A Review and Analysis of Constructivism for School-Based Practice

Article excerpt

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.

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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[3]; Educational Research, 23[4]; Journal of Special Education, 28[3]; Learning Disabilities: Research and Practice, 11[3]; 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. …

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