Constructivists Theory And The Cognitive Theory In The Classroom

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My philosophy of classroom management is not based solely upon one theoretical framework. There are aspects of both the Constructivists Theory, and the Cognitive Theory that I believe are applicable to good classroom management.

The Cognitive developmental theorists are interested in how people understand material. This theory states that individuals are actively involved in the learning process and can control their own learning. They believe that leaning is accomplished when a person analyzes the information they have received, organizes it, and tries to make sense of it. At that time, it is mentally broken it into smaller applicable pieces which are incorporated into their prior knowledge. This theory states, that when new information is incorporated into prior knowledge in this manner, it is better retained. Vygotsky added to this theory with his studies of children and his theories on scaffolding and the zone of proximal development (Coffey, 2009). Scaffolding, where an adult or someone with more knowledge provides guidance to the student, allows them to engage in learning activities within their zone of proximal development. I have found that it is instruction using small steps with a more experienced individual, be it a teacher or a peer, which will help students to progress from concepts they understand and can perform independently to new ones that are more difficult.

Constructivist learning theory is based in part upon the Piaget's theory of Cognitive development (Huitt, 2003). The Constructivists emphasis the role of the learner in assimilating the information the instructor has presented into his/her own view of the material. The student will then, through a join enterprise with the instructor, create new meanings. The emphasis is not only on how students receive material that is to be learned, and then "construct" it inside their heads, but how they and their teachers then make sense of it between them through their dialogue. This approach where students are actively involved in the learning, as opposed to rote memorization of the material, is in line with my feelings that students will be better able to succeed if they can think through problems and try to find the solutions with guidance from the teacher. This style of classroom management where the student is included is considered to be an Authoritative style of learning. I believe that I would be considered a authoritative instructor, someone who will be supportive, have high, but achievable expectations for students, enforce rules consistently, explain rules and procedures and include students in the decision making process when possible.

These are all in line with both the Constructionist and the Cognitive learning styles, in addition to the Authoritative style of instruction that I believe to be my style of management as stated in my Teaching and Learning Statement. Classroom management requires common sense, consistency and a sense of fairness. You need to establish a set of expectations early in the school year. These should be clearly defined, explained to students, and then should be upheld consistently throughout the school year. Knowing what is expected eliminates uncertainty and will encourage learning. The ultimate goal of classroom management after all, is to promote learning.

2. Strategies to build a community of learners

To create a sense of community in the classroom, it is necessary that the instructor create the feeling that the students and the instructor have shared goals, that there is support and respect for one another, and that everyone makes important contributions to learning. The climate of the classroom should be student centered, where students are not only involved in learning, but with their classmates and their instructor. It should be a fun, positive and encouraging environment where the instructor is responsive to the individual needs of students. In order to accomplish this I believe it is necessary to be aware of, and value the diversity of your students, have an environment where students feel safe and able to learn, be supportive of different learning styles and levels, and provide a variety of strategies for teaching. Time should be spent nurturing relationships with students so they feel safe in the class and know what to expect each day. The classroom culture should be supportive with the students and instructor moving through the roles of expert, researcher, learner and teacher in a collaborative atmosphere. I would accomplish this through the use of ice breaking activities, encouraging students to help each other, group projects and having the students list the rules they feel will help the class run smoothly and successfully. I believe that by asking open-ended questions and promoting extensive dialogue, students will not only focus on making connections between facts and fostering new understanding, but also the increased dialog will promote in students the feeling of community in the class.

Instructors who tailor their teaching strategies to student responses and encourage students to discuss, analyze, interpret, and predict information, also help increase a students self efficacy. According to Jeanne Ormrod, author of "Essentials of Educational Psychology", students with high self efficacy are confident, have successful social interactions, and see themselves as competent. All these things will increase the likelihood that your students will feel comfortable in your classroom and have a feeling of "community" with both the instructor and their fellow students.

3. Accommodations for diverse learners

When working with diverse learners, one of the things that must be kept in mind is that, the instruction given in the classroom must be developmentally appropriate. While learning is an active process that involves direct experience, making errors, and looking for solutions, you have to take into account the abilities the age group you are working with, are likely to have. Even then, students within any given age group will develop at different rates and so you must be able to accommodate different levels of understanding and ability. To determine understanding, you can ask questions, present authentic tasks, projects or investigations, and then observe, interview, and examine their presentations and work. Observation of the student's progress on their projects can help to determine their abilities, point out their strengths and weaknesses.

Accommodations fall under four main categories, content, process, products and learning environment. You can use the same content for a wide variety of students but change the complexity to provide for different students' learning profiles. The process is what the student does to master the lesson and it can be varied through the use of scaffolding, flexible groupings, and varying the length of time spent on any activity. Care must be taken also to accommodate the gifted student. When working with gifted students, you can consider individualized instruction in accordance with their talents, giving opportunities for independent study, incorporating complex cognitive skills within the area being studied, and encouraging them to set high goals for themselves. The end products that the students make should provide different ways for them to show their knowledge, as well as a variety of levels of difficulty. If necessary, different types of scoring criteria can be used to accommodate different learners. Having the room organized to minimize disruptions and enhance efficiency, using visuals to increase comprehension, and varying student groupings to maximize opportunities for direct instruction and participation, are all part of the structural element.

For students with disabilities, accommodations can be an alteration of the environment, curriculum format, or equipment that would allow an individual with a disability to gain access to necessary materials or information and/or complete assigned tasks. These can be such things as lowered tables in the ceramics room to allow wheelchair access, or raised potters wheels to accomplish the same. Ramps for access to machinery, large type worksheets and pencils, alternative keyboards and extended time are all examples of accommodations that could be used.

4. Procedures, Routines and Transitions

Learning is sometimes noisy and sometimes messy, but that does not mean that it has to be chaotic. When it comes to the art class, giving the students clear, concise routines to follow are particularly important due to the often fluid nature of the class. Asking myself, what I expect my students to do, and how I want them to do it, will help determine the procedures that they should follow. Students should be able to enter a room and collect the necessary equipment for the project they are engaged in without excessive noise or disruption. I would expect them at the end of the hour to not crowd the door, sitting if necessary after clean up has been accomplished. If I expect them to collect their art and the necessary tools to work on it at the beginning of the class, then I need them to be aware of where tools are, where work is stored, and model for them the proper manner in which they should collect everything they need. While talking quietly is allowed in art rooms, excessive noise or shouting is not. When help is needed, I would expect students to raise their hands or if I am helping someone else and do not see them, approach me directly and politely ask for help. Passes from the room would be allowed, but limited to a short period of time and only for good reasons. When it comes to turning in projects, I have found that it is necessary for there to be a separate place that is labeled for each hour, for work to be placed. This helps to eliminate work being lost or misplaced. Students should be told where supplies are and where work in progress will be stored or left to dry. Additionally, each class should have a separate place to turn in finished work. Ideally, each student would have a cubby available to them to keep their supplies or smaller work. All students should receive clear instructions on when and where to place work and they must be aware it is their responsibility to insure they turn their work into the proper bin, drawer, or box. With younger students, I would have them turn in their work to me when finished, and also have a separate place to put work that is drying/being worked on. Procedures should be in place for all age groups to collect and return materials, and clean up 10 minutes prior to class ending. These would vary depending on the project, and class, from each table being responsible for their materials and cleanup, to individuals being responsible for cleaning the potter's wheel they worked on.

Students will also be expected to be polite, respectful of each other, and to follow the school rules. When I am giving instructions or lectures, I will expect that there will be no talking, moving around, or engaging in any other activity until I have finished.

5. How classroom rules and expectations are established.

All students must follow the rules set out in the student handbooks, by the district. These rules adopted for the safety of students and staff alike, are non-negotiable and the consequences for breaking them are clearly laid out at the High School level. Classroom rules are, on the other hand, set by the students and the instructor to help the class run smoothly. These are only going to be effective if they are consistently enforced, are fair, and are clearly set out. To be an affective instructor, you should allow students to take responsibility for establishing rules, and the consequences that result from breaking them. This gives your students a sense of ownership over the rules and will not only be a positive motivator, but will also give the student's reasons to self regulate themselves. One of the ways I would accomplish this is to have a class meeting and ask all the students to list what they feel should be the rules to help the classroom run smoothly and efficiently. Once this has been done in all classes, I would compile the rules into a list of the five or so most important things and post them in a prominent spot. The next day I would review these with the students reminding them that this is the list that they have decided are necessary for our room to function smoothly. It is unlikely from what I have seen, that any rule that I would have written will be missed in the list, but if it were important enough, I would probably add it. What I have experienced so far is that the students include what I would, and are sometimes even tougher than I would have been. I've attributed this to most students wanting order and a feeling of safety in the classroom, and also wanting to know the boundaries for classroom behavior. For young students, a warning card placed on their desks is an effective way to remind them that they are approaching the point where there are consequences. Behavior contracts where the student signs a contract with the instructor and games such as the "Under the Desk Question and Answer" which has numbered questions that the children will inevitably ask taped under the desks, are also great ways to let the students know what is expected of them. I believe that successful classrooms are independent student learning arenas, and that you should provide students with multiple opportunities to make choices and accept the consequences of those choices. I feel that instructors who empower students in making decisions are helping them to become independent and responsible learners.

6. Roles of Teachers and Students

The role of the teacher in the classroom is to be a leader, guide and communicator of information and participant in the learning process. They should provide rich learning environments and experiences that will stimulate the students in learning. As a guide, the teacher should provide mediation, modeling, and coaching. They should be viewed by their students as expert guides, not as bosses or masters. The teacher should be a facilitator to the learning process, someone who can demonstrate, ask questions to promote higher order thinking, and provide a variety of different strategies to help the students learn through their own learning style. Learning styles can vary a lot between students, some being visual learners, some auditory learners and some kinesthetic learners. Most people seem to learn best if presented with a combination of the three types, but everyone is different. When working with art students, the use of hands on learning is a given. Therefore, care must be given to provide for those students whose learning style is not primarily kinesthetic.

Teachers are not only guides to learning, but also mediators of knowledge. They should help students connect new information to prior experiences, connect to learning in other areas, help them figure out what to do when they are stumped, and help them learn how to learn.

Students should also be active participants in the learning process, with the teachers and students involved in cooperative learning. The student should be the explorer, self motivated, who is excited to experiment and think upon what they discover. They should feel supported in their learning endeavor by the variety of teaching strategies that are used to help different learning styles.

7. How parents are involved

The role of parents should be one of involvement. Meetings with student's parents should not only occur when there is a problem. Even with scheduled parent teacher conferences, not every parent is able to make them to meet with instructors, so other options must be available. Using on-line behavior logs for passing on information of how well a child is doing, is as important as letting a parent know if there is a problem. Another way to include parents in the classroom is to have a classroom web page set up to let not only students, but parents, see what the class is doing and what the current assignments are. Grades and comments that are accessible through the internet allow parents who are unable to attend conferences easy access to student records. Sending home newsletters for younger students, encouraging parent participation in helping at school, in your room or specific programs all are ways that parents can be included. K- 8 parents can be asked to share their knowledge with the class in areas such as science, art etc. Having fairs that the student's show their work in, and inviting parents to attend, or entering students work in shows and arranging field trips are also excellent ways to include parents. Events like empty bowls, where every art student has the option of donating or buying their bowl at auction, is another way to include parental and community participation. E-mails are also a good way to let parents know of the hard work their students are doing, good deeds, and accomplishments.

Resources

Coffey, H. (2009). Zone of proximal development. Learn NC. University of North Carolina at Chapter Hill. Retrieved from http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/5075

Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (2003). Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/cogsys/piaget.html

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