Teaching for Construction of Knowledge
In the constructivist perspective, learning is a process
of the construction of knowledge. Learners actively
construct their own knowledge by connecting new ideas
to existing ideas on the basis of materials/activities
presented to them (experience). For example, using a
text or a set of pictures/visuals on a transport system
coupled with discussions will allow young learners to
be facilitated to construct the idea of a transport system.
Initial construction (mental representation) may be
based on the idea of the road transport system, and a
child from a remote rural setting may form the idea
centred around the bullock cart. Learners construct
mental representations (images) of external reality
(transport system) through a given set of acti vities
(experiences). The structuring and restructuring of
ideas are essential features as the learners progress in
learning. For instance, the initial idea of a transport
system built around road transport will be reconstructed
to accommodate other types of transport
engagement of learners, through relevant activities, can
further facilitate in the construction of mental images
of the relationships (cause-effect) between a transport
system and human life/economy. However, there is a
social aspect in the construction process in the sense
that knowledge needed for a complex task can reside
in a group situation. In this context, collaborative
learning provides room for negotiation of meaning,
sharing of multiple views and changing the internal
representation of the external reality. Construction
indicates that each learner individually and socially
constructs meaning as he/she learns. Constructing
meaning is learning. The constructivist perspective
provides strategies for promoting learning by all.
The teacher's own role in children’s cognition
could be enhanced if they assume a more active role in
relation to the process of knowledge construction in
which children are engaged. A child constructs her/his
knowledge while engaged in the process of learning.
Allowing children to ask questions that require them to
relate what they are learning in school to things
happening outside, encouraging children to answer in
their own words and from their own experiences,
rather than simply memorising and getting answers right
in just one way — all these are small but important
steps in helping children develop their understanding.
‘Intelligent guessing’ must be encouraged as a valid
pedagogic tool. Quite often, children have an idea
arising from their everyday experiences, or because of
their exposure to the media, but they are not quite ready
to articulate it in ways that a teacher might appreciate.
It is in this ‘zone’ between what you know and what
you almost know that new knowledge is constructed.
Such knowledge often takes the form of skills, which
are cultivated outside the school, at home or in the
community. All such forms of knowledge and skills
must be respected. A sensitive and informed teacher is
aware of this and is able to engage children through
well-chosen tasks and questions, so that they are able
to realise their developmental potential.
Active engagement involves enquiry, exploration,
questioning, debates, application and reflection, leading
to theory building and the creation of ideas/positions.
Schools must provide opportunities to question,
enquire, debate, reflect, and arrive at concepts or create
new ideas. An element of challenge is critical for the
process of active engagement and learning various
concepts, skills and positions through the process. What
is challenging for a particular age group becomes easy
and uninteresting for the other age group, and may be
remote and uninteresting at another stage.
So often, in the name of ‘objectivity’, teachers
sacrifice f lexibility and creativity. Very often teachers, in
government as well as private schools, insist that all
children must give identical answers to questions. The
argument given for not accepting other answers is that,
“They cannot give answers that are not there in the
textbook.” “We discussed it in the staffroom and
decided that we will only accept this answer as right!”,
or that “There will be too many types of answers.
Then should we accept them all?” Such arguments
make a travesty of the meaning of learning and only
serve to convince children and parents that schools are
irrationall y rigid. We must ask ourselves why we only
ask children to give answers to questions. Even the
ability to make a set of questions for given answers is
a valid test of learning.