The Effectiveness Of Learning Theories: Constructivism

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This paper aims to establish the effectiveness of learning theories in current practice and their application to the primary classroom. The paper will begin with a brief outline of constructivism, as well as an evaluation of its effectiveness, in comparison to other theories when applied in a classroom setting. The same structure will be held to explore Kolb’s learning cycle in section 2. Finally, the paper will end with a conclusion bringing together the key points, and self-evaluating the implications for professional practice. Constructivism as a whole is described as including aspects of both Piaget’s ideas as well as Vygotsky’s as explored by Fox (2001). The latter being known as social constructivism and the other as cognitive constructivism. Incorporating these theories into daily routines does have pedagogical implications that have both a positive and negative impact on the learning outcomes of children.

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Powell and Kalina (2009) state that Piaget’s theory of cognitive constructivism (Appendix 1) differs from Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism (Appendix 2), as the latter develops ideas through their interactions with others, whilst the other theorizes that ideas are formed independently with no outside interaction. There is a range of constructivist strategies that are applied in everyday practice. However, this does entail an aspect of uncertainty so literature does suggest that teachers do stray away from this approach (Covington, 1992). Therefore, showing that the perspective of the teacher may be hindered as they do not want to take the risk of applying a different approach that may not work out. It is key to focus on the fact that there is a critical viewpoint portrayed by Fox (2001) is that an active balance should be held between the amount of teacher input to not affect the child’s needs negatively or not take advantage of the teachers’ guidance. In support of this, Watson (2003) suggests an approach to provide the children with a sense of power over the learning so they are more intrigued and engaged which positively affects their learning outcomes. Thus, showing a positive effect of a constructivist approach in the classroom, linking in with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The Oxford Royal Academy (2017) states that children require that opportunity to explore and fulfill their curious needs, this can be done through teachers providing children with that opportunity that is valuable in meeting their needs. This shows the similarities between the two theories and how they intertwine even though one is a constructivist approach and the other is humanistic. However, a drawback of this that is apparent in practice is that some of the children may not have the confidence to suggest ideas. Therefore, they may not be as engaged as the ones that did provide suggestions for the topic of focus, and a suggestion for this may be that they require an incentive. Wu (2012) supports this by explaining that students provided with incentives result in them feeling good about themselves which links in with the hierarchy helps their self-esteem levels. Testing the effectiveness of this approach in professional practice does show that it only partly determines how children’s learning is developed. Wu (2012) does give a balanced argument in explaining the drawback that if the incentive is taken away, the need for contributing ideas may disappear and as a result motivation is lost, but the results of the investigation don’t show a decrease in test scores which shows that it does not affect children's learning. This, therefore, shows that there is a lack of scientific research for this approach to prove its effectiveness so should not be seen as valuable. Linking in with this, Kirschner and Merriёnboer (2013) explain that one of the urban legends is learners being more independent and taking control of their own learning but due to the lack of scientific evidence they explain that education professionals should decline this approach due to the lack of supportive evidence.

Vygotsky introduced an approach similar to that of Piaget but involved learning from others instead of independently. A strategy rooted in social constructivism put into practice in the classroom is role theory. Walker and Shore (2015:4) state that this was theorized by several researchers such as ‘Moreno (1946,1961), Mead (1934), and Linton (1936) and is as informative today as it was three-quarters of a century ago. The interactions that the children have with each other and with the teacher can be put into practice through various ways but one way used frequently in classrooms is peer marking. Schreiber and Valle (2013) also say that through this, the students are carrying out evaluations of their peers and partaking in aspects of Bloom’s taxonomy (Appendix 3) such as evaluating and analysing. Hanalyzing's prospect of using social constructivist strategies in the classroom is extremely positive as the above shows that children engaging in higher thinking skills have a positive impact on the children’s learning as they learn from each other. Lourenço (2012) describes Vygotsky’s approach as helping the child’s development only if the interaction is between two people that are not equal such as the teacher and the child instead of a child-to-child interaction. Consequently, this results in the perspective of Schreiber and Valle being opposed as the two thought processes contradict each other. In relatAboutaluation, children’s learning can also be negatively impacted, due to because child received a large amount of negative feedback can affect their motivation and willingness to try again and speak out in the future if they do not understand as explained by Hills (2007). So,  through this literature, it is clear that the approach of peer interaction to improve future learning and development is in question as well as the value and effectiveness in practice. Naylor and Keogh (1999) outline a strategy dissimilar to the above in the aspect of the approach taken as the idea outlined is a strategy that is teacher-led known as concept cartoons (Appendix 4). However, it does have a positive effect on children’s learning and increases their curiosity so they are engaged (Naylor and Keogh, 1999). On the other hand, the results from the investigation did identify some cases where ‘there was insufficient evidence to make a judgment on the effectiveness of the strategy (Naylor and Keogh, 1999:6). This does therefore raise questions on whether the outcome of the usage of the strategy was completely successful or if there were some instances where it did not work. This strategy could also link in with the visual aspect of learning styles as the child is forming thoughts and ideas based on a picture. Therefore, a reason why the activity may not work or be as effective as they may each have different learning styles. Hamdani (2015, cited in Mulyadi, Rukmini, and Yuliasri, 2017) supports this by raising the key point that a teacher should be aware of their preferred learning style to enable progression so their development as an individual is not hindered in any way.

In current practice, generalist teachers also apply Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory (Appendix 5) in the classroom. Beliavsky (2006:12) outlines this intelligence as: ‘linguistic, mathematical/logical, musical, visual/spatial, bodily, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic.’ The application of this theory has been shown to challenge the way that education professionals believe should be the approach to teaching as explained by Helding (2009). Additionally, Helding (2009) also proposes a critical view on the theory by explaining that the jargon used to propose the theory shouldn’t be used in terms of the child’s intelligence but their capability and talent. Linking in with this, Klein (1997) explains that the theory has implemented a change in the approach to teaching and introduced new ways to meet each child’s individual needs. Beliavsky (2006) also supports this by outlining the key point that every child is different and as a teacher, it is imperative that the planning that is put into practice should take account of these needs However, this could be critiqued as Klein (1997) states that the use of this theory makes it very difficult for planning each lesson due to the magnitude of the curriculum. Therefore, this shows that implementing Gardner’s theory into practice may not be as effective even though it may prove to be valuable to children’s needs. However, the process of meeting each child’s individual needs is incredibly important but pedagogically it can prove to be a waste of time as Klein (1997:2) states that it ‘presents a static view of student competence’.

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