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  Workshop 3: Public Policy & the Federal Budget  
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Workshop 3

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Teacher Perspectives: Constructivist teaching

Leslie Martin: Constructivist teaching is a way to help students be successful in a variety of areas. I have several goals that I have to attend to. I teach a course that has a state-required test and when they go to take the test, they have to know certain concepts, certain vocabulary terms, most of which they have never seen before [this class] or they may not know what they mean in the technical sense. I also have a goal of making my students successful as people. Learning new interpersonal skills, learning new ways of thinking about things, new ways of feeling about things. I can lecture [and] give notes, [and] I do sometimes, but the hands-on activities, the building activities, the activities that make students think about what they feel, what they think, and why they think, give them that internal analytical piece to say who am I and why am I this way and where am I going.

I believe that to build on knowledge, to lay groundwork, we need to have hooks--things we already know and understand deeply. Sometimes students come to me and they have many, many hooks--a little coat rack of hooks--and they can quickly string together the concepts and put them between what they already know, building on their knowledge. Constructivist strategies [help them tie what they learn] to real-life experiences. I believe that part of what teaching is about is reaching your head and your heart, and that once you feel something and experience it, you understand it.

I like to use group discussion and questioning, particularly with a class like this, because I believe that they know more than they actually think they do. They make connections within their own mind, but they also build on what other students are saying. When one says, “I know what you mean but let me expand it,” they are actually learning from each other. I believe that the learning that you do yourself stays with you and [that] teaching yourself to learn is an important process. Hands-on activities firmly embed [new ideas] not only in their minds but also in their hearts and in their routines. They are more easily connected. [They say things like], “I remember when we did this that way. Let me apply a new approach.” So it’s almost a strategy, a theory that they can apply each time to analyze. For teachers, it lays groundwork. Part of what I am doing as a ninth-grade teacher is teaching basic concepts and skills that these students will apply [at] the next level and the next level and the next level. I am trying to [teach] some concepts that the students will pull on when they are in United States history. So, partly I believe that I am helping other teachers. The other advantage of constructivist [methodologies] is they are more fun. They are more interactive. I learn [about] the students more as people. I think that one of the cores of being a good teacher is knowing your students as individuals first.


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