K-12: How Constructivism constructs confusion

Sep 12, 2019 by

K-12: How Constructivism constructs confusion

By Bruce Deitrick Price –   Constructivism is not just another educational gimmick. It can be used in every class, for every subject, and with students of all ages. It is multifaceted, ubiquitous, and grandiose.

In fact, the Education Establishment wants you to believe that Constructivism is the King Kong of instructional theories. The educrats want you to take it home for dinner, marry it, and live happily ever after.

We are told that Constructivism adds immensely to the educational experience. On the other hand, students exposed to this thing—and virtually all American students have been exposed—seem to become dumber. In some mysterious way, Constructivism is intellectually befuddling. The acquisition of new knowledge is stymied.

WNET, a TV station in Manhattan, prepared a long presentation extolling and explaining Constructivism.

“Constructivism is basically a theory—based on observation and scientific study—about how people learn.

It says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.”

That’s the key claim. You construct your own knowledge. It is not out there somewhere in the world. You construct it. Really.

Consider an instance of learning. The teacher says, “The capital of France is Paris, a very beautiful city.”

Does all that verbiage about people constructing their own understanding and experiencing things, and reflecting on those experiences add anything to the commonsense understanding of what happens when a teacher tells students about Paris?

WNET continues: “The constructivist teacher provides tools such as problem-solving and inquiry-based learning activities with which students formulate and test their ideas, draw conclusions and inferences, and pool and convey their knowledge in a collaborative learning environment.”

Let’s imagine a teacher telling students, “Most early settlers in North America came from England or Spain. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a small sailing ship is a dangerous adventure.”

Now look at the WNET spiel. Why do students need to formulate and test ideas? Why do we have to convey the knowledge in a collaborative learning environment? More steps, more clutter.

Imagine you’re a teacher who wants to teach about the American Revolution, why water freezes, or how the dinosaurs lived. Why do we need the clutter in any of those teaching scenarios? My suspicion is that this clutter is an obstacle, obviously so.

We have started to see what may be Constructivism’s unavoidable negative. Constructivism adds distractions, like a hyperactive TV series when a child is trying to read his first book. In short, there’s too much going on.

WNET continues: Constructivism transforms the student from a passive recipient of information to an active participant in the learning process. Always guided by the teacher, students construct their knowledge actively rather than just mechanically ingesting knowledge from the teacher or the textbook.”

Apparently when somebody tells you something you are passive and that’s bad. You are mechanically ingesting. But if we label the classroom constructivist, everything changes for the better. Now you are actively constructing knowledge. Do you see any change?

WNET wants us to know: “Students are not blank slates upon which knowledge is etched. They come to learning situations with already formulated knowledge, ideas, and understandings. This previous knowledge is the raw material for the new knowledge they will create.”

Really? What does the child know about someone sailing from Spain? Nothing. That’s why it’s exciting. The conceit in Constructivism is that the speaker or teacher doesn’t add very much. You (a student) create the whole experience in your brain. i.e., you construct it. Is this a reasonable expectation?

This next passage is so absurd, you might think I wrote it as satire. Not so.

WNET explains: “An elementary school teacher presents a class problem to measure the length of the Mayflower. Rather than starting the problem by introducing the ruler, the teacher allows students to reflect and to construct their own methods of measurement. One student offers the knowledge that a doctor said he is four feet tall. Another says she knows horses are measured in ‚Äòhands.’ The students discuss these and other methods they have heard about, and decide on one to apply to the problem.

I think this is the paradigm of what is wrong. The obvious next step was to see a picture or a model of the ship, with people nearby for a sense of scale. You could go outside and walk off the basic design of the ship. Children learn about the Mayflower, not about measuring horses. There seems to be a lot of bait-and-switch in Constructivism. You can easily imagine that this elementary school teacher would never reach the heart of any subject. Every comment by every student would be a seductive avenue of distraction.

WNET waxes ever more frenzied: Students control their own learning process, and they lead the way by reflecting on their experiences. This process makes them experts of their own learning.”

Lead the way? Experts of their own learning? Wouldn’t it be better if they became expert in the subjects being studied?

WNET: The teacher helps create situations where the students feel safe questioning and reflecting on their own processes, either privately or in group discussions. The teacher should also create activities that lead the student to reflect on his or her prior knowledge and experiences.”

Reflecting on their own processes? Anything, you see, but the new knowledge we want them to learn. Ironically, Constructivism seems designed to insulate kids from new knowledge, to keep them busy with extraneous details and tangential activities.

WNET says: “The main activity in a constructivist classroom is solving problems.”

Maybe. But in a real classroom the main activity is learning today what you didn’t know yesterday.

Source: K-12: How Constructivism constructs confusion

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