By: Andrea Zenner The Limitations of Constructivism
While it is true constructivism can have a positive impact in the classroom, its complexity makes it quite difficult for anyone to put the pieces together, to make a coherent idea of what constructivism is and then turn it into practical, successful teaching practices within the classroom. “Because there are so many versions of constructivism, with important overlaps but also with major differences, it is difficult to see the forest for the trees” (Gordon, 2009, p. 40). Too much of a good thing?
Many of the constructivist underlining principles are based off of ideas from psychological, sociological and philosophical perspectives. According to Gordon, (2009), “Theories developed in psychology, sociology, cultural studies or elsewhere cannot be unproblematically transplanted into the field of education” (p. 41). So, if this is true, how exactly are we supposed to implement constructivism into the educational setting with the utmost confidence? Where are these ideas coming from?
Whether there is a coherent and unfragmented idea of constructivist educational practices or not, these ideas of knowledge and learning are still being implemented in classroom settings across the nation. In the wrong hands, this type of teaching can be very disorganized and detrimental for students. Constructivist teaching practices that could result in these shortcomings include: Discovery-based learning Cooperative learning Group discussions Projects Child-initiated activities Students will pay the price.
Teachers are ill prepared for constructivist teaching. Constructivist teaching methods require teachers to be experts in child development. They must also be experts at observing children, and they need to be able to understand their students’ responses and make changes to the environment when students are not making connections between concepts (Gordon 2009).
Teachers are ill prepared for constructivist teaching (cont.) Along with observation, teachers are to diagnose individual needs and interests. Thus, they need to be organized and excellent at observing their students and taking data in order to keep track of student learning. Without each of these elements in place, within a constructivism framework, this method of teaching has the potential be fragmented and inconsistent.
Students are expected to work through problems with little or no guidance from the teacher. Instead of being “taught” new rules and ideas, the learner is allowed to discover these concepts (Mayer 2004). This type of teaching method, once again, has the potential for students to draw unclear or untrue conclusions if the “facilitator” is not available or willing to give direction or feedback. This is a serious limitation of constructivist teaching methods if an educator isn’t willing to guide his/her students in the right direction. Students often lack direction.
According to Epstein (2007), “The divisions (between child initiated and adult guided activities) are imprecise. But it is still useful for teachers to consider when and how to support children’s own discovery and construction of knowledge, and when and how to convey content in teacher-guided activities and instruction” (2). Children not only learn in natural and social settings, they also must learn some content through direct instruction. Students often lack direction (cont.).
Educators who implement constructivist teaching methods in their classroom set up the environment in order to enhance student learning through active learning where students are able to learn in a social way. This method, however, can be problematic for certain students with disabilities who are included in the classroom setting. Research has shown that direct instruction in teaching and improving socially significant behaviors is the key for certain populations that we teach (Batshaw 2007). Students often lack direction (cont.).
Until there is more of a coherent idea of what constructivism is and how it translates into a classroom setting, educators are left to piece the theories together in order to put the theories into practice. In order to come up with a coherent plan within an educational setting there needs to be not only a descriptive educational theory but it also needs to be “prescriptive” (Gordon 2009). A prescriptive educational theory would provide concrete guidance and recommendations for a teacher choosing to implement constructivist teaching methods. Where do we go from here?
Batshaw, M.L., Pellegrino, L., & Roizen, N.J. (2007). Children with disabilities (6th ed.). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. Epstein, Ann S. (2007). The intentional teacher: Choosing the best strategies for young children’slearning. Washington, DC: The National Association for the Education of Young Children. Gordon, M., (2009). Toward a pragmatic discourse of constructivism: Reflections on lessons from practice. Educational Studies, 45, 39-58. Mayer, R.E., (2004). Should there be a three-strikes rule against pure discovery learning. The case for guided methods of instruction. American Psychologist, 59, 14-19. Reference List