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The Remaining Descriptors of Constructivist Teachers

15 December, 2015 - 14:20
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As you work with your plans for technology staff development, consider the other 9 descriptors of constructivist teachers set forth by Brooks & Brooks. Including these descriptors in your planning assures an emphasis away from traditional drill and practice activities and more toward an environment where students can use their creative, intellectual abilities to solve real-world problems. The remaining 9 descriptors are as follows:

Descriptor 4

Constructivist teachers allow student responses to drive lessons, shift instructional strategies, and alter content.

Descriptor 5

Constructivist teachers inquire about students' understandings of concepts before sharing their own understandings of those concepts.

Descriptor 6

Constructivist teachers encourage students to engage in dialogue, both with the teacher and with one another.

Descriptor 7

Constructivist teachers encourage student inquiry by asking thoughtful, open-ended questions and encouraging students to ask questions of each other.

Descriptor 8

Constructivist teachers seek collaboration of students' initial responses.

Descriptor 9

Constructivist teachers engage students in experiences that might engender contradictions to their initial hypotheses and then encourage discussion.

Descriptor 10

Constructivist teachers allow wait time after posing questions.

Descriptor 11

Constructivist teachers provide time for students to construct relationships and create metaphors.

Descriptor 12

Constructivist teachers nurture students' natural curiosity through frequent use of the learning cycle model, published by Atkin and Karplus (1962). This model involves three steps: (1) teacher provides open-ended opportunity for students to question and interact with the material, (2) teacher introduces concepts aimed at focusing students' questions, and (3) teacher provides for concept application which encourages students to work on new problems based on the concepts previously studied. The traditional teaching model avoids the discovery phase until last, with usually only the brighter students participating. Moving the discovery step up front allows for students of all abilities to experiment early on with ideas, hypotheses, and discovery.

An Example of Staff Development for Teachers in Technology: Linking Technology and the 12 Descriptors of Constructivist Teaching

So how do we use technology to encourage students to use such higher order thinking skills? More importantly, how do we help teachers understand and value the connection? Allow me to present a staff development program used in a south-eastern Idaho school district, as they focused on using technology to encourage the components of constructivist teaching and learning. The following example is an actual staff development module used with K-8 teachers during the 2000-2001 school year.

The purpose of this professional development module was two-fold: (1) to focus on the relationship between technology and constructivist learning principles and (2) to actually use technology as the medium for delivery of the professional development to the district's teachers. The method of delivery was an asynchronous online course developed collaboratively by the building principal and a university professor in education leadership, who together monitored and guided the course delivery. The course was entitled, Uniting Technology and Constructivist Teaching and Learning Environments, offered to school faculty as a 3-credit master's level course. Involving the principal actively and regularly was viewed as a requirement to gain the knowledge and understanding along with the school faculty.

The Internet platform used was Blackboard, a sophisticated software platform that encompasses course management including: (a) posting of assignments and readings, (b) discussion forums, (c) links to the WWW for additional research and reading, and (d) an assessment component, all accessible anytime of the day or night via an Internet connection. Obviously, teachers chose to enter the course both during times at school and others at home. This provided the flexibility usually absent in professional development programs.

First few weeks:

To develop a knowledge base of constructivist theory and principles, teachers read numerous articles posted in the course assignments area. Additional readings were assigned detailing the Atkins and Karplus learning framework (Descriptor 12). The over-riding course objective of the program in the first few weeks, was to actually model the first step of the learning framework: providing an open-ended opportunity for students (teachers) to interact with purposely selected materials and to generate questions and hypotheses from working with the readings. An important activity during this time was the opportunity for teachers to post their questions on discussion boards so others could make comment and assist in the formulation and refinement of questions and hypotheses.

Teachers were paired in small groups (2-3) and asked to have further interaction (via email and private discussion area) regarding the nature of constructivist teaching and learning. The specific direction given by the course instructors (principal and professor) was to identify the differences between traditional and constructivist instruction, and have serious dialogue about whether or not each had strengths and weaknesses in the area of technology?

Discoveries made during this initial step one of the course included a realization that constructivist teaching does not involve a complete change in how teachers deliver instruction, and much of what they considered 'traditional" could be incorporated into a more "constructivist" delivery. For example, the traditional lecture format is a crucial component of the first step in the framework: presenting material and information that provides an opportunity for students (teachers) to question and explore their thoughts. The group discovered the importance of presenting a prior lesson in a traditional lecture format before sending students to computer workstations.

Middle few weeks:

During this time the course content and direction focused on step 2 of the learning cycle: introduce concepts more complex and sophisticated that perhaps were involved in the discussion and interaction of the first few weeks. The goal was to move to the next higher level, and demonstrate how technology can assist in this transition. The following concept was introduced (again, online) to the teachers, having a direct implication to school leadership:

Technology use in the classroom can influence and be influenced by leadership. Leadership itself may be transformed as a result of interaction with technology and staff. Presumably, leaders will fosters the effective use of technology in our schools. How can the educational leader (i.e., principal) determine how technology is used, what it can do, and ultimately, its contribution to student performance? (Bruce J. Arolio, Leadership Quarterly, 2000)

This introduction of concept was guided by several objectives, encouraging teachers to:

  1. interact with the principal regarding the role of leadership in technology;
  2. consider the concept of leadership and technology influencing each other; and
  3. draw attention to the support (financial and philosophical) necessary from leadership if technology is to have an impact on teaching and learning.

One teacher's interaction with the principal on the discussion board stated:

"I think technology implementation can suffer from too much leadership as it can from too little. Sometimes a principal displays total control over technology because it is his or her agenda. Often, principals don't solicit input from staff. At one end you may have the principal who does not accept the role of leadership with technology implementation and appoints a person or committee (often non-instructional) to control the use of technology. At the other end, you may have a principal with her own agenda, diverting technology from serving the needs of the entire staff and student body."

Last several weeks:

Recall step 3 of the Atkins and Kurplus learning cycle: concept application. Before I address concept application, let me remind my readers that the first two steps of the learning cycle (discovery-concept introduction) most often involves several repeating sequences of each before moving on to concept application.

During concept application, students (teachers) work on new problems with the potential for evoking a fresh look at the concepts previously studied (Brooks & Brooks, 1993). The culminating activity for the course involved teams of three (2 teachers, 1 principal) designing an instructional unit in any content area implementing the use of technology. Included in the design were references to each of the 12 principles of constructivist teaching and activities covering each. Notice that the principal's role was crucial and perhaps a bit overwhelming: the principal participated as a member of each of the small groups.

Constructivists believe students (teachers) should work on problems and situations simulating and representing authentic tasks. For this reason, teachers in the course were asked to implement the instructional unit in the classroom during that current semester. The assessment would involve a post-discussion with the principal and teachers at the end of the implementation phase.