Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #4

Constructivism

First and foremost, I will absolutely acknowledge my bias toward the reading from Chapter 5. Since day 1 in the teaching associate program for this university’s Department of English, I have taken a constructivist approach to teaching and instructional design (as do my mentors). Reiser and Dempsey also show their bias with sentences like “Some of the negative response to constructivism was due to statements like ‘learners construct their own reality’ and ‘assessments should be goal free’ that traditionalist appropriately perceived as over the top (my emphasis)” (46). I understand that phrases like “learners construct their own reality” sound ambiguous and not quantifiable, but—as Kenneth Burke writes about in his book Language as Symbolic Action, the nature of language is such that the words we use to name things, describe things, and communicate things, at once is a selection and a deflection of reality. This is what Burke refers to as Terministic Screens and, by extension, The Negative. For example, in the United States, we refer to the America’s separation from British colonial powers as the American Revolution whereas across the Atlantic, the same historical event is referred to as the American Rebellion. Like it or not, language does construct our reality. Though learn through a variety of means, we learn largely through language. So learners do construct their own reality through language vis-à-vis terministic screens.

“Like all approaches, constructivism solves some problems while perhaps creating others” (47). I hear Dr. Bohlin in the back of my mind asking, “Really? Do all approaches create problems?” I understand that this is merely a transitional move so that Reiser and Dempsey can bring up their concerns with constructivist approaches to instructional design, so I’ll let that one go for now.

Incidentally, I agree with their primary concern: are students prepared to have the “hardest work” and “most interesting decisions” put on their plate (47)? I think having an awareness of these questions and working through them forces teachers to become more aware of their audience, a rhetorical move that teachers themselves ask students to do in reading and writing classrooms. Having said that, one way to further address this concern is to work a system of a “gradual release of responsibility” so that at the beginning of your curriculum (on the large scale) or of your lesson (on the small scale), you gradually release the responsibility of making the “most interesting decisions” and the “hardest work” as your students become ready for those tasks. But this does require teachers to pay attention to who they’re teaching.

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