Constructivism in the classroom

With the new movie “Waiting on Superman” getting lots of press on NPR, Oprah, and NBC morning programming, I’ve been reading and listening to a great number of teachers and education reformers as they present what they think is the best solution for America’s schools. Many of the most vocal reformers push for a constructivist setting for all of education. Teachers are to stop lecturing, and start “facilitating” learning. Students are to be no longer forced or even allowed to complete worksheets or memorize facts. Instead, the facilitator, asks questions and prompts and guides the students to explore learning and knowledge. A student’s unique needs and background dictate the direction and speed of learning.

None of this is far from what happens in my Studio/Classroom. Art is most often taught from a constructivist perspective. We have a few processes to memorize, and some vocabulary that makes it easier to communicate, but students have usually directed their own learning.

The public doesn’t seem sure about Constructivist thinking. At least, I haven’t seen any rallies in my town, or large scale public events or media concerning Constructivism. In fact, some schools use very different approach, and have recorded a certain level of success. KIPP schools, and Classical curriculum both encourage a great deal of memorization and traditional lecture. Many parents seem eager to let their children experience the success promised by these non-reform schools.

There is even a resurgence of ultra-traditional art schools called ateliers. In these schools, students are not allowed to draw anything they want. Instead, they draw and paint plaster models. They paint them again and again, until they have mastered light and dark. Next, the students work from live models. When a student leaves the atelier, they can paint anything they want. Their skills as an artist are so sharp, that they are ready to approach any subject or style with ease.

I wonder what it is that makes us so eager to jump into constructivism. Is it the custom fit for every student? Is this realistic? If this is the answer, what is the explanation for the success of schools with the KIPP system? If artists can have custom fit constructivist education, why is there demand for scripted, old world training of the atelier?

It seems to me that something is missing.


About Mr. Miller

I teach Visual Arts in La Junta, Colorado. I am also an artist and printmaker. But more importantly, I am a husband and father to a beautiful and inspiring family.
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