The key points of the Constructivist learning theory that make it useful for differentiation in teaching are that it: (1) helps students from different cultural and social backgrounds to interact more naturally. (2) provides a common ground for learning to take place. and (3) helps students to think and be creative, which is one of the important learning objectives I have in my math classes (EBC, 2007. Matthews, 2003).
Analyzing the underlying principles show how the theory supports my approach to differentiation. With its emphasis on big concepts that begin with the whole and expanding to include the parts, constructivism provides the intellectual foundation that allows the students coming from diverse cultural and personal backgrounds to grasp concepts of working together, sharing common goals, and appreciating differences. This mindset is useful to guide students – many of whom are traumatized by immigration, the challenge of a new culture, and coping with family problems – to work towards achieving grand objectives and see the part everyone plays in it.
By giving value to student questions and interests, the constructivist learning theory helps the students develop self-esteem by making them realize that personal differences make them unique, and that these differences play an important role in the learning process and in fostering unity and agreement within a multicultural environment. The interactivity of learning builds on what students know from their own backgrounds and personal experiences. While I use typical examples from American culture to teach mathematics, I encourage students to use examples from their own cultures to enhance a familiar feel by not completely detaching students from their unique histories. I find this useful when dealing with students coming from cultures of oppression and inferiority, emphasizing for example that while respect for authority is an important value, it needs to be balanced with other values important in a democratic society, such as formation of individuality, love for freedom, and the need to establish and achieve high standards (Glatthorn, 1999, p. 5).
Unique personal learning is encouraged by the constructivist principle of dialogue with students aimed at helping them construct their own personal knowledge. The teacher’s interactive role, rooted in negotiation, helps students acquire life skills that are crucial for their futures. The emphasis on group work reinforces the interaction of the students among themselves so they develop the abilities of self-expression, independent thinking, and understanding differences in viewpoints, all cornerstones of American society. Constructivism’s emphasis on process, observations, and tests and the recognition that knowledge is dynamic and changes with personal experience are useful in developing in students the habits of lifelong learning, experimental daring, and the curiosity to learn more about the world around them. Since each culture has unique world views, constructivism helps everyone learn from the different ways people view and learn from the world.
This does not mean that Instructivism, the ideological opposite of constructivism, does not contain good points that are useful in making education in a diversified classroom more effective. The Instructivist emphases on developing basic skills, having a well-planned curriculum, the value of repetition, the recognition of the teacher’s authority, teaching correct answers, and fostering learning independence