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Overview Many common learning theories vary in the approach to teaching, yet often overlap in multiple areas.

When tasked with examining one learning theory to explore and describe, I chose the learning theory I best associate with: Constructivism. Constructivism sees learning an “active, constructive process” (Learning theories, 2013). Student learning is built upon prior knowledge. Often constructivism is thought of as learning as an experience or Problem Based Learning. Constructivism is rooted in the cognitive learning theory, yet differs in several ways. In fact, Constructivism is often it is referred to as Cognitive Constructivism. Constructivism is supported by the idea that “what we know of the world stems from our own interpretations of our experiences” (Ertmer & Newby, 1993). This idea is easily represented in a basic story. A teacher could ask two students to read the same story and each student could end with a different idea of the story. According to this theory, there is some aspect of personal interpretation in all aspects of life. Contributors Many educators and professionals have given the framework to form what we know as constructivism. One of the earliest contributors to the theory was Jean Piaget. Piaget was a biologist who became “interested in the development of intellectual abilities in children” (Sunny, 2009). Piaget was greatly impacted by James M. Baldwin who had the view that learning was closely associated with the evolution of humans. Piaget‟s view of learning was to engage the brain, realizing there is no inherent knowledge and everything must be gained through exploration. “He viewed children as young scientists who are driven to understand their world…” (Sunny, 2009). Piaget proposed a learning style that encourages immersion in the learning activity, increasing the effectiveness of

application. “Activities like operating a classroom "store" or "post office" would be examples of relating to real-world situations” (Sunny, 2009). As Piget was impacted by Baldwin, David Ausubel was greatly influenced by Piaget. He was a psychologist who published several textbooks in the instruction of educational psychology. Focusing his work on verbal learning and developing an avid interest in meaning, Ausubel believed “the external world acquires meaning only as it is converted into the content of consciousness by the learner” (Sunny, 2009). In other words, what we know about what is around us becomes content in our consciousness. Meaning is found between language and context. One of the areas of instruction Ausubel found to be important was for teachers to give the big picture to their students with an introductory overview and show students how the information will be given to the students. There are many others who have greatly contributed to the theory of constructivism; Perhaps one who gave as much as Piaget to the theory is Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky was a Russian student of law, philosophy, psychology and literature. His work was key in the formation of constructivist theory. He shared many of Piaget‟s views, “but he was more interested in the social aspects of learning” (Sunny, 2009). He believed that the teacher should be active and involved in the classroom environment. He may be best known for the Zone of Proximal Development concept. The concept implies that learning a task involves not being able to accomplish the task; then with the assistance of an adult or another child, the student gains understanding until eventually the student can perform the task with no help at all. This gives room for the teacher to serve as a guide for the student. Major Principles

The University of Houston‟s Charter School states Rheta DeVries, Ph.D., professor at University of Northern Iowa's Regent's Center For Early Developmental Education, has identified seven principles of constructivism: 1) Establishment of a cooperative, sociomoral atmosphere, 2) Appeal to children’s interests, 3) Teach in terms of the kind of knowledge involved, 4) Choose content that challenges children, 5) Promote children’s reasoning, 6) Provide adequate time for children’s investigation and in-depth engagement, and 7) Link ongoing documentation and assessment with curriculum activities. Establishing a cooperative, sociomoral atmosphere is important to open classroom cooperation. “Opportunities to work together in groups, share thoughts and feelings, discuss issues, and contribute to the workings of the classroom on an equal footing are some of the characteristics of a cooperative, sociomoral atmosphere” (University of Houston, 2011). Appealing to children’s interests shows that a teacher can recognize and stimulate a child’s learning. A few of the suggested ways to appeal to a child’s interest are to “observe what children do spontaneously, solicit children’s ideas about what they want to learn, propose enticing activities, and provide ample opportunities for children to make choices” (University of Houston, 2011). Teaching in terms of the kind of knowledge involved includes the following types of knowledge: “physical knowledge, logico-mathematical knowledge and conventional or social knowledge” (University of Houston, 2011). Physical knowledge is gained by the reactions to various objects. Logico-mathematical knowledge is gained through reorganizing knowledge, whereas conventional, or

social knowledge, is gained through direct instruction. Choosing content that challenges children involves curriculum that “focuses on ‘big ideas’ that allow indepth study” (University of Houston, 2011). The curriculum should provide plenty of material and cover a varying range of knowledge levels. Promoting children’s reasoning is to use questions or activities that will motivate a child’s thought process. Providing adequate time for children’s investigation and in-depth engagement is setting aside moments for the students to explore on their own. This time frame could be weeks or even months in certain learning situations. Linking ongoing documentation and assessment with curriculum activities is necessary. “Assessing children’s performance and assessing the curriculum” are the two forms of classroom assessment in the constructivist learning theory (University of Houston, 2011). Application How does constructivism affect the classroom practically? The website thirteen.org lists five points to application. 1) Pose problems that are or will be relevant to students. Relevance does not have to be pre-established but can be brought about by the teacher. Students should find the problem relevant. 2) Structure learning around essential concepts. Often these concepts will be „big ideas‟ that will need to be segmented for easier understanding. 3) Be aware that students’ points of view are windows into their reasoning. Answering the question „why‟ can be essential. 4) Adapt curriculum to address students’ suppositions and development. “As students engage in the work, the teacher must monitor their perceptions and ways of learning” (Constructivism, 2004). 5) Assess student learning in context of teaching. Shifting the focus from traditional assessment to retention and application of knowledge is the goal.

References

Constructivism as a paradigm for teaching and learning. (2004). Retrieved from http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/constructivism/exploration.html Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Retrieved from http://ocw.metu.edu.tr/file.php/118/Week_6/Ertmer-Newby-beh-cog-const.pdf Learning theories. In (2013). Learning-Theories. Retrieved from http://www.learning-theories.com/ Sunny, C. (2009). Theories of learning in educational psychology. Retrieved from http://www.lifecircles-inc.com/Learningtheories/learningmap.html University of houston charter school. (2011). Retrieved from www.uh.edu/charterschool/constructivism.html