Psychology for the Classroom: Constructivism and Social Learning

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Synopsis About this title Psychology for the Classroom: Constructivism and Social Learning provides a lively introduction to the much debated topics of talk and group collaboration in classrooms, and the development of interactive approaches to teaching. Figure 0. This book is dedicated, with heartfelt thanks, to our offspring, Maria, Frances, Mattie and Becky. Watching them grow, socialise and learn opened our eyes and helped us begin to understand how it all seems to work.

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Psychology for the classroom; constructivism and social learning

The aim of this book is to introduce the background and theory of social constructivism and social learning theory, to show how the theory might be translated into a set of pedagogical approaches to the teaching curriculum and to show how the pedagogy might be developed into practical strategies and activities for teachers to consider and deploy in their teaching. In order to meet the first of these aims, it is important, possibly for social constructivist reasons which will become clearer as the book develops , to situate social constructivism in the wider context of constructivist learning theory and also in the even wider context of constructivist thought and philosophy, which extends beyond learning into other areas of social, ethical and psychological thought.

However, he traces the underlying ideas, though largely embryonic in nature, back a good deal further. There is a history of two thousand years attached to constructivist thought in the Eastern tradition and a history of at least three hundred years in Western thought. All that we are arises within our thoughts. This is indeed the view that individuals construct the world in which they live. That is, we come to understand our surroundings through processes of thinking based upon what is observed or otherwise experienced.

More of this will come later. Heraclitus c. Most famously, Heraclitus is known for saying that we cannot step into the same river twice. This is, as we will see, a constructivist view on reality and the individual.


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The founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, a contemporary of Gautama Buddha, more or less, also made statements to the effect that reality is a changing and variable entity which can be perceived differently by different individuals. It is worth pausing here briefly, as the history of constructivism is considered, since Kant is thought to have influenced Jean Piaget, a more well-known twentieth-century psychologist.

Piaget is best known for the development of his theory of genetic epistemology, which we will consider later. This implies that mental effort is directed towards making sense of what is experienced on the journey of life and constructing an understanding of the many varied experiences encountered on the way. Kelly suggests that we live in two fundamental worlds. The first world exists outside of any human understanding; the second is the world based upon the ways in which we interpret the primary world, which is an individual enterprise, in the form of representations or constructs.

Constructivist Learning Theory

He claims surprise at the fact that his work is even considered as a part of the wider cognitive canon. Constructivism, considered in its widest sense, is concerned with more than a theory of learning. First, and perhaps most importantly within the context of this book, is the notion of constructivist epistemology. Epistemology is a consideration and detailed study of knowledge. Epistemologists seek to investigate and understand the origin, nature, methods and limits of human knowledge.

Constructivist epistemology is a philosophical approach to investigating the scope, structure and very nature of knowledge which follows a constructivist approach. Constructivist epistemology is a philosophical perspective taken by some philosophers towards the nature of scientific knowledge. Constructivist epistemologists consider that scientific knowledge is constructed by scientists and not discovered from the world. This rather complex idea will become clearer as this book unfolds and the nature of constructivist learning is explored.

Constructivism is also a major area for concern in international relations, in mathematics especially in the field of constructing mathematical proof and in art and architecture a strong constructivist movement developed in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Learning Theories and Models summaries - Educational Psychology

In its place, they worked towards art being an enterprise directed towards social purposes and social change. Constructivism in art and 3 Introduction architecture lasted only into the s, but it seems to have had a noticeable effect on developments in art in the developing new order in Germany and elsewhere at that time. There is a branch of psychology which is not concerned with learning, which is also a part of the wider constructivist movement.

Constructivism in this context is concerned with an approach to psychological research and therapy. There is also a constructivist branch of linguistics in which the acquisition of language is studied from a constructivist perspective. However, for our purposes, constructivism as a theory of learning and social constructivism as a development and subset of constructivist learning theory which considers and develops a theory about the social nature of learning are the crucial areas for investigation.

The beginnings of constructivist learning theory We have seen that the notion of constructivist theory might actually date back to Greek times with Heraclitus seen as the earliest Western contributor. It is possible to look to Buddha and Lao Tzu for even earlier, partial references to the ideas encompassed by the philosophy. However, for our purposes, and in more focused consideration of learning in particular, we can place the real development of constructivist learning theory in the twentieth century. Early twentieth-century attempts at regularising an approach to understanding how learning takes place were centred on what have become known as behaviourist or, sometimes, stimulus—response theories.

The notable scientists who developed this school of learning theory are: Pavlov — for the development of classical conditioning at the beginning of the twentieth century; Watson — for setting out the initial principles of behaviourism; and Skinner — for his pioneering work on the importance of reinforcement. Behaviourism has been largely set aside as theory of learning with importance for schools and other formal contexts. However, in many training situations for specific functions where an automatic response might be needed, a behaviourist regime can be an effective approach.

There are also a small number of occasions in a school setting when an automatic response, which can often take place with little or no understanding, is acceptable. An example of this might be in the realm of safety in a PE lesson. When a teacher asks, in a regularised way, for everyone to stop what they are doing, it might be very important that this happens immediately and without question. A signal such as a blast on a 4 Introduction whistle might be introduced to the class trained to respond appropriately. In a more academic way, the response to a simple multiplication might be needed on a regular basis in order for a child to make progress with some other aspect of their learning in maths.

Some teachers encourage the ability to make rapid responses to quick-fire multiplication questions with this in mind. Teachers recognise that the answers may well be returned in an automatic way and that the child can make the correct response.

The teacher will also recognise that a full and detailed understanding of the notion of multiplication and the multiplication fact in question may not be present. Teachers strive for pupils attaining understanding, but as an introductory stage this behaviouristic response will satisfy the teacher and, in a perfect world, will precede more work which will encourage understanding.