Philosophy, Knowledge Base, and Goals
The Hendrix College Department of Education believes that a liberal arts education will produce knowledgeable, thinking human beings and provide a sound background for a professional educator. This basic belief has led the Department of Education to adopt a constructivist philosophy for its teacher education program. This knowledge base has been in existence since 1992, and the flexibility that constructivism gives to the teacher licensure candidate makes it appear to be timeless in its longevity.
The constructivist philosophy is based on the “assumption that learners do not passively absorb knowledge but rather construct it from their experiences” (Asthenia, Journal of Teacher Education, Nov./Dec., 1992, p. 322). The passive absorption of knowledge refers to the traditional practices of teaching and learning where rote learning is emphasized.
It should be noted that the constructivist approach does not abandon existing knowledge. Knowledge is constructed by the learner based upon personal experiences, beliefs, and preexisting mental structures. Actually, constructivist learning experiences take into account students' existing knowledge and provide opportunities for students to develop new knowledge by fitting it into, revising, or replacing an existing framework of knowledge. The constructivist approach gives students the opportunity to construct knowledge for themselves, on their terms, so that they can act to form meaningful mental pictures of understanding. Constructivism, therefore, includes “the consolidation and internalization of information, by the learner, in a way that is both personally meaningful and conceptually coherent” (Caine & Caine, Teaching and the Human Brain, 1991, p.147).
Constructivism relies on interactive instructional methods such as teacher questioning and cooperative student learning. A positive classroom climate is provided in which students feel free to exchange and discuss ideas, to contribute and know that such contributions are valued, and to analyze and interpret information. Process, problem solving, higher order thinking, and research skills are imbedded in the interaction methods of the constructivist classroom. Subject matter content has greater relevancy because students are able to develop their own frameworks of understanding.
The change from the traditional approach to the constructivist approach of teaching and learning is not a simple matter for prospective teachers. The constructivist teacher must learn to engage in self-inquiry through reflection. This means that the teacher as coach or facilitator must help students reflect on their experiences for the purpose of grasping the implications. The teacher's ability to engage in self-inquiry through reflection also enhances the process of self-evaluation.