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07.26.13Is Constructivism “A Pedagogy of Privilege”? (and PS can it be defined)?

I thought this piece by Paul Bruno was thought-provoking.  I’m sure it’ll make some folks mad but PB’s take is pretty balanced and you don’t have to agree to let it push your thinking. 

In it the author reflects on research that suggests that Special Education designations may be increased by constructivist approaches to teaching. 

Here’s one passage

Minimally-guided instruction – the kind often favored by constructivists – appears to be less effective than more-guided instruction generally, especially for weaker students (i.e., those who probably already have a history of failure in school). Moreover, research focusing specifically on students with learning disabilities is especially clear on the virtues of guided instruction for students in SPED programs.

In many ways constructivism is a pedagogy of privilege: perhaps adequate for strong students, but often inadequate for – and unfair to – less fortunate students who have not yet acquired the social, behavioral, and academic knowledge and skills that allow them to be successful without additional guidance from a teacher.

To be fair, the author then disagrees that there’s a connection to SPED designation rates if only because what is and is not constructivism is so hard to define and can mean so many things, which is another good point.

All around it’s worthwhile to read.


Coda: After reading this I started to ask myself, just who is this Paul Bruno, yet another guy everybody has heard of who I don’t know?  Anyway it turns out he’s a science teacher who occasionally blogs for Alexander Russo.  Just your average front line guy with a lot of insight and knowledge.  Here’s another of his blogs if you’re interested.



5 Responses to “Is Constructivism “A Pedagogy of Privilege”? (and PS can it be defined)?”

  1. Zack Goldman
    July 28, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    If indeed a constructivist approach is less effective with weaker students, I wonder if this could be due to those students simply having been exposed to less constructivist learning previously. It could be that exposing them (and everyone) to constructivist learning earlier might help them be more successful in the future. For kid who assumes a teacher’s job is to tell them how to do every little detail of everything (since that has been their entire prior experience in school), a sudden shift to constructivism could be a pretty big shock that the student is unprepared for and it makes perfect sense that the student wouldn’t respond well…..

    • Doug_Lemov
      July 31, 2013 at 12:26 am

      i suppose that’s plausible. lots of programs have “implementation dips”… but that would suggest that students are always or usually coming from non-constructivist schooling situations… hard to say if that’s true tho my gut is that’s probably not the case.

    • Paul Bruno
      August 2, 2013 at 3:16 am

      This isn’t an inconceivable interpretation of the research literature, but it’s a tough one to really square with what we know. For one thing, many of these studies are done with students in the early elementary grades, so it’s not clear how much earlier constructivist interventions could go to try to find an effect. Second, the earlier grades are, if anything, already less guided and structured instructionally than the later grades. (Pre-school experiences tend to be even less structured and get even closer to the constructivist ideal!) Third, to be clear, it appears that more guidance during instruction is better for not just the weaker students, but also the strongest students as long as we’re talking about fairly young students. In other words, constructivist approaches appear to be worse for *all* students, and the weakest students also experience the biggest negative effect.

      • Doug_Lemov
        August 3, 2013 at 3:05 am

        it seems like a shaky argument that the problem with constructivist is everything else that (might have) happened to students before their exposeure. i’m thinking of occam’s razor–the simplest explanation is the best and that it’s problems are probably its own. but even if the argument is true–that constuctivism doesn’t work because of the teaching kids got before they got it–one could argue that that’s a problem… the same one you were pointing out in the first place, paul. that it doesn’t help kids who aren’t born to privilege. so i tend to agree and i think the argument kind of makes your point for you.

        • August 3, 2013 at 6:01 am

          Fair enough. I am prepared to accept any argument to the effect that I’m more likely to be right.

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