Constructivism as Substitute for Memorization in Learning: Meaning Is Created by Learner

Article excerpt

Introduction

Reacting to a decade of criticism and topdown school reform efforts, educators have begun to develop their own tactics to improve education based on the inherent content of schooling: authentic learning, critical thinking, knowledge creation and ownership by the student, new roles for teachers, and the school as a caring community (Elmore, 1991a; Lipman, 1991; Murphy, 1991; Lieberman, Darling-Hammond, & Zukerman, 1991; Baumann, 1991; Newmann, 1991: and Pechman 1992). These developments have diverse origins, share a common emphasis on students' intellectual development, and tend to be considered under the increasingly popular term constructivism. Constructivism is greatly influenced by Piagetian epistemology (Duckworth, 1987; Confrey, 1990; von Glaserfeld, 1984; Kamii, 1985). Duckworth (1987) defined constructivism succinctly: "Meaning is not given to us in our encounters, but it is given by us, constructed by us, each in our own way, according to how our understanding is currently organized" (p. 112). Psychologist and educators are embracing a new view of learning that rejects reductionist theories of the past. According to Resnick (1987b), "We are in the midst of a major convergence of psychological theories ... today, cognitive scientists generally share the assumption that knowledge is constructed by learners" (p. 19).

In education constructivism has become an appealing alternative to traditional process-product educational practices because it seems to address the criticisms of current educational practices, and it promises to deliver higher levels of literacy, multiple forms of literacy, self-reliance, cooperation, problem-solving skills, and satisfaction with school. Constructivism implies a new kind of pedagogy where the emphasis will be more on what students do than what teachers do, and where there will be performance assessment of student learning rather than standardized achievement testing (Elmore, 1991b; Resnick & Klopfer, 1989; Weinberg, 1989).

In cognitive theories constructivism has many forms. It is a specific theory of cognitive development (Piaget, 1970), an information processing theory of knowledge (Neisser, 1967), a way of thinking about human cognitive functioning in real-world contexts (Barlett, 1932), a perspective on biofunctional cognition (Iran-Nejad, Marsh, & Clements, 1992), and an elaboration on one or more of these views (Weinberg, 1989; Resnick, 1987a; Sternberg, 1982).

When other views are incorporated with the theories of Piaget (1970), such as the popular writings of Weinberg (1989), Resnick 1987a), Sternberg (1982), and Gardner (1985), among others, there are contrasting theoretical and practical perspectives on how children learn, the nature of higher-order thinking skills, and how teachers should engage pupils. Therefore, constructivist theory in education is much less clearly developed than it is as any specific psychological theory.

This article addresses issues that relate to the potential effectiveness of constructivism as an educational movement by reemphasizing its original assumptions in Piagetian theory. In particular, we focus on the relationship of Piaget's constructivism and more recent developments in biofunctional cognition and how these relate to constructivism as an educational movement.

Bringing Constructivism into The Classroom

In theory, constructivism in education means that teachers will embrace a holistic way of thinking about the nature of learning, something quite apart from the methodology of direct instruction. Rather than viewing learning as decontextualized, in constructivism it is assumed that learning occurs in while experiences and that part experiences must be learned only within the context of whole experiences. Constructivism holds that knowledge does not have a separate existence from the physical nervous system; it cannot exist in some complete form outside the learner and be internalized, stored, and reproduced at some later time. …