosopher and advocate of naturalistic research, defines research as re-searching, or looking and looking again.
6. Reflecting: Branscombe et al (2000) claim that reflection is defined as the ability to think about the past and future as well as the present. To them, when a constructivist teacher thinks back into the past and projects into the future, he is engaged in a reflexive process; this allows him to construct theories.
7. Writing: Thoreau (1854) defines a journal as a repository for all those fragmentary ideas and odd scraps of information that might be lost, and which someday might lead to more “harmonious” compositions. Branscombe et al (2000) believe that journal writing can be seen as a constructivist strategy. To them, journal writing is a way, and a place for a constructivist teacher to be reflective about himself, his experiences, the ideas he explores, and his observations. They claim that constructivist teachers like journals because by their very nature, they cause students to take on different perspectives and experience simultaneity. And, according to Fulwiler (1987), writing fits on a continuum between diaries and class notebooks.
8. Documenting through Portfolios: According to Branscombe et al (2000), they claim that portfolios in the physical sense are folders or cases for holding documentation of someone’s work. They observe that today portfolios may be a leather or synthetic container used to hold papers, photos, and various other kinds of documentation. They go further to explain that when educators speak of creating a portfolio, they use the term to mean the contents of the folder, much as a diplomat presents his portfolio of credentials to demonstrate his credibility.
Failures of Constructivism
It is very important to draw our attention as educators, parents, and students to the fact that constructivism has failed woefully to make our students learn effectively and produce tangible results. All the eight strategies mentioned above are ineffective in our classrooms. Constructivism is too abstract to work effectively in our schools.
Let us take a look at some identified failures of constructivism:
1. Time Wasting: Constructivist approach to education waste teachers and students’ time in the classrooms. Observing or waiting for students to come out with idea before teaching is wasting of time. The Scripture says there is time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3: 1). As young people it is time for them to learn but not to teach. On the other hand, traditional method of learning does not waste time because a traditional teacher is guided in his classroom through a provided curriculum.
2. Unnecessary Independence: Constructivism gives unnecessary independence to students. After all, the children don’t know this is why they are in schools in the first place. Why must students (unlearned) tell the teachers (learned) what to do in the classroom? It is a Scriptural fact that children should learn from their teachers. Hear this, “And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children…..” (Deuteronomy 6: 6-7). Traditional method of learning does not encourage students to teach teachers; it is a teacher-centered method of learning.
3. Disorganized way of Learning: The classroom of a constructivist teacher is disorganized because it is a child-centered classroom. Curriculum is neglected. Teachers don’t plan or prepare adequately before their lessons. Everything is chaotic. How can children learn effectively in such environment? The Bible instructs us that we should be organized and in order in everything that we do (1 Corinthians 14: 40). In a traditionalist teacher’s classroom curriculum is the main guiding tool for both the teacher and students. No wonder the classroom of a traditionalist teacher is always organized.
4. Constructivism promotes laziness: Constructivism promotes laziness because the children are not asked to study hard, memorizing is not allowed, phonetics is of no value to them, reading is done whenever they like; this is not Scriptural. The Bible encourages us to study very hard in order to be approved of God, and be successful in whatever we do (2 Timothy 2: 15; Psalm 1: 2; Joshua 1: 8). In a traditionalist teacher’s classroom tests, quizzes, examinations, memorizing, reading by using phonics, studying very hard are all mandatory. Laziness is not tolerated at all, this does not mean that students do not have time to play; of course, there is a specified time for relaxation and play according to the curriculum.
I believe that Constructivism cannot have a place in our Christian schools. Christian schools naturally embrace, and get involved in traditional method of learning because it is Biblical and effective. Laziness and levity cannot go together with effective learning. Traditional method of learning, in my opinion, is the only suitable answer for godly and effective learning in our schools.
Berthoff, A.E. Forming/thinking/writing: The composing imagination. Portsmouth,NH: Boynton/Cook, 1978.
Branscombe, N.A., et al. Early Childhood: A Constructivist Perspective. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Chaille, C., and Britian, L. The Young Child as Scientist: A Constructivist approach to Early childhood science education (2nd Ed.). New York: Longman, an imprint Of Mc Graw-Hill, 1997.
Devries, R., and Kohlberg, L. Programs of early childhood. New York: Longman, 1987.
Fulwiler, T. The Journal book. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1987.
Grubber, H.E., and Voneche, J. J. The essential Piaget. Northvale, NJ: Aronson, 1995.
Jonassen, D.H., et al. Learning to solve problems With Technology: A constructivist Perspective. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2003.