Monday, August 11, 2008

Does Quakerism necessarily imply Constructivism?

Exhibit A:  Excerpts from a Quaker school principal's summer letter to parents

The learning environment in our lower-school classrooms is based on intentional exploration and social collaboration. We love the word "wonder" and practically leap for joy when a question begins, as "I wonder (if, how, why, who)" because it implies so much. The questioner shows deep engagement, curiosity, creativity, an ability to connect similarities and/or differences, and the confidence to take a risk. "Wondering" also occurs in essential ways during hands-on activities and social play as these experiences build on each other.

This is far from the classrooms where the teacher knows all, and the student's work is to get or guess the "right" answer. It is a much more challenging and rewarding way to teach, demanding more active work from both the teacher and the student. The environments need to be filled with rich curriculum to be explored and with materials that are well organized and accessible. The teacher's work is to guide and model learning and frustration by asking such questions as Why? Do you agree? Please elaborate; can you tell us more? Can you give us an example? How did you arrive at your answer? Why did it feel like when it all made sense? What did it feel like when you got stuck? What do you know now about how to go about this next time? And, yes, "I wonder..." Inherent in this teaching is our goal of "seeking truth" in Quaker parlance, our knowing of the import of listening well to others, and our expectation that we will find value in difference.
Inquiry; active, cooperative, hands-on learning; exploration; risk-taking; no "right" answers; "rich" curricula; the teacher as "guide" and "model;" a subsequent mention of "lifelong learners"--it's all decade-old ed school hat. But as breathlessly expressed as ever, and cast, here, as something specific to Quakerism.

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