Abraham Lincoln spoke these words at Gettysburg, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
Thankfully, his words are long remembered, and within an educational context his wisdom went beyond his political domain, and is being seen to be an effective tool for teachers to promote student learning.
When you think about school, whether you are a child or an adult as you read, ask yourself, “What do I remember”? You are likely to remember the things you did, rather than the words which were spoken to you, or which you read. This is not to say that literacy is not important, it is the bridge which holds all of the academic subjects, particularly within the humanities, together. What is being said, is that when a person constructs new understandings, they are abler to readily make links between previously disconnected thoughts.
Consider this analogy. A person is building a house. The floors are linked inexorably to the walls which frame the house, and each builds on the other to increase the stability of the whole structure. It is the same with learning. As learner’s come to new understandings they construct links to previous things grasped in abstract terms, which now have relevance within their own framework of learning. This also allows for student growth into new and unexplored areas.
One of the most important tools that learners have at their disposal is the science of inquiry. The ability to ask simple why questions allows for people to come to an understanding of underlying causes and builds bridges to unforseen outcomes. Too often in today’s schools learning is formulaic with little time spent on inquiry and metacognitive practices. Lack of time is often given as a risen, but is this really the case.
Consider and perhaps try the following activity for an experience into inquiry based – constructivist learning.
1) Take a piece of paper and write down a topic upon which you may have a certain amount of knowledge. 2) Now fold the paper into quarters and write the following:
What I know What I Feel
Questions I have Related Areas to Explore
3) Fill in the boxes – and you can use bullets.
4) Write a few sentences in each box to express your thoughts clearly.
Hopefully, you will find that as you write new ideas are coming to your mind. Your mind is constructing possible connections. This has been shown to be a key in understanding how people learn by Lev Vygotsky. This simple constructivist activity can be used in almost any situation of life. I have used this when framing an understanding of my household budget, when discussing opportunities my career may offer, writing essays towards a doctoral degree. I even have my sixth grade students use this regularly as a form of review and assessment.