The thing I like best about constructivism is that class is more interesting because each period is different. The biggest struggle I have is making some lessons (especially those involving very difficult and intricate material) constructivist. But at the same time I am fine with not being constructivist all the time. I think it is all about balance.After I read it the first time, I commented:
I agree for the most part, but I would quibble with "it is all about balance." I think it's all about learning. As long as you are doing everything possible to help the actual students that are in your classroom learn (whether that's "constructivist" or not), then we're on the right track. But I don't think "balance" is always the best way to accomplish that . . .I’ve been thinking about this post a lot since then. (Thanks a lot, Amanda!) I’m not picking on Amanda (as if I could), because as I said in my comment I think our thinking is pretty similar here, but she really got me thinking about the word “balance.”
Many folks in both cohorts one and two have said essentially the same thing about balance, and I’m pretty sure I’ve said it a few times myself. I think this is a natural reaction among educators who’ve been around for awhile. We’ve seen different ideas come and go and have learned to distrust anything that seems too far from the norm, to reject “radical” ideas because they are “extreme” and not “balanced.”
But I wonder if balance is really what I’m after? When I look at folks that are held up as leaders in their fields – from politicians to religious leaders to civil rights leaders to athletes to authors to whomever – rarely can I think of a case where their approach was a “balanced” approach. It seems as though the people that have really made a difference, who have really impacted the world around them, are people who tossed balance out the window. I’m sure there were many contemporaries of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, William Shakespeare and John Steinbeck, Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, Tiger Woods and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who counseled them to not be so single-minded in their approach, to not ruffle so many feathers, to be “balanced.” The teachers that most folks remember aren’t the ones who took a balanced approach, but the ones that were most passionate about their subject matter and teaching and learning. And I certainly want the folks who are currently trying to cure cancer, or make solar power more practical, or figure out how to build levees that will hold up to the next major hurricane to be “extreme,” to push possible solutions to their limits if they feel they are on the right track. If they find a cure for cancer, I don’t want a balanced approach; I want them to carpet bomb the planet with it.
Now I’m not saying that I feel there is only one right way to teach or learn. I value a variety of approaches, and I think different students learn best in different ways (and even the same student learns different things best in different ways). But I’m hesitant to equate that with the word “balance.” If, for example, we found that a particular method (be it “constructivist” or otherwise) was really making some headway in a class, why wouldn’t we go for it? That if we feel like we’re finding a better way, that what our students need in the 21st century really is different and therefore requires different approaches, why wouldn’t we toss the current definition of balance out the window and move forward? We would probably ultimately come to some new ground where we would find a new balance, but that might look extremely unbalanced through the lens of current expectations and practices.
I sometimes worry that “balance” is another safety net for teachers. That it’s a built-in braking mechanism, a self-induced friction so that we don’t have to ask and answer some of the hard questions before us. That it allows us to shy away from some controversial issues in the name of harmony and stability. That we are confusing complacency with balance. Again, I don’t think I have all the answers (really, I don’t think that, honest!), but I’m not sure that an incremental approach is what we need at this time. You can’t leap a twenty-foot chasm in two ten-foot jumps.
If we’re not happy with how we’re doing, if we don’t think we’re adequately preparing students for the 21st century, if we’re not being successful with the students that in our classrooms right now – then maybe we need to occasionally “lose our balance” and take a few 20-foot leaps of faith. Because it should be about the learning. The learning of the flesh-and-blood students actually in front of us in our classrooms, not some theoretical notion of balance for the average hypothetical student.
As always, I’m mostly processing and thinking out loud here. Besides, it’s been awhile since I posted something that I knew would get everyone all fired up, and I figure this might do it. So please add your thoughts to the conversation, maybe provide some balance to my thinking . . .
Image Citation 1: .Balance_, originally uploaded by Diana Madrigal
Image Citation 2: Balancing on the Invisible, originally uploaded by Drew Brayshaw