Chapter 7: The Learning Cycle: Teacher Scaffolded Social Constructivism
In this chapter, Maxim's primary focus is the social constructivist theory and how teachers can scaffold social constructivism in their classrooms. Maxim begins by presenting a social studies lesson Ms. Mahoney created for her sixth-grade class. Because teachers must present or deliver clever interest grabbers at the beginning of each lesson, Ms. Mahoney used a bronze metal star attached to an American flag, those used to decorate the graves of soldiers who have lost their lives in combat. She also presented to her students a crayon rubbing of a grave marker, which resulted in many student wonderings and the want to further explore to seek answers. After her students embarked on their graveyard adventures, they not only learned a great deal about those who lost their lives during the Civil War and refugees from the south, they also planted daffodil bulbs that the animals in the area would not destroy. Not only did this experience have positive effects on the children, the cemetery was also positively impacted as well.
The definition of constructivism and social constructivism and the theorists who assisted in the development of these instructional approaches are discussed in great detail. Constructivism "refers not to 'what' students know, but to 'how they acquire and organize information in their minds, the process by which they think and reason" (312). The mental structures children develop, or concepts, referred to as "schemata" by Piaget, help children and adults make sense of their world. Assimilation, accommodation and equilibrium are the three essential components of adaptation. These components are unique processes that result when children and adults alike are exposed to new concepts or information. Children can either assimilate, or connect new information to things they already know, or they can accommodate, or construct a new schema based on their new understandings. When children make sense of key concepts or information that is presented to them and a meaningful connection is made, they have achieved equilibrium. However, if children experience a life experience that they cannot relate to an existing schema, they may simply reject this new information.
Supporters of social constructivism advise that "children thrive in situations where they are assisted by their teachers or peers; learning is an interactive, cooperative, and collaborative process" (315). Thus, Ms. Mahoney's fourth-graders were assisted by their teacher, who created a situation her students could thrive on. Through social interaction with their peers, their teacher, and caretaker Fred Hubbert, these students were engaged in a meaningful social learning experience. Topics such as the zones of development and scaffolding fall under social constructivism. Teachers must identify the zone of proximal development and provide their students with the proper support and guidance to assist them through a task. This support is known as scaffolding. Overtime, this support becomes less and less until the student is able to master the task on his or her own.
The learning cycle is also discussed in this chapter and explain the teacher's role in a social constructivist classroom. The exploration phase, the concept/skill development phase, and the concept/skill application phase comprise this learning cycle. Strategies and materials teachers can use and put into practice are presented and explained in great detail.
"The act of learning about one's world cannot take place simply by handing children some learning materials and asking them to draw out the important understandings all by themselves" (337). This quote grabbed my attention because any teacher can bring into their classroom interesting artifacts for children to explore. However, a good teacher in a social constructivist classroom not only provides these materials, but encourages his or her students to think deeper and use language to organize their thoughts. Thus, exploring objects is a social experience in which a community of learners work together to construct knowledge, meaning and learning.
"With just the right amount of scaffolding, students will eventually learn to set their own purposes for learning. For example, they examine the photos in their textbook and wonder, "Why do banana farmers cut the stalks while the fruit is still green?" This is an excellent of example of the learners teachers are capable of producing if they exercise the right instructional strategies.
In school, I directly benefited from the use of graphic organizers or concept maps. Instead of copying notes in outline form, graphic organizers are an excellent way for students to organize their thoughts and for teachers to present the concepts of a particular lesson. In SCIED458, we will be constructing a concept map to help us better understand our topic of study.
Though it is clear that teachers must be possess a deep understanding of the subject matter they teach, are teacher's manuals and guides, where the answers are printed in black and white, keeping many educators from further exploring the subjects that are taught in their classrooms?
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