Monday, March 5, 2012

More on good uses of Constructivist ideals: art, relevance, heterogeneous groups, and child-centered ideas

In a series of ealier posts, culminating here, I argued that various problematic trends in K12 instruction still have potential virtues: in particular, trends pertaining to creativity, personal connections, verbalizing answers, self-esteem, multiple solutions, showing your work, group discussions, and hands-on, discovery learning. To this list I now add art in academics, relevance, heterogeneous grouping, and child-centered ideas. Once again, I use these terms with utmost caution, and intend them only in very specific ways that are far, far removed from the ways in which the edworld has bastardized them. I'll  begin with child-centered classrooms in which children "take ownership".

Many aspects of child-centered learning are misguided. Children aren't little scientists, mathematicians, and authors; they depend on direct, structured instruction of a body of basic skills and content; they don't know enough to know what they need to know. Given a choice, many would opt to avoid hard math problems, to produce a poster rather than an essay, or to watch the movie version of Charlotte's Web rather than reading the book.

But there are two things that even the younger children can be surprisingly wise about: what motivates them, and what helps them behave well. So why not involve children in the formulation of class rules and incentives? In fact, I've seen this work quite well, and, for all my criticisms of child-centered learning and children "taking ownership," I want to make sure I don't forget about this one highly promising way in which children can help direct their classrooms.

3 comments:

Deirdre Mundy said...

I think part of the problem is the use of the term 'child-centered learning.'

Montessori is the ultimate in project based, child-centered learning. But it doesn't mean "the kids have free rein." Rather, it means that each kid has the freedom to choose between a limited set of carefully developed activities, each of which teaches a concrete skill.

On the other hand, it's more friendly than most other forms of education called "child-centered" because it's actually carefully tailored to what's developmentally appropriate for young children.

The problem with a lot of so-called child-centered instruction is that it's not centered on actual children, but on some hazy, over-romanticized, Rousseau-like ideal of what a 'child' ought to be.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I think part of the problem is the use of the term 'child-centered learning.'

Montessori is the ultimate in project based, child-centered learning. But it doesn't mean "the kids have free rein." Rather, it means that each kid has the freedom to choose between a limited set of carefully developed activities, each of which teaches a concrete skill.

On the other hand, it's more friendly than most other forms of education called "child-centered" because it's actually carefully tailored to what's developmentally appropriate for young children.

The problem with a lot of so-called child-centered instruction is that it's not centered on actual children, but on some hazy, over-romanticized, Rousseau-like ideal of what a 'child' ought to be.

FedUpMom said...

Katharine, I agree with your basic premise. I have also been trying to steer a course where I find the best of the various pedagogical traditions. With traditionalists, I care about content and good curriculum; with progressives, I care about kids as entire human beings and want their school experience to be as enjoyable and nurturing as possible.

What I see all the time is that schools have somehow managed to do the exact opposite; they choose the worst of all worlds. They take the authoritarian approach of bad traditional practice and wed it to the fuzzy curricula of bad progressive practice. The result is the mess we have today.