I've thought that I always used this theory, but as I was reminded that I only do about half. While I do give my students the opportunity to construct their own knowledge, it is usually after I've lectured them. My goal for the next year is to work more at putting control in the hands of the students.
One of the things I took away from the Cooperstein & Kocevar-Weidinger article is the "ask, don't tell" aspect of constructivism. There are a few ways I can incorporate this in my teaching:
1. Reading Scholarly Articles - I'm going to reverse the way I teach this lesson. In the past, I spend 10 minutes, or so, facilitating a discussion about what makes an article scholarly, followed by guided reading of two articles. Instead, I will put the students in pairs, and ask them to read the articles first, finding the answers to the following questions: 1) What did they study? 2) How did they study it? and 3) What did they learn? Once they have read the articles, then we can talk about the characteristics of the articles, and use what they already know about the articles.
2. The Research Process - during the 4-session library module, this is where I lecture the most. It's also the place I've struggled the most to make it more constructivist. However, I think there are a few ways to include active learning. First, rather than tell them about the research process, I'll ask them to brainstorm with a partner (or alone, if they choose) on how they conducted research in the past. Since these are incoming freshman, most of them explain that they would get their assignment, search the internet, then write their paper. With more prompting, I may be able to get them to explain how they were feeling, the decisions they made, and actions they took during their research. Secondly, as I work to integrate more reflection into my instruction, this is a great place for them to reflect. Instead of having them reflect after my lecture, I could ask them to think about how research in high school is different than what they're expected to do in college.
3. Student-Driven Research Agenda - I have done this in the past, but have stopped in favor of having more time to lecture (I can't believe I just admitted that!!!). This works best in courses where they visit the library with a specific assignment to complete. I've used this in all levels of courses, from freshman-level general education courses, to graduate level courses. While one might think that this wouldn't work for freshman, I was surprised at how well it worked.
- Ask the students to review their assignment. They should keep notes on the guidelines for the sources to use, and any other information about the research portion of their assignment.
- Students should make a list of at least 2-3 items they may have trouble with the research, or any questions they have about completing the research, or the assignment in general. This is also connected to their experience doing research in the past. Where do they know they'll have trouble based on previous assignments?
- Working with a partner, students will identify any common items on their lists, and try to answer each others questions. For example, a common question is "what database to use?" which may be answered quickly by their partner.
- As a class, we work to create an agenda for the session that covers the questions that most students have. For a general research assignment, these have been some items we've covered:
- How do I know something is scholarly?
- Where do I look for articles?
- Why can't I use internet sources?
- How do I cite?
- How can I come up with good keywords?
- While I don't generally answer each question in detail, I have resources to refer them to for further assistance (e.g. citing sources).
I have yet to be stumped or surprised by the questions I get. I come prepared to talk about theses, and can come up with an activity or lecture on the fly for other topics.
Why these work for constructivism
(based on Cooperstein & Kocevar-Weidinger)
- Construct own meaning; ask, don't tell. By letting students determine what they want to learn, this can motivate them to participate and learn by doing.
- Build on prior knowledge. Students are invited to think about how they've done things in the past in order to know how to proceed. This asks them to make the connection (dare I say transfer their own learning) between what they have done and what they think they will be doing.
- Social interaction. I am a collaborative thinking, and invite the students to do the same: two brains are better than one. While this can be frustrating to a few students, overwhelmingly, students are happy to work with a neighbor on a quick in-class activity.
- Authentic tasks. This is something that I have always worked consistently to do. In each of my examples above, the activities were developed to mimic/model what students are expected to do by their professors in their research assignments.