WARNING – This is not meant to be a sophisticated academic presentation. There will be no references and I won’t quote any formal definitions. It is an effort to explain in plain English a fundamental debate about education. It’s also an effort to clarify my own thoughts and so I will simplify. Please feel free to help advance my understanding. PS. I’m giving myself 15 minutes to compose the entire piece.
I have heard many people claim that teachers lecturing students is a central part of education. At the end of the day, the teachers know and understand, and through explicit instruction, they can explain a lot of materials to students. This is one view of education. This information can also be supplied to students through reading.
In the other corner, there are the constructionists who point out that information is not so important and that education is about building skills and students need to learn by exploration. They need to be curious and to construct their new understandings which need to be attached to previous skills and knowledge to have any chance of becoming a meaningful part of their educational progress. For many skills, this is obviously true. Nobody has ever learned to ride a bike though explicit instruction. Or how to write properly. Or how to talk persuasively or be a good conversationalist. Reading too is primarily a question of reading practice.
But of course, while I say “primarily,” the fact is that some good timely coaching (ie explicit instruction) really helps in any and all of the above. So the answer about learning is that it needs to be judicious blend of instruction and hands-on effort.
Hence, so many different instructional models. We just built the Science4Us program using the 5E Instructional Model adapted for online use and by primary students. Each of the modules (there might be 28. As I said, I’m writing this without any research) has a section for Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate/enhance, and Evaluate. My understanding is that it’s an effective way to ensure that teachers blend these two educational approaches, explicit instruction and constructionism.
There are lots of other blends. For instance, a teacher leading a class can start by asking questions in such a way that students engage prior knowledge and begin to explore ideas on their own. Good speakers can start a sentence and pause in such a way, or ask a rhetorical question in such a way, that students actually “construct” and “investigate” on their own within the context of a teacher actually lecturing. A student who has written a draft of a paper can be shown generally how a run-on or poorly structured sentence can be properly structured or split into two. Then, the student can use this knowledge and use it revise his or her own writing. These are just a few of the many ways that effective teachers blend instruction with practice and constructionist learning.
Yet, at the end of the day, I feel that this is not a kumbaya situation in which everyone agrees that there is a happy blend of the two techniques which all reasonable people can agree on. While everyone agrees that there is some blend needed but in practice, I hear most educators placing themselves into one of these two camps. They either believe in explicit instruction as the foundation of the framework. Or they believe in constructionism as the framework with instruction fit into that framework.
Now, your part. What do you think?