A Study on Playtime Learning Theories

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The way a teacher instructs the class affects the students ability to learn, desire to learn, and ease at which they learn. Each teacher constructs their classroom in a different way; this is their theory, they way in which students learn. Theories of learning greatly affect a classroom and what occurs within it. After observing a classroom for several weeks, I have reason to believe that my field experience teacher primarily used constructivism in her classroom. More specifically, the ideas presented from her relates closely to individual constructivism. According to constructivism, individuals create knowledge through their experiences and thoughts (Wikipedia, 2010). More specifically, Piaget (as cited in Bohlin, Durwin, & Reese-Weber, 2009) argues that learning occurs based on using cognitive practices through experiences, not based on memorizing information. Students learn from the combination of nature and nurture, meaning their environment and their experiences (Bohlin, Durwin, & Reese-Weber, 2009, p. 119). Unlike social constructivism, which states that learning is learned through experiences and social interactions, individual constructivism uses social interaction but it is not a major factor in students' increasing knowledge. An individual constructivist would propose that self-discovery is necessary for the development of new knowledge (Bohlin, Durwin, & Reese-Weber, 2009, p. 126).

Individual constructivism also relies on the idea of equilibrium, however in my classroom's situation relies on disequilibrium. Equilibrium refers to the creating a balance between what students know and what they are learning. This is achieved through assimilation, integrating new material with previously known knowledge, and accommodation, modifying existing knowledge to form new knowledge (Bohlin, Durwin, & Reese-Weber, 2009, p. 126). While I observed, I noticed that Mrs. Aspaas was incorporating many aspects of Piaget's view of learning into the classroom. However, Mrs. Aspaas does put her students in groups to complete work, as Vygotsky would say is crucial to learning. As Vygotsky mentions (as cited in Bohlin, Durwin, & Reese-Weber, 2009), students learn from interacting with one another, having someone more skilled than them working to gain a higher level of achievement. Even though Mrs. Aspaas' students are placed in groups while working, they were placed in groups based on their ability level, rather than a heterogeneous group. This is quite contrary to Vygotsky's view of constructivism, where those of high learning levels are there to assist in the learning of others. Piaget (as cited in Bohlin, Durwin, & Reese-Weber, 2009) says that students learn and develop through stages, yet each child moves through the stages at different rates.

Based on my knowledge of constructivism, I can clearly see from the different activities inside Mrs. Aspaas' class that acts as proof for this theory being used. Each morning that I went to observe the classroom, the class was set up the same way. The first thing they did each morning after the Pledge of Allegiance and attendance was to complete 5 different stations. Students were placed in groups based on their ability and then went to a different station for fifteen minutes and rotated. One station the groups went to was reading a book and picking out all the words in the story that had the vowel sound that they had been working on. They would next move on to listening to a book on tape and answering questions based on comprehension. After they found all the words they thought had the correct vowel sound, they talked it over with the others in the group. They also spelled out vocabulary words on whiteboards. This involved having a list of words and a bag of letter magnets. The students were to spell out the word with the magnets and then write it out. Another station was on the computer, where they played different educational games about letters and the sounds they make. Stations were used primarily for the English and Language Arts portion of the day. At each station, the goal was either find different words with a certain vowel sound, or work on spelling each week's vocabulary words. One station was also working directly with Mrs. Aspaas. However, based on school standards, the highest achieving students met with her the most. This station was playing a game about being able to pronounce their different vocabulary words. Each student, in the group, still participated in each activity by themselves. Mrs. Aspaas, during station time, acted as a facilitator in this process in which the students were on their own and she would go around making sure everyone was doing their work. She also made the students show her their different white boards. This helped Mrs. Aspaas see that the students were doing what they were supposed to be doing. Or she would be working as a station with a group of students. The overall response of the children completing the lesson I observed was very motivating, the students were readily willing to participate. Academically, they were gaining knowledge through working hands-on.

After continually watching this activity in practice, it was clear as to what aspects demonstrated constructivism. The activity as a whole relates back to constructivism that it is engaging the students and they are learning through experiences. Rather than Mrs. Aspaas' talking and teaching the students the information that needed to be learned, she allowed them to take part in hands-on activities that let them gain experiences from what they already knew. One station, that involved reading different books showed how each student is gaining their own experiences and are at different levels of learning. They read their own level book and find the vowel sounds. After all the students in the group finish, they share with one another. This sharing is helping the students gain from more experiences. A constructivist believes that in order to teach a concept, they need to test prior knowledge, using a lot of examples, and using visuals (Bohlin, Durwin, & Reese-Weber, 2009, p. 122). Mrs. Aspaas did exactly this throughout the stations. Each station had a poster of what the students were supposed to do. These posters have different little drawings to capture the students' attention.

The station where they pronounce their new vocabulary words stresses Piaget's view of disequilibrium. Each week, when the students learn their new vocabulary words, Mrs. Aspaas would tell the students how each word has sounds that they already know to help make pronouncing the word more efficiently. However, the last week I was there, the new words seemed to make the children question their knowledge of letter sounds. Disequilibrium is "a discrepancy between their existing way of knowing and the new experiences (Bohlin, Durwin, & Reese-Weber, 2009, p. 120). By this, I mean that the students did not understand how a letter in some words made a different sound other than the original sound that was taught. For example, they did not understand why the letter 'Y' would sometimes make an 'E' sound rather than its normal sound. Mrs. Aspaas did an exceptional job and assimilating the idea that some letters have multiple sounds like how some people call one object different names.

Continuing with the stations, the way the students were grouped relate to knowledge based constructivism. The students worked with those of their ability to work off of one another. Another key point to constructivism is that it is geared to promote active learning, learning by doing. In Mrs. Aspaas' classroom, this is exactly what occurred. The students went in groups and completed different activities on their own. The students being so young (first graders) shows Piaget's stages of development in action. The students mostly seem to fit in the pre-operational stage of development (Bohlin, Durwin, & Reese-Weber, 2009, p. 122), where the begin developing concepts. With every subject that is presented, whether a topic in a reading story arises or an interest spelling word sparks an interest, every student has a story to tell relative to the material. They all want to share their experiences and their excitement, however there is a time and a place for such things and in the middle of a lesson is not the time. During the stations, the students would randomly start talking about their day or their pet, instead of staying on task during the station. Mrs. Aspaas would have to remind the students that they must focus on their station before talking. These students are expressing the idea of centration, "an inability to focus on two dimensions simultaneously" (Bohlin, Durwin, & Reese-Weber, 2009, p. 122). Seeing a learning theory put into action during Mrs. Aspaas' classroom, puts into perspective of the different ways teachers can teach their students and what the outcome may be.

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