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Mitchell Krieger 4/29/2013

Constructivist Learning Theory Analysis of Lessons A and B The five principles of constructivist learning theory set out by Brooks and Brooks create a framework to develop lesson plans and curricula that foster environments where students can engage in their learning. Lessons A and B employ a variety of different methods that range from very based in constructivist philosophy to not at all. Both lessons were introductions to the three types of rocks in an earth science class or unit. While Lesson B far exceeds Lesson A in utilizing constructivist methodology, both are lacking in regards to some of the five principles.

Principle One: Posing Problems of Emerging Relevance This principle is a tough one for this particular subject. On the surface, the different kinds of rocks and how they are formed do not seem very relevant to students lives or to anyones life at all. The critical part of this principle is the emphasis on emerging relevance. This means that important concepts arise when constructivist teachers pose problems that emerge or come from the students natural inquiry during the lesson. In the case of Lesson A, the teacher completely disregards natural student inquiry by introducing the concepts surrounding rock classification by having the students simply read an introductory chapter on it. Rather than allowing students to come to grapple with the ideas about kinds of rocks on their own, the teacher presents the concepts as flat information to be consumed. This is not constructivist learning, but there is opportunity for problems to emerge in the later part of the lesson. As the experts on each rock type begin to teach the others in their triad about their type, problems may emerge due to contradictions students may have found or questions students might have in regards to the different classifications of rocks. This is a great opportunity to engage students with the question

Mitchell Krieger 4/29/2013

of why the rocks are classified in this way. This could also spark interest by having the students try to resolve their different understandings of rock classification that may contradict each other. The teacher in Lesson B sort of employs principle one by creating a situation where students get to explore rocks through a problem that emerges as students begin to try to reconcile the differences between the sets of rocks. Suddenly, the students realize that in order for different kinds of rocks to exist they must be formed in different ways. The teacher then poses the question, Well, how might the different kinds of rocks be formed?. However, while this part of the lesson has many constructivist aspects that pertain to principle one, the teacher has missed a part of the bigger picture. Students were able to construct new knowledge around the formation of rocks, but by presenting the sets of rocks as sedimentary or not sedimentary, metamorphic or not metamorphic, the students missed out on inquiry surrounding rock classification. Why would we want to or need to classify rocks in the first place? Why are they classified by these three overarching types? A more constructivist approach would have the first part of the lesson be more student driven, but over all Lesson B does make use of principle one well.

Principle Two: Structuring Learning Around Primary Concepts Both lessons are weak in regards to the second principle. They both have their lessons structured in groups of students, each assigned a specific type of rock. While this can vaguely represent the overarching theme of three kinds of rocks, it fails to do so and instead falls into a part-to-whole model of learning. Each group completes their own task with their specific type of rock, and then at the end it is all pulled together. Lesson A especially fails to structure learning around primary concepts by the whole notion of having experts on each type of rock. While

Mitchell Krieger 4/29/2013

this is a fun idea, the overarching themes of the lesson are about how rocks are classified and the differences between the types. Having experts on each rock type emphasizes the specific properties of a specific rock type, rather than the process of classifying rocks. Similarly, Lesson B emphasizes specific rock types by giving a binary choice, these are igneous rocks or these are not igneous rocks. This again this presents the three types of rocks as separate rather than a holistic model that has meaning. According to this principle, lessons should be structured so that the primary ideas, questions and problems are conceptually clustered to give the big picture, only then will they be able to make sense of the parts. Brooks and Brooks write:
Students seek and make meaning by breaking wholes into parts that they can see and understand. Student initiate this process to make sense of the information; they construct the process and the understanding rather than having it done for them. With curricular activities clustered around broad concepts, students can select their own unique problem solving approaches and use them as springboards for the construction of new understanding. (p. 47)

With this in mind, it is clear that Lessons A and B, who concentrate mostly on part-to-whole learning rather than whole-to-part, are missing the second principle of constructivist learning theory.

Principle Three: Seeking and Valuing Student Point of View There are points in both lessons where some kind of student perspective or point of view is asked for. However, in Lesson A the point of view is usually either not valued or incorporated back into the curriculum. As experts of a certain type of rock, students have the chance to explain to their peers properties of the rock type. This gives them the chance to express what they have read from their own perspective and in their own way when in groups with experts on the same type. They then share with experts on other types how they view what they have gotten from their reading and their other group. The problem with this method is that even
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Mitchell Krieger 4/29/2013

though students have an avenue to share a point of view, it is really not the point of view that constructivist learning theory says to seek and value. The point of view that students express after reading is just a translation of what they read into their own terms. This principle is meant to guide teachers to seek and value the perspective that students begin with at the start of the lesson, not after it has been filtered through a reading. This is because the point of view at the beginning of the lesson is where they begin to construct their knowledge from, and where the curriculum needs to meet the student at. In addition, the students perspectives are not really being sought after by the teacher, letting the points of view float between students. Brooks and Brooks say, Students points of view are windows into their reasoning. Awareness of students points of view helps teachers challenge students, making school experiences both contextual and meaningful. (p. 60) So, it is important for the teacher to collect the interactions between students about the subject during Lesson A in order to gain insight into their thought processes. Lesson B was did a much better job with this principle. During the lesson the teacher circulates around the classroom and inquires into students thought process by asking probing questions. This gives students the opportunity to express their own point of view and allows the teacher to see into their reasoning. During this time, the teacher can listen to students and ask them to elaborate in order to delve deeper into a students current understanding and perspective.

Principle Four: Adapting Curriculum to Address Student Suppositions When employing principle four in a constructivist classroom, it is important to find the source of a students cognitive dissonance and restructure the lesson to create the scaffolding needed to resolve the dissonance. Both lessons address this principle but in different ways. In

Mitchell Krieger 4/29/2013

Lesson A, students may begin to develop some type of supposition as they read through their assigned passage. By structuring the lesson in a way that allows them to consolidate ideas with peers, creates an opportunity to dissolve any suppositions that may have arisen. Once ideas have been consolidated, new suppositions may have been created due to the limited reading on one kind of rock each student did. The teacher then adapts the lesson so that students for the first time must compare the three rock types, and grapple with any suppositions they might have had due to only studying one rock type. This is a nice way to adapt the curriculum to allow student to challenge each other by finding their own sources of cognitive dissonance when confronted with new information coming from their peers. Lesson A could have been strengthened more by employing principle four earlier. The teacher missed out on addressing initial suppositions that students might have had at the start of the lesson, before any kind of reading was introduced. For example, a student may have already come into class with a supposition about rock types that came from a life experience or point of view. The reading given may have not been appropriate to the level of cognitive dissonance that the student had at that moment. If the teacher had sought out point of view and initial suppositions from the students then they could have adapted the readings and curriculum to better support the students state of cognitive dissonance. Lesson B uses this principle by taking in student suppositions about why or why not some rocks are a specific type and then uses that to launch the second part of the lesson where students brainstorm potential ways for how each kind of rock was formed. Then the teacher assigns the chapter of reading that will either confirm or contradict what ideas students came up with in the brainstorm. The next day the teacher then structures the lesson around any cognitive dissonance found during the readings through a debriefing activity.

Mitchell Krieger 4/29/2013

Principle Five: Assessing Student Learning in the Context of Teaching In both lessons students are assessed through simple teacher observation and facilitation. Both teachers walk around the room to assess student progress. However, it seems like the two teachers are assessing two different types of progress. In Lesson A, the teacher checks students individual graphic organizers to assess progress in the lesson so that they know when to move the class on when most students have completed it. Then the teacher continues to circulate throughout the next activity while providing suggestions, praises, warnings, and cautions. At the end of the period she announces a quiz will be given tomorrow, so all the students should study. The description of this lesson is somewhat vague in regards to principle four. The teacher is definitely assessing the progress of the students in some capacity, but it is unclear if she is really using it within the context of teaching. The first assessment (walking around, checking on student progress with graphic organizers) seems more like a time keeper for when to move the lesson on, rather than using the assessment of what they have done with the graphic organizer to inform her teaching. She could have been doing the latter, but it wasnt clear in the description. During the next segment of the lesson, the teacher walks around again and does provide feedback, but how does that inform her teaching? The next day a quiz will be given to the class. Is that a summative assessment? If its a formative assessment, is it being used in context with student understanding and development? Similarly in Lesson B, it is not clear to what extent the teacher is using the walk around to inform her teaching. However, the probing questions that she poses to the students create better opportunity for use of assessment within the context of teaching than the simple

Mitchell Krieger 4/29/2013

suggestions, praise, warnings, and cautions the teacher in Lesson A provides. The questions from the teacher in Lesson B challenge students suppositions, gives them a chance to restructure their own understanding of concepts, and tells the teacher where the student is in their comprehension of topics. The next assessment in Lesson B, involves student debriefing in groups, where they discuss their thinking as they engaged with the topic. The creates a huge context for teaching, by collecting students different cognitive processes and compiling them for later. This type of self assessment is useful for both the teacher and students, by providing an occasion where students can show teachers their own processes, allowing for teachers to structure the next lesson to best fit the needs of students.

Mitchell Krieger 2/26/2013

Lesson C In groups, students are given a collection of rocks to inspect. The teacher asks students to describe in their own words attributes of each rock and then compare and contrast rocks based on
(P2)This introduces the primary concept of the classication and properties of rocks, and provides framework for the entire lesson. (P1)Students are challenged to classify the rocks, and relevant problems will emerge as they grapple with issues that surround the creation of different classications. (P3)Students are given the opportunity here to provide their own point of view concerning each attribute of the rocks (P3) Another opportunity for students to express their reasoning from their perspective and then (P4) grapple with the suppositions that they have when presented with the other groups ideas and perspectives

the different attributes that they have described.P2 Students are then assigned the task of working together to create a system to organize the rocks by, while the teacher moves around from group to group to discuss their ideas and pose questions about their method.P1P3 Once each group has completed a way to organize the rocks, they present to another group their method of classifying the rocks. The two groups must then work together to combine their organizing system into one that both groups agree upon.P3 P4 Then they present the new system they have created to another group, and repeat the process of combining their methods. This presenting-combining process continues until the class comes together as a whole with one unified method of organizing rocks. The teacher then presents their own method of organizing and classifying rocks (which is the actual metamorphic, igneous and sedimentary system).P2 P3 P4 As a class both methods are

(P2)Again, puts the emphasis on the process of classication rather than on the actual rock attributes. (P3P4) Repeats the process of providing opportunity for student perspective/point of view and challenges their own suppositions with that of the teachers and the class

discussed and students will try to reconcile the differences and similarities between the methods. For homework, students are asked to write a self-reflection of how their thinking changed each time they had to devise a new method of organizing rocks. The next day the teacher will collect the self-reflections and look at each students progression throughout each iteration to see gaps in learning and what ideas and concepts still need to be addressed.P4 P5

(P5)Assessing of student thought processes and understandings to be used to inform the creation of future lessons. (P4) Addressing any left over suppositions by adapting the next days lesson to what concepts and ideas may still need to be revisited.

Key: P1: Posing Problems of Emerging Relevance P2: Structuring Learning Around Primary Concepts P3: Seeking and Valuing Students Point of View P4: Adapting Curriculum to Address Students Suppositions P5: Assessing Learning in the Context of teaching