Constructivist Pedagogy in the Primary Classroom

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Traditional ideas and models of teaching and learning are not always working well for teachers and learners. One of the first things a teacher must do when considering how to teach students is to keep conscious that each student does learn in different way. The researchers on this field believe that the best way to learn is by making students construct their own knowledge instead of having someone construct it for them. This is the foundation of the Constructivist Learning Theory, which offers an alternative to traditional learning and teaching structures. But it is not so easy to the educators to translate constructivist theory into effective practice. These difficulties are based in the constructivism itself. This paper is attempt at defining the nature of the constructivist theory and describing its characteristics related to the role of the teacher and the students in the constructivist classroom. Wilson (1996) defines constructivist learning environments as "a place where learners may work together and support each other as they use a variety of tools and information resources on the guided pursuit of learning goals and problem - solving activities"( Wilson 5). He concentrates his attention to the key components of typical learning environments. DeVries and Zan insist that constructivist learning and teaching involves more than activities, materials and classroom organization. They describe the atmosphere in the classroom as "network of interpersonal relations that make up a child's experience of school" (DeVries and Zan 22), which supports students development. From this ideas could be found that the classroom is learner- centered and the focus is on the culture, experiences and knowledge that students bring into it. The role of the children in the constructivist classroom is very important. They construct new understandings based on what they already know. They perceive this room as their own classroom. Students construct their physical environment, participate in its arrangement and support it with their own ideas. The children design the space, the materials they use are aimed to the purposes of the lesson. These materials are connected with the world around them and also with their interests. They could include primary sources and manipulative materials. Their individual and collective works are very often a part from the interior. They learn by the experimentation and by their own experience and not by preliminary explanations, which leads to making own discoveries and conclusions. Class and individual projects add to their decision-making opportunities. The flexibility of the class schedule and the long blocks of uninterrupted time allow the appearance of spontaneity and interactions of the students. Students` responsibility and engagement in the activities rises and they have the opportunity to participate in decisions regarding management and curriculum. They are also responsible for each other. "Interaction among classroom participants, teacher- child and child- child are another characteristic of constructivist classroom." ( Rainer, Guyton and Bowen 124). This quotation shows that the student are not the only participants in the constructivist classroom. The importance of the teacher shouldn't be underestimated. He has to encourage children to help each other with the tasks, with the problems and also in difficult moments. In such moments students could practice their skills. Teacher and children together create a community space based on "classroom promises" for interactions. In this circumstances children could share ideas, solve problems and make decisions how and when to engage in their work. Teacher encourages students working in small groups, where curriculum is child-initiated. Their voice is respectful and they acknowledge the ideas of the group. Important in the constructivist classroom is the purposeful talking between the participants. Teachers role is interactive, rooted in negotiation. They have to encourage and extend children's thinking and attend to details. Important is also to provoke communication acts, which are integral components of the classroom. They also stimulate responsible behavior and respectful relationships between the participants. Teacher and students "share ownership and responsibility in behavior, learning and classroom environment." (Rainer, Guyton and Bowen 16) . Instructors also have to provide the children for authentic resources, which to stimulate students` interest. That is very important because lack of interest is generally the number one reason that students give for not learning. By creating classroom environments that encourage manipulating new ideas, like technology- based demonstration and illustration, the teacher could stimulate children's current interests. Technology provides more resources for student use in problem solving thinking and reflection. Teachers can structure activities so that the computers encourage student collaboration. "Constructivism promotes social and communication skills by creating a classroom environment that emphasizes collaboration and exchange of ideas. Students must learn how to articulate their ideas clearly as well as to collaborate on tasks effectively by sharing in group projects. Students must therefore exchange ideas and so must learn to "negotiate" with others and to evaluate their contributions in a socially acceptable manner. This is essential to success in the real world, since they will always be exposed to a variety of experiences in which they will have to cooperate and navigate among the ideas of others."( Thirteen Ed Online Team, Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning, www.thirteen.org., 01.11.2010). According to the constructivist theory learning is much more effective when children are actively involved in the curriculum. Constructivism develops communication and social skills and encourages alternative methods of assessment. Its main goal is helping students transfer skills to the real world but this is a real challenge for teachers and learners. It requires appreciable reconstructing of class room practices and habits, which is not easily achievable aim. But teaching students how and what to learn is the path to fuller and more relevant understanding of life's important lessons.