Abstract. Constructivism, a multifaceted philosophical position on the nature of knowledge and educational practice, has recently emerged both in the literature on learning and in school reform efforts, despite no strong supporting research base. At present, four major perspectives on constructivism in classrooms may be identified. They are the perspectives of Piaget and Vygotsky as well as social and holistic constructivism. Because school psychologists may be asked to work in a constructivist framework, one purpose of this article is to describe the essential characteristics and difficult issues associated with implementing this approach for classroom practice. Included are goals, assumptions about learners, essential teacher skills, and research concerns. A second purpose is a discussion of the implications for school psychologists, highlighting currently recommended school psychology practices that may address important concerns within a constructivist approach. Recommendations for consultation and intervention, ne eds of students with learning difficulties, and assessment issues are addressed.
Educational movements, complete with recommendations for major shifts in teaching practices, periodically emerge in American education. These movements typically arise as a reaction to existing practice, are ill-defined and unsupported by research, and gain widespread currency as a result of their intuitive appeal. Often they consist of efforts to translate a complex conceptual framework into classroom activities. One example in American education is the project method, a distortion of John Dewey's progressive education. The current educational movement with these characteristics is known as constructivism. It emerged, in part, in reaction to the "overselling" of the computer as a metaphor for learning (Bredo, 1994), and the perceived transmission-of-knowledge focus of information-processing theory (Marshall, 1996). The movement currently is prominently featured in academic and practitioner journals and books (e.g., Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Educational Leadership, 57; Educational Research, 23; Journal of Special Education, 28; Learning Disabilities: Research and Practice, 11; Richardson, 1997), and it has played an influential role in policy formation (e.g., National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989). However, with only a few exceptions (e.g., Brown & Campione, 1994; Palincsar & Brown, 1984), empirical research on constructivist classrooms has yet to be conducted.
Some educational texts have described the basic tenets of constructivism (e.g., Driscoll, 1994). Articles and papers have discussed approaches (e.g., Duckworth, 1990; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Marshall, 1996; Prawat & Floden, 1994), reported anecdotal classroom observations (Cobb & Bowers, 1999; Cobb & Yackel, 1996), or discussed related issues (e.g., Good & Brophy, 2000). Moreover, teacher preparation programs, journal articles, and texts on teaching practice have recommended constructivism in the classroom (e.g., Cobb & Bowers, 1999; Driver, Asoko, Leach, Mortimer, & Scott, 1994; Lampert, 1990). The extent of constructivist training and teaching is difficult to gauge at present. However, teachers and schools are implementing various aspects of the perspective despite its limited research foundation.
Given the extensive discussions of constructivism in the educational literature and applications of various aspects of constructivism in the classroom, school psychologists face new tasks. First, it is necessary to become familiar with the major ideas and some possible implications of implementing the constructivist perspective to respond to questions from teachers and administrators in a manner consistent with best practices and professional guidelines in school psychology. Second, given the increased emphasis on an educational orientation for school psychologists (Carnine, 1994; Curtis & Batsche, 1991; Shinn & McConnell, 1994), awareness of the implications of facets of constructivism for meeting learner needs becomes significant. For example, the requirement for social negotiation of knowledge in some constructivist classrooms may, however unintentional, limit learning opportunities for students with learning difficulties (Cobb & Bowers, 1999; Popkewitz, 1998). Therefore, a purpose of this article is to de scribe these major constructivist views, and to discuss some implications for teachers and classroom instruction that are informative for school psychologists. A second purpose is to discuss ways that school psychologists, in their consultation, intervention, and assessment roles, can be of assistance to both school personnel and students.
Furthermore, the purpose is not to advocate constructivist approaches, because at this time they have limited empirical support. In contrast, school psychology practices focus on standards using a research base. Thus, school psychologists can use empirically supported practices from nonconstructivist research and the current foundation of best practices to respond in constructivist classroom environments. In other words, there are logical implications of constructivism for school psychology that are consistent with best practices and professional guidelines in school psychology.
One difficulty in assisting school personnel with interpretations is that constructivism is not a unified perspective. It consists of differing theoretical views and varied classroom recommendations in different subject areas and special education. However, constructivist perspectives share two basic beliefs. One is that learners actively construct their own knowledge rather than receive preformed information transmitted by others. The other is that, in order to achieve this goal, curriculum emphases, classroom interactions, and classroom dynamics must change in major ways (Schlechty, 1990).
At present, four major perspectives within the constructivist movement that recommend different classroom methods may be identified. A comparison of the major characteristics of these four perspectives is presented in Table 1. Two perspectives within the constructivist orientation were developed by major cognitive theorists, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. The other two perspectives are social constructivism and "holistic."
The Piagetian Classroom
The focus of Jean Piaget's (1967, 1970a, 1970b, 1972) theory is the various reconstructions that an individual's thinking undergoes in the development of logical reasoning. These reconstructions result from the learner's manipulation of objects and the recognition of conflict between his or her perceptions and the data. In this way, the learner gradually foregoes illogical ways of thinking, such as believing that there are more sparrows than birds in the woods. The importance of the individual's many reorganizations is that they gradually lead to the capability of constructing and testing hypotheses in multifactor situations (formal operational thinking).
Schooling, according to Piaget (1973), should include spontaneous student experimentation, both independent and collaborative (see Table 1). Group situations, in which one's views are challenged and must be defended, can contribute to the development of objectivity in thinking. Student-directed experimentation is particularly important in mathematics and science because it demonstrates that these subjects consist of testable principles instead of inert facts (Piaget, 1973).
To foster cognitive development, according to Piaget, the teacher must (a) create and organize classroom experiences that challenge students' thinking, (b) become attuned to the spontaneous mental activity of learners as they address these situations, and (c) provide examples and probing questions that lead students to rethink their hastily developed ideas. Piaget (1973) noted the difficulty of this process for the teacher, but argued that intellectual development depends on the constructive activity of learners with all its errors and all the extra time it seems to consume.
In Piagetian theory, the material world should be the starting point for learning (Duckworth, 1990; Piaget, 1973) because it is both accessible and contains complexities of which children have never dreamed (Duckworth, 1990, p. 25). For example, in one second-grade classroom, children explored crystals. They discovered that, with 12-sided shapes, patterns were found 1, 2, 3, 6, or 12 times. Their investigations of the basis for these numbers led to the factors of 12 (Duckworth, 1990, p. 22).
In contrast to student-directed exploration, one current Piagetian-based approach-emphasis teacher demonstration or student interaction with puzzling situations. Referred to as discrepant events (Appleton, 1997), such situations must (a) generate surprise and cognitive conflict and (b) raise a particular question. An example is floating a bottle on water in a cylinder and the teacher's use of a rubber sheet to make the bottle sink to the bottom and rise again (Appleton, 1997). Student efforts at explanation should lead to discovery of the phenomenon of suction. Another approach, known as radical constructivism (Prawat & Floden, 1994; von Glaserfield, 1991), also focuses on school tasks rather than logical reasoning (Gredler, 2001). However, radical constructivism supports student exploration of complex problems.
Vygotsky's Perspective (1)
The concepts discussed in this section are from comprehensive translations of Vygotsky's discussions of the role of schooling in cognitive development (e.g., Vygotsky, 1934/1987, 1931/1997, 1928-31/1998a, 1928-31/1998b). Like Piaget, the focus of Vygotsky's theory was to delineate the outcomes of cognitive development and the processes responsible for these capabilities. However, in contrast to Piaget, Vygotsky identified particular complex skills as the goal of cognitive development. Referred to as higher psychological or cognitive functions (Vygotsky, 1930/1966, 1931-1997), they are categorical perception, conceptual thinking (verbal and mathematical), logical memory, and voluntary (self-regulated) attention.
Development of these advanced cognitive capabilities, according to Vygotsky, depends on two interrelated streams of development. They are (a) learning the meaning of written language and other symbols in one's culture and (b) learning to subordinate these symbols to one's control to carry out cognitive tasks (Vygotsky, 1929/1979, 1931/1997). Vygotsky (1930/1966) maintained that mastering both symbol systems and their applications to thinking begins in adult-child interactions (Vygotsky, 1929/1979, 1930/1966, 1929).
Little known about Vygotsky's work is the role of school subjects in developing the higher order cognitive skills (Vygotsky, 1934/1987, 1928-31/1998a, 1928-31/1998b). At school age, children begin to develop an awareness and some control of their cognitive activities. Productive instruction calls this emerging awareness and control to life and leads to the development of higher psychological functions (Vygotsky, 1934/1987). This goal is accomplished through (a) the mastery of subject-matter concepts as part of a system of logical categories and opposites, and (b) learning to think with concepts (Vygotsky, …