Constructivism is student-centered and allows students to construct their own knowledge and depend on teachers for guidance or scaffolding, not direct instruction. Teachers discover students’ prior knowledge and build upon it. The classroom becomes a ‘community of learners’, which emphasizes the social aspect of education.
I love the idea of a classroom that is student-centered, in theory; however, I believe a balanced combination of direct instruction and constructivist approaches will be most effective. Students need a foundation of information before they can accomplish some tasks, and therefore direct, lesson-like instruction is sometimes necessary. Once the students have been taught this foundation, they are able to function more effectively in a constructivist learning environment. For example, in John Hunter’s World Peace Game, 4th grade students participate in a very student-centered project which involves a set of complicated world issues. These kids must have been directly taught about complicated ideas like treaties, world economies, government, military, and world issues in general. They are then thrown into a huge complex game with problems to solve; they become engaged in true constructivist learning, directing themselves and working together socially as a ‘community of learners’. This is really progressive education.
This type of learning, I think, would be ideal; however, I think the conditions would have to be right to pull it off. If I am to implement a project like the World Peace Game (which is something I would love to do), I would need to have a particular relationship with my students. There would need to be a high level of mutual respect and a feeling that the students have enough self control to self-regulate. It would also be a difficult thing to evaluate effectiveness because, how do you know whether there is meaningful learning taking place?
I have a more realistic plan for developing a constructivist classroom, as well. I want to have frequent student-driven class discussions in my classes, in which students critique pieces of art or literature and each other’s work. I will allow students to choose projects that have real-life meaning for them. I want to encourage open dialogue and conversation between students and between student and teacher; I want students to ask questions that I don’t know the answer to, so we can research the topic together and construct an answer together. Basically, I never want to end up at the front of a classroom telling the students what to think, because they will never become engaged and they will never really learn.