Constructivism Theory of Learning: Philosophy of Education

Introduction

There are numerous philosophies of education that attempt to define the role of a teacher and a student in the context of a classroom. While many of these philosophies have theoretical and historical frameworks and significance, I tend to believe that they differ in their concepts about learning and teaching. My philosophy of education is entrenched in the belief that our experiences as both teachers and students are important in figuring out meaning. The rationale is that learning entails establishing meaning of our experiences. It is therefore upon every individual in the context of education to generate his or her own guidelines and mental compositions in order to derive meaning and understanding of vast experiences. I also believe that learning is a progressive process that allows individuals to adjust their previously held rules and mental models to put up with new experiences. As such, our mental faculties as teachers and students change overtime in terms of understanding new experiences. Active participation of the learner in a classroom is also a core premise of my philosophy. This paper will expound on my philosophy of education and its influences on theory, history, society, culture, psychology and education. Besides, the paper will examine the application of the theory in the context of the institution of education.

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My Philosophy and Its Influences

My philosophy is consistent with constructivism theory of learning in many aspects. The theoretical framework is founded on the premise that all learners engage in the process of learning with an objective of comprehending experiences. With that in mind, it is logical to suppose that learners should experience learning by starting with experiences that prompt them to construct their own meanings especially in the context of a classroom (Rahim, 2011). Besides, the theory of constructivism explicates that the meaning that the learners decode from experiences requires holistic comprehension. This implies that the learners through their construction of meaning must comprehend parts of the meaning in addition to the entire meaning. As such, Ozmon & Craver (2010) say that construction of meaning from experiences should dwell on the major concepts as opposed to isolated social facts. The theory goes further and says that the teachers should be wary of the mental models that all students use to construct their own meaning and consequently, able to make conclusions and assumptions that each student makes when constructing such models. According to Nelson et al. (2012), the main objective of learning process is for the student to be able to construct his or her own meaning based on their experiences. For instance, my philosophy is against the notion that students who memorize the right answers engage actively in learning. To the contrary, the philosophy emphasizes on the need to measure the process of learning and its progress through continuous assessments.

Nelson et al. (2012) postulate that the theoretical framework of constructivism encourages the learners to reflect on the vast numbers of experiences they have had (Ozmon & Craver, 2010). When a learner encounters new environments and experiences, it is important for him or her to adjust their previously held notions and perceptions and reconcile them with the elements of the new knowledge. This might include entrenching the previously held information or discarding some previous perceptions that have failed to withstand the test of time. In sum, the theory advocates that human beings are creators of experiences and knowledge and as such, it is important to appraise issues by questioning, exploring and assessing what the students comprehend and understand (Ozmon & Craver, 2010). In the context of the classroom, it is imperative for the teacher to adopt varied teaching practices with the aim of encouraging the learners to utilize such methods as experiments and real social issues. This helps the student to engage in rigorous processes of knowledge acquisition, reflection and alignment of their perceptions in line with the new knowledge. Indeed, constructivism encourages experiential learning among the stakeholders who include the teacher, learner and the society. Nonetheless, the biggest challenge lies in the ability (or lack of it) of the teacher to ensure that he or she understands the mental models of the learners. The teacher should also guide the learners to confront new experiences and make assessment on the ability of the students to acquire new forms of knowledge.

Teachers who adopt this philosophy must be able to encourage the learners to make assessment on the manner in which various activities have helped them to improve their understanding. They should begin by questioning themselves and their practices in order for the students to become expert and experienced learners (Ozmon & Craver, 2010). In fact, this is the first step towards enhancing the students’ ability to learn ‘how to learn’. According to Ozmon & Craver (2010), teachers who adopt this philosophy are able to help the students reflect on increasingly high number of experiences. The experiences augment as the learning process progresses implying that the students’ knowledge increase in complexity as well as importance. As such, the students learn to integrate the large number of experiences in coherent information that is based on facts. As the learning process continues, the teacher’s main role will experience a paradigm shift (Rahim, 2011). In fact, the teacher will cease his or her involvement in creating activities for the learners and emphasize on encouraging students to reflect and learn from experiences. For example, a group of learners in a laboratory is discussing an academic problem. Despite the teacher being aware of the answer, he or she focuses on assisting the students to restate the problem and understand it in a meaningful way (Nelson et al., 2012). The teacher prompts the students to reflect on their experiences and previous knowledge relating to the academic problem confronting them. If one student comes up with a relevant knowledge and experience, the teacher builds on it and makes an indication to the students to explore that possibility. The students will therefore design the appropriate experiments and consequently discuss what they have learned from the experiment (Rahim, 2011). The teacher will also help the student to see the ways in which the observations and experiments were of use to the problem-solving and learning processes.

The historical foundations of constructivism are embedded in the development of education theories. Constructivism came about due to the growing discontent among educationists that criticized the huge role that the teacher played in the traditional classroom (Guthrie & Schuermann, 2009). Although the theory does not overlook the role of the teacher in conservative classrooms, it redefines this role to meet the educational needs of the learners. In particular, this school of thought emphasizes on the need of the teacher to facilitate the students to construct their own experiences as opposed to the reproduction of facts that the traditional teaching practitioners provided (Guthrie & Schuermann, 2009). As such, it is critical for the role of the teacher to include the provision of problem solving and experiential learning tools where the learners are at liberty when formulating and testing their knowledge. The learners are also able to make conclusions and discuss their ideas with other learners. This allows the teachers to create a collaborative learning context in which the learners are able to participate actively throughout the process of learning. This is different from the traditional classroom where the teacher is the sole source of information while the learner is a mere recipient of knowledge (Ozmon & Craver, 2010). The teacher’s role is therefore to ensure that the learners are involved in active construction of meaning as opposed to mere ingestion of external information provided by the teacher.

My philosophy coincides with many educationists who have formulated education theories. Specifically, Maria Montessori’s concepts of education and learning process are intrinsic to the philosophy. In her theoretical framework, Montessori emphasized the need for teachers to ensure that students experience vast activities during the process of learning. She values the need of experiential learning by articulating that the actual learning process is not only successful by what the teacher gives but also by the natural experiences of the learner (Hall & Hord, 2010). Besides, Montessori says that effective learning process entails the experiences of the learners as opposed to listening to the information given by the teacher (Nelson et al., 2012). According to her, the main role of the teacher is ensuring that the learners have activities that are carried out within a specific environment. In this environment, constructivism advises the teacher not to make conclusions by merely observing the activities of the learners but by establishing cultural motives behind them (Guthrie & Schuermann, 2009). This way, Montessori articulates that the teacher is able to develop a ‘new man’ who is not a victim of biased and useless knowledge. Moreover, she argues that the process of learning is a ‘two way’ process in which both the teacher and the learner stand to gain from the experiences of a classroom.

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Another famous educationist, David Kolb, argues that the role of the learner should be to increase their interaction with the environment to help them experience the world at first-hand level. Like Montessori, he emphasizes on the need for the learners to be engaged in creative activities in order to acquire ‘conditionalized’ knowledge (Pulliam & Patten, 2010). Particularly, he says that it is critical for the learners to have concrete experiences, observe them, reflect on them, form new knowledge and ultimately, test the knowledge in new environments. Kolb says that learning experience and acquisition could begin at any stage of the aforementioned phases of experiential learning. As such, the process should be continuous although Kolb emphasizes that the process ought to begin with an action where the learner observes its effects and makes inferences (Pulliam & Patten, 2010). The effects of an action should guide the learner to test the same action in different contexts and observe the results and note the (in) consistency. To that end, a learner is able to act upon different social and academic environment leading to the reliability and truthfulness of the information provided. As such, Kolb agrees with my philosophy that student ought to be active participants in the process of knowledge acquisition and learning (Ozmon & Craver, 2010).

My philosophy takes cognizance of the fact that a learner is bombarded by different experiences that may not necessarily emanate from the classroom. In other words, the philosophy appreciates that a learner belongs to a society that is typical of different patterns of interaction. As such, it is important for the teacher to understand the mental makeup that a learner forms given the fact that socialization process is rife in all contexts. Guthrie & Schuermann (2009) assert that the society is a central element of inculcating attitudes, beliefs and norms in all individuals. Despite the variations in socialization processes, the teacher ought to harmonize different perceptions of the students to encourage active learning. For instance, in patriarchal societies where new members of the society are acculturated to believe that women are inferior and that they play peripheral roles, the teacher should give them new experiences that demystify such perceptions and attitudes. This way, Pulliam & Patten (2010) point out that the learners are able to adjust their mental and cognitive models to allow new and truthful information devoid of myths and misconceptions. Apparently, socialization processes is fundamental in all aspects of human development and should help inculcate values and beliefs that are reliable to the learners (Nelson et al., 2012). In fact, the process of socialization constitutes a substantial part of informal learning that is part of a holistic learning process.

Constructivism theory of education also emphasizes on the uniqueness of a learner in the sense that different students create varied experiences (Guthrie & Schuermann, 2009). This is dependent on their cognition and ability to acquire self-awareness. Psychologists argue that learning process is dependent on the motivation behind acquisition of knowledge. If a learner is able to construct an experience and derive meaning, it is possible for the learner to reconstruct such experiences in different contexts. The learner is therefore engaged in continuous processes of ensuring that he or she acquires information and knowledge through abstraction (Pulliam & Patten, 2010). Again, the cognitive ability of the learner to question and imagine is the most important challenge for the instructor who should be able to notice the cognitive differences among students. To that end, active participation of the leaner and the ability of the teacher to assume the role of a facilitator are imperative in the learning process.

According to Pulliam & Patten (2010), constructivism has had many impacts in the field of education. Particularly, the theory is against the conventional and traditional standardization of learning curriculum. The theory prescribes a curriculum that takes into consideration the learner’s experiences and consequent knowledge acquired from previous activities. Besides, it prescribes that the instructors should be able to focus their attention on the connections of facts in an attempt to allow the absorption of new information by the learners (Hall & Hord, 2010). The teaching profession has changed in the sense that the teachers should adopt tools and strategies that encourage the learners to respond to experiences and make analysis after reflection. This way, the instructor will be able to ensure that the students can interpret the experiences and predict the outcomes of similar experiences in different environment. All the questions that the teachers pose to the students ought to prompt discussion and abstraction from the students and as such, they should be open-ended (Nelson et al., 2012). In addition, constructivism also promotes continuous assessment of the students without relying on standard grading criteria typical of traditional class (Hall & Hord, 2010). In other words, my philosophy aims at appraising such examinations as SATs and eliminating them. Instead, the criterion of assessing the students should be a central part of the entire process of learning where the learners take a significant role in reviewing their progression. To that end, it is important to assert that constructivism has had a major impact on the curriculum, instructions and the evaluation of the learners (Ozmon & Craver, 2010).

Examples of Application of my Philosophy

My philosophy has made me to make various decisions on the learning process especially in the context of the classroom. It is barely two years ago since I abolished standardized grading criteria for my students in elementary class. Through consultations with the administration, I was able to adopt an assessment criterion that does not depend on a single examination. The students’ assessment is done on daily basis depending on the responses and the ability of the learners to experience, reflect, synthesize information, collaborate with other students and acquire knowledge (Pulliam & Patten, 2010). This information emanated from the need to ensure that the school eliminates testing and grading criteria that have become typical of memorizing and ingesting the information given by the teachers. This indeed does not lead to learning and knowledge acquisition but it leads to reproduction of information that the teacher provides. Besides, such methods fail to give the learner an opportunity to create his or her experiences that are imperative in generation of new information (Pulliam & Patten, 2010). The previous standardized grading criterion overlooked the importance of allowing the students to solve real and academic problems as well as participating in the class. Finally, the previous criterion of assessing students suffers immense shortcomings in terms of discouraging innovativeness and creativity (Hall & Hord, 2010). To that end, there are no correct or wrong answers in my classrooms.

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Second, I have made a decision to increase the number of lessons in which the students work out problems together as opposed to the instructor resolving the problems. The students ought to interact in all spheres of their academic life to ensure that they acquire knowledge that is not limited to the classroom contexts only. This is in recognition that the students have different mental and cognitive abilities and they experience distinct interactions in their communities. Besides, learning includes both formalized and informal education. As earlier mentioned, the construction of meaning by the students should be in its entirety as opposed to deriving meaning from isolated social experiences and facts. As such, it is impossible to assess the progress made by the student by focusing only on academic performance within the class. Interacting with other students allows the learner to become more creative and innovative in problem solving.

Conclusion

In sum, my philosophy is entrenched in the belief that learners have to participate actively in the learning process for them to construct meaning of the experience. As the learner progresses, they are able to experience, reflect, analyze and acquire new information. The philosophy coincides with the constructivism theory of education advanced by Maria Montessori and David Kolb just to mention but two theorists. The premises of the theory have allowed me to make numerous decisions in line with my philosophy.

References

Guthrie, J & Schuermann, P. (2009). Successful School Leadership: Planning, Politics, Performance, and Power. Washington DC: John & Wiley Publishers.

Hall, G & Hord, S. (2010). Implementing Change: Patterns, Principles and Potholes. Nevada: University of Nevada Press.

Nelson, J., Palonsky, S. & McCarthy, M. (2012). Critical Issues in Education: Dialogues and Dialectics. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Press.

Ozmon, H & Craver, M. (2010). Philosophical foundations of Education. New York: McGraw Hill Publishers.

Pulliam, J & Patten, J. (2010). History of Education in America. New York: McGraw Hill Publishers.

Rahim, M. (2011). Managing Conflict in Organizations. Boston: Palgrave Publishers.

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