Archive for the ‘Constructivism’ category

Characteristics of a Constructivist Approach

December 18, 2009

Characteristics of a Constructivist Approach
1. Learners construct their own knowledge beginning with what they already
know, exploring what needs to be known next and determining the quality
and effectiveness of their pursuit through authentic assessment and
2. All learning begins in doubt about the validity of an idea. The goal of doubt
is the restoration of belief. (Pierce, James).
3. Learning takes place in the personal zone of cognitive development between
what is already known, what is not known and what is desired to be known
4. Learning is achieved best through a socially interactive process (Dewey,
5. Learning is best achieved when the undertaking is consistent with the stages
of human development (Rousseau, Piaget).
6. Learning is an experience based process of inquiring, discovering, exploring,
doing and undergoing (Dewey).
7. The process of coming to know is neither random nor eclectic, it has
(Bruner, Bloom).
8. Learning proceeds in spiraling fashion including laddering, scaffolding,
weaving, and dialogism (Bruner, Rogoff).
9. Cognitive development occurs in a socio-cultural context – the social milieu of
individual achievement and the interaction between the learner and adults as
well as his/her peers in culturally valued activities. (Riordan – Karlsson,
10 The interactive process in coming to know needs to be guided by structured
cognitive and affective taxonomies (Bloom, Krathwohl).
Compiled by
Lawrence P. Creedon


A Constructivist Approach to Brainstorming and Action Research

December 18, 2009

A Constructivist Approach to Brainstorming and Action Research
A Group Dynamics Approach to Shared Decision Making
Those who are to be affected by a decision ought to be involved in the process of making, implementing and
being held accountable for decisions made.
Lawrence P. Creedon
The original version of this Action Research monograph was written in 1992. Since then I have updated it several times.
Revisions will continue to be made as a need arises. Several hundred graduate students that I have worked with both in the
United States as well as internationally have engaged in Action Research following the procedure outlined here or earlier
versions of the topic. A random sampling of Action research projects undertaken by students internationally are listed on
Appendix A. Appendix B is an example of one Action Research project.
In 1998 Rory O’ Brien at the University of Toronto, Canada defined Action Research as:
Action research is known by many other names, including participatory research, collaborative
inquiry, emancipatory research, action learning, and contextual action research, but all are
variations on a theme. Put simply, action research is “learning by doing” – a group of people
identify a problem, do something to resolve it, see how successful their efforts were, and if not
satisfied, try again.
Brainstorming and Action Research
A precursor to the term Action Research is Brainstorming. Both Brainstorming and Action Research are
associated with generating ideas. However, Action Research is much more than that. The full application of a
complete Brainstorming or Action Research [AR] exercise begins with the realization that an issue or problem
exists. Resolution of the issue or problem is predicated on the belief that those who are to be affected by
whatever decision is made ought to be involved in the process of making, implementing and being held
accountable for decisions made.
Immediately, it must be recognized that involvement as indicated here and in the statement of the above
principle does not mean that every administrative and/or managerial issue must be submitted to the involvement
process before any action can be made. Such an assumption is operationally unworkable. What is intended is that
where matters of principle and those related to the purpose, mission and goals of the learning community are at
stake, the involvement maxim ought to be honored and practiced. The process about to be described here focuses
on “your” practice. It is not intended to serve as a tool for academic or scholarly research that considers a
profession wide issue or problem. The purpose here is to provide a vehicle for addressing a need that you have in
your practice. The process is intended as a small interactive team exercise; however, it can be applied by
individuals working alone.
The process begins with the identification of a specific issue or problem and ends with the implementation of a
plan of action for moving the issue or problem toward a more satisfactory resolution . It is not assumed that once
completed closure will have been permanently drawn on the issue. The result is what John Dewey referred to as
an end-in-view. The applicable witticism is: To do better is better than doing one’s best..
Brainstorming and Action Research are terms used to identify an approach to decision making. The term
Brainstorming has been in use longer than Action Research. The distinction between the terms is Brainstorming
is a process for generating ideas related to the identification and resolution of an issue or problem. Action
Research carries those ideas to fruition in an action plan for implementation of a chosen resolution.
Brainstorming and Action Research are group dynamics based processes for shared decision making. They are
an outgrowth of Kurt Lewin’s [1890-1947] cognitive field theory. They promote collaborative problem solving
rooted in Lewin’s work. In curriculum and instruction they are compatible with cognitive psychology and
constructivism. The origin of formal AR is usually attributed to Lewin and his students including Ron Lippitt.
Both are in contrast to Behaviorism. [Brook and Brooks, The Case for the Constructivist Classroom,
ASCD,1993; Marzano, A Different Kind of Classroom, ASCD, 1992; For an introduction to AR see, Emily
Calhoun, How to Use Action Research in the Self-Renewing School, ASCD, pp. 14-16,1994].
In 1995 Dorothy Gabel in her address as incoming president of the national Association for Research in Science
Teaching observed:
Action Research (AR) represents a growing field of educational research whose chief identifying
characteristic is the recognition of the pragmatic requirements of educational practitioners for organized
reflective inquiry into classroom instruction. AR is a process designed to empower all participants in the
educational process (students, instructors and other parties) with the means to improve the practices
conducted within the educational experience (Hopkins, 1993). All participants were knowing, active
members of the research process.
Action research has been described as an informal, qualitative, formative, subjective, interpretive,
reflective and experiential model of inquiry in which all individuals involved in the study are knowing
and contributing participants (Hopkins, 1993). Action research has the primary intent of providing a
framework for qualitative investigations by teachers and researchers in complex working classroom
As a strategy for involving those who are to be affected by a decision in the decision making process
Brainstorming and AR are formative as opposed to summative exercises and have broad application in such
areas as these cited below as well as others.
Institutional purpose, goals and mission
Curriculum and Instruction
Organizational issues related to administration, management and Leadership
Organizational climate and culture matters
Classroom Management
Human resources recruitment, development and assessment
Financial issues and plant concerns
A case can be made that in a modest way Brainstorming and AR are what Howard Gardner refers to as
interpersonal intelligence. However caution must be exercised. By no means is the claim being made that these
group dynamics based strategies are what Gardner had in mind in articulating interpersonal intelligence as one of
his original seven intelligences. Interpersonal intelligence according to Gardner is:
the ability to understand other people: what motivates them, how they work, how to work cooperatively with
them. …Interpersonal intelligence builds on a core capacity to notice distinctions among others; in
particular, contrasts in their moods, temperaments, motivations, and intentions. In more advanced forms,
this intelligence permits a skilled adult to read the intentions and others, even when these have been hidden.
[Gardner, Multiple Intelligences, Basic Books, 1993, paperback,, pp 9 and 23].
For applications of Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligence and in particular interpersonal intelligence see
Thomas Armstrong,, Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, ASCD, 1994, pp. 3, 18-20, 24, 27,49,51, 56,
67, 80 and 88.
All the abilities cited above by Gardner are important in group dynamics. And, to the extent that all people do
not have these abilities in equal measure, some people are less effective than others in exercises where
sophisticated group dynamics tactics are being applied. Such is the case with the Brainstorming process approach
to shared decision making that will be outlined here.
For those educators interested in constructivist, dimensions of learning approaches to education it is instructive
to realize that there are points of compatibility. The constructivist, dimensions of learning point of view is that
the teacher guides the learner in a consideration of what is known about an issue, moves to the identification of
the unknown, and then seeks to discover both the gaps and the relationship between the two — the known and the
unknown [cognitive dissonance]. Now the learner is in a position to create new information/knowledge
[Vygotsky]. In common practice and “How-to” teacher resources this is frequently referred to KWL – What you
Know, What you want to know and What you have Learned.
In a group dynamics based approach these points are related to the Brainstorming steps of: 1. Divergent thinking,
2. Clarifying-consolidating-restating, 3. Prioritizing, 4. Systems approach analysis, and the 5. Development of a
plan of action.
Brainstorming, as an application of group dynamics is effective with groups as they develop into teams. Group
and team are not synonymous terms. [See the Creedon monograph on this]. For example, people sharing a ride
on a bus are a group, not a team. Each person on the “group” bus has his/her own destination and is sharing
nothing more than a ride with others on the same bus. However when that same bus, on another occasion, has as
its passengers a “team” of athletes they are more than a group, they are a team. And, it is more than a ride they
share with their fellow passengers. Each team member shares a common mission, objectives and goal.
Occasionally some groups never make it to team status. If they do not become a team little will be accomplished
by them toward resolving the issue or topic at hand. The possible reasons for this are many, but it is beyond the
scope of this paper to consider them. However, among them might be the lack of those characteristics of human
behavior associated with Gardner’s notion of interpersonal intelligence.
The ideal size of a group on its way to becoming a team is somewhere between four to six people. Usually there
are more people than that involved in addressing an issue and if that is the case the solution is simple. Simply
create as many teams with fewer members each necessary to maximize involvement in the active participatory
practice. Having small groups/teams of people look at the same issue usually brings about very positive results
as each team tends to look at the issue somewhat differently. As a result more data is generated and a better
resolution emerges. Be assured, that the process as it unfolds allows for the consolidation of the efforts of all the
I have worked the process successfully in many schools including troubled urban institutions. The largest group
was 150 administrators from one urban district in New Jersey. Among the smallest was the whole faculty of ten
colleagues in a school in Georgetown, Guyana. The answer is in the way the process is structured. If you remain
skeptical over this, hold your judgment until you experience the process and then see for yourself.
Brainstorming and AR are strategies. The steps employed in implementing the strategy are tactics. The tactics
used in Brainstorming are frequently user created. In AR, if reporting the findings of the effort to outside
stakeholders or those in positions of authority is required, the approach may be more formalized and a more
structured procedure may be followed. While there are guidelines to be followed as the process unfolds, each
team will undoubtedly modify the process so as to reflect its own needs. The modifications will come in the
tactics, not the strategy.
An alternative traditional decision making strategy might be having decisions handed down from persons in
authority. In this case involvement is at a minimum and very little of what is being presented here applies.
The basic premise of the Brainstorming/AR strategy is that resident within any team of users who are influenced
or affected by an issue or problem is the competence to do what needs to be done. Those involved have the
competence to identify the enabling as well as the restraining characteristics, factors and forces that impact on
the issue or problem. Working the steps of the Brainstorming/AR process the team has the competence to arrive
at a resolution of the issue. Users develop their own tactics to solve problems, think reflectively and generalize
their learning to other situations and settings. This is consistent with constructivist and dimensions of learning
approaches. And, it calls for the application of interpersonal intelligence. The term competence as used here is
taken from that articulated by psychologist Jay Hall in his book The Competence Process [Telemetric
International, Woodland, Texas, 1980]. Hall defined competence as the capacity to be what needs to be done.
Users will find that as they move from group status to become a team they will develop within the basic strategy
their own tactics for addressing the issue. It is not unlike athletics in this regard: There are many tactics that can
be used consistent with a single game strategy.
Once again compatibility with constructivism and dimensions of learning can be seen. In these approaches to
learning the learners begin with what is known about the issue or topic, identify what needs to be known, and
move on to close the gap and reduce cognitive dissonance [Vygotsky]. This is KWL.
The learning process involves a great deal of learner reflection, and generalizing as to what is being learned
beginning with what is already known. In this case the team moves collectively from the known to the unknown.
The team forms hypotheses regarding possible resolutions. The process culminates in the testing of one or more
hypothesis and the development of a plan of action. You may recognize the whole process as being compatible
with the scientific method. And, it is!
Brainstorming/AR honor the old adage that the only foolish idea is the one not spoken. Ideas are the source of
energy for Brainstorming.
By no means are Brainstorming/AR random processes. They are strategies with structure. They are based in
group dynamics but the process is by no means touchy-feely. It is hard work requiring concentration and
participation. It is violated and rendered inefficient and ineffective when the process is hurried in response to the
economy of time or the conventional wisdom that pronounces: We all know what the problem is here and what
needs to be done to solve it so let’s get on with it! Don’t fall for that one, it is a formula for failure. And,
unfortunately it may be a ploy for keeping involvement at a minimum and for keeping things as they are.
Brainstorming/AR are not strategies to use if the potential users are advocates of the One Minute Manager or of
solutions that are cast in the fast-food, quick-fix mold.
Brainstorming/AR asserts another kind of conventional wisdom that promotes the maxim: Failure to plan is
planning for failure. It honors the democratic principle that: Those who are to be affected by a decision ought to
be involved in the process of making, implementing and being held accountable for decisions made [ See
Creedon, “Axioms and Basic Assumptions as Professional Hallmarks,” The What and the What Of It, 1995].
The FourPhase Approach to Planning
Both Brainstorming/AR processes involve planning. Planning can be looked at as a four phase process. The four
phases outlined are more directly related to Brainstorming than to AR. The phases are:
The first seven steps of the Brainstorming process have to do with Quality Planning. Steps 8 and 9 relate to
Strategic and Tactical Planning. Step 10 returns to Quality Planning. Compliance Planning runs parallel to the
Brainstorming process. Quality planning considers what ought to be. Strategic and Tactical planning consider
how to get it done. Compliance planning addresses the requirement to conform to the mandates of legitimate
authority. [See Creedon: “The Four Phases of Planning”, 1994, The What and the What Of It, 1995].
A Ten Step process for Action Research
The ten steps in this approach to Action Research are:
1. Establish a Task Group/Team
2. Issue Identification
3. Divergent Thinking
4. A Positive Focus
5. Clarify-Consolidate-Restate
6. Prioritize
7. Refer Out
8. A Systems Approach to Strategic and Tactical Planning
9. A Plan of Action including Assessment
10. Open System Closure
Establish a Task Group/Team:
Those who are to be affected by a decision should participate in its determination. Groups are
formed around tasks or issues. Groups/teams need not be permanent. The life of the team is
usually co-terminus with the time it takes to complete the task at hand. For the entire process to
be effective, the group must become a team. While a group can be ordered into existence, a team
cannot be created by directive. As the group begins to work together it ought to become a team.
If this does not happen, then the group needs to reflectively examine itself.
Issue Identification: Critically Important:
There is no more important dimension of the AR process than the issue statement. The clear and
pre4cise statement of the issue as well as the next two steps in the process constitute the heart of
AR. It is here that the reflective and generative thinking process goes on.This is where the
resolution of the issue is seeded. Time spent here pays dividends throughout the entire process.
It is critically important in reaching a quality resolution.
Proper problem or issue identification is critical. John Best and James Kahn in Research in
Education, 8th edition, 1998, articulate the thinking of many authorities in the field of research
when they acknowledge that “problem identification is one of the most difficult and most crucial
steps in the research process.” All the time necessary must be devoted to clearly understanding
and stating the question under consideration. The old adage that well begun is half done applies
All group members participate in the formulation of the issue statement. This is not a task that a
few highly placed administrators do. It is not something passed down from on-high. This begins
the diagnostic phase of the undertaking.
The parameters of the issue are set here. Once the problem or issue statement is formulated in
clear and precise terms it is written on large newsprint or flip chart paper and posted in the work
area where all can see it and constantly refer to it as the process unfolds. This may seem to be
knit-picking but it is amazing how quickly a well intended team can get off the track. The
newsprint tactic helps and it becomes apparent as the process unfolds.
Posting the issue where all can see it and constantly refer to as they work helps to keep the team
focused. Also it begins to establish team thought as opposed to that of each individual. It is a
visual display of what the team is thinking. Throughout the entire exercise as the team addresses
each step in the process what they come up with is written on successive pieces of newsprint,
numbered for ease of referral and posted on a wall.
Best and Kahn, [pp. 34-36], offer a check list of four points to refer to when working to determine
the appropriateness of an issue. While the focus here is AR, and stated in the context of AR it is
highly compatible with Brainstorming. The four points are:.
1. Is this the type of problem that can be effectively solved through the research process? Can
the relevant data be found/generated to test the theory or find the answer to the question under
2. Is the problem significant? Is an important principle involved? Would the solution make a
difference in theory or practice?
3. Is the problem a new one? Is the answer already available? Frequently replication of an old
problem is appropriate. Is it appropriate in this case?
4. Is research on the issue feasible? Is it suitable for those involved? Can it be carried through
to a successful conclusion? More specific questions to be asked are:
– Are those involved competent to undertake the effort?
– Are pertinent data accessible? Are valid and reliable data-gathering devices and
procedures available? Will school authorities grant permission, be supportive?
– Will financial resources be available?
– Will time be made available?
– Will those involved have the stamina to prevail till the effort is completed?
Divergent Thinking:
Once the issue is understood the phase of Brainstorming that is most commonly associated with
the term begins. Team members articulate their thoughts [not necessarily their own views]
relative to the issue. They do so in round robin fashion. First they address the enabling or
positive aspects of the issue. Each person in turn states one enabling or positive factor,
characteristic or force related to the issue. It is posted in numerical order on the newsprint [Flip
chart paper]. No discussion or clarification takes place at this time. The purpose is for the team to
identify all the positive aspects of the issue and get them listed.
A team member serves as scribe and records each statement in numerical fashion on a sheet of
newsprint [Flip chart paper]. The sheet is identified as the Plus or Enabling list. Each statement
is numbered. The round robin process continues until each person in succession has exhausted
his/her thoughts and when called upon for input responds on two successive round robins stating:
“I pass.”
The obligation of each team member is to stretch his/her thinking and to identify positive or
enabling forces. The identification of such factors does not mean that the contributor agrees with
the thought. However, what it does indicate is the willingness and competence of individuals and
thus the team to articulate divergent points of view.
All of this is reflected on the newsprint [Flip chart paper] posted on the wall.
Once the team has exhausted itself in this regard, it reverses the field and members direct their
attention to the other side of the coin. The focus shifts to restraining, negative or minus aspects of
the issue. The same procedure is followed. The immediate goal is to get it all out. If it can be
thought, good or bad, plus or minus, think of it now and list it on newsprint.
The quality of individual and team performance here is very important factor in determining the
extent to which the issue will be resolved competently and effectively. Stated again: Well begun
is half done. And, on the negative side it is here that old computer maxim before the days of
laptops applies: Garbage in – Garbage out!
The divergent thinking component of the exercise is now completed. The team members can
stand back and looking at the several pages of newsprint can see at a glance what they, at that
point in time, understand to be the positive and enabling aspects of the issue versus the negative
and inhibiting factors. For example, if the issue is one related to curriculum or instruction the
team can see what it is that they collectively feel is important in a curriculum or instructional area
versus what is not. And, if it is their intent to practice in some integrated, learner centered fashion
then this is extremely valuable information to have. It minimizes future conflicts or
confrontations beginning with: Well, I thought we were supposed to do include this or that in the
curriculum, or follow this or that instructional design. Rather, it draws a collective focus on what
ought to be included in the curriculum, or what instructional strategy and tactics ought to be
When examining what they have created it is possible that the team will notice a discrepancy
between their issue statement and the fruits of their divergent thinking exercise. This must be
addressed. Either the issue statement needs to be modified in light of the path they have followed
in divergent thinking, or the divergent thinking process needs to be reconsidered so as to make it
consistent with the issue statement.
It is important that the team address the issue it has defined and equally as important that what is
has defined is consistent with the issue being considered. If there is a discrepancy having the data
posted on newsprint makes it easier for all to see. The solution is to make one agree with the
other. In a pair of shoes the shoes should match! Common sense dictates that the data being
collected and diagnosed must relate 100 percent to the issue being studied. Failure to assure this
surely will result in discord down the line when members of the team or outsiders recognize and
proclaim: What we have produced here has little or nothing to do with the issue statement we
started with! We seem to have switched horses in the middle of the stream.
Once confident that the issue statement and data are in accord, closure can now be drawn on the
divergent thinking component of the process. However, closure is for now, not for evermore.
Quality assurance is not only a summative activity, it is formative and on-going. W. Edwards
Deming, among the early and most respected leaders in the Total Quality Management movement
was strong on this point.
Glance ahead quickly to Step 10: Open System Closure. While cited last in the list of 10 steps the
intent of open system closure is for it to run actively through the entire process. The process is not
totally, or even primarily, summative. It does not just come at the end. If at any time during the
entire process new or additional information or insights come to the fore they are to be plugged in
then and there.
A Positive Focus:
Many times locked within the articulation of the negative aspect of the issue are factors that deal
directly with issue resolution. Therefore, special attention needs to be given to the restraining
forces. Effort should be made to restate the negatives as positives. The question to be asked by
the team is: What is it that needs to be done to make the restraining factor an enabling force?
In doing this the purpose is not to silence concern or to annihilate criticism so as to foster a
blissful march forward as with see no evil, hear no evil. The enabling factors wear no halo! At
this point both plus and minus forces are nothing more than factors. However, it is recognized
that restraining forces need to be addressed if issue resolution is to happen.Examining the
restraining forces and restating each in an enabling manner recalls the refrain from the old World
War II era song: You’ve got to accent the positive, and eliminate the negative.
As this is done, still no debate or discussion takes place. All that in due time! The task here is to
get it all out. If it can be thought, state it. And, if it is a restraining thought the immediate task is
to address the question: What needs to be done to turn a negative into a positive?
Not all negatives can be made positives. And, for those that can’t, for now leave them on the
minus list and move on. Keep in mind the biblical maxim: The poor you will always have with
you [Mathew 16:11, John 12:8].
At this point an extensive array of plus and minus forces should have been identified. Remember,
as yet no discussion or debate has taken place. No one has been called upon to defend a point of
view. No factor has been ridiculed, demeaned or attacked. What has been generated is data.
However, from the accumulated data will come the final resolution.
The next step in the process is to clarify the data displayed on the now several pages of f;ip chart
paper. Start at the top of the plus side, take one numbered point at a time and engage in discussion
[not debate, attack or defense] as to what each factor means or implies. Clarify it! Complete this
process for both enabling and restraining forces. Clarifying is not debating. It is not attacking.
Nor is it defending. Clarifying is to make certain that team members have a common
understanding of the point under discussion. Understanding means comprehension, and not
necessarily assent or agreement. If the process is to breakdown there is a strong likelihood that it
will happen here as some participants are quick to jump to conclusions with a rush to bring about
closure. If this happens it is a strong indication that the group has not become a team and that
members are either promoting a personal position or are attacking the position of the alleged
team. At any rate the group/team has become dysfunctional. If this is sensed to be happening the
process, under the direction of the process manager, should come to a halt and the matter
reviewed examining the question of what has gone wrong.
Once all team members have “Passed” on clarification it is time to consolidate. Start a clean
sheet of fip chart paper and consolidate like factors. Link the compatible forces together by
clustering the number that identifies each thought. For example, maybe points one and six, as
well as eight and nine are compatible. They address the same point. If so, cluster them together,
identifying them by their numbers. The cluster becomes 1-6-8-9. Then maybe points two, four,
six and seven are compatible. They address the same point. Cluster them together and they
become 2-4-6-7. You may note, as is the case in this example, that one or more points – such as
number six keeps reappearing in each cluster. That is OK. Furthermore, it signals to the team
that the point is important as it keeps reappearing.
When consolidation has been completed each member of the team takes one or more of the newly
consolidated statements and restates it into a more coherent, comprehensive, grammatically clear
and distinct correct statement. The same procedure is followed for the remaining negative forces.
In that this is an editing task the team can split up into sub-teams each taking one or more
consolidated statements and rewriting each as a comprehensive statement. This gets the job done
more quickly. Pay particular attention to those points that appear over and over again. Obviously
they are important.
The next step is to prioritize the new statements. This should be a relatively simple, obvious and
quick task. In that everyone is by this time very familiar with the data putting the consolidated
and restated statements in priority order should come easy.
The standard for prioritizing the statements is not going from the most important to the least
important. While that might be done as an aside academic exercise just to see how individual
team members view the importance of each statement, it is not the way to move toward an action
plan. Rather, the standard that should be used is one that responds to the question: Which of these
consolidated statements can we and our colleagues on this faculty here and now act on without
having to go to external authority to get permission or procure resources? Refer back to the four
points referenced earlier in Best and Kahn, pp. 34-36.
The standard for identifying a priority becomes one of action: What can be done here and now
with the resources available to us? If you cannot do anything about it without getting permission
from external authority or being provided with additional resources it is quite possibly not a high
priority at this time. Identify as high priority those things that team members and their colleagues
can have an impact on. If that is impossible take another look at what you have identified as your
issue. The idea is to begin as close to the where the action is, and that is the classroom or: What
Goes On Behind the Classroom Door, John Goodlad.
The consolidated statements that meet the criteria become the top priorities. The team focuses on
developing a plan of action around these. Seldom does the team need to vote for these, rather
consensus prevails. In that the group has by this time in all probability become a team. It will find
that voting in the traditional manner of majority rule will not be necessary or even considered.
Decision making will be by consensus.
Success follows success! Therefore, the approach here is to focus on what can be done now, and
to demonstrate what can be done within the existing limits of authority and with existing
resources. However, be ready to suggest what can be done in a more ideal situation with extended
authority and enhanced resources.
Refer Out and Literature Research:
Refer Out: Obviously the team is not a world unto itself. It is not the reservoir of all that can be
known about the issue or topic. It cannot under its own aegis be expert relative to all that needs to
be known in order to accomplish what needs to be done. Others within as well outside the
organization might need to be involved as resources. Calhoun [p.35] refers to this as seeking
technical assistance.
Others can have roles to play. The task team needs to recognize this and refer out to external
authorities and resources those things that fit within the jurisdictions of others. In doing so the
task team needs to be explicit as to what the issue is that is before the task force, what it is that the
task team is trying to accomplish, and what is being asked of the external authority or resource.
For example, if the issue concerns fiscal matters then the business office of the school system will
need to be involved. If it concerns a staff recruitment matter, the human resources office may
need to become involved on such matters as to legal requirements related to hiring.
The task team must be careful not to intrude on the legitimate jurisdiction of others. However, in
referring out the task team should not simply say: “Here’s our problem, now it is up to you to
solve it or to give us the resources or authority we need to move ahead.” The outside resource
must be provided with as much information as the task force has. And, if appropriate, the task
team should offer a recommended course of action to the external resource.
Literature Research: Action Research is more than colleagues coming together to share their
collective thoughts on how to have a positive impact on an issue they are experiencing in
common in their practice. It is more than an individual engaging in a similar pursuit, but working
alone. A literature search is a part of the process and the Internet is a primary vehicle for
conducting a literature research. Before recommending a plan of action aimed at having a positive
impact on an issue there must be confidence that those involved have a good understanding of the
issue. Those involved must have schooled themselves in what the literature reveals about the
issue. The schooling comes about as the result of an Internet based literature research. Research
that is as free from bias as possible, that is non-selective and that can stand the test of peer
scrutiny and the standards of validity and reliability.
The purpose of the Action Research process is not to make researchers out of those who practice
behind the classroom door. However, there are basic factors that need to be taken into
consideration before a research study is used to support or oppose a given issue. A good source is
the twelve questions advanced by Locke,Silverman and Spirduso,in
Reading and Understanding Research, Sage Publications,
The twelve questions to ask while reading a research study and considering including reference
to it in your own Action Research are:
1. Has the paper been peer reviewed for a referred journal?
2. Is evidence of replication available to support the results?
3. Is a conflict of interest evident for the person(s) doing,
sponsoring, or disseminating the study?
4. Can the questions(s) asked be answered in the study?
5. Is evidence of technical problems apparent in design or analysis?
6. Are sample, composition and size adequate to address the questions(s)asked and to support
the conclusions reached?
7. Are the conclusions offered supported by the findings?
8. Is there evidence that the investigator was careless in conducting
or reporting the study?
9. Does the author say things about the study that appear to be examples of a poor understanding
of scholarship?
10.Is the author conscientious in drawing your attention to limitations imposed by the design or
sample, or compromises made to circumvent problems?
11.Did you encounter any other reason for suspending trust in the study?
12. Do you understand all of the report, or, in all honesty, do you require assistance with some
Reporting Research Findings: In the final report of the Action Research project a section is to be
devoted to a composite or summary review of the literature considered in developing the plan of
action. No particular approach in citing a research study needs to be followed. Make clear the
name of the authors, title of the research study, where and when published or located. and date.
A Systems Approach to Strategic and Tactical Planning:
What has gone on up to this point falls under Quality Planning of the four phase approach to
planning. Now the process shifts first to Strategic Planning and then to Tactical Planning.
Having determined what ought to be done including articulating the task in a set of can-be-donenow
priorities, the focus shifts to developing a strategy and tactics.
All too frequently organizations begin looking at an issue or problem by going directly to
strategic planning. Little attention is given to quality planning. As a result what is created is
frequently nothing more than a recasting of what is. No new ground is cultivated. It can be
nothing more than the same old wine in new bottles. It gives teachers cause to proclaim: All we
do in education is re invent the wheel every 15 or 20 years. Stick around long enough and you
will see that what was attempted and abandoned a few years ago, has been once again dressed
up and is appearing as the latest innovation. Alcoholics Anonymous and other self-help groups
call this insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and over again and each time expecting a
different result. – Insanity by definition.
Systems approach as a management strategy has been around in the way that it will be promoted
here since at least the 1960s. I first addressed the topic in 1969 in an essay titled: Some Thoughts
on Process: Inputs-Process-Outputs. A leading contributor to systems approach thought is Joseph
Juran, one of the original Total Quality Management gurus. His book, Juran, Planning for
Quality, The Free Press, Macmillan, 1988, has been termed a definitive guide to his structured
approach to quality planning and is a classic in the field. In the “What’s new?” circuit of
professional development publications and conference agendas the “Backward Design” approach
to curriculum development is a contemporary example of re-playing an old, but legitimate, theme.
See the Creedon monograph on “Backward Design,” [2008].
Systems approach application in strategic and tactical planning goes far beyond the traditional
notion of brainstorming. The point has already been made in this essay that for many
brainstorming begins and ends with what has been cited here as Divergent Thinking.
Systems Approach has three components: traditionally stated as: Input-Process-Output. The
logical way to state the three and to act in response to them is the other way around: Output,
Input, Process. It is this logical consideration that gives rise to the catchy phrase: “Backward
Design.” Going from Output to Input and process is not backwards at all. Rather it is the logical
way to proceed. In relating the three to an issue or problem the order is changed, first comes
output, then input and finally process. The rationale is self-evident. First you need to identify
what you are attempting to accomplish, next you identify the resources needed to accomplish
your end-in-view, and finally you develop a process for going about the task to be addressed..
Output has to do with outcomes, ends-in-view, goals. What do you intend to accomplish? The
prioritized statements from quality planning serve as the source of the output or goal statements.
The first task is to review the priority statements and determine if they can be adopted exactly as
they appear. If so, adopt them. If not, rewrite them without changing their purpose or intent so
that they state your goals. If it is a priority, then it is an end-in-view goal. For example, if the
issue is one of developing a professional development program and the first priority is to have the
faculty and staff determine what it needs by way of professional development and then rewrite
the priority statement to state that as a goal. If the second priority is to first use the expertise of
the faculty and staff in offering professional development programs, then rewrite the priority to
reflect that as a goal.
The output statements should not exceed the intent of the priority statements under consideration.
Yet, there need not be a one-to-one correlation. Certainly a single priority can generate several
outcomes or goals. However, the outcome statements should not go beyond the intent of the
priority statements. If this happens then a different issue or problem is now being addressed.
And that issue or problem has not gone through the scrutiny of the quality planning exercise. Do
you recall the points made earlier about Open System Closure? They apply here.
It is against the outcome statements that assessment measures will be developed. Assessment
should be consistent with and reflective of the stated outcomes. For example, and continuing with
the illustration of professional development, assessment measures would have to do with the
extent that faculty and staff were actually engaged in planning the professional development
program and the extent to which existing faculty and staff were used in presenting programs.
Authentic assessment procedures should be featured including rubrics. The Internet has many
sites that feature both authentic assessment and rubrics. For example,
It is not uncommon to enlist faculty and staff in such planning and then have an external authority
set all that aside and send in the experts to talk about issues of little or no concern to the faculty
and staff. Obviously if this happens trust is compromised. And once trust is compromised it is
very hard to get back.
Input has to do with the human and material resources needed to get the job done. Resources are
four in kind: Human, Material, Plant and Financial. Said another way, resources have to do with
people, places, things and money. For each outcome stated the resources necessary for it to
become reality must be identified with as much specificity as possible. The task team must
critically examine the resources at hand and specify those necessary to accomplish the outcome.
If resources are not readily available the team has an obligation to suggest how they might be
made available.
Two things to remember here are that, first the team must be mindful that the order for
prioritizing was to identify first those outcomes that could be realized with existing resources.
Second, and critically important, is that the team must think outside the box. That is it must not
limit itself to simply repositioning the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Although it frequently seems this way, the existing organizational structures of schools was not
delivered by Moses on tablets of stone. Many authorities have addressed the detrimental impact
organizational structure has on schooling. For example in 1960 in addressing the Council of Chief
State School Officers the then prominent psychologist Carl Rogers observed that unless the
public school could rid itself of its position as the most outdated, bureaucratic, incompetent
institution in the land, the public school was doomed. Fifty years later the beat goes on as the
same criticism continues unabated related to organizational dysfunction within schools. This is
exemplified by a 2007 report on conditions within the schools of Washington, DC. Commenting
on one high school within Washington, DC the Washington Post newspaper reported [November
12, 2007]:
Of all the challenges facing [Calvin Coolidge Senior High School] – and the D.C. public
schools system – schedules and records have been among the most entrenched. Students,
parents and teachers say kids frequently have been put in classes they have already taken,
scheduled for two classes at the same time and not scheduled for classes they need…..”
The article continues is a vain very critical of the organizational structure of the D.C. Schools.
This is the time to think of resources not in a narrow sense, but in an expansive manner. For
example, if the issue under consideration has to with how the school is organized think outside
the box of the self-contained classroom with its specific teacher-student classroom ratio. Instead,
think in terms of how many students there are totally within the unit such as a grade level, a
primary or intermediate unit, and at the secondary level within a department such as math, social
studies, etc. Then consider what is known about how the learners come to know, and what it is
they need to know now and why. Next look at the four categories of resources available and
consider in what ways those resources can be utilized to do what needs to be done based on what
is known about how the learners come to know and what it is that they need to know [See
Creedon, Four Big Questions Underlying a School Platform]. Now you are better prepared to
determine how the school ought to be organized.
If by chance school organization has been the issue that your team has been working on from the
very beginning then you should have been exploring those questions stated in the paragraph
above.There are many organizational schemas in the marketplace. What is important in
considering alternative approaches to organizing the school away from the way it has been
organized is to look for the theory that under girds the proposed restructuring. It is not enough to
be simply research based. The question must be asked: Research against what standards?[See,
Locke, Silverman and Spirduso, Reading and Understanding Research ,1998, p. 55 for a ” Dozen
Questions to Ask When Reading Research”].
If it is research that reinforces schools as they are, then in my opinion that research will shed little
insight on schools as the learner centered organizations they ought to be. Howard Gardner
writing in Multiple Intelligences laments the uniformity of schools and calls for learner centered
schools. By no means is he plowing new ground , but he does have an audience. He asks that the
focus be on the learner. Among the proposals he makes for restructuring schools is the creation
of three new faculty positions. They are student assessment specialists, student curriculum
brokers and school-community brokers. More on this can be found by in Gardner, Multiple
Intelligences, Chapter Five.
For more on my own point of view see Creedon monographs: “Recycling the Urban Education
Melting Pot,” [1971], cited in Planning Urban Education, Dennis I. Roberts (editor), Educational
Technology Publications, 1972); and “Four Big Questions Underlying a School Platform” 1998].
Process is most closely related to tactical planning. In strategic planning all the ducks are
organized as they need to be and an overall plan of action is established. Tactical planning gets
down to the nitty-gritty of an action plan. Who is going to do what? Where will the action take
place? What is” my’ part in the whole endeavor? What do I do? What is my responsibility?
Obviously the action plan is very closely tied to what has been developed to this point. It must be
totally reflective of the priorities established and of the output and input components of the
systems approach process.
However, here is a danger here that hovers close to the surface. It has been long established as a
truism in relation to human behavior that people resist change. Keeping things as they are takes
precedence over change [See the work of Benjamin Bloom is this regard].
Even the well intended can find that they slip back into comfortable ways of doing things and
looking at things. Therefore, if after all has been said and done in following this approach to
shared decision making the bottom line comes out to be business as usual or something very close
to it, then the question has to be asked: Why bother in the first place?
Tactical Planning and Dimensions of Learning (DOL).
In tactical planning the same four components associated with strategic planning are considered:
Human resources, material things, places and money. If strategic planning is a macro enterprise,
then tactical planning is micro. In covers the same territory, but gets more personalized.
The five components of the DOL process provide a good vehicle for curriculum and instruction
specific tactical planning. The five steps found in Marzano, A Different Kind of Classroom,
Teaching With Dimensions of Learning, ASCD, 1992 are:
1. Positive attitudes and perceptions about learning
2. Acquiring and integrating knowledge
3. Extending and Refining Knowledge
4. Using knowledge meaningfully
5. Productive habits of mind
In order to develop specific tactics for each of the five DOL components see Creedon handouts as
well as Marzano. A Different Kind of Classroom, and Marzano and Pickering. Dimensions of
Learning Teacher’ Manual, 2nd edition, 1998, ASCD.
Strategic and Tactical Action Plan
The team now has a strategic plan of action before it. And, it moves on to use the same systems
approach strategy to address tactical planning. The team looks at the same four components.
However, this time it is to identify specific tasks for individuals or categories of individuals. For
example, if the issue has to do with curriculum or instruction the team would be explicit as to
what is expected of the administration, curriculum and instructional support personnel, paraprofessionals,
secretarial and plant management personnel, etc. In this fashion the team considers
each of the four components of systems approach.
Open System Closure: A democratic society is an open system. Shared decision making is
predicated on the self-evident truth of a democratic society that those who are to be affected by a
decision are to be involved in the process of making, implementing and being held accountable
for decisions made.
Closure is not forever. There are no absolutes in this constructivist approach to decision making.
A decision made and implemented has credibility only as long as the data upon which it was
made remains valid. New data or need requires that the issue be re-opened.
In order to keep the system open, to assess the quality of the decision made and to determine the
effectiveness as well as the efficiency of the action plan a monitoring procedure needs to be
developed and implemented. This provides for feedback as well as evaluation and assessment of
the whole undertaking. The trigger points for monitoring include the priorities; the three systems
approach components, and the action plan. Formative assessment procedures may best serve the
implementation of the process, while summative approaches might be required to fulfill
compliance mandates.
Finally the team is ready to take Action
It is time to walk the talk!
Implementation is the name of the game!
All systems are Go!
The proof of the pudding is in the eating!
The curtain has gone up!
The ball has been snapped:
Play action!
We have lift-of!
Examples of Action Research From Several Countries.
The Action Research process outlined above was originally developed by me around 1990. Since
then it has undergone several revisions. For the most part the revisions have come about in
response to the several hundred practitioners from several countries around the world who have
engaged in the process while studying with me. Appendix A is a listing by title of a limited
number of Action Research projects undertaken by graduate students studying with me.
Managing the Process Managing the Action Research process involves three functions. The
first is facilitation, the second is process management and the third is record keeping. These three
functions are carried out by three team members. As the team works together it is common for
members to switch positions and this is good. It is a visible sign of team cohesiveness
A facilitator acts as chair person. The facilitator’s job is to keep everyone on task.
Process Observer:
Process management is provided by a second team member who assumes the responsibility to see
to it that the process is being followed. If team members decide that they wish to change or
modify a tactic, then the process observer assumes the chair and manages the change process. In a
departure from consensus based decision making, decisions here can be made by the more
traditional process of majority rule.
The record keeping function is carried out by the team scribe. This person has the responsibility
to get everything down on flip chart paper.
Changing Jobs
It is common and a good thing for team members to switch jobs from facilitator, process
observer, and scribe. This is done informally as long as everyone on the team knows who is
responsible for what
Newsprint or Flip Chart paper:
It is not uncommon for teams to initially resist using the newsprint or flip chart paper to record all
team thought. However, the use of newsprint is a valuable tactic for at least two major reasons.
First, it serves as a very visible reminder of team thought. It is a visual sign of the collective
thought process of the team. It is there for everyone to see. As the process unfolds team members
will find that they cluster around the newsprint or flip chart paper and come to appreciate its
value. It makes it easy to periodically stop and review things thus far. It focuses on the work of
the team as opposed to that of individuals.
The second reason is that it becomes the vehicle by which each team working on the same issue
or simultaneously on different issues can share their efforts with colleagues. It is the vehicle for
giving not only status reports to colleagues but also for trouble shooting. For example, if the
team gets stuck anywhere along the line and needs outsiders to take a fresh look at what they are
trying to do, having all the data posted on newsprint facilitates that process. A call for Help from
colleagues can go out and those responding to the call can review the data on the newsprint,
interact with their help-seeking colleagues and bring fresh insights to the issue. This is an
application of the Refer-Out tactic addressed earlier. And it is constructivist in that it seeks
guidance and insight, if not answers, from colleagues in contrast to an outside-of-the-team
authority figure.
Work Space for Teams:
The best way to arrange work space for each team is in a large open space such as a library,
cafeteria or gymnasium. The idea is to have individual teams working in close proximity to one
another. This tends to develop a sense of We are all working together on this. It facilitates
interaction among teams. And, it provides a quick point of reference as each team wonders how
it is progressing in relationship to the other teams.
With everyone working in a common space, it makes it easier to periodically call all the teams
together for an up-date and interaction. It contributes to a positive and professional environment.
It reduces feelings of isolation.
However, occasionally teams will want to work in separate spaces such as their classrooms where
they might have ready access to resource material. If the desire is strong, go for it! Do not let
structure get in the way of process.
When To Use the Brainstorming and Action Research Processes
This approach to Brainstorming/AR is a group dynamics process approach to issue identification
and resolution. In organizational development they are applications of shared decision making.
In learning theory they are consistent with field theory and constructivism. In strategy and tactics
dimensions of learning is suggested, however, other strategies might be used.
Action Research is effective on a wide range of categories including organizational development,
climate and culture issues, goal setting including mission development, administrationmanagement-
and-leadership, fiscal concerns, professional development, recruitment, assessment,
curriculum and instruction and classroom management including behavior. Personally, I have yet
to experience an area where the process did not apply, however, I resist proclaiming it a process
for all seasons.
In and of themselves neither Brainstorming nor AR solve problems, people do. Issue resolution
and problem solving is accomplished by ethical individuals who are competent and reflect
interpersonal intelligence as they work collaboratively together. As processes and tools these
procedures can help. They are tools for involving all those who are to be affected by a decision in
the process of making, implementing and being held accountable for decisions made.
Applicable Witticisms
To do better is better than doing one’s best
To make a name for learning when other roads are barred
take something very simple and make it very hard
The road to wisdom is plain and simple to express,
to err and err and err again but less, and less, and less.
Among the purposes of critically looking at an issue, any issue, is to try and do better, regardless
of how close to excellence things are at present. And, attaining excellence comes about through
practice. Education is no exception. Brainstorming and Action Research provide pathways for
engaging in the pursuit.
Enough for Now!
Ipse dixit!
Lawrence P. Creedon
Framingham State College
International Education Program
2000, 2006, 2008 [Several revisions since 1992, JCSC/NJCU].
Appendix A
Below is a listing by title of a limited number of Action Research projects undertaken over the
past several by graduate students studying with Creedon. Students practicing in several countries
are represented. All topics were selected by the participants.
Costa Rica
1.How Can a Teacher Recognize and Identify Different Learning Styles Among
2.How Can a Teacher Best Integrate an LEP Student into a Classroom That is More
Advanced in English?
3.How to Rid Apathy and Engage People, Motivate and Encourage School Wide
4. Developing Inexpensive Materials Adapted to Different Learning Styles
The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Island [Saipan]
The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Should Consider Alternative Positive
Options Other Than Sending letters Informing Parents That Teachers Are Not “Highly
Qualified’ as defined by the No Child Left Behind United States Federal Law.
Would a Forum for Professional Discourse for Participation in a Framingham State
College (FSC) Masters program in San Pedro Sula Improve Collegiality and Decrease
Teacher Isolation?
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
It is Essential to View Learning as a Process and not as a Product
Managua, Nicaragua
1.How Do We Reduce the Total Amount of Homework Assigned to Middle School
Students While Replacing That Do Not Promote the Use of Higher Order levels of
Bloom’s Taxonomy With One’s That Do?
2.In a Long or Short Term Period Do Reward Systems Influence Students Behavior in a
Positive Way?
Katowice, Poland
1. Integrated, Thematic Curriculum Promotes Learning on all Cognitive Levels by
Allowing Students to Formulate and Evaluate Connections Across Disciplines.
2. Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation: Which is Better?
Taipei, Taiwan
Academic learning: Group versus Individual
Casablanca, Morocco
Our Private Language School Lacks a Professional Development Program. Our Purpose
is to Establish One.
Appendix B
Example of the Application of the Action Research Procedure
Elizabeth Jiron, Susana Lopez, John Spiro, Rosselyn Porras
Behavior and Classroom Management
Managua, Nicaragua, January, 2007.
Prof. Larry Creedon
January 15, 2007
Action Research Project
Issue: How to apply directed learning we have experienced it
to the age group we work with in our environment in order
to achieve motivation.
1. Students are active
2. It is based on previous knowledge. They feel more
3. Encourages positive participation.
4. Motivation is there because students already have
basic knowledge.
5. Fill in gaps by working in groups and sharing.
6. They get to be more creative.
7. By giving students more control, they get more
8. A by product is less discipline problems.
9. Exciting because it is different.
10. Their knowledge is going to improve because they
will be motivated.
11. They remember more what has been learned.
12. Creates a positive learning environment, by not
putting down anybody.
13. Students get the opportunity to express their
LPC: All of these are well taken, positive. In that the
focus of our course was BCM #8 is particularly relevant.
The point is that addressing behavior/discipline should not
be at the forefront of the “battle;” rather it is
developing a positive learning where kids are interested
and involved in their own learning. It all relates to the
purpose and significance of education and what is believed
and practiced about the basic genetic and behavioral nature
of humankind.
1. Teachers give up control.
2. Difficult to get them started.
3. Parents will not understand.
4. Time gets wasted.
5. Parents’ opinion will be influenced by what they see.
6. Students will be lost.
7. Some students will not be open to it.
8. Teachers will not complete their curriculum.
LPC: Complete “their curriculum” or “instructional program?
Curriculum and instruction are not the same thing.
Curriculum deals with content, instruction with pedagogy.
9. Children at that age (10 13) are less responsible.
10. Not all students will see structure in this
11. Not all students will feel comfortable with this
12. We see our students for short periods of time.
13. Teachers can’t tell if all students are working.
• By giving the kids control they have a greater
sense of responsibility, and students will no
longer be lost.
• Once they get used to the system that will start
on their own time will no longer be wasted.
• Inform the parents and they will support the new
• Students will truly get the most important part
of the curriculum (quality over quantity).
• They will learn to cope with responsibility by
experiencing it.
• When students become self starters, they get more
out of the time that we have.
• By letting students work unsupervised, you are
showing that you trust them.
LPC: Is this where you have moved negatives to positives
and combined?
1. Students have innate energy that can be used in a
positive way.
2. They will feel that they already have some knowledge
and they will be more motivated.
LPC: Keep in mind difference between “Knowledge” and
“information” as understood b y Bloom.
3. see number 2
4. see number 2
5. Students ask their classmates about doubts they have,
if they don’t feel comfortable asking the teacher.
LPC: Is this a trust issue? If so it is prerequisite to
anything else.
7. They get to elaborate their own format, and the areas
they want to focus on.
8. By giving kids more control they are more excited
about getting the work done, and they feel prouder at
the end.
9. Less chance to get distracted.
10. It is exciting for them because they are
experiencing new things.
11. Students are curious to learn more and therefore
they are going to learn more.
12. Because it is an interactive experience it will
be remembered longer.
13. Students will recognize different skills in their
14. this system includes opportunities for students
to express how they feel.
LPC: These show good grasp of positive learning
1. 10. 11. Because of different personalities/learning
styles some children will not feel comfortable with
this classroom
1) Students will channel their innate energy in a
positive way, leading to less discipline problems.
Once they adapt to the system, they become selfstarters
and make better use of the short time
available. ENERGY
2) Lessons start with student’s previous knowledge to
help them feel prepared and motivated to learn more.
4) We build a community where all members use the skills
they have to contribute and feel valued. Students can
turn to each other for help when they have doubts and
are given opportunities to express how they feel.
5) The class focuses on elements of the curriculum that
interest the students and it allows them to think
outside the box and transform the information into
knowledge. INTEREST
6) By giving students control they will be more motivated
to learn and excited about the process. FREEDOM
7) We show the students we trust them by giving them
responsibility. As a consequence, they will perform
better. TRUST
LPC: Excellent. Good job. I like the “Red” focus on
specific values, concepts.
PRIORITIZE: We think that the result of the divergent
thinking exercise can all be achieved without external
System Approach
Approaches Output Input Process
Energy Through their own
students should
come in and work
on hand-on
activities of
their own design
with as little
prompting from
the instructor as
They need to be
informed at the
end of one class
what will be
done at the
beginning of the
Set some time
aside before the
class ends, to
go over what was
accomplished and
what needs to be
considered the
following day.
Foundation Students should
feel that they
are not starting
from nothing
Start new units
with activities
where students
share what they
already know
about the topic
to be
show pictures,
and pick their
brain, looking
between courses.
Community Students see
classmates as
resources, and
they learn to see
abilities in each
other and
themselves that
they didn’t see
Set aside time
aside for
students to talk
about themselves
and their
classroom space
to the students,
Put pictures and
information of
each student
related to the
discipline, in
each classroom,
and display
student work as
much as
encourage group
Interest After considering
material in the
unit, give
students a chance
to explore
elements that
were interesting
to them. Students
have their own
goals for the
Give them a
general overview
before starting
a unit and ask
them what they
are more
interested in.
Have students
make a list of
expectations and
check it
Have work
stations with
the material
from the unit so
students can go
around and make
a decision about
what they
want to focus
on. Have a
session at the
beginning of the
course to
expectations and
regular progress
Freedom All students are
and unsupervised
LPC: Be careful
of this term:
By using
activities where
everyone is
and they don’t
have a chance to
get distracted
Write around,
share and slide
and pair
Trust Teachers are not
nagging students
to get back to
Trust the
students to
manage their
time to do the
work they are
supposed to be
Go to students
who have already
started working,
and let those
who haven’t
started yet a
chance to do so.
LPC: This is excellent. I like the way you have taken the
“Red” concepts and used them as your approaches. Good job.
Follow Up
I had expectations meetings in 4 of my 5 classes and posted the results
on the wall. Today in high school band, we did an exercise based on
something they asked to work on. The guitar students chose parts of
the curriculum that looked interesting to them, and we will focus
more on those units. They also had the chance to list some songs they
would like to learn. Grade 7 discussed how and why music is important
in their lives, and we posted the results of that. I am also devoting
classroom space in both rooms to the students and their interests. In
the guitar room, I set aside an Inspiration Corner, where they can post
pictures, poems or anything else that is inspiring to them. We started
guitar class today with a student volunteering to play something
he learned outside of school for the class, and will try to do that as
often as possible. I have been making an effort not to tell students
to get back to work when they aren’t working, and sometimes it works,
they do on their own. I added a “your project” to the grade 7 course,
which will be a group project entirely designed by the students – they
will make proposals to me about the content and format.
LPC: Fantastic!
As far as implementing the plan, what I have done is what falls under
the category of ¨freedom¨. I asked my students to do the pair reading,
but it did not work out so well. They said they could not hear each
other, so being more aware of their volume is something we need to work
on. I have started only with sixth graders, because I feel they are one
of the most independent groups. Also, I will be with them for more
time, since they are only starting middle school. I have worked a
little bit on ¨Foundation¨, with the new theme we are looking at; we
have done a few activities that get their brains working on how they
would relate those themes to their lives. I have also been making use
of newsprint which help the group stay focused and aware of what is
going on.
LPC: Extraordinary!
Before the activity began instructions and an example was given, so
students would not be lost when it comes to work by themselves during
the exercise. I did it with a student who didn’t have a partner and the
example I used was not the same of the activity.
The share and slide activity was used the first day of class of the
second semester where the students had the chance to talk during the
first period of class (45 minutes) about what they did during their
Christmas break.
The activity was guided by the teacher (me). Since they are fourth
graders and the ages are around 9 and 10 and they love to talk about
some other things but not what they are supposed to, there were
questions written on the board one at a time and I was the time keeper.
Every student had the opportunity to share their experiences and slide.
During the activity, I walked around to make sure the objectives of the
exercise were accomplished. The objectives were:
Students will feel free to share their activities they had during
Christmas break.
Students will share their activities in English.
LPC: Great job of adapting S/S to 4th grade.
During the activity, 3 students out of 16 that were in total, got bored
and didn’t want to continue talking when I asked if he/she shared
everything about the question on the board.
1 student was using Spanish connectors while sharing.
The “slide” moment was excellent. Every student knew where to go.
When there were 5 minutes left for the class to finish, I decided to
stop the exercise there, so the chairs could be arranged and ready for
the next class, a student asked if the whole class could slide one more
time so everybody could go back to their original places. The rest of
the students agreed by asking the same thing. They slide 1 more time
and then the activity was over.
LPC: Terrific
At the end of the activity, there were a few minutes for a feedback.
Since it was the first time I was doing this activity, I asked them
orally if they liked it, and more than 85% of the class did.
I was satisfied with the results and that encouraged me to do it again.
I have implemented two categories from the action plan “Energy” and
“Trust”. I asked the students to type in Microsoft Word their
expectations and then get together in small groups to delete the
repeated expectations. Then I asked for two volunteers to write down on
a piece of paper the class expectations and they are in charge of
reading them and crossing out each expectation has been accomplished.
It has been very hard for me not to nag those students who are not on
tasks but I have given them the chance to start whenever they feel they
are ready and lately it has worked. I am very impressed how students
feel we trust on them.
LPC: Good. Trust is paramount. Without trust everything else is
Right now they are working on a project of their interest; they chose
what to do and what topic to work on. Next week I am going to implement
the share and slide activity. I am going to do it a little bit
different since I work with computers. Instead of sitting them down in
pairs, they will slide from computer to computer, check their classmate
project and type their comments or suggestions under their work. At
least three students will have the chance to see their classmates work.
LPC: Excellent. Rosselyn, please let me know how it comes work.
What you four professionals have done here is very good. I will be
adding it to my list of “Student Papers” [or something like that] on my
web site: I have already added John’s exercise
on S/S. Certainly what you have developed and implemented needs to
shared with other colleagues including the leadership in your schools.
The fruits of professional development ought to be shared.
I am suggesting to you several things:
1. Stay together as a small group of “Critical Friends” involved
in “Peer Influenced Development.” See Creedon monograph on
“Critical Friends.”
2. Share your work with colleagues and your school leadership.
3. Consider sharing with parents. Include kids in presenting to
parents. Parents like to see heir kids shine and they should.
4. Consider condensing what you have here to a 2000 word article
for publication in a journal.
5. I am available to help/assist in any/all of these.
6. Please let me know how things continue to develop
Hope your research course is going well!
Ipse dixit! Larry Creedon: January 16, 2007,
The Serpico Project-
Student-Based Learning Techniques in a
Behaviorist Classroom
(An Action Research Project)
James Anderson, Chris Miller, Kristian Brodie, Rob Ogle
Date: February 8, 2008
Written for: Research Evaluation with L.P. Creedon
Krakow ‘08
A Ten-Step Action Research Project
1. Establish a Task Group/Team
Rob Ogle
Chris Miller
Kristian Brodie
James Anderson
2. Issue Statement
To develop specific student-centered techniques for upper middle class urban
elementary Taiwanese ESL students to implement within a pre-existing
behaviorist classroom to lead to English communicative competence
1. Techniques a way of carrying out a particular task
2. Develop to build upon something, to make your own
3. Implement to put a plan into practice
4. Communicative competence the knowledge of what to say, when to say it,
and how to say it
3. Divergent Thinking
In this stage, we brainstormed positive aspects of our issue statement.
What positive outcomes would result from this effort? Debating or
commenting on what was given by each of us was not allowed. This is
what we wrote down on our large sheet of newsprint.
Positive Aspects
1. student interaction
2. overcoming shyness
3. uses more MI’s
4. makes students independent
5. brings new and interesting techniques
6. TTT (teacher talking time) down STT (student talking time) up
7. Memory retention
8. Creates motivation-teachers and students
9. Students learn more of what they want to know
10. Students have more independent thoughts
11. More authentic evaluation/assessment
12. Ownership of learning process
13. Lower stress in teachers/students
14. Less discipline problems
15. Discovery of own teaching skills
16. Happier students
17. Increase teachers interest
18. Student/teacher relationship improvement
19. Lead by example (teacher can affect change in other teachers)
20. Improved reading, writing, speaking
21. Promotes social skills and communication
22. Healthier kids
23. Improved classroom management
24. Practical learning
25. Beyond rote learning (taking it into higher cognitive levels-consult
26. Student bonding
27. Happier parents
28. Teaches responsibility and the lesson
29. Parent/kids see learning process
30. Problem solving skills
Then we shifted focus to the negative aspects, or in other words, the
factors that might impede our progress. Again, these were not debated.
They were written on large newsprint as they were spoken.
Negative Aspects
1. Management resistant to change (students, bosses, parents, teachers)
2. Time constraints (training, in-class, preparation work)
3. Confusion (students, bosses, parents, teachers)
4. Other people- slackers, social hierarchy in students
5. Age of students
6. Non-comprehension of younger students
7. Lack of follow through
8. Lack of effort teachers and students
9. Our implementation skills
10. Required traditional testing
11. Lack of peer review and peer assistance
12. Money
13. Resources
14. Kids need structure
4. A Positive Focus
In this stage, we took the negative, or impeding forces and focused on
how we could make them enabling forces. This allows us to defend
critics of our effort. The numbers correspond to the Negative Aspects
1. Education and clarification of intentions, theory, and methodology, and
a call for patience
2. (Time is an issue that must be dealt with as it presents itself. Often,
there isn’t time, but meetings and workshops could be held for training
and teachers would need to make adjustments to their schedules as
necessary to accommodate. Eventually, with practice, the time would
work itself out.)
3. Same as #1
4. Teacher involvement/ awareness, correct implementation will reduce
5. Use specific techniques for certain ages
6. Appropriate teacher training
7. Build a strong support structure, weekly/monthly evaluations on
progress, workshops
8. Reflection, proper implementation, peer review, address learning styles
9. More training/ different training techniques
10. Constructivist preparation styles/techniques
11. Teacher reflection in practice and we are all in Taipei
12. Be creative
13. Same as #12
14. Working within existing structure, proper preparation/training of
5. Clarify-Consolidate-Restate
A. Clarify: We took the positive aspect and reread them to ensure we all
understood exactly what was meant by each one.
B. Consolidate: We looked again at the 30 positive aspects and
consolidated them, combining the ones that had enough similarities to be
grouped together.
C. Restate: We then wrote the consolidated aspects as statements. They
were as follows. (SCT = Student-Centered Technique)
1. SCT’s promote and develop social skills and better communication.
2. SCT’s help build and maintain healthy minds and bodies for students and
3. SCT’s allow for more student interaction which develops closer bonding
among students.
4. SCT’s will increase motivation and interest in the classroom among
teachers and students.
5. SCT’s will improve classroom management by making students
responsible and will reduce traditional discipline problems.
6. SCT’s will allow for individual thinking which develops independence.
7. SCT’s will address multiple intelligences.
8. SCT’s will lead to clearer understanding of teaching and learning styles.
9. SCT’s will help students learn problem solving skills, improve reading,
writing, and speaking.
10. SCT’s will reduce stress and improve memory by giving ownership to the
11. SCT’s will provide alternative ways of assessing and evaluating students.
12. SCT’s will create a better student-to-teacher and teacher-to-teacher
Creedon” Terrific listing. This in itself is a possibility for publication. If
interested I am available to help. Process of how they arrived at
6. Prioritize
In this step, we looked at our statements and decided which ones could be
acted upon immediately, without any need for permission or assistance
from school management or other external authority. In our current
practices, all of our statements could be acted upon now without getting
external authorization.
7. Refer Out and Literature Research
In this step, we divided our 12 statements among the four members of our
team and research began. We were looking for studies, reports, or articles
that would support what each statement declared.
Following is the resources we found that support our 12 statements.
# 1,3,6,9,12.
33 1.webloc 2.webloc 1.webloc
Creedon: Very well done. How many of these were you able to
Due to time constraints, we were unable to completely finish the ten-step
Action Research process. For the purpose of illustrating the last three steps,
we provide here an incomplete, condensed version of steps 8 through10.
We also include an explanation of our class presentation that demonstrated
some student-centered techniques.
8. A Systems Approach to Strategic and Tactical Planning
Part 1. Output– Outcome statements from Priority Statements
To illustrate this stage, we turned our priority statement (#7) into two
separate outcome statements. We then built rubrics based on those
outcomes. Below are the two outcome statements and the rubrics.
Priority Statement
#7. Student-Centered techniques will address multiple intelligences.
Outcome Statements
To apply knowledge of the eight multiple intelligences in identifying
different types of learners within our classrooms
To create and/or modify lesson plans that will meet the needs of as
many different intelligences as are in our classrooms
Expectation 1 2 3 4
To apply
of the 8
types of
within our
Be able to
define 8
the different
and be able
to compare
and contrast
the different
within our
N/A Shouldn’t
this be
To create
lesson plans
that will
meet the
needs of as
as possible
in our
within our
and compare
and contrast
that will
meet the
needs of
To construct
a plan of
action that
strategies to
the lesson
plan This
could imply
To apply the
lesson plan and
be able to
reflect on it,
evaluate it and
if necessary
modify the plan
of action
Part 2. Input
A.People: The four members of our team
B.Places: Our respective schools and classrooms in Taiwan
C.Things: Teaching materials, Internet
D. Money: Not applicable here
Part 3. Process
As part of the planning, a critical path would be created that
would detail the effort, including benchmarks, obstacles, and
evaluation and assessment techniques. The critical path will
provide the course of action to be taken throughout the process
and keep us focused on our objectives. Good. Creedon
9. Strategic and Tactical Action Plan
In this stage, the four members of our team would assign the specific
tasks needed to complete the project. OK. Creedon
10. Open System Closure
“Those who are to be affected by a decision are to be
involved in the process of making, implementing and
being held accountable for decisions made.”
Open system closure deals with implementing what we have
discovered in our action research project, evaluating and assessing the
effectiveness and success of the student-centered techniques we apply,
and making necessary changes and adjustments as we continue to pursue
a more student-centered approach to learning. Techniques will be
implemented slightly differently by each member of our team because
we all work at different jobs. The extent to which we can implement our
student-centered techniques will vary depending on our own specific
situations. Having regular meetings with the four
members of our team will serve as a support system to
monitor process, problems, and new ideas to ensure
student-centered learning is improving. I hope this
becomes a reality. Keep me in the loop, please. Creedon.
Open system closure is the last step in our action research project but is
the first step in putting our findings to use. AGREED. Good Creedo
Class Presentation
For the purpose of illustrating the goal of our Action Research project, we
presented a specific student-centered technique in class.
We led the class in an activity using a K-W-L chart. We split the class into two
groups. One group had the topic of Taiwanese Cuisine and one group had the
topic of Taiwanese History. Students filled in the KWL charts in regard to What
They Know, and What They Want To Know about their respective topics.
See for
an example of a K-W-L chart.
Kristian and Chris were the facilitators (“experts”) on Taiwanese food telling
one group as much as they could in about ten minutes. Rob told his group about
Taiwanese history. We then gave both groups around ten minutes to find out
more about their topic by looking on the Internet.
When everyone had the new info from the Internet, we put everyone in the
history group on one side of the room in chairs and the food group on the other
side in chairs (share and slide) and everyone exchanged what they had
learned about Taiwanese history and food.
Finally, the students completed the last portion of their K-W-L charts- What
They Learned.
Our presentation was then evaluated by everyone who took part.
Creedon: What you have here is exemplary. It will be my intention to use it in
future classes as an example. Well done. As you move forward in
implementation please keep me in the information loop.
Larry Creedon
Krakow, Poland


December 18, 2009

Traditional Classrooms
Curriculum is presented part to
whole, with emphasis on basic skills
Strict adherence to fixed curriculum
is highly valued.
Curricular activities rely heavily on
textbooks and workbooks.
Students are viewed as blank slates
onto which information is etched
by the teacher.
Teachers generally behave in a
didactic manner, disseminating
information to students.
Teachers seek the correct answer to
validate student learning.
Assessment of student learning is
viewed as separate form teaching and
occurs almost entirely though testing
Students primarily work alone.
Constructivist Classrooms
Curriculum is presented whole to
part, with emphasis on big concepts
Pursuit of student questions is highly
Curricular activities rely heavily on
primary sources of date and
manipulative materials.
Students are viewed as thinkers with
emerging theories about the world.
Teachers generally behave in an
interactive manner, mediating the
environment for students.
Teachers seek the students’ point of
view in order to understand students’
present conceptions for use in
subsequent lessons.
Assessment of student learning is
interwoven with teaching and occurs
though teacher observations of
students at work and though student
exhibitions and portfolios.
Students primarily work in groups.

Constructivism: Theory, Characteristics, and So What?

December 18, 2009

Theory, Characteristics,
and So What?
In identifying a constructivist approach to education aphorisms abound. The most
common is that students create their own knowledge. Others include mantras such as:
Learning is student centered
Learning is an interactive process
Learning begins in doubt
Learning is the result of doing and undergoing experience
Learning is experience based
Discovery learning
Exploratory learning
Participatory decision making
The teacher as a facilitator of learning as opposed to a dispenser of knowledge
The education establishment is tarnished with the brush of faddism and constructivism
has not escaped such criticism. Unfortunately, as a criticism of education in general, the
allegation of faddism appears to have validity. On the other hand, when taken in context,
the descriptors of constructivism are also valid. However, it is not true that with these two
givens the conclusion can be reached that the constructivist approach to learning is
devoid of a philosophical foundation and is itself an example of faddism. Such an
assertion is not valid.
Is Constructivism Philosophically Sound?
Frequently educators apply the term philosophy inappropriately. More appropriate terms
would be opinion or point of view. For example, one can have an opinion or a point of
view concerning the teaching of reading be it phonics or whole language, but to insert the
term philosophy connotes the lack of an understanding of the meaning of that term. The
debate over the relative merits of phonics and whole language in the teaching of reading
ought to be guided by authentic and non-selective research. To insert the notion of a
philosophical argument into the issue unveils a lack of syntactical clarity and distinction.
However, another example would be the sport of fishing. Is it possible to have a
“philosophy of fishing?” From at least one point of view with a long tradition the answer
is: Yes. In 1635 Izaak Walton wrote the first known book on the philosophy and delights
of fishing: The Compleat Angler. The book is still in print today. If the answer of Yes as
cited above is philosophically sound it would mean that the sport of fishing has an
identifiable position relative to metaphysics, epistemology and axiology. I don’t think
those engaged in the sport of fishing have given the matter much thought. Unfortunately
the same might be suggested for more immediate educational concerns.
To speak of something as being philosophical sound implies that the view is
characterized by three components: metaphysical, epistemological and axiological.
Metaphysics has to do with ontology and cosmology. Ontology has to with the basic
nature of human kind and cosmology has to do with what is real. Epistemology has to do
with knowledge –What is it? Axiology has to be with values – Why do human beings
value what they value?
In response to these characteristics constructivism meets the test of having a defensible
philosophical (as well as a psychological) foundation. In metaphysics constructivists
believe that human beings enter the world neither inherently good nor evil but rather
neutral in genetic orientation, behaviorally active and with free will. Prior to the scientific
era and the period of enlightenment [17th and 18th centuries] the view of religionists of
various persuasions prevailed. It was the then common belief that human beings entered
the world either inherently good or inherently evil, and either with or without free will.
It was believed that these dispositions were predetermined by God. The implication for
the purpose and application in education is self evident. The purpose of education was to
bring students in compliance with predetermined goals and do so in response to codified
norms of behavior.
In epistemology constructivists believe that while knowledge is conceptually based and
has structure, it is not something that exists by divine grace, is inherent in nature or is
transmitted pedantically from teacher to learner. Constructivists believe, as the aphorism
asserts, that each learner discovers and constructs knowledge for self as the result of
doing and interacting experientially with his or her environment. Learning is a socially
interactive process as opposed to a solitary pursuit along a predetermined path [John
Dewey, Lev Vygotsky].
Information and knowledge are not synonymous terms. To constructivists knowledge
conveys the notion that the learner has the information necessary to proceed further in the
learning spiral [Jerome Bruner, The Process of Education, 1960]. The learner has the
capacity to comprehend the information, to analyze it including comparing and
contrasting it with previous information, to synthesize it with other information, to
evaluate its worth and effectiveness, and to apply it in real life [Benjamin Bloom,
Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Cognitive Domain, 1956]. As a result of this
cognitive development process the learner continues on his or her quest in becoming a
knowing person.
In axiology constructivists believe that values are existential. Values emerge in the
context of living and experiencing as opposed to having been divinely ordained or being
inherent in nature. To constructivists values emerge through the social interaction of
human beings as they engage in experience[(Lev Vygotsky]. Experience is an active
process of doing and undergoing (John Dewey). Values have meaning in context. In
Platonic terms a value held is a virtue and the virtuous person seeks the greatest good for
the greatest number.
Does Constructivism Have a Heritage?
While the term constructivism in its contemporary use is relatively new, its tenets are not.
From antiquity to the present it has a long line of contributors. It has a scholarly heritage.
Seeds of constructivism can be found in Aristotle. Unlike his mentor Plato who
minimized the role of experience, Aristotle recognized the value of experience in the
process of coming to know. Aristotle draws everything from experience…he has always
been the model for all empirical philosophers [Ulich, History of Educational Thought,
1954, p.25].
Beginning with the period of enlightenment a plethora of influential thinkers emerged
including several who had an impact on education. Among the many were John Locke
[1632-1704], Jean Jacques Rousseau [1712-78], Johann Pestalozzi [1746-1827], and
Frederick Froebel [1782-1852]. Each has had a lasting impact on education. For example,
John Locke was a proponent of a “sound mind in a sound body” and of what came to be
referred to as social engineering. He advanced the notion that at birth the individual mind
was a blank tablet to be filled by teachers, and was influenced by experience. Locke’s
beliefs related to the source of knowledge were identified as empiricism. In political
thought Locke was a liberal individualist and influenced Thomas Jefferson is his drafting
of the United States Declaration of independence.
In Rousseau can be found seeds of developmentalism as articulated later by Piaget
[Ulich, History of Educational Thought, 1950, pp 219ff]. One of Rousseau’s major
works was Emile, a three volume treatise on education. Therein over and over again, he
made the point that the education of children should follow the process of natural
unfoldment or development. Education began at birth and is a process of habit formation.
The purpose of education was to lead mankind from absolutism and authoritarianism
toward freedom, independence and self-fulfillment The aphorism Man is born free, but
everywhere he is in chains, is associated with Rousseau. The Social Contract, his essay
on politics and government associated with the French Revolution.
Pestalozzsi had early insights into modern psychology that came to be associated with
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory.
Froebel is recognized as the founder of the kindergarten movement. However, it is not
uncommon for early childhood teachers today to enter the profession never having heard
his name. [Ulich, pp 55-56,383, 480, and 523].
Are There Contemporary Constructivist Theorists?
Constructivism is not limited to the thinking of any one individual. True to its own creed
constructivism is an amalgam of the thoughts of many contributors. In contemporary
times there has been a plethora of contributors to its development as a philosophically
and psychologically sound approach to learning.
Since the latter half of the 19th century the development of constructivist thought has
been associated with contributions drawn from the thinking of among others such
luminaries as: William James, Charles S. Pierce, John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Jerome
Bruner, Benjamin Bloom, David Krathwohl, Lev Vygotsky, Howard Gardner, and Daniel
In the Metaphysical Club [2001] author Louis Menand summarized what can be
identified as constructivist thinking in the work of James, Pierce, Dewy and Oliver
Wendell Homes. James is recognized as the father of American psychology, Pierce as
among America’s most unsung philosophers, and Dewey as America’s foremost native
born philosopher. Holmes became Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Menand summarizes their collective contribution as follows:
If we strain out differences, personal and philosophical, they had with one
another, we can say that what these four thinkers had in common was not a group
of ideas, but a single idea – an idea about ideas. They all believed that ideas are
not ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered, but are tools –like forks and knives and
microchips – that people devise to cope with the world in which they find
themselves. They believed that ideas are produced not by individuals, but by
groups of individuals – that ideas are social. They believed that ideas do not
develop according to some inner logic of their own, but are entirely dependent,
like germs, on their human carriers and the environment. And they believed that
since ideas are provisional responses to particular and unreproducible
circumstances, their survival depends not on their immutability but on their
William James is credited with giving pragmatism its name. Before the term
constructivism entered the lexicon the terms in common usage were pragmatism and
instrumentalism. Dewey called his contribution instrumentalism. James believed that
while the normal state of the individual mind was one of belief learning begins when the
doubt or disequalibrium enters the thought process and the truth of an idea is questioned.
Charles Saunders Pierce held that the scientific method alone made progressive inquiry
possible. He scorned a priori truths in favor of those that were experimentally verifiable.
To him truths were not absolute, but rather provisional and corrigible thus assuring
measurable progress. To this extent he was a pragmatist. His most important contribution
to American thought was that knowledge evolved through social interaction. Knowledge
was the product of a group. These ideas have been developed further by Lev Vygotsky.
Pierce formed the conversation society which came to known as the Metaphysical Club.
Members included some of America’s foremost 19th century thinkers including William
James and Oliver Wendell Holmes [Buchler, editor, Philosophical Writings of Pierce,
1955, p. ix; Menand, p.200].
John Dewey is generally regarded as America’s foremost native born philosopher. He
authored 38 books. He contributed during the first half of the 20th century and it is his
name and thought that is most closely identified with progressive approaches to education
including constructivism. He taught that learning was an interactive process and that
learning comes about as the result of the simultaneous and mutual interaction of the
learner and the environment [SMILE]. He defined environment in broad gestalt terms
including cultural and sociological forces. Dewey sought to identify the instruments by
which the purpose of life can be achieved. Thus, his system of thought was frequently
identified as instrumentalism. Constructivism is in the tradition of Dewey’s
.On the critical side, Dewey’s views have served as a rallying cry for those opposed to
progressive education. In reality little of what he advocated has ever been universally
applied to schools.
Jean Piaget was a genetic epistemologist. He proposed a four phase approach to human
development. The phases from infancy to adolescence are the sensory-motor stage, preoperational,
concrete operations and formal operations. According to Piaget every child
follows this pattern but does so at different rates of speed and for differing periods of
time from one stage to the next. To Piaget learning was an active, not sedentary or
isolated process. Many of his views are honored among educators today, even if,
ironically, they are not identified directly with him. [Jean Piaget, Six Psychological
Studies, 1967].
In contrast to his views the standardized testing movement so prevalent today sets aside a
consideration of developmentalism for a one size fits all approach.
Jerome Bruner contributed the notion of the spiral curriculum noting that learning took
place both horizontally and vertically and did so simultaneously. Learning was not linear
and solely sequential. Today horizontal learning is referred to weaving and vertical
learning as scaffolding or laddering. Bruner promoted learning as recursive and thus the
spiral curriculum. As the learner learns in progressive and continuous fashion new
knowledge builds on and is connected to that which has been learned before. [Jerome
Bruner, The Process of Education, 1961, pp 51-54]. In this regard Johann Herbart’s 19th
century concept of apperception is among the antecedents to Bruner.
Benjamin Bloom, David Krathwohl and their associates contributed to the knowledge
base of the learning process through their development of taxonomical structures. Prior to
their application to education taxonomies were well established in other disciplines such
as biology. Bloom dealt with cognitive development while Krathwohl focused on
affective behavior.
The taxonomies of Both Bloom and Krathwohl have currency today but frequently are
inadequately applied.
There are six categories in Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy: Knowledge [or information],
Comprehension, Application, Analysis [compare and contrast], Synthesis, and
Evaluation. [Author’s note: I prefer to substitute the term Information for Knowledge, and
to shift Application from the number four position to the end. The learning process begins
with the accumulation of information and ends much later with knowledge. Application
is a culminating authentic assessment activity. See the Creedon monograph, Group and
Team Activities, 2003, for a description of how Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy can guide
group and team activity].
David Krathwohl’s affective taxonomy is patterned after his colleague Bloom’s cognitive
structure. Together, they asserted that for every cognitive act there is a corresponding
affective response. The two domains are integrated. Krathwohl’s five affective domain
categories are: Receiving, Responding, Valuing, Organization of a value system, and
Characterization by a value or value complex.
Lev Vygotsky is unique in at least two respects. First, he had no formal training as a
psychologist. As a university student his interests gravitated toward literature, medicine
and law. However, at age 28 he turned his attention to psychology doing his doctoral
dissertation at the Moscow Institute of Psychology on the Psychology of Art [1925].
Second, Vygotsky did his work in the former Soviet Union following the communist
revolution of 1917. Due to restrictions imposed by the then Soviet government his
contact with like minded theorists in the West was limited. Nevertheless, his contribution
was consistent with emerging constructivist views. During his short life time he was
pressured by the Soviets to bring his work into compliance with Soviet ideology. After
his death in 1934 the Soviet Union suppressed his work. That is no longer the case and he
is recognized as a major contributor to constructivist thinking. He died as a young man
not living to see his views acclaimed internationally.
Vygotsky is best known for his notion of the zone of proximal development [ZPD]. The
zone is the cognitive gap between what the learner knows, what is unknown and what is
desired to be known. Vygotsky called the difference between what a child can do alone
because he/she knows, and that where help and guidance is needed from a more
knowledgeable peer or mentor as the ZPD.
The ZXP is where intellectual development occurs. In this regard Vygotsky relates to the
notions of Pierce and James relative to cognitive doubt and the will or desire to believe.
Howard Gardner early in his career was influenced by the then reemerging work of
Vygotsky. Gardner is noted for his theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner asserts that
there are at least eight distinct ways that people have of perceiving and understanding the
world. He identifies each of these as an intelligence. Individuals are gifted with more than
one intelligence. However, in each person one and often more than one intelligence is
more dominant than the others. Gardner defines intelligence as a set of skills allowing
individuals to find and resolve problems they face.
There is nothing revolutionary in Gardner’s list of eight intelligences. Traditionally they
have been identified as individual traits, strengths, the fruit of the survival of the fittest, or
as gifts from God. What is new is how Gardner has positioned each on an equal footing
as alternatives ways of understanding, expressing and contributing to human
For the most part schools focus on but two of the eight categories of intelligence as
defined by Gardner and these are verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical.
Daniel Goleman believes that the true bell curve for a democracy must measure
emotional intelligence. He asserts that “…in navigating our lives, it is our fears and
envies, our rages and depressions, our worries and anxieties that steer us day to day.
Even the most academically brilliant among us are vulnerable to being undone by unruly
emotions.” Here Goleman’s work suggests links to the earlier thought of Pestalozzi and
Herbart [Ulich] as well as to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs theory
Goleman can point to many contemporary examples to support his thesis. Fears, worries
and anxieties surround children and adults. Pre-school youngsters fret over going to
school for the first time. Students worry about passing mandated standardized tests that
will determine if they get promoted or graduate from high school. Fear of violence at
school and now terrorist attacks provoke anxiety. Goleman’s view is that the school must
place as much emphasis on emotional intelligence as it does cognitive development.
Does Constructivism Have Identifying Characteristics?
Constructivism does have identifying characteristics. Frequently a particular
characteristic is more closely identified with one contributor than another. However,
among them there is a basic internal consistency. The characteristics of constructivism
cited below are not comprehensive, but they do suggest major components of a
constructivist platform.
1. Learners construct their own knowledge beginning with what they already know,
exploring what needs to be known next and determining the quality and
effectiveness of their pursuit through authentic assessment and application.
2. All learning begins in doubt about the validity of an idea. The goal of doubt is the
restoration of belief. (Pierce, James).
3. Learning takes place in the personal zone of cognitive development between what
is already known, what is not known and what is desired to be known [Vygotsky].
4. Learning is achieved best through a socially interactive process [Dewey,
5. Learning is best achieved when the undertaking is consistent with the stages of
human development [Rousseau, Piaget].
6. Learning is an experience based process of inquiring, discovering, exploring,
doing and undergoing [Dewey].
7. The process of coming to know is neither random nor eclectic, it has structure
[Bruner, Bloom].
8. Learning proceeds in spiraling fashion including laddering, scaffolding, weaving,
and dialogism [Bruner, Rogoff].
9. Cognitive development occurs in a socio-cultural context – the social milieu of
individual achievement and the interaction between the learner and adults as well
as his/her peers in culturally valued activities. [Riordan – Karlsson, p.18].
10 The interactive process in coming to know needs to be guided by structured
cognitive and affective taxonomies [Bloom, Krathwohl].
A Closing Comment: So what?
Admittedly many teachers in their day to day classroom management utilize
strategies, methods and tactics can be identified as constructivist. [See: Brooks and
Brooks, The Case for Constructivist Classrooms, 1993; Riordan-Karlsson,
Constructivism, 2000). Others approaches are diametrically in contrast to a
constructivist approach. (See:Williamson, Classroom Management – A Guidebook
for Success, 1992].
Possibly many teachers may not associate what they do and have being doing
regularly in their practice as reflective of constructivism one way or the other. Some
may take exception with having what they do behind the classroom door in classroom
management labeled as constructivist. They may respond that they do what they do
because what they do works! They may join the chorus of those who assert that talk
of constructivism is nothing more than present day educational jargon and an example
of faddism.
The point is not for constructivists to take note of the direction in which the best
practice parade in teaching has been moving and then jump out front and claim not
only leadership but also propriety. Rather, it is to point out to those interested in
exploring the theoretical foundation behind the practices they engage in that what
they do is consistent with sound, defensible theory. And, that theory might be
Learning theorists need to suggest to practitioners that what they do goes beyond a
random, eclectic approach to what seems to work best. Among the marks of
professional practice is that the practitioner knows the theoretical foundation upon
which his or her practice rests and then practices what is known. It is that knowledge
and its application that provides the answer to the question of: So What?
Ipse dixit!
Lawrence P. Creedon
Pompano Beach, Florida, 2003