The difference between what teachers think and do (on constructivism)

There is a new Teaching in Focus report and it focuses on what teachers think about teaching in comparison to their practice, and the OECD suggests there is a mismatch:

  • Most teachers participating in the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) report that they see themselves as facilitators to students’ own enquiry (94%) and that students should think of their own solutions to practical problems before teachers show them the solution (93%). These answers indicate that most teachers hold constructivist beliefs, i.e., they see learning as an active process that aims to foster critical and independent thinking.
  • At the same time, teachers report using passive teaching practices, such as presenting a summary of recently learned work, more frequently than active teaching practices. Less than a third of teachers ask students to work on a project that requires at least a week to complete (an active teaching practice).
  • Engagement in professional development and a positive classroom climate are among the factors associated with a more frequent use of active teaching.

That so many teachers would hold such beliefs is not that surprising, we have been training them that way for decades. Still, there has been a heated debate on constructivism in education for quite a while now, lately the blog by Greg Ashman is spurring some interesting online talk, and of course the 2006 article by Kirschner, Sweller and Clark has been the starting point for much discussion (to name just two examples, ok this is a third example).

Based on this debate one could wonder:

  • if it’s good that so many teachers hold constructivist beliefs?
  • if active teaching practices have to be synonym with constructivism?

Before you think that I’m abolishing constructivism or even declaring it a myth, do note what I responded to Greg:

In our teaching training institute we teach our students behaviorism, cognitivism, social-constructivism and even connectivism as learning and knowledge theories (the first two say more something about how we learn, constructivism and connectivism tell more something about knowledge but are rather weak on how people learn). We don’t defend one theorie above the others. E.g. behaviorism works great for learning tables and other stuff we need to automatize, cognitivism has given us – even recently – great insights on how people learn, but also constructivism can have an impact on learning, even positive. E.g. if you look at problem based learning. For learning new stuff, a really bad idea (cfr Hattie), but when students do have the knowledge, the story changes. Also collaborative learning really can have a positive effect.
It’s a mistake to make constructivism the one and only paradigm you believe in, but luckily fewer and fewer people do this. As Brown 2012 has shown, in daily practice most teachers are rather eclectic.

Well, maybe this Talis report shows that I made a mistake in that last sentence, as it shows many teachers seem to belief the paradigm, although maybe it could also be a case of a social desirability bias.


Filed under Education, Review

2 responses to “The difference between what teachers think and do (on constructivism)

  1. Pingback: Wat staat er in de visie voor Vlaanderen 2050 over onderwijs (en echt nieuws rond wetenschap) | X, Y of Einstein?

  2. A really interesting post. I think the fact that constructivism has been taught and accepted so uncritically (in most although not all instances) has another impact also. That of teacher satisfaction. If one is constantly swimming against the tide – in this case trying to make inquiry based learning work when the children do not have the knowledge – then it does affect ones own belief in ones teaching. Additionally, it means that the goals being set for teachers are unrealistic. They waste time on inquiry lessons in the early years of teaching when they would be better off focusing on the core knowledge children need and planning how to embed it across the curriculum so it is repeated and reinforced in many ways. Instead they use up valuable lesson time on discovery learning and the like, which means that children, especially those who are struggling, fall behind.

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