I am very passionate about art. I love producing art, teaching art, seeing the way art is evolving in education, and learning about art. Being primarily a constructivist art teacher, I allow my students a large amount of freedom to create their work. I encourage them to complete their assignments how they want to, not how I want them done, or how I would do it. I introduce techniques and practices to them and I let them go with it. This learning environment has worked out very well for me and my students over the years.
Learning does not have to be torturous to our students, there is no reason to stand in front of our class and lecture all day, every day. This does not work for me as a learner. I learn by doing, not by sitting and listening. I am an active learner. If I am not able to use a hands on approach to learning it is much harder for me to retain information. Thomas (2011) states that learning goes far beyond a simple transfer of information from teacher to student. This generation of students require more hands on work than past generations. Learning must be authentic, learner centered, engaging, personal, and most important to me, hands on. We are not giving our students the option to learn to the best of their ability by limiting their creative processes.
We start out as babies learning, one step at a time. As we grow older we retain more and more information to add to what we already know. We are teaching my 1st grader to read this year. His teacher does not give him a book a tell him to read it. Instead she gives him a short list of words to learn. He learns how to say them and spell them. Eventually he will take this bank of words that he recognizes and understands to begin reading short sentences. This is how we learn, using baby steps. Vaill emphasizes (1966) that
“learning must be a way of being – an ongoing set of attitudes and actions by individuals and groups that they employ to try to keep abreast of the surprising, novel, messy, obtrusive, recurring events…” (p.42).
Learning is ongoing. We never stop learning, we continually add to our knowledge base. We let some things go that we don’t use anymore only to be replaced with new information. As we mature and discover the best ways for us to learn individually we are able to pass over some information that is not pertinent and retain that in which we will use.
In order to be a great teacher, one must be a great learner. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines learning as “the activity or process of gaining knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something : the activity of someone who learns.” Students learn in many different ways. We can not expect every student to retain information and grasp concepts the same way as their peers. Driscoll (2000) defines learning as
“a persisting change in human performance or performance potential…[which] must come about as a result of the learner’s experience and interaction with the world” (p.11).
We should be teaching in a student based learning environment in which each student has the opportunity to learn in the manner that works best for them individually. Ideally we should be giving every student a setting that allows them to learn in many different ways.
I have found myself doing a lot of thinking and soul searching this past week to figure out what my learning philosophy is. I am a constructivist teacher, therefore my students will have the opportunity to learn in a way that they utilize every source that is available to them in their individualized way in a holistic environment. Hein (1991) states that “The term constructivism refers to the idea that learners construct knowledge for themselves—each learner individually (and socially) constructs meaning—as he or she learns. Constructing meaning is learning; there is no other kind.”
The students are responsible for their learning. It is up to them how much effort, time, and work they want to put into a project. Their numerical grades are not solely derived from their outcomes, instead they come from the effort put into their projects. The more they put in, the more they will learn. I urge them to explore, imagine, and play while learning. In A new Culture of Learning video Thomas(2011) defines play as “An emergent property of the application of rules for the imagination.” I encourage all my students to learn using their imagination. This is true learning. Jean Piaget states that “Play is the answer to how anything new comes about.” I think allowing my students to play while they learn gives them more opportunities to create in a personal way that lets them learn more and retain more information. Shifting the learning responsibility to the students will give them a better feeling of accomplishment when they succeed and make them want to try harder to find new ways of working if they do not succeed.
Albert Einstein said, “I never teach my students. I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.” This is somewhat how I manage my classroom. I introduce an art project, give them a supply list, show examples to get them interested, and give them obstacles to overcome. It is up to them to figure out how to complete the project. I am always there to assist if needed, but they are responsible for creating and learning. Forcing them to be more responsible for their work gives them a greater sense of accomplishment and more pride in the final product. They own it because they use their imagination and creativity to create a piece of art that came from within them, not simply copying another artist’s work or trying to do what I do.
I really like what Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino (1999) stated in their writing, How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice,
“The model of the child as an empty vessel to be filled with
knowledge provided by the teacher must be replaced. Instead,
the teacher must actively inquire into students’ thinking, creating
classroom tasks and conditions under which student thinking can
be revealed. Students’ initial conceptions then provide the
foundation on which the more formal understanding of the
subject matter is built.”
This holds so much truth, we have moved past the times of a teacher telling the students everything they need to know and how they need to learn it. We are in an educational shift, it is time to move forward and let our students learn how they need to learn. Our students are different now than they were fifteen years ago, they need hands on activities infused with technology. That is how the live their daily lives and if we don’t figure out how to work that into our teaching paradigm then we will be hindering their learning.
“Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application” (Siemens, 2005). We learn in many different ways, it it is paramount that we use the knowledge we already have and combine it with new information to continue to grow. We learn by building on what we already know. I don’t think that will ever change, it is a process. There are hundreds of learning theories available for us to view, but everyone teaches and learns differently. I have found some of theories that I agree with in one aspect or another, but I really connect with these two theories.
The first is Discovery Learning. This is learning that is inquiry-based. It is a constructivist learning theory that takes place in learning environments where the learner draws on his or her own past experience and existing knowledge to discover facts and relationships combined with new information that is learned. Students interact by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments. As a result, students may be more more likely to remember concepts and knowledge discovered on their own (Bruner, 2009). I agree with everything Bruner is saying, we have to let our students explore in their learning process. If not they will never find their true selves or know how they learn best. Experimentation mixed with imagination leads to learning in ways that nothing else can.
Problem-Based Learning is the second learning theory that lines up with what I feel true learning is. This theory works on the notion that learning is driven by challenging, open-ended problems with no one right answer, problems are context specific, students work as self-directed, active investigators and problem-solvers in small collaborative groups. A key problem is identified and a solution is agreed upon and implemented by the group. Teachers adopt the role as facilitators of learning, guiding the learning process and promoting an environment of inquiry (Lee, NG, Rabinovich, & Wu, n.d.). This is in line with how I feel about learning. I tell my students daily that there is no wrong way to complete the project, just as long as they are truly putting effort into creating a piece of art that is meaningful to them. They work self directed and in groups, where the groups is responsible for completing a project. I also feel that I take the role of a facilitator more than a traditional teacher. I think this is the best way to promote positive learning in my students.
Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning. (2004). Retrieved from
This article gives a good definition of constructivism and explains how it is different from traditional teaching/learning methods. It gives the history of constructivism and how it has changed over time. The article also explains some pros and cons of the constructivist approach to teaching.
Donovan, M., Bransford, J., & Pellegrino, J. (1999). How People Learn: Bridging Research andPractice. Retrieved from
In 1995, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) requested that the National Research Council (NRC) synthesize research on the science of learning. The resulting report, How People Learn, reviews research literature on human learning and suggests important implications for the design of curricula, instruction, assessments, and learning environments. It suggests further that many existing school practices are inconsistent with what is known about effective learning.
Heick, T. (2012, August 31). 9 Characteristics Of 21st Century Learning. Retrieved from
In this teach thought post Heick talks about 21st century learning and nine characteristcs that are necessary to implement 21st century learning. He points out that his model omits most technology to get back to the classic approach of learning vs. full on digital learning.
Hein, G. (1991). Constructivist Learning Theory | Exploratorium. Retrieved from
This article is about the principles of constructivism. How it is increasingly influential in the organization of classrooms and curricula in schools and how it can be applied to learning in many ways. The principles appeal to our modern views of learning and knowledge. Hein also talks about how we need to reflect on our practice in order to apply these ideas to our teaching.
Jean Piaget Quotes (Author of The Psychology of Intelligence). (2007, January). Retrieved from
This website is full of useful information. I used it to get a quote from Piaget on including play in the classroom. It is amazing that he was talking about incorporating play in the 1950’s.
Learning | Definition of Learning by Merriam-Webster. (2016). Retrieved from
Lee, J., NG, J., Rabinovich, A., & Wu, J. (n.d.). Problem-Based Learning (PBL) – Learning Theories. Retrieved from
This page shows that Problem-Based Learning is an instructional method of hands-on, active learning centered on the investigation and resolution of messy, real-world problems. It originated in the late 1960s at the medical school at McMaster University in Canada. Rather than having a teacher provide facts and then testing students ability to recall these facts via memorization, PBL attempts to get students to apply knowledge to new situations. Students are faced with contextualized, ill-structured problems and are asked to investigate and discover meaningful solutions.
Siemens, G. (2005, January 5). Jan05_01. Retrieved from
This journal explains connectivism. Constructivism suggests that learners create knowledge as they attempt to understand their experiences. Constructivist principles acknowledge that real-life learning is messy and complex. Classrooms which emulate the fuzziness of this learning will be more effective in preparing learners for life-long learning. Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. It is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations.
Thomas, D. (2012). A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas at TEDxUFM. Retrieved from
This video is a summary given by Thomas of he and J.S. Brown’s book, A New Culture of Learning. It is about how concepts like tacit knowledge, indwelling, and collective play can restore America’s competitive edge. The new culture of learning draws energy from massive information networks while honoring the bounded and structured environments in which experimentation unleashes powerful imaginations. It is a mind-bending, and ultimately optimistic, look at the future of education, the book is filled with many brilliant ideas.
Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a
world of constant change. Lexington, Ky.: CreateSpace?.
A New Culture of Learning is about how concepts like tacit knowledge, indwelling, and collective play can restore America’s competitive edge. The new culture of learning draws energy from massive information networks while honoring the bounded and structured environments in which experimentation unleashes powerful imaginations. It is a mind-bending, and ultimately optimistic, look at the future of education, the book is filled with many brilliant ideas.
Wheeler, S. (2013, May 20). Learning with ‘e’s: Learning theories for the digital age. Retrieved from
Wheeler explains that some of the teaching styles we use today are simply outdated due to the use of digital tools. He talks about some new theories he feels are more appropriate for students today. He questions if the old models are adequate.