Curriculum theory is important to the educational process. In an effort for educators to effectively understand the curriculum process requires being knowledgeable in its practical applications. Green and Gredler (2002) perspective, although many educators have not fully grasped its potential, curriculum theory is a vital resource in developing curricular theory and applying to practical school based issues. Educators informed about the curriculum process make better decision makers and leaders in effective school management and exemplify excellence in the quality of education (pp. 53-65). Educators view learning through a series of educational theories specific to student and classroom setting. Curriculum theory is valuable to schools as they process and progress in transferring theories to applicable aims, goals, and objectives.
According to Ornstein and Hunkins (2009), curriculum theory as attributed by Beauchamp, “involves decisions about the use of a curriculum, the development of curriculum, curriculum design, and curriculum evaluation” (p.19). Curriculum theory and various philosophies (discussed in activities 1 and 2) have also influenced educational theories: behaviorism, constructivism, humanism, perennialism, essentialism, and existenlism, progressivism and recontructionism and range in thought from traditional and conservative to contemporary and liberal (p. 57).
Constructivism Educational Theory
Learning pointed out by Ornstein and Hunkins (2009) can be analyzed through three major theories, behaviorism, cognitive development, and phenomenology (humanism) (p. 129). The educational theory I have identified that is most useful to my work place is constructivism. Three cognitive theorists associated with constructivism are Montessori (1870-1952), Piaget (1896-1980), and Vygotsky (early twentieth century) (pp. 140-141). Montessori’s theory mostly focused on structured play, instituting emphasis of visual and auditory activities, and that children learn at different rates. Piaget’s work focused on cognitive stages of a child’s development in four stages of learning as sequential and progressive mental operations, moving from hierarchical to more complex operations, known as assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration. Vygotsky’s theories centered on theory of language and cultural transmission as learner’s are in process of learning, as well as learning mechanics in human development (pp.140-141).
Cognitive learning theory is the second of three expanding theories during the 1950’s due to the influence of Piaget, and Vygotsky (p. 145). Ornstein and Hunkins (2009) say the educational theory constructivism is categorized by principles centered on the learner. Learner is essential, active partner in creating meaning or knowledge. Important still to student knowledge is the ability to construct their “world knowledge into their cognitive processes and perceptions of context, past and present” (p.129). Constructivism is described as ‘nature of knowledge and nature of learning” (p. 129). Learners are encouraged to be an active participant in the act of learning rather than passive. Constructivism is based on the philosophical base progressivism. Progressivism focuses on “how to think, not what to think” (p. 46). Dewey and other progressivists, relate, the curriculum intent is interdisciplinary and teacher’s role is to guide students in problem-solving and scientific projects (as cited in Ornstein and Hunkins, 2009, p. 46).
Although no single educational theory is used by educators to affect student learning, most schools use one prominent educational theory and utilize other educational theories to help achieve overall student success in their academic development (p.). According to Ornstein and Hunkins (2009) cite three reasons why a majority of educators, curriculum specialist, learning theorists, are cognitive-oriented: the cognitive approach comprises a logical method for organizing and interpreting learning, the theory is founded in the tradition of subject matter, and educators have been trained in cognitive approaches and understand them (pp. 136-137).
The constructivism educational theory is most useful in my work setting because educators and school personnel have the flexibility to create a curriculum geared toward learner participation. In addition, because learning is a cognitive process, and emphasizes a learner’s cognitive domain, it can be reasoned that many educators relate learning with cognitive developmental theory (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2009, pp. 136-137). Another important consideration of constructivism given by Vygotsky (1998) is a student’s need for social interaction. Because a learner is a social learner, social interaction is essential for knowledge construction, but also leaves room for students to authenticate what they know through group learning, increases discussions, experimentation, enthusiasm, and participation (as cited in Cooperstein and Weidinger, 2004, p. 144).
Aims of Constructivism Theory
The aims of constructivism learning theory are a curriculum focused on learner as an active participant, knowledge of learner is designed to build upon past and present knowledge, develop learners cognitive thinking processes through critical thinking and social interactions (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2009, p. 129). In other words, learner assimilates new knowledge and old knowledge. Cooperstein and Weidinger (2004) emphasize learning aims of the constructivism theory are dependent on cognitive thinking, not just physical activity or behavior. Constructivism learning is inductive. More importantly, students think about and process the activity, not merely memorize an action, necessary for learning to take place (para. 5). Dewey expresses this thought, problem solving and activities a learner participates in school also develop intelligence and social growth and those same skills can be transmitted to resolving social problems students may encounter everyday (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2009, p. 131).
Goals of Constructivism Theory
Goals serve the purpose of unifying and developing specific outcomes of learning. The goals of constructivism theory consist of students actively participate in activities to develop skills such as problem solving and acquiring concepts. Educators develop lessons focused on development of questions, analyzing and synthesizing information, in an effort to solve problems and to think critically (as cited in Green and Gredler, 2002, pp. 56-57). In addition, Vygotsky (1930/1996, 1931/1997) cites these specific complex skills as the goal of cognitive growth. They are stated as psychological or cognitive functions: categorical perception, conceptual thinking (verbal and mathematical), logical memory, and voluntary (self-regulated) attention (as cited in Green and Gredler, 2002, pp. 56-57).
Similarly, goals resulting from Piagetian (1967-1972) thought on the development of logical reasoning resulting from learner’s interactions in manipulation of objects and recognition of conflict between his perceptions and the data. Based on Piaget’s conclusions focus of reaching goals is development of logical thinking and classroom focus is spontaneous, student led experimentation (as cited in Green and Gredler, 2002, pp. 54-56). According to Dewey, subject matter cannot be constructed in a “value hierarchy” study of any content can promote a learners development and experiences through a variety of learning strategies (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2009, p. 87).
Objectives of Constructivism Theory
The purpose of objectives in the development of the curriculum is essential for maximizing and focusing stated outcomes in student learning. Objectives built on constructivism theory consist of curriculum focusing on learner developing critical thinking skills, learner identifying possible solutions in resolving problems; learner encouraged to construct past and present knowledge (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2009, p. 129). Objectives developed through a constructivism theory are stated behavioral techniques as observable actions such as asking questions, demonstrating knowledge through project-based learning (Cooperstein and Weidinger, 2004, p. 141).
Critique for Implementing Diverse Learning Strategies
Learning pointed out by Ornstein and Hunkins (2009) can be analyzed through three major theories, behaviorism, cognitive development, and phenomenology (humanism). The phenomenology aspect of learning focuses on learner needs (p. 129). Accomplished through humanism, addresses the relationship between student and teacher. One weakness of humanism is that it does not address student’s intellectual development, as does the cognitive approach (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2009, p. 48).
Because constructivist theory methods are flexible in nature, teachers can implement diverse learning strategies around students’ needs. Classroom practices on constructivism methods as referred by Green and Gredler (2002), perceived as difficult and “not a unified perspective, especially in different theoretical views and diverse classroom” settings (pp. 63-64). Further perspective is given on how to implement constructivist theories in a special education classroom and across many subject areas. They suggest in order to remedy this challenge, for special learner needs, learning strategies be developed with an emphasis on flexible grouping, student collaboration, manipulative teacher modeling followed by student practice and gradual independence can provide a framework for giving special needs student developmental control (pp. 63-64). Despite varied criticisms, constructivist’s educators share these basic beliefs.
Mentioned previously, a curriculum developed on constructivism theories, learning focused on student’s cognitive developmental stages, and multiple forms of intelligence, critical thinking, and creativity (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2009, p. 129). Based on Vygotsky’s theories implementation of diverse learning strategies for complex cognitive skills, consist of development of metacognition strategies reflective of critical thinking skills that students can transfer to many curriculum areas and content materials (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2009, p. 131).
Learning is reflective of varied types of learner’s experiences and reflective of diverse multiple intelligences. Constructivism is concerned with how individuals learn, considerate of individual actively engaged in the process of learning (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2009, p. 129). Mentioned earlier, Piaget and others cite learning is accomplished in developmental stages and certain maturity needs to be in place in order for learning to take place. Gardner, an advocate of multiple intelligences, cites “there are different mental operations associated with intelligence and …many different types of intelligence” (pp. 125-126). He further suggest learning strategies to encompass multiple intelligences such as varied activities in the form of mastery dance, playing baseball, as a way to encourage all types of intelligences and all types of learning (p.126).
Constructivist theory also encompasses problem-solving. Montessori (1870-1952) recaps “children develop at different rates” (pp.140-141). Students need a definite and concise way in solving everyday problems. Previously mentioned by Ornstein and Hunkins (2009), learner’s construct their own meaning. New learning builds on former knowledge and learning is enhanced by social interactions and meaningful learning through authentic tasks (p.131). How to accurately implement learning strategies shared by Dewey on problem-solving and encouraging systemic interpretation everyday experiences through scientific reasoning are: awareness of difficulty, identify the problem, assemble and classify data and form hypothesis, accept or reject the tentative hypothesis, and make conclusions and evaluate them (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2009, p. 131). Opposing criticism speculates on the problem of effective problem-solving or critical thinking” (pp. 130-131) that it does not necessary lead to creativity (Ornstein and Hunkins, 2009). Others agree that creativity represents a quality of mixing humanism and cognitive components in learning (p. 134). Three types of people as told by Ornstein and Hunkins (2009) creative, intelligent, and wise in solving problems, just in different ways (p. 134).
Constructivism, a shift in the way educators think about learning. A curriculum approach built on critical thinking skills to actively engage students in the process of learning. Ornstein and Hunkins (2009) say again, the cognitive approach represents a logical method for organizing and interpreting learner cognitive thinking, rooted in a tradition of subject matter; many educators are already familiar with its concepts and methods (pp.136-137). Although a constructivism theory is grounded in developing cognitive skills of students, it is time consuming but has many benefits that will benefit all students. In a concise and well planned, structured, directed activities lead students to discover concepts and develop skills (Cooperstein and Weidinger, 2004, p. 145).
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