Constructivist Learning and the Australian Curriculum

It has been a long, slow process, but the way teaching is understood has been moving towards a constructivist model in Australia for some decades now. The idea of constructivist learning is to promote conceptual understanding over rote recall or procedure-following. In many instances, constructivist and inquiry-based learning are terms that appear to be used interchangeably in the literature.

As students acquire not only content and information literacy skills, but more generally, confidence and self-direction from project-based learning (PBL), the TL is most obviously placed to be their chief resource. Even if the classroom teacher has set up the project, to the specifics of the curriculum requirements, the TL will be the person who can show the students how to direct their inquiry out into the world, and yet remain on track. “Providing the foundation for inquiry-based lessons is an essential part of the role of the teacher-librarian” (p.94), as Howard says in his chapter on “the teacher librarian as curriculum leader”. Howard emphasises the part of the learning process in which the classroom teacher and teacher librarian collaborate to present information to students in such a way as to allow them to take ownership of their learning.

The federal government’s Statements of Learning are helpful in giving shape to this kind of collaborative approach. Rather than being curriculum documents, they contain “a series of statements about essential opportunities to learn in this particular domain which education jurisdictions have agreed to implement in their own curriculum documents” (Statements of Learning for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), p.1). These statements of learning are firmly based in the constructivist model: “Students use ICT in processes of inquiry and research” (p.4) is one of the first statements in the document.

In a complimentary fashion, the NSW Department of Education and Training’s “Three dimensions of Quality Teaching” are designed to function at the broadest level, but do provide a jumping-off point for designing a collaboration between the classroom teacher who seeks to set up a PBL model, and the TL who supports it. While “intellectual quality” is the aspect that most goes without saying (and is also the most vague), it is the third dimension, “pedagogy that develops and makes explicit to students the significance of their work” that makes most apparent a need for a constructivist approach. In order to incorporate their learning into their own experience and life situations, students will need to be guided in recognising the significance of what they are doing, in a wider context. Knowledge of and respect for the variations within the learning community being served will allow the TL to do this. It will assist the classroom teacher to develop a unit more solidly grounded in constructivist principles of education if the TL has a clear and concrete understanding of the profile of the students. “The students must take the information and make it theirs through their own experiences and life situations… The teacher-librarian supports the students through learning activities that help them use the higher-level thinking skills, the critical thinking skills” (Howard, p.93). The TL must therefore, to be effective, know something of these experiences and life situations.

It remains the provenance of the teacher librarian’s skill to see where the variety of available resources can mesh with the various strengths of the students, to support a higher level of self-directed learning.

References cited:

Australian Education Systems Officials Committee (AESOC) on behalf of the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) (2006). Statements of Learning for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Curriculum Corporation.

Howard, J.K. (2010). The Teacher-Librarian as Curriculum Leader. In S. Coatney (Ed.), The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (pp.85-100). Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited

NSW Department of Education and Training website. Professional Learning and Leadership Development: Quality Teaching. Accessed on 27 April 2013

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