Are your theories silly……….My reflection on Constructivism in action

24/07/2015

Whilst deliberating over which theory to reflect upon, I was overwhelmed with how many theories are overarching. However, I finally decided to explore the Constructivism Theory based upon the works of Piaget and Vygotsky, as it is highly incorporated into early childhood education in which I am specialising. I believed that I incorporated most elements of Constructivism into my lessons whilst on practical experience last semester.

DESCRIPTION OF AN EXPERIENCE

An experience of constructivism that I am going to reflect upon is an opportunity I had to embrace a child’s interest into a learning experience during the lesson. The class had been actively learning about plants and seeds and eagerly watching their sunflowers growing outside in the garden. We had planted a variety of seeds to observe their growth and reflect upon what all living things need to grow.

One day as we were learning about ANZAC day and talking about poppies and what they symbolised, one of the little girls (M), on her own initiative, decided that she would like to paint a picture of a poppy because she thought they were beautiful and special. M expressed her interest to me, so I brought up several images of poppies on the interactive whiteboard and let her choose which poppy she would like to paint. We then went off to collect the materials that she though she may need. She carefully painted a beautiful poppy.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Even though I had already planned an art activity to create poppies from paper and other craft items, I sensed that M was not interested in doing craft today. I can say that I did try to persuade M to do the activity that I had planned, but she would not budge. My anxiety sharply increased, as I now I had to get one child set up for painting and the others for craft. This was in addition to supporting and supervising all the children, as my mentor and the assistant did their own thing while I taught. I felt stressed by the end of the activity as I felt overloaded with supervising, scaffolding, mediating etc. and could not give quality time to any one child.

Reflecting later upon M’s disinterest in the craft activity that I had planned, I realised that it may have been because she has trouble with her fine motor skills. I have observed M struggle to manipulate finer materials and scissors, and she often loses interest in these activities quickly. I really did not enjoy this session; however, I did learn a valuable lesson that day. I guess this is what David Jones referred to as ‘theory washing’, see link http://usqstudydesk.usq.edu.au/m2/mod/book/view.php?id=419268&chapterid=23409. I had already learnt all the theory about constructivism, multiple intelligences, catering to all learners needs, being flexible and child directed etc., however, I did not plan for this. I believe that from that session onwards, I was well aware of the importance of being well prepared and the need to have multiple ways available for children to engage and display their skills, knowledge and opinions in a way that is meaningful and achievable to them and their personal learning styles and abilities.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

At the time I was too busy to reflect upon M’s learning experience, however when I did have time, I recall that M was very pleased by her work and that she did access problem-solving skills, such as using a finer brush to draw the petals,  and prior knowledge to complete her painting. I could see the constructivism theory at work as I reflected upon M’s behaviour. For example, M was building knowledge as she made decisions about what and how to organise herself and the environment to paint her poppy. She used her creative talent and observational skills to paint her representation of a poppy on paper. M used language skills when she engaged in conversation with me, to describe what she was doing, and what she thought of her final product.

Constructivism theory suggests that learning is optimised through talk and co-operation. To facilitate this, educators need to create learning environments in which the learners feel encouraged and secure enough to be able to express and explore their thoughts, feelings and emotions. I believe that because M felt safe and secure, she had the confidence to communicate her desires to demonstrate her connections between what she already knows about ANZAC day and the new information in a way that she desired.  I believe that because I inspired an interest in M and supported her in her choice, M was extremely excited and motivated to learn more about poppies in the days to come.

However, on the other hand, constructivism theory directs the teacher to make decisions on the suitable level for a task or activity and that the teacher needs to ensure that this is as precise as possible to promote the development of learning. The Zone of Proximal Development, a theory developed by Vygotsky, theorises that ideal learning takes place when the learners are encouraged to develop skills that are just beyond their grasp. With this in mind, should I have tried harder to persuade M to have a go and provided additional scaffolding or place her next to a more capable peer?

TAKE PERSPECTIVE INTO ACCOUNT

I believe that this experience has solidified the importance to put into action the theories and professional practices that have been promoted during this bachelor. Furthermore, it has highlighted the significance of continual reflection upon my ideas, practices, assumptions, values and biases, as they will affect the practices that I will employ in the classroom and my interactions with others. Additionally, I made a conscious effort to spend one-on-one time with M to help her to develop and strengthen her fine motor skills.

AN OUTCOME

For future teaching experiences, I will ensure that I reflect upon the accommodations and the variety of ways that I offer to the children to participate and demonstrate their knowledge and skills. Additionally, I believe it is very beneficial to collaborate with fellow educators and professionals to gain others perspectives and experiences, as we are all continuing to learn and grow.

REFERENCES

Dymoke, S. & Harrison, J. (2008) Reflective Teaching & Learning, London: Sage.

Elliot, P. (2007). ‘Communication in the Classroom’ in Brooks, V. & Abbot, I. & Bills, L. (Eds.) Preparing to Teach in Secondary schools, Berkshire: McGraw Hill

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