Constructivism is a coherent way to understand ourselves and how we learn. Our intuitive experience of mastery is that we gain it through a highly inefficient process. Whether it's learning that letting go of something makes it fall, or that not all animals have teeth, our primary way of learning about the world is not from books or even from a master, but from our ambling around. first, by bumping into ideas/new concepts, where we don't even know what we don't know. Then, as we dimly start to figure out what the elements are to this new notion, we explore. Maybe we vary the conditions a bit. Maybe we play with things in our hands, build a model. If we finally get somewhere on this without giving up, we start to build hypotheses that can be tested and hopefully test them. If we hit upon a relatively correct one, we go with it, applying it to everything around (until we hit a problem again, and then we start over...)
Watching children learn to walk or to speak reinforces this notion of constructivism: kids just learn these things, quite inefficiently, but no teaching (outside of very rarefied conditions) would have helped. Kids do it at their own pace, with great variation, yet they nearly all arrive at the same place.
Constructivism is at its core, natural.
Ed school theories can articulate constructivism using a variety of words, but in the end, all of them posit a cycle, often with 4 stages.
One version is:
awareness --> exploration --> inquiry --> utilization -->awareness
engagement -->exploration -->explanation --> elaboration -->engagement
These theories are coherent. But being a coherent theory doesn't make it right, and even if it is, it doesn't make it *the best way to help children* reach mastery. One reason it is viewed as best is because it is natural to our experience: why fight nature? The history of humans gaining knowledge of the world is clearly constructivist from fire and the wheel to geometry to public sanitation. Another reason is the theory can be taught in a lecture, from a textbook, and then by observation. It's easy to express. It fits our intuitive experience, at least in part. And what other theories compete with it?
Constructivism will never leave ed school until some other theory replaces it.
Lemov's taxonomy might work as a competing theory, if it were a theory. But it's more a proto theory of the interaction of student-teacher learning, and could still all be fit into the constructivist learning theory. Here's one example from Lemov's book:
There's a consistent progression to the lessons of the champion teachers who informed this book. It's best described as "I/We/You." This name refers to a lesson in which responsibility for knowing and being able to do is gradually released from teacher to student. It means beginning with "I" by delivering key information or modeling the process you want your students to learn as directly as possible, then walking your students through examples or applications. In the "We" step, you first ask for help from students at key moments and then gradually allow them to complete examples with less and less assistance on more and more of the task. Finally, in the "You" step, you provide students the opportunity to practice doing the work on their own, giving them multiple opportunities to practice
Many people might say that the above is explicit instruction/direct instruction. His "model directly as possible, walk them through examples" is to the well informed a vastly different model than constructivism.
But to the not-fully-versed-in-ed-school, it may not seem different at all. A constructivist would say it fits his model, too: first you introduce a carefully tailored environment for the awareness phase. The tailoring delivers key information. A student and teacher go through the exploration phase by walking through examples or applications, using them as focal points and areas for jumping off. Then, in the inquiry phase, you ask for help from students at key moments, gradually allowing them to complete a problem with less and less assistance, as you turn the inquiry from teacher-inquiry to student inquiry. And then the utilization phase is the practice opportunity phase, where you allow them to practice and reinforce as they interact with the world.
Cog Sci ala Willingham doesn't compete either, mostly because it's not coherent, and the individual elements can be shoehorned into constructivism. He calls for understanding the need for distributed practice, but certainly proponents of the cycle can argue that each time around the loop, you're getting another round of practice, each at a deeper level. He calls for recognizing the difference between how children learn and how adults do, but I think this supports the constructivists more: children, especially young children, have even more bumping-into-things to do. Constructivism supports giving kids more free range to do this bumping. Many would intuitively see that and think only adults can learn from books. He calls for getting the reward system tuned just-so, but that can fit if you build the environment correctly, and if the teacher does nothing but reward.
Engelmann and Carnine's work won't, because they created a theory of instruction, not learning. It doesn't concentrate on explaining how *we* get to mastery; it says how we teach *them* to get to mastery: isolate the necessary concept with enough positive and negative examples to disambiguate all possible misconceptions from this core concept. It is a method for *efficiency*, and rests on the notion that in order to help the low performing student to catch up, you will need efficiency. But in isn't focused on learning. Engelmann and Carnine argue the *number of examples* needed for a low performing child is exponentially more than for a high performer--they aren't at core arguing the low performer learns differently.
They violate constructivism because it isn't *natural* to push for efficiency. It doesn't speak to how we go around making sense of our own world. And in our post-baby boomer world, we're all about ourselves and how we experience the world.
Are there competing theories to this? I'll address one in the coming days.