Resources for Constructivism
The learning theory called constructivism exerts a growing influence oneducators. But what conditions can classroom teachers and school administratorscreate that enable students to construct their own knowledge? These recentlyreleased research resources may shed light on constructivist educationalpractice.
Dynamic Teachers Take On Many Roles to Facilitate Student Learning
Exactly what makes certain teachers effective and inspiring in the classroom canbe elusive. But now a book written by Sharon F. Rallis and Gretchen B. Rossman,with Janet M. Phlegar and Ann Abeille, successfully describes the characteristicsshared by such "dynamic teachers" through its portraits of teachers Maggie andDon and their student teacher, Sonia.
"Being a good teacher now requires taking on new roles" to ensure that studentslearn, maintain the researchers. Their book suggests that dynamic teachers adoptno less than seven roles:
- "The Moral Steward," recognizing the worth, capabilities, and rights of their students
- "The Constructor," who understands the subject matter and knows different ways to teach it in order to accommodate students' various ways of learning
- "The Philosopher," who reflects critically about what is and isn't working in the classroom and makes midcourse corrections as necessary
- "The Facilitator," creating conditions in which students feel safe to take risks and make mistakes and have time to try again
- "The Inquirer," who depends heavily on assessment to find out what students have learned and what they need to learn more about
- "The Bridger," a partner with parents, other teachers, and the community to ensure that their classrooms are responsive to the community's needs and wishes
- "The Changemaker," actively pursuing change in classrooms, schools, districts, professional associations, and policy arenas.
To Order: Dynamic Teachers: Leaders of Change is available from Corwin Press,Inc., 2455 Teller Rd., Thousand Oaks, CA 91320-2218 or from the RegionalLaboratory for Educational Improvement of the Northeast and Islands, 300Brickstone Sq., Suite 950, Andover, MA 01810. Cite order no. 9124, 157 pp., $20plus $2.50 postage and handling, prepaid.
Confidence in Ability to Make Meaning Motivates Kids to Read and Write
For students to become good readers and writers, they need to believe in theirability to "make meaning" out of information. In other words, they need to seethemselves as capable of synthesizing ideas, making judgments, and developingwell-formed opinions.
Having confidence that they can understand what they read - and that they canwrite about it - motivates students to engage in literacy activities, suggestresearchers Penny Oldfather and Karin Dahl in a paper from the National ReadingResearch Center.
Students who are confident of their ability to make meaning of information makesense of things by themselves, rather than waiting for a teacher, a book, or aset of data collected by someone else to do it for them, claim the researchers.
According to Oldfather and Dahl, certain teacher practices are particularlyhelpful in encouraging students to habitually make meaning of what they read. Forexample, teachers can share with their students the responsibility of creatingmeaning by not providing all the answers to questions. Instead, they might invitestudents to actively participate in class discussions, seriously considerstudents' ideas, and affirm a variety of student opinions and points of view. Orthey might allow students to work together, a practice that encourages studentsto acknowledge, learn from, and build on others' ideas.
The researchers envision "classroom cultures in which students find theirpassions, discover what they care about, create their own learning agendas, and,most importantly, connect who they are to what they do in school."
To Order: "Toward a Social Constructivist Reconceptualization of IntrinsicMotivation for Literacy Learning" is available from the National Reading ResearchCenter, Dissemination/Publications, 318 Aderhold Hall, University of Georgia,Athens, GA 30602-7125. Cite PRR No. 6, 19 pp., $4 prepaid; make checks payable toNRRC/UGARF.
Database Provides Wealth of Info on Alternative Assessments for Mathematics and Science
Why spend time digging up information on alternative assessments in mathematicsand science when the regional educational laboratories have already done so?
For assessment specialists, curriculum coordinators, and other educatorsinterested in designing alternative assessments, a computer database designed bythe regional educational laboratories houses information on 208 science andmathematics alternative assessments for all grade levels. Alternative assessmentsare those for which students respond to open-ended questions or complete broadlydefined tasks.
The information in the database comes from several sources, such as national andinternational journals, ERIC Clearinghouses, universities, professionalorganizations, and publishers of educational assessments. A catalog accompanyingeach database computer disk provides a hard-copy version of the information. Thedatabase is a recently updated third edition including information on someassessments not included in previous editions.
Each listing in the database describes a summary of the assessment, its purpose,the grade levels and student populations it is appropriate for, and contactinformation. It also contains information on the tasks that the assessment hasstudents perform and the criteria by which teachers ought to judge studentperformance. Although the database does not contain the assessments themselves,it tells users where they might find copies of them.
To run the database, the computer needs to have the FileMaker Pro softwareprogram and a moderate amount of memory.
To Order: Improving Science and Mathematics Education: A Database and Catalog ofAlternative Assessments, 3rd Edition (catalog and disk) is available from theNorthwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 101 S.W. Main St., Suite 500,Portland, OR 97204. Cite order no. NL-696-XX, 133 pp. and 3.5" MS-DOS orMacintosh disk, $18.30 prepaid; please specify MS-DOS or Mac disk with yourorder.
Resource Guide Lists Activities That Teach Students to Analyze Real Data
Most mathematics and science teachers do see the benefits of students analyzingreal data to solve problems. What stymies them is adapting their lessonsaccordingly. A resource guide published by the Eisenhower National Clearinghousedescribes books and computer programs packed with instructional ideas andmaterials for such activities.
The guide lists science and mathematics resources - appropriate for all gradelevels - that describe activities in which students must make estimates, searchfor relationships, measure, graph, and communicate results. They also requirethat students hypothesize, question, observe, and synthesize material. Theseskills "help [the students] understand the connections between science,mathematics, and the real world," says the guide.
For example, the resource guide includes The Graph Club of Fizz and Martina.Appropriate for kindergartners through fourth graders, this multimedia kit helpsstudents understand how different representations of data are related. Studentswork together on portfolios to solve problems in stories read aloud by teachers.Students then work on computers to create and analyze graphs that they'vegenerated in their portfolios.
Teachers can find additional resources by searching the clearinghouse'scomputerized catalog of curriculum resources according to cost of resources,appropriate grade level, subject matter, author, or other characteristics.
To Order: ENC Focus for Mathematics and Science Education: Real Data Resourcesfor Teachers is available from the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse, 1929 KennyRd., Columbus, OH 43210-1079. Free while supplies last, 26 pp.
Everyday Environment Contains Array of Meaningful Lessons for Students
The everyday environment is a resource-rich classroom for students. Even a tripto the local shopping center can be educational. Students can practice theirskills in estimating how fast people walk. They can learn about human behaviorand psychology by observing where people prefer to sit, how long they sit, andwhat they do while they're sitting. Or they can examine how a shopping centerfunctions, investigating to what extent store displays influence shoppers'purchases.
In a book published by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and SmallSchools, outdoor educator Clifford E. Knapp describes 12 experiential learningprojects on themes such as community planning, pollution, and fast-food factfinding. The projects offer creative approaches to reinforce skills studentslearn in the classroom in subjects that range from mathematics and science topsychology and social studies.
For each project, Knapp discusses the theme, the outcomes expected of students,the activities teachers can use, questions that help students reflect about whatthey've learned, and performance assessments to find out what students havelearned.
Knapp notes that experiential learning is compatible with excellent teachingstrategies. It lets teachers easily combine several disciplines into a lesson,and students use hands-on activities to develop their problem-solving skills.
Despite the appeal, not every project lends itself to experiential learning. "Theteacher and students must know why they are leaving the classroom...[and] shouldbe confident that a particular field trip or school site activity is the best wayto achieve the objectives," asserts Knapp.
To Order: Just Beyond the Classroom: Community Adventures for InterdisciplinaryLearning is available from the ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and SmallSchools, Appalachia Educational Laboratory, P.O. Box 1348, Charleston, WV 25325.107 pp., $12 prepaid.
Conversations Help Students Connect Concepts in Stories to What They Know
Instructional conversations are open dialogues between teachers and students.They enrich students' understanding of what they read by helping themreconceptualize the ideas in the stories and relate them to what they alreadyknow.
In a fourth-grade transitional bilingual classroom observed by researchers G.Genevieve Patthey-Chavez, Lindsay Clare, and Ronald Gallimore of the NationalCenter for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning, studentsexplored and revisited the notion of sacrifice. Students read several storiesabout sacrifice and discussed the concept as it affected their lives.
After several months, when students wrote essays about sacrifice, many studentsnot only mentioned concepts discussed in the stories they had read, but alsowrote about ideas they had discussed in class.
Moreover, some students wrote about relevant experiences outside school that theyhad not discussed as a class, such as religion and sacrifice. Students made"meaningful connections between ideas that emerge in school and their dailyexperiences in their other communities," say the researchers.
The researchers also maintain that jointly discussing and interpreting the textprovides the foundation of a learning community that reflects students' beliefsand concerns.
To Order: "Creating a Community of Scholarship with Instructional Conversationsin a Transitional Bilingual Classroom" is available from the DisseminationCoordinator, National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and SecondLanguage Learning, Center for Applied Linguistics, 1118 22nd St. W, Washington,DC 20037. Cite order no. EPR-15, 23 pp., $4 prepaid.
Teachers Share Ideas on Designing and Using Alternative Assessments
Having students create their own rubrics - well-defined criteria according towhich their portfolios, demonstrations, and other alternative assessments arescored - helps students better understand what is expected of them. It can alsoenhance learning.
Fifth-grade teacher Karen Barry discovered that, with a little guidance, herstudents could choose appropriate criteria and use them to evaluate their ownscience work. She describes the alternative assessment projects that she and hercolleagues worked on in a book published by the Mid-continent RegionalEducational Laboratory. Edited by De Tonack, Ceri Dean, and Sally Robison, thebook gives other teachers ideas about how best to design rubrics and usealternative assessments in the classroom.
In Barry's class, students eventually worked completely on their own to definecriteria for evaluating "planet brochures" that they had produced. "The [project]supported the idea that students who are involved in creating rubrics understandthem better and feel a sense of ownership and pride in their work," found Barry.
To Order: Assessment in Action: Collaborative Action Research Focused onMathematics and Science Assessments is available from Mid-continent RegionalEducational Laboratory, Resource Center, 2550 S. Parker Rd., Suite 500, Aurora,CO 80014. Cite order no. ML-696-XX, 75 pp., $12.50 prepaid.
Student Interaction Increases When Teachers Make Instruction Developmentally Appropriate
Students don't watch the clock in David Burchfield's first-grade classroom.Instead, they spend their time actively involved in learning - deciding what todo and evaluating their learning decisions - as Burchfield uses research ondevelopmentally appropriate education to create an interactive classroom.
Research shows that, although a child's cognitive and social development passesthrough predictable stages, exactly when the child reaches each stage varies.Developmentally appropriate education compensates for this variability instudents' development by allowing each student to learn at his or her own pace.
A videotape coproduced by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory andthe National Association for the Education of Young Children tracks Burchfieldthroughout the day as he strikes a balance between teacher-directed learning thatis geared toward the general ability level of first graders and student-directedlearning that gives students the freedom to initiate, plan, and direct their ownwork so that they are uniquely challenged.
In a typical mathematics time, students engage in an activity structured byBurchfield but are responsible to complete the task themselves. Afterwards,students share their findings with the whole class and investigate any discrepantresults.
During read-aloud time, Burchfield reads to the class, asking them to predict andanalyze each story. Students' reading abilities vary from preliterate to afourth-grade level, yet it is not uncommon for them to team up to work onlearning plans for their own reading and writing topics.
To Order: Developmentally Appropriate First Grade: A Community of Learners isavailable from the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1900 SpringRd., Suite 300, Oak Brook, IL 60521. Cite order no. ECE-DB, 30 minutes, $39prepaid.
Staff Development Prompts Teacher to Adopt New Performance Assessments
A supportive staff development program, coupled with actual practice in their newskills, turned skeptical third-grade mathematics teachers into believing users ofperformance assessments to determine how thoroughly students understood classroomtopics.
As described in a report by the National Center for Research on Evaluation,Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST), before the staff development program,teachers generally assessed students' mathematics skills with timed computationtests. In workshops, teachers learned to complement these assessments.
For example, teachers learned to assess and score students' problem-solving,estimation, and other higher-order skills. By the end of the year, they wererequiring students to explain orally and in writing how they had solved problems.Workshops also encouraged teachers to conduct informal observational assessmentsto learn about each student's abilities and problem areas.
Teachers also had previously believed that assessments on simple addition,subtraction, and multiplication problems were sufficient to determine whetherstudents understood these operations or not. However, by the end of the year,"most teachers claimed that performance assessments gave them new and deeperinsights into children's thinking and understanding," report researchers RobertaJ. Flexner, Kate Cumbo, Hilda Borko, Vicky Mayfield, and Scott F. Marion.
To Order: How "Messing About" with Performance Assessment in Mathematics AffectsWhat Happens in Classrooms is available from the National Center for Research onEvaluation, Standards, and Student Testing, Graduate School of Education andInformation Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90024-6511. Citeorder no. TR-396, 49 pp., $2.50 plus shipping, prepaid; CA residents add 8.25%tax.
Excellent Teachers Blend Different Approaches When Teaching Reading
A long-standing controversy in reading research is whether teachers should usewhole language or phonics instruction when teaching students to read. A survey oftop-notch elementary school teachers indicates that most actually blend bothapproaches.
Advocates of whole language instruction suggest that students learn to read byreading library books rather than traditional basal reading instructiontextbooks. Those committed to phonics instruction promote a skills approach,emphasizing strategies such as decoding and sounding out words.
Fifty-four percent of the teachers surveyed considered themselves whole languageteachers, while another 43 percent claimed they were somewhat whole language.Teachers said that 73 percent of the reading material in their classrooms was"outstanding children's literature," find researchers Michael Pressley, JoanRankin, and Linda Yokoi of the National Reading Research Center.
Despite support for the whole language approach, 95 percent of the teachers saidthat they explicitly taught phonics, although 90 percent reported doing so in thecontext of "real reading." Forty-three percent of the teachers reported teachingphonics with traditional workbooks and skills sheets.
"In short, there was much more commitment to teaching phonics in ways that wereconsistent with ongoing reading and writing and students' needs during readingand writing than to teaching phonics in isolation," conclude the researchers.
The researchers also note other effective strategies used by these outstandingelementary school teachers, such as using a variety of reading activities andavoiding ability grouping.
To Order: "A Survey of Instructional Practices of Primary Teachers Nominated asEffective in Promoting Literacy" is available from the National Reading ResearchCenter, Dissemination/Publications, 318 Aderhold Hall, University of Georgia,Athens, GA 30602-7125. Cite report no. 41, 27 pp., $4 prepaid; make checkspayable to NRRC/UGARF.
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