08 October 2012
When I think of a student-centered classroom, I think of students' who are excited to be participating in the classroom activity, and I think of the need for the activity to be aligned with the learning goal of the class. I think of a teacher who is able to inspire students to want to learn more about the subject. You know, the kind of teacher whose enthusiasm about the subject material that is palpable. Finally, I think of a teacher who knows how to "get out of the way" of learning. Once students' are able to identify and relate to any kind of learning activity that aligns with course goals, the teacher transforms from an "inspirer" to a supportive mentor and learning coach.
For a person who happens to be a teacher, these qualities may or may not be in their "blood." Being a learning coach may seem to them as a disservice to the learner. They may feel the only way to serve the student well is to tell them all about the subject material, as well as tell the student exactly what to do for the class. I agree with Belland's interpretation (Belland, 2009) of Bourdieu's view of habitus (p. 355) in that teacher's bring their own set of personal and cultural values to their task of helping learners reach learning goals. Habits are not easy to change, especially ones that have been ingrained and reinforced via life experience. So, if we can agree that a constructivist view of learning best serves learners, we can also agree that showing teachers how to use strategies aligned with constructivism is valuable.
Also, if we can agree that constructivist methods create the best learning outcomes, it makes sense to create learning environments for teachers that allow these learners to experience constructivist oriented learning environments first-hand. Since the goal of having teachers understand and use constructivist oriented methods of instruction, and many pre-service teachers may or may not have had any real experience with the methods, the constructivist approach needs to be used in the education of the pre-service teachers. And so of course I agree with Belland when he states, "Modeling the use of technology to facilitate the construction of knowledge should be integrated into other teacher education courses. To accomplish this, such courses will need to be taught in a more constructivist manner" (2009, p. 361).
I also agree with the crippling limitation of using surveys to determine teacher beliefs and practices (2009, p. 354). It's completely understandable that a teacher might express support for constructivist learning techniques when reporting to "work" authorities, because the teachers' may have been told of the effectiveness of something like project-based learning, and do not wish to appear lacking — and therefore survey responses are confounded. This circles back to the teacher's culture, life-experiences, or habitus. There is simply no other way to have teacher's learn about using constructivist methods unless they themselves have 1) used them and 2) been a part of a curriculum that values and uses constructivist methods of instruction.
So, in my opinion, the best and only way to create teachers who will actually use (not just "believe") constructivist instructional methods is to create learning environments for those teachers that allow those teachers to appreciate and experience these pedagogies in a concrete way that directly relates to their work in the class. Informing teachers of the importance of something like project-based learning isn't effective if the goal is for teachers to use those instructional methods. They must be allowed to experience the methods and draw their own, personal, conclusions as to their utility in the classroom.
Belland, B. R. (2009). Using the Theory of Habitus to Move beyond the Study of Barriers to Technology Integration. Computers & Education, 52(2), 353–364.