ISSN-2231 0495

Volume 2 || Issue 1 - January 2012

Basic Tenets of Constructivism: An Analysis of These Being a Referent for Teaching, Learning and Assessment in Science

Basic Tenets of Constructivism: An Analysis of These Being a Referent for Teaching, Learning and Assessment in Science

Rakesh Kumar

Assistant Professor

MV COLLEGE OF EDUCATION,

University of Delhi.

 

Abstract

While in the contemporary educational context, basic tenets of constructivism find mention in one form or the other, some of them are mentioned clearly as being part of constructivist framework, some other are not explicitly stated to be so. The reasons for non-explicit mention of these basic tenets lie in the inherent diversity that is there in our understanding of all what we call as Constructivism. Moreover, there are too many myths in society about Science, e.g., that Science  provides objective, proved knowledge about all reality, that it is value neutral, that the problems are connected only with how Science  is used and not with the Nature of Science  itself. While the present assessment framework continues to look reality in objective forms, it also continues to look Science  knowledge in objective forms too. While constructivist framework accepts the existence of objective realities, its emphasis is on subjectivity of constructed knowledge. The assessment framework that continues to view Science  knowledge as objective is used to assess the subjectively constructed knowledge by the learners. But, where the teachers’ beliefs about learning and knowledge are in synchronisation with the constructivist framework, the absence of constructivist assessment framework creates a handicap amongst the teachers. This handicap is related with their un-ease with using objectivist assessment framework to assess something based upon their beliefs about learning and knowledge to be constructivist.

 

Key Words: Constructivism, Nature of Science, Assessment in Science education


Introduction to Basic Tenets of Constructivism

While in the contemporary educational context, basic tenets of constructivism find mention in one form or the other, some of them are mentioned clearly as being part of constructivist framework, some other are not explicitly stated to be so. The reasons for non-explicit mention of these basic tenets lie in the inherent diversity that is there in our understanding of all what we call as Constructivism. In the words of (Tobin, 1993), Constructivism is  conceptualized as a set of beliefs about knowing that has the potential to facilitate different ways of thinking, of  framing problems, and of formulating answers that extend into areas not considered when objectivism was used as a referent. As we have thought about constructivism, we have come to realize that it is not a unitary construct (Tobin, 1993).

In a nutshell, this diversity in our understanding can be represented as follows.

  • Personal Constructivism has been initiated by Piaget which contributes ‘Knowledge is actively constructed by the learners not passively received from the environment’. Glashersfeld called this Trivial Constructivism.
  • Radical Constructivism was initiated by Glashersfeld which speaks, ‘coming to know is a dynamic adaptation towards viable interpretations of experience. The knower does not discover truth about the real world (Von Glasersfeld, 1995).
  • Social constructivism has been outlined by Vygotsky as well Dewey which narrates that individual participate in the learning of a collective, sometimes with what is learned distributed throughout the collective more than in the mind of one individual.
  • Cultural construction represents the ways in which individuals think, are affected by the cultural environment which is beyond the immediate social environment of the learning situation.
  • Critical constructivism looks at constructivism within a social and cultural environment, but adds a critical dimension aimed at reforming these environments in order to improve the success of constructivism applied as a referent.

The above mentioned types/forms/constructs of constructivism are not suggesting the inherent confusion but the diversity of roles that constructivism can play in the educational process depending upon the focus of the researcher/practitioner. As (Tobin, 1993) suggests “Within constructivism there is a room for different scholars to emphasize different aspects of knowing. For example, if the primary focus of a scholar is to build an understanding of how individuals construct understanding from their experiences, it is predictable that the focus will be on the individual and the sense making process. In contrast, if the focus is on understanding the teaching and learning process, it is to be expected that socio-cultural processes will be significant from the outset. According to the focus of the individual scholars, therefore, constructivism will take different facets each with its own emphasis.”

Building a Case for Science Education

If we are talking about Science  specifically, we can draw a parallel between some of these constructs and Nature of Science  framework as understood from the works of none other than Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn's challenge to the assumptions of Science , it being an individual enterprise, based exclusively on empirical evidence, rational arguments, objectivity and value neutrality, raised a multitude of issues about participation in, and the achievements and foundations of scientific enterprise. Kuhn's proposition that Science  proceeds through the socially embedded activities of its practitioners, with scientific knowledge (theories) emphasized the social-cultural aspects of Nature of Science.

Some reflections on the Nature of Science  as explained by (Kuhn, 1962) in ‘Structure of scientific revolutions’ can also reveal inherent constructivist ideas. The paradigm that is replaced by the other suggests (what constructivism says) that there is absolute reality that knower can never know. Therefore, Science  needs to be “constructed and not discovered” by the scientists.

There are too many myths in society about Science, e.g., that Science  provides objective, proved knowledge about all reality, that it is value neutral, that the problems are connected only with how Science  is used and not with the Nature of Science  itself.

While philosophers of Science, Popper, Lakatos, Kuhn & Feyerabend were arguing that knowledge was not something that was discovered, but being constructed within communities of like-minded people, school Science  text books continued to describe the practices of Science  as a linear, rational and objective process, discovered and guaranteed by certainty of an objective experimental method (Louden, 1994).

Schwab's critique of contemporary Science  education as being only rhetoric of conclusions became one of the earliest primary bases for inclusion of "Nature of Science " in the discourse of Science  education. Schwab   observed   "Science   is   taught   as “unmitigated   rhetoric of conclusions in which current and temporal construction of scientific knowledge are conveyed as empirical, literal and irrevocable truths” (McComas, W. F., Clough, M. P., & Almazroa, 1998). Less concerned with students developing habits of inquiry, he emphasized instead on using inquiry, as a mode of teaching to portray Science  as inquiry.

Let us take some other orientations about Nature of Science . Dewey's conception and argument for teaching of scientific method over scientific knowledge as way of thinking was an attempt to bring the component of inquiry, questions and active engagement in meaning making to passive classrooms.

Whether Science  becomes an authentic part of a person's everyday thinking and in what form does it get imbibed, is the question of the Nature of Science  that gets communicated through Science  education. It is also a question of what bearing an understanding of the complex; conflicting aspects of Nature of Science  have on the teacher's assessment of what happens and what should happen in their Science  classes. How they understand the growth of knowledge in their discipline influences what spaces of meaning making, understanding and reflection they create in the world of facts and theories.

Popper tried to identify the problem with the Nature of Science  that has been ruling for so long.

“I understood why the mistaken theory of Science  which had ruled since Bacon that the natural Science  were inductive Science s and that induction was a process of establishing or justifying theories by repeated observations or experiments- was so deeply entrenched. The reason was that scientists had to "demarcate" their activities from pseudoScience  as well as from theology and metaphysics, and they had taken over from Bacon, the inductive method as their criterion of demarcation. But I had held in my hands for many years a better criterion of demarcation. Testability or falsifiability” (Popper, 1982).

Conception of Nature of Science has been revolutionized with these orientations and the need for locating Science  education in a broader context has made Science  educators and researchers look towards the NOS perspective as the ameliorating paradigm.

Sanctity of the "scientific method", as value neutral and rational progress of Science  brought under the lens, the field Fras opened up to debates vis-a-vis how Science  has been approached and perceived among those busy imparting it (teachers) and practicing it (scientists), and its implications for how and what Nature of Science gets communicated.

Advocacy for the approach to represent components of Nature of Science discourse in the formal Science  curriculum has since ensued to create possibilities of reflection, analysis, contextual understanding of concepts as well as issues in Science  and society. A part of this effort has involved looking at history of Science  - an effort to integrate the culture of discipline with the rhetoric of conclusions.

"The history of Science , after all, does not just consist of facts and conclusions drawn from facts. It also contains ideas, interpretations, and mistakes, and so on. On closer analysis we even find that Science  knows no 'bare facts' at all but the facts' that enter our knowledge are already viewed in a certain way and are, therefore ideational. This being the case, the history of Science  will be as complex, chaotic, full of mistakes, and entertaining as the ideas it contains, and these ideas in turn will be as complex, chaotic, full of mistakes and entertaining as are the minds of those who invented them. Conversely a little brainwashing will go a long way in making the history of Science  duller simpler, more uniform, more "objective" and mom easily accessible to treatment by strict and unchangeable rules. Scientific education as we know it today, has precisely this aim” (Feyerabend, 1993).

NOS approach has also been expected to address the myths about Science  and scientific method. Increasing Research in Science  education has provided evidence of the distorted Images people have about Science  and how it works, “the myths and stereotypes about Science  not being dispelled when Science  teaching focuses narrowly on laws, concepts and theories of Science . Hence, the study of Science  as a way of knowing needs to be made explicit in the curriculum" (AAAS, 1993).

NOS perspective clearly articulates the need for spaces to be created within a Science  classroom, where thoughts are generated and communicated and not mere fact. But why the values and assumptions never become explicit, why the ideas recede to the background as facts come to the forefront is also an inquiry into what challenges and possibilities confront the practitioners, towards this endeavour.

Focusing on Teaching-Learning

The concept of teaching is basically inherent in the idea of teacher being in control to deliver the subject matter content in a manner that it reaches the learners. Basic tenets of constructivism negate such an understanding of the process of teaching and the teacher. On the contrary, Constructivism relates to the process of knowing where there is an inherent shift in the position of the learners in terms of their centrality. Basic tenets discussed above, then reflected upon, bring about a shared understanding of our role of mediating body. Diverse ideas about who is at the lead role in the process of mediation in the construction of knowledge, differentiates different forms of constructivist frameworks. Thus, in constructivist framework ‘teaching’ will become redundant. On the other hand, the role of the learner will become central; learning within the boundaries of the classroom or outside it.

Thus, in the constructivist framework, meaning making process by the learner becomes central. In this meaning making process, the experiential settings in which guidance and support by the teacher matches with the intentional explorations by the learner may lead to most effective learning. This effective learning is also related with the enhanced ability of the learner to relate the existing knowledge with the new one and create the presentations of this new knowledge in more complex forms. In the process of mediation, the context of learner and learning plays an important role. This context includes the socio-economic, cultural, technological, emotional, and belief system, willingness and readiness of the learner, and infinitely many such possibilities. Actually, this context accounts for the individual differences and diversity in which learning takes place in such a specific and unique ways with the unique learners that it poses a real challenge to have assessment in context of the learner.

The following Learner-Centred Psychological Principles Summarized by (Alexander & Murphy, 1998) can also be observed to find a close association with the above ideas.

Principle 1: Nature of the learning process.

The learning of complex subject matter is most effective when it is an intentional process of constructing meaning from information and experience.

Principle 2: Goals of the learning process.

The successful learner, over time and with support and instructional guidance, can create meaningful, coherent representations of knowledge.

Principle 3: Construction of knowledge.

The successful learner can link new information with existing knowledge in meaningful ways.

Principle 4: Strategic thinking.

The successful learner can create and use a repertoire of thinking and reasoning strategies to achieve complex learning goals.

Principle 5: Thinking about thinking.

Higher order strategies for selecting and monitoring mental operations facilitate creative and critical thinking.

Principle 6: Context of learning.

Learning is influenced by environmental factors, including culture, technology, and instructional practices.

MOTIVATIONAL AND AFFECTIVE FACTORS

Principle7: Motivational and emotional influences on learning.

What and how much is learned is influenced by the learner's motivation. Motivation to learn, in turn, is influenced by the individual's emotional states, beliefs, interests and goals, and habits of thinking.

Principle 8: Intrinsic motivation to learn.

The learner's creativity, higher order thinking, and natural curiosity all contribute to motivation to learn.

Intrinsic motivation is stimulated by tasks of optimal novelty and difficulty, relevant to personal interests, and providing for personal choice and control.

Principle 9: Effects of motivation on effort.

Acquisition of complex knowledge and skills requires extended learner effort and guided practice. Without learners' motivation to learn, the willingness to exert this effort is unlikely without coercion.

DEVELOPMENTAL AND SOCIAL FACTORS

Principle 10: Developmental influence on learning.

As individuals develop, they encounter different opportunities and experience different constraints for learning. Learning is most effective when differential development within and across physical, intellectual, emotional, and social domains is taken into account.

Principle 11: Social influences on learning.

Learning is influenced by social interactions, interpersonal relations, and communication with others.

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES FACTORS

Principle 12: Individual differences in learning.

Learners have different strategies, approaches, and capabilities for learning that are a function of prior experience and heredity.

Principle 13: Learning and diversity.

Learning is most effective when differences in learners' linguistic, cultural, and social backgrounds are taken into account.

Principle 14: Standards and assessment.

Setting appropriately high and challenging standards and assessing the learner and learning progress-including diagnostic, process, and outcome assessment-are integral parts of the learning process.

Focusing on Assessment in Science

(G. Brown, .J., & Pendlebury, 1997) defined assessment as “what students regard as important, how they spend their time and how they come to see themselves as students and then as graduates.” He also suggests that if we want to change student learning then we should change the methods of assessment. “Angelo (1996) says, We continue to assess student learning - and to graduate and certify students much as we did in 1986, 1966, or 1946, without meaningful reference to what students should demonstrably know and be able to do” (Rust, 2002). If we look at Brown’s comment and Angelo’s claim together in the Indian educational context we will agree that not much has changed in assessment procedures that can take care of our educational setting. “Gibbs (1992) also noted the same and commented, Assessment systems dominate what students are oriented towards in their learning.  Even when lecturers say that they want students to be creative and thoughtful, students often recognize that what is really necessary, or at least what is sufficient, is to memorize” (Rust, 2002).

The context of the learner in which construction of knowledge is taking place has the elements of individual differences amongst learners along with the specificity and its uniqueness of infinite kinds. These specificities and uniqueness of the individual learner poses the challenge of assessing the learners in the unique ways they learn. Contemporary philosophical positions in the Nature of Science  contemplate Science  as knowledge created or constructed in realistic situations where there are opportunities for collaboration. On the other hand, Science  textbooks continue to present scientific knowledge in linear forms devoid of the multi-layered and complex reality framework. Most of the times this depiction of Nature of Science  from the Science  textbooks creeps into the classroom dynamics too. From textbooks to classroom dynamics it manages somehow to be represented in this form in the assessment framework that is used to mark not just the Science  knowledge of learners but their existing learning abilities too.

(Küçük & Çepni, 2004) noted that “using effective measurement and assessment techniques ensures meaningful Science  learning for students and also affects the ways in which teachers teach and students learn. Mueller and his colleagues (2001) identifies that systematical assessment of student learning outcomes in Science  courses is supposed to change towards a realistic framework and classroom of the future is believed to evaluate realistic situations that require application of Science  concepts, principles and theories. In this way, students will not select the true answers from a set of multiple-choice questions, the best match from a set of concerning terms or decide whether a statement is true or false. Instead of this, learners will observe and explore the situation, discuss the observation notes with other students, make important judgments on a situation provided for them and contribute to construction of new knowledge (Tobin, 1993).

While the present assessment framework continues to look reality in objective forms, it also continues to look Science  knowledge in objective forms too. While constructivist framework accepts the existence of objective realities, its emphasis is on subjectivity of constructed knowledge. The assessment framework that continues to view Science  knowledge as objective is used to assess the subjectively constructed knowledge by the learners. The assessment framework used by the teachers is often guided by their beliefs about learning and knowledge. But, where the teachers’ beliefs about learning and knowledge are in synchronisation with the constructivist framework, the absence of constructivist assessment framework creates a handicap amongst the teachers. This handicap is related with their un-ease with using objectivist assessment framework to assess something based upon their beliefs about learning and knowledge to be constructivist.

[…] the issues of why, how, and what we, as teachers, assess in our classrooms will become a major challenge in the multifaceted Science  reform effort currently underway. As educators are changing their ideas about what constitutes exemplary inquiry-based learning, and recognizing that Science  is an active process that encourages higher-order thinking and problem solving, there is an increased need to align curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Classroom assessment techniques are focusing on aligning assessments more closely with the instructional strategies actually used with children (Badders, 2005).

Conclusion

Assessment is an integral part of the school system for different reasons including the need to identify the learners who can be sent to the next stages. This practice of sending the learner to the next stages dependent upon the collective wisdom of the teachers teaching a particular learner. Depending upon different rules and norms in different countries that children are sent to the next stages. But everywhere are found that there might be a lack of consensus amongst the teachers about a particular learner in the context of being sent to the next stage. This lack of consensus amongst the teachers can be identified with the subjectivity part of assessment process that is inbuilt in the human understanding but fails to reflect in the formal processes related with assessment. Maybe this is because of the reason that the type of subjectivity being discussed here is difficult to be communicated in concrete forms. And this lack of communication in concrete forms makes the real subjective assessment indefensible. Practically not being able to defend this subjective assessment would mean the teacher is open to the criticism and the validity of their thinking cannot be ascertained.

References:

  • AAAS. (1993). Benchmarks for Science  literacy. Oxford University Press.
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EARLY CHILDHOOD CARE AND EDUCATION

EARLY CHILDHOOD CARE AND EDUCATION

Dr. Rajnish Pandey
Associate Professor, I/CHOD
Department of Education
Modern Institute of Education
Dhalwala, Rishikesh
Uttarakhand

Genesis

Every one needs to be acquainted with the rationale and the relevance of the Early Childhood Care and Education and its importance in the Indian national perspectives before explaining its Advocacy Scheme. However, let us deduce the prospective of ECCE based on the experiences it encountered since the independence. The advocacy campaign in the country is logical, considerateness, configuration, ideology and the principles.

‘Early Childhood is the period from conception to the age of 8’(NCF-2005) which is vital for the cumulative development and the promotion of psychological factors, learning and increasing graph of intelligence. The extension of the age from 6 to 8 years is only due to the transition phases of the child from pre -primary to primary education period in continuation’. The addition of the word care is significant. Care includes paying attention and supplying nutritious food and the ingredients to maintain the health of the children. The process of care involves surmounting and controlling their emotion, anger, promotion of health and development of language plays important role in capacity building of the children and improve the reasoning capacity.

Part IV  (revised) of Article 45 of the constitution, authorizes that the ‘state shall endeavor to provide Early Childhood Care and Education’ to all the children till they complete the age of 6 years’ or ‘unless get admission into the formal setting/schools as prescribed’. ‘The children are the asset and human resources whose future talent and potentiality would help the society and nation to tide over the morass and variety of difficulties’. The ECCE needs advocacy campaign for ensuring awareness among the parents and the guardians about the importance of their children all round development, as they are the destiny of the nation.

Today India must have crossed the population target of more than one hundred and ten crores. Out of one sixth/seventh (16 million) population belongs to the children in the age group of 0-6 years. 19.8 million children (less than 5 years) live in poverty what to talk of getting nutritious food. The infant mortality rate in India is 70% per 1,000 live births. ‘Over 47% children below 2 years are malnourished.25 million children are born every year. One-third of babies are with low birth weight (NCF, 2005)’. ‘The precarious and inconsolable situation and facts stated will certainly move the parents to think for the harmonious development and growth of the children in the national interest (Pandey, 2007).’

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THE PROBLEMS OF ADOLESCENCE

THE PROBLEMS OF ADOLESCENCE

Dr. Brinda Bazeley Kharbirymbai
Assistant Professor.
Department of Education.
NEHU, Shillong

 

Adolescence is an important part of human life. It is the transitional phase of the physical and mental development of humans.It has originated from the latin word adolescere meaning to grow to maturity. It is also known as the transitional period of life. This is a period when a boy or girl enters a new stage of life from childhood to adulthood in all aspects-mentally, physically, emotionally, socially. Jean Piaget calls this stage as the age of great ideals as the beginning of great theories as well as the time of simple adaptation to reality.

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