Teacher Research in the Socioconstructivist Art Classroom

By Pitri, Eliza | Art Education, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Teacher Research in the Socioconstructivist Art Classroom


Pitri, Eliza, Art Education


The project approach for situated learning is a popular contemporary approach in education, and art education specifically. From a socioconstructivist perspective, such projects evolve in a community atmosphere as interactive activities, which offer multiple perspectives of phenomena over longer periods of time than regular learning environments in order to allow children to develop knowledge and understanding (Pitri, 2002).

Teachers, who try to situate learning, place thought and action in a specific place and time, involve other learners, the environment, and activities to create meaning, and locate the thinking and doing processes used by experts to accomplish knowledge and skill tasks in a particular setting (Pitri, 2004). A socioconstructivist perspective of education generally aims at empowering children through a process of negotiating their own learning with their peers and the environment.

Learning environments that empower children are often considered childcentered or child-oriented. Child-oriented learning engages students deeply in the learning process because the children take more responsibility for their own learning. The call for child-centered learning is becoming ever-present with educators, such as Smith (1993), 'who suggest that this teaching approach is a key ingredient in improving educational practice.The teacher's role, however, should not be diminished in the name of child-centered education. Curriculum does not have to be labeled as either child-centered or teacher-directed, but can be thought of as child-originated and teacher-framed.

A number of art education programs of different preschools in Lefkosia, Cyprus, influenced by the Reggio Emilia educational approach1 allow children to control as well as to construct their own learning by focusing on the children's needs and interests rather than on any pre-designecl curriculum. In this case, the role of the art teacher is not that of an instructor but rather that of a facilitator of the learning process.Teachers who frame the curriculum around purposeful playful activities that allow children to work at their own pace and allow children to make choices rather than be coerced into their work, are indirectly committed to becoming researchers in their own classrooms.

The art teacher-researcher is a participant observer of what goes on in the classroom, detects children's needs, interests, and possible weaknesses in his/her own teaching practices, and takes action.This article discusses action research in education in order to emphasize the important role of the art teacher as researcher in the classroom. Action research is supported by paradigms from sociocontructivist theories and is in favor of the argument that this type of research empowers both the art teacher and the children. Any teacher's attempt to situate learning through the method of emergent curriculum for project development and negotiated meaning and problem solving requires initially descriptive case studies and action research.

Theory Supporting Practice

According to Morse (1994), it is a misnomer to label research "theory or concept driven studies," because if theory actually guided data collection and analysis, the researcher would violate inductive assumptions of qualitative research.Theory, however, is used to focus the inquiry process and justify the choice of specific questions, subjects, sites, strategies, and methods.The theoretical foundation of project work in and outside the context of the art classroom, derived through emergent curriculum, is based on social constructivist ontology, epistemology, and methodology. Broadly, ontology refers to conceptualizations-abstract and simplified views-of what is reality. Epistemological approaches deal with how knowledge and meaning is constructed. Methodological approaches discuss how constructed meanings are expressed and interpreted.

Constructivists assume relativist ontology.According to Leavitt (1995), they posit the fundamentally relational, social aspect of our existence and the inescapable fact that human beings are part of the world they study. …

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