Archives for category: Do we want to be a constructivist district?

Jean Piaget
Born: 1896
Died: 1980

Lev Vygotsky
Born: 1896
Died: 1934

2 kinds of constructivism

SOURCE:
Educational Technology and Learning Theories

COMPARE TO:
The Science of Learning – Deans for Impact – Annotated

I’m told a video of Tony Wagner was shown at last night’s Community Forum.

Tony Wagner’s ideology is antithetical to liberal education (which Wagner seeks to “redefine”) and to the findings of cognitive science (see: The Science of Learning). 

Ironically, given how difficult the district’s transition to Common Core has been, Wagner’s work is also incompatible with CC. 

The Common Core has its problems, but one problem it does not have is Tony Wagner. Nowhere in Common Core documents will you find a reference to “21st century skills.” The phrase “21st century skills” is a marketing slogan invented by the “Partnership for 21st Century Skills,” an advocacy group created by technology companies and the NEA.

The Common Core is attempting to improve the level of academic rigor in public schools. CC has gone about this task wrongly, at least in the case of English literature, and the testing regimen is a mess. But the goal is right.

Tony Wagner’s goal is to eliminate rigor altogether. To be fair, his stated goal is to “redefine” rigor. But he is not qualified to redefine rigor in the disciplines, and his attempt to do so eliminates rigor altogether. .

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This is the Wagner article Kris Harrison and Raina Kor are using to transform the district:

Rigor Redefined by Tony Wagner

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And this is a letter to the Enterprise re: Kris Harrison’s adoption of Wagner the consent of the people:

To the Editor:

At the September 23, 2014 meeting of the Board of Education, Superintendent Kris Harrison briefed the board on his plan for the district.

His plan is drawn from Tony Wagner’s 2008 opinion piece, “Rigor Redefined,” available here: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct08/vol66/num02/Rigor-Redefined.aspx

Wagner believes the world is changing so rapidly that by the time today’s children reach adulthood, most of the knowledge they learned in school will be obsolete.

Thus the school’s traditional mission of imparting knowledge to a new generation should be subordinated to a new mission: helping students master seven “21st century skills” Wagner claims to have identified. (Wagner spends the second half of his essay denigrating Advanced Placement classes and their teachers.)

Two years later, the superintendent has acted on at least five of the seven “skills.” This has had the effect of actually increasing the need for tutors, because teaching knowledge is not the district’s priority. Teaching “21st century skills” is. That’s why we now have flipped classrooms, learning stations in 6th-grade math, children sitting in pods peering at iPads and Chromebooks, guidance counselors ordered not to help students draw up lists of colleges, and a Shark Tank project in the middle school. (The last two innovations fall under skill number 4: “Initiative and Entrepreneurialism.”)

What unifies Wagner’s list of seven “skills” is the absence of knowledge, and that’s the first problem. Cognitive scientists have spent years trying to explain that knowledge stored inside long-term memory is different from knowledge stored on Google. To think critically, you need the former. When you think without knowledge, all you’re doing is taking your clichés for a walk.

A second problem: Wagner’s piece was published before the crash. It was wrong then (as a few minutes on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website reveals), but it’s even further off base today. The 21st century Wagner imagined, with its happy, humming global society and its ever-increasing “abundance,” is not the 21st century we got. Our children got world recession and Charlie Hebdo.

But the most important problem is the fact that all of these changes are being made without the consent of the people. No member of the board has expressed enthusiasm for changing the mission of the school to the teaching of 21st century skills, yet three members of the board have allowed the superintendent to proceed.

I hope the next board will have the strength to change course.

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How Kris Harrison has interpreted Tony Wagner’s 21st century skills so far: 

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: flipped classrooms; stations in math class

Collaboration and Leadership: students are seated in pods; teachers “facilitate”

Agility and Adaptability ( ? )

Initiative and Entrepreneurialism: teachers “are encouraged to take risks”; Innovation Fund; Shark Tank project; “leadership coaching”; guidance counselors forbidden to help students draw up lists of colleges because students need to take ownership of the process

Effective Oral and Written Communication: writing taught outside subject-matter courses in violation of what we know about effective practice

Accessing and Analyzing Information: Chromebooks, iPads, Google replaces textbooks

Curiosity and Imagination (“we want kids to make mistakes”… )

AND SEE:
Super’s plan: replace college prep with “workplace” prep
Teacher-centered v. learner-centered classrooms 
“Fast trends”
Teachers “taking risks”

7th grade in a learner-centered school.

This is what constructivism looks like. Students study themselves, in groups; the teacher is a guide on the side.

7th_grade_ELA_-_Kelly_Kozak_-pixels-_Timeline_Photos_-_Irvington_Union_Free_School_District_2_png

Compare to 6th grade at Brearley, where students grapple with an “intellectually rigorous and coherent literature curriculum”:

Grade 6

  • Folk Tales (summer reading continued into the fall): A large number are read and a few are selected for class discussion. They include: “The Valiant Chattee-Maker” (Indian), “The Young Head of the Family” (Chinese), and “The Wonderful Tar-Baby” (African-American).
  • Ballads: Five Scottish ballads—“Sir Patrick Spens,” “Edward, Edward,” “Mary Hamilton,” “The Twa Corbies,” and “Barbra Allen,” the last two having available English counterparts.
  • Book of Genesis, King James Version, with some abridgement.
  • Greek mythology, based on selections from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, The Iliad, and The Homeric Hymns.
  • The Odyssey

Or compare our 7th-grade classrooms to 7th grade in Core Knowledge.

If administrators and board members listened to parents and taxpayers, this is the education IUFSD children could have: CORE KNOWLEDGE – Gr7 – CKFSequence_Rev-4

And see:
6th grade English at Brearley
Teacher-centered v. learner-centered

Do we want to be a constructivist district, part 1

Constructivism in Practical & Historical Context by Brent G. Wilson | February 2010 | Draft chapter for inclusion in Bob Reiser & Jack Dempsey (Editors), Current Trends in Instructional Design and Technology (third edition). Upper Saddle River NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011.

EXCERPT:

If you spend time with professional educators – K12 teachers, education professors, or even corporate trainers – you will run into the term constructivism. As its name suggests, constructivism sees learning as a process of constructing or making something. Constructivism says that people learn by making sense out of the world – they make meaning out of what they encounter.

[snip]

Constructivism is a theory or philosophy of learning “based on the idea that knowledge is constructed by the knower based on mental activity” (Skaalid, no date). It can be defined as “meaning making… rooted in the context of the situation… whereby individuals construct their knowledge of, and give meaning to, the external world” (Babb et al., no date). As an educational philosophy it came to prominence in the early 1990s.Based on writing of that time (Dunlap & Grabinger, 1996; Merrill, 1991; Savery & Duffy, 1996; and Wilson, Teslow & Jouchoux, 1993), the basic precepts are:

  • Learning is an active process of meaning-making gained in and through our experience and interactions with the world
  • Learning opportunities arise as people encounter cognitive conflict, challenge, or puzzlement, and through naturally occurring as well as planned problem solving activities
  • Learning is a social activity involving collaboration, negotiation, and participation in authentic practices of communities
  • Where possible, reflection, assessment, and feedback should be embedded “naturally” within learning activities
  • Learners should take primary responsibility for their learning and “own” the process as far as possible

Our superintendent is a constructivist who is pursuing constructivist reforms.

His predecessor was also a constructivist who was pursuing constructivist reforms (e.g.: “the high school vanishes“), but while she brought in balanced literacy and doubled down on Math Trailblazers, she was never able to transform the high school, possibly because the then-principal was a long-tenured veteran who publicly embraced the various directives but ignored them in practice.

He is gone now, and we are seeing constructivist reforms — flipped classrooms being the most obvious — in the high school.

“Constructivism” is the current term for “progressive education.” Another term: “student-centered.” Constructivist classrooms are student-centered. Traditional classrooms, the kind you would see at an elite college, are teacher-centered.

“Student-centered classroom” sounds like a good thing, but what it actually means is that students teach themselves in pods and pairs. The teacher is a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage. Nor does the curriculum hold authority over students, who choose their own books to read. (The middle school Reading Workshop is a student-centered class.)

So that’s where we are. Our current curriculum director is a “child-centered professional.” The superintendent is hiring a new curriculum director, and that person will also be “student-centered.”

The question: is this what taxpayers want?

Here is a definition of constructivist teaching from the article “Ubiquitous laptop usage in higher education: Effects on student achievement, student satisfaction, and constructivist measures in honors and traditional classrooms” | Christian Wurst a, Claudia Smarkola b,*, Mary Anne Gaffney a:

3. Constructivist teaching
Constructivism is a learning theory where individuals construct meaning from their own current knowledge. It is a way of attending to teaching that allows for a multiplicity of alternatives; it is a concept that is broad enough to allow for a great deal of variation but specific enough to provide guidance to practitioners. Many educational psychologists and curricular specialists have created lists of the traits that they expect to find in a constructivist classroom (Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Jonassen, 1991; Jonassen, 1994; Murphy, 1997; Partlow & Gibbs, 2003; Savery & Duffy, 1995; Wilson & Cole, 1991) A comparative analysis of these traits revealed ten general patterns that seem to be common to constructivist classrooms. They are:

1. Learning is collaborative and cooperative. Students work in groups or task-based ad hoc teams. These types of groups help students recognize the role of social contracts in the learning process.

2. Students have control and responsibility for their learning. Self-regulation strategies are encouraged. The teachers are more interactive and act as mediators, coaches or translators.

3. There is an acceptance of multiple perceptions of reality and students’ opinions are valued and actively sought by the teacher. Students are asked how they feel about a topic; they are not told what to feel about any topic.

4. Students’ learning is embedded in authentic, real world scenarios and problems are posed as actual situations. When possible, original data are provided to the students.

5. Instructional goals are negotiated not imposed. Students’ questions are valued and sought, and they control the pace and direction of much of the classroom activity. Instructors allow ample time, after posing questions, for students to frame answers. While these goals are often disparate, the solution is negotiated.

6. Assessment is both formative and summative. Grades are based (either in whole or in part) on portfolios, presentations and other forms of knowledge display. Formal examinations are not eliminated; however, their use is heavily supplemented by these other assessment media.

7. Learning is active. Teachers stress understanding rather than rote memorization. There is an emphasis on the integration of learning and life; students are urged to discover the interrelatedness of concepts and their application to the real world. Students are implored to explore alternative understandings and applications of the classroom concepts.

8. Classes are not highly structured. Topics emerge and meaningful digressions are permitted. Students are pushed to derive alternative outcomes for problems and to see conflicting points of view.

9. Teachers are the guides on the side; this often gives rise to the notion that the teacher is a co-learner. They pose problems and engage students in dialogue; they often give advice on how to find an answer to a problem but never directly provide a solution for the problem at hand. Their role is to help the students understand the task, not provide the solution.

10. The students are urged to become self-reflective and to aid their student colleagues in their self-reflection.

Constructivism has altered the roles of professors and students. However, the roles of professors and their students have been slowly changing over time. A key catalyst for this change began in the 1960s when rebellious students on college campuses challenged existing social traditions (Oldenquist, 1983). Students found themselves being treated as peers and participants in many college-governing activities (Joughin, 1968). In 1968, the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges issued a Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students. This document stated that students should be consulted on all educational matters and defined them as the immediate consumers of college educations (Joughin, 1968).

Do we want to be a constructivist district, part 2