Constructivist Theory, Connection and Rubrics

Constructivist Theory

Teachers are “vehicles of power”. Teachers must provide circumstances for students to accomplish empowerment. It is only possible when we as teachers take a critical stance to our activities. Most of my students are from middle and high school and are based in demographically challenging areas. They are first-generation English learners. The particular school in which these practices are implemented, is situated in the middle of a reserve forest in a tribal belt of west India. While teaching English as a foreign language, I initiated a fundamental change in approach that involved rebalancing of my own knowledge, beliefs and attitudes. I became aware that I have to continuously collaborate with my students to constantly explore the possibilities.

“As a teacher, I must challenge and encourage the students to find their voice by enabling them to decode their own experiences critically and expand their horizons.”

This article will elucidate various teaching methodologies that have reaped their intended benefits and played an instrumental role in TEFL.

Constructivist Approach

It is indisputable that Constructivist Theory has emerged as one of the most prominent influences on the practice of education in recent years, and teachers have been adopting constructivist-based pedagogy eagerly. The prominence given to each learner in the classroom, the significance of constructing meaning, and the active participation of learners in the teaching/ learning process make this learning approach productive. Professor John Biggs demonstrated that this model is based on the understanding that a learner shall construct his/her knowledge through active participation in teaching/ learning activities. The mere transmission of knowledge does not result in learning. Therefore, a paradigm shift is required from the teacher to the learners in the current educational environment. The increasingly popular student-centred approaches advocate that knowledge is constructed as a result of learners’ active engagement in the learning activities, ie: in the classroom.

An essential principle of the constructivist approach is intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is fostered only when the second language learners are endowed with an amount of freedom to the extent that they feel responsible for their own course of learning. Students who undergo a Dynamic Assessment procedure are intrinsically motivated more than the students who do not experience the same system. Motivation is a continuously evolving construct, subject to various internal and external influences confronted by the learner.

When the amount of self-confidence in learners increases as a result of experience, and when second language learners gain more control in their own process of learning, there are more intrinsic reasons to study and continue with this process. When a learner perceives himself/herself as highly competent in a learning environment, the opportunities to take control of his/her learning becomes much more meaningful. On the other hand, to taste competence, it is essential to feel responsible for the actions and outcomes that bespeak competence.

So, any experienced teacher is aware that student anxiety created by a tense classroom environment is an influential factor in undermining the L2 process of learning. Therefore, implementing a dynamic procedure could break multiple barriers because of the rapport which is built between the teacher and the students. In the theory of Multiple Intelligences, it has been emphasised that the assessment process is no longer separated from the learning process, the examination room is no longer separated from the classroom, and the examination time is no longer separated from the learning time.

A good rapport between the teacher and the students is a fundamental need in any modern, student-centred approach to education. To improve students’ language learning, EFL teachers need to understand how vital the role of motivation, especially intrinsic motivation, is in the learning process. Teachers should become more aware of their students’ intrinsic motivation in order to orient teaching methods more appropriately.

In addition, the use of dynamic assessment can enable the students to take responsibilities for their own learning by enhancing learner autonomy, independence and self-direction. These factors are essential because learners need to keep on learning when they are no longer in a formal classroom setting. In the language learning classroom, the teacher often appears to be a critical authority. Hence, the way in which teachers interact with students, that is, their communicative style, may be associated with the students’ motivational orientation. Self-perceptions of autonomy and competence are built high such that students can make their own decisions about their learning and are provided with clear feedback about their progress.

Connection

Another vital principle of the constructivist approach is the connection with the students. “Good” relationships are best described by low levels of conflict and high levels of closeness and support. Social constructivist approaches to student-teacher relationships propound that knowledge in classrooms should be jointly constructed within the context of relationships. It explicates that investment in life-long learning should be encouraged through the establishment of supportive relationships to students in the classroom. In this regard, I have followed the six dimensions of the instructional context that can influence the quality of students’ engagement with the content material. These include: an appropriate selection of tasks, giving students autonomy, timely recognition even for a small accomplishment, grouping based on inclusion, evaluation, and time (T.A.R.G.E.T).

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In small classes, it is possible for teachers to interact more often with students and to know their students better. It is also possible to establish such relationships in large classes by dividing the class into smaller units. By understanding students better, teachers are less likely to worry more about their failures, provide more help directed towards improvement, take responsibility for disciplining everyone, and to fully invest in improving the school as a whole. According to Vygotsky’s theory of social and cognitive development, all learning is viewed as a “social accomplishment” of spending time together in promoting relational development. Joint activity refers to the activities in which teachers and students engage to share common motives and work towards a common goal. Collaborative activity is the most reliable and efficacious force influencing the development of affinities.

Teachers can encourage children to develop membership to the class and a sense of autonomy through co-operative group work, by encouraging children to participate in rule and decision making and in conflict resolution. Teachers can also demonstrate caring in their ability to attain inter-subjectivity, to “create a shared intellectual space” with their students. In the process of reaching inter-subjectivity, teachers attempt to share with students their own constructions of the concept whilst at the same time understanding students’ existing constructions.

Assessment Rubrics

Rubrics are rating scales that outline the criteria and the different levels of the quality of work for assessing and evaluating tasks. Rubrics have been found to validly, and to a certain extent, reliably, assess complex multi-dimensional performances. As for scoring-systems, rubrics can guide teachers and students to make the process of evaluation easier, fairer, and more systematic. Both holistic and analytical rubrics are indispensable assessment tools, requisite for balancing summative and formative assessment. Holistic rubrics set targeted criteria for teachers to evaluate the final product as a whole, and they are more product-oriented. On the other hand, analytical rubrics involve evaluating each sub-skill of the product separately and setting different levels of quality of work with the associated score, thus, allowing opportunities for self-assessment practices.

This technique helped me to better understand and track students’ progress. Rubrics aided me in identifying students’ challenges and strengths and consequently modifying my teaching method to cater to students’ needs and to address their challenges. When used solely in summative assessments, and to rank students against one another, rubrics did not capture the progress, and specifically left the student voice out of the assessment. Rubrics aid in offering feedback that can increase students’ motivation to become better learners, reduce students’ anxiety, improve student self-efficacy and support self -regulation.

“Sharing rubrics with students broaden their knowledge of the criteria on which their assignments are evaluated and also motivate them to design and construct their own rubrics.”

Co-constructing rubrics with students can effectively utilise the rubrics’ potential to help students become reflective and thoughtful. This consequently enables the students to become self -sufficient and capable of judging and reflecting on their learnings. In summary, studies have shown that using rubrics as formative assessment (assessment for learning) and as an inherent aspect of the teaching and learning process holds more promise.

Generating rubrics with students can be enlightening and educational. Within a constructivist framework, the co-construction of rubrics with students contributes to enhancing assessment for learning rather than the assessment of learning. When students are involved in constructing the rubrics, they learn how to become more focussed and independent since they are taking part in identifying and defining the criteria used to judge their work. Co-constructing and using rubrics also helps learners, especially middle school L2 learners, to address the challenges faced in the language whilst allowing their teachers to engage them in the teaching/learning process and in improving their skills.

Another important factor that emerged in my class due to the use of co-constructed rubrics was increased student participation which promoted classroom dynamics that involved a shift in students’ and teacher’s roles. I was no longer central, and students played a fundamental role in the teaching/learning process. Throughout the intervention, students were active participants playing different roles, starting with looking for information, to constructing their rubrics and ending with correcting and self-evaluating their work.

They evaluated their work, identified their strengths and weaknesses, and considered and implemented ways to improve their work as active participants. Ultimately, co-constructing and negotiating the rubrics with the students seemed to influence every step of the process of teaching and the quality of classroom interactions. Students were empowered through the opportunity to be involved, to change, modify, and express their opinions regarding the assessment process.

Moreover, one primary condition of putting ownership into action is to transform classrooms from being teacher-centred to student-centred. They were less judged for their errors and more encouraged to find ways to improve the quality of their work. In turn, their performance showed improvement.

Contact with students can provide teachers with a unique opportunity to either further the status quo or to make a difference that impacts upon student lives. Teachers must recognise their “power” and yield it wisely in teaching other people’s children. Although the school may direct the curriculum, teachers teach it.

“When the curriculum falls short in addressing the needs of their students, teachers should construct a bridge. When the system reflects cultural and linguistic insensitivity, teachers must demonstrate understanding and support.”

In conclusion, teachers should be culturally responsive and must effectively utilise materials and life examples that resonate with the students. They must engage in constructive and novel practices and demonstrate values that include rather than exclude students belonging to diverse backgrounds. By doing so, teachers can fulfil their responsibility as educators to all their students. These methods when implemented make the classroom fun and democratic. What are your successful classroom practices?