Constructionism

Educators, researchers and policymakers have been discussing constructivism and a constructivist approach to learning [and therefore teaching]. During the past few years, this orientation has become de rigueur in educational circles. The use of a constructionist perspective therefore to help children gain a deep understanding of themselves in relation to others in the world, should not therefore be foreign to most educators. Cognitive-Behavior-What-Does-It-SayYet the issue of whether the teacher him/herself should directly intervene in such affairs is one of concern. Two factors must be addressed in making such a decisions: a) is this an activity which requires permission from the child’s family, and b) is this a responsibility for which I should expend considerable time? These are not easy answers, and should be addressed by each school district as part of the framework for teaching. However, in order to make such a decision, teachers and administrators should have a clear understanding of what cognitive restructuring is all about, and as good constructivist, we should start from a concept that most will know and understand.

 

Constructivism stems from a long and respected tradition in cognitive psychology, especially in the writings of Dewey, Vygotski and Piaget. Constructivism holds that people’s understanding of any concept depends entirely on their mental construction of that concept – that is, their experiences in deriving that concept for themselves. Teacher and clinicians and others can guide the process, but children must undertake and manage the process of developing an understanding for themselves. Different individuals, depending on their experiences, knowledge and their cognitive structures at the time will understand a given presentation differently. Research indicates that people remember an experience based on what their pre-existing knowledge and cognitive structures allow them to absorb – regardless of the other’s intentions or the quality of explanation.

Cognitive reconstruction fits nicely into this way of thinking. Children must experience situations that cannot be explained by their present conception. A clinical instructor’s responsibility becomes one of arranging for the child’s
misconceptions to be confronted by conflicting evidence and through dispute. The clinical instructor must engage the child in understanding in his/her own way and primarily in their own time the primary mental constructs, and to determine for themselves whether these flawed constructs can be improved. Because social experiences are often emotion laden, an in situ approach may have significant value. The teaching moments expand as the child engages in interpersonal relationships.

When children are constructing their own understanding of self and others, they cannot be lethargic or alienated from the process. They must invest energy and commitment. Further, because those children with the most maladaptive concept of self, others and future prospects often expend energy in defending themselves against what they perceive as an outside attack, the investment in time and energy of the teacher can be considerable. So, educators must balance opportunity of teaching moments in the classroom with time expenditures which might be spent on academic concepts and constructs as well. Such choices are not mutually exclusive as the teacher can provide conflicting evidence without dwelling on the aspects of dispute merely within the course of events. Such ‘seeding’ of the school culture requires only that the teacher be aware of certain problems solving and attribution language and use this instead of the random language of individuals in describing the surrounding world. The use of scripts with internal attributions, for example, is a simple enough change in protocol with perhaps profound effects.

The primary goal is to engage students in constructing important knowledge about themselves in relationship to the world around them and that it is the clinical instructor’s responsibility, using the resources at hand, to accomplish that goal. This underscores another important assumption underlying the in situ process, and that is that the instructional decisions are purposeful. Teachers and clinical instructors do not participate with children in activities and assignments merely because they are fun or to ‘control’ the child’s behavior. These activities are the process within which the
clinical instructor must select communication of information which serve the instructional goals as guided by the child’s interests and strengths. The consequence of culture ‘seeding’ is a new paradigm of learning and teaching which creates a community of social learners. This is not unlike the social education that occurs in the social play of children, except that the teacher or clinical instructor is very aware of appropriate constructs which must be learned. Such construct are simple on the surface: one must feel ‘good’ about oneself and one’s fellows [I'm OK, You're OK]; one must understand that effort is required for attainment. That’s it!

Yet in real life, these constructs are bundled in functional abstractions which leads to a hierarchy of cause and effect, which often get confused both by conflicting experiences and the ambiguity of life. Gregory Bateson: defined information as “the difference that makes a difference”. Am I OK, if I am angry, fearful or sad? Are you OK if you have caused me to be angry, fearful and sad? Why try, if I can’t succeed? To achieve serenity with these constructs takes a lifetime of reflection. And it simply does no good to try to persuade a child that s/he’s OK, when s/he is not invited to the party. That is really the “difference that makes a difference”!

And, or and nor blocks of Boolean logic are a universal construction set for converting inputs to outputs, which can be used to implement any set of rules and is general enough to build almost anything. Using Boolean logic, individuals combine and separate constructs in order to reach conclusions about the nature of things. Unfortunately, logic, like all other formal systems is prone to recursive or self reflective errors. Prefer active involvement on the part of the learners. The learner population is highly motivated toward the subject matter because it pertains directly to their life.

Motivation to learn comes from a need for a better, more interesting and/or more rewarding relationships with others.
The learners have a wide range of experiences and abstract representations about those experiences. All such representations can, and are, adapted on a daily basis. For superior learners, therefore,

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