Constructivist teaching is a based on an educational theory that says children learn by constructing meaning based on their experiences. As children explore, engage with others and reflect on their experiences, they build new levels of understanding. Constructivist teaching emphasizes students as active learners and prioritizes exploration and questioning. It's appropriate in kindergarten, as 5-year-olds are naturally curious and trying to make sense of the world. With guidance and encouragement, their love of learning can blossom.
Constructivist teaching shifts away from teacher-directed learning to student-led learning. Rather than being the distributor of knowledge, the teacher acts as a guide. The teacher takes cues from student interests and learning styles. Students are encouraged to take initiative and ask questions. For example, in science, student observations and interest in changing fall leaves might lead to an in-depth study of this topic. Students may collect, sort and categorize leaves. Some activities may originate based on student suggestions. For others, the teacher will guide students to greater understanding, perhaps by reading aloud to help answer questions or suggesting different challenges for sorting.
Student questions are taken seriously and encouraged in constructivist kindergarten classrooms. The teacher will guide students to find the answers to their questions. Students don't come to think of the teacher as the source of all knowledge. They're guided to find answers themselves through exploration, books and discussions. The teacher also uses questions to get students to think more deeply. The teacher may ask students questions to challenge them to consider more possibilities or consider why something happened. For example, when learning about plants in science, the teacher will ask questions such as, "What would happen if we didn't give our plant water?" Students could then do an experiment to find out. This would be followed up with, "Why do you think that happened?"
Working together to solve problems is important to creating meaning. In constructivist classrooms, the teacher is not the only expert. Students can learn from each other. When children are solving problems they are given the chance to work together. This allows them to bounce ideas off each other and build meaning. Preconceptions might be challenged. New learning is more likely to occur when children come to understandings themselves. Students take control of their learning and realize they can be experts, too. In kindergarten children are learning beginning addition. When working together to play a game that requires adding the numbers on two dice, students can learn math strategies from each other. One may notice his friend quickly getting an answer by counting up from the larger number. The child may they then try and master this strategy himself. He has built on his knowledge of addition by learning from a peer.
Students are involved in evaluating themselves and assessing their own learning. At the kindergarten level, students need a lot of modeling and guidance to effectively evaluate themselves. Time is given for reflection. The teacher can model self-reflection for students including what was learned and what could be done better. Students do not do a lot of worksheets to be graded. Instead they are graded on academic growth as demonstrated through performance on projects and teacher observations throughout the day. In kindergarten, valuable observations occur during circle time and center time. Mini conferences in which the teacher briefly joins a student to ask about his work can shed light on growth for both teacher and student.
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