Jayne Coy
ECI 696

Critical Analysis #1

The problem that I am having as a teacher is that our school uses a traditional curriculum and our students must pass the standardized tests. But, since students construct their own understandings from their personal experiences, they should be dong doing more than just reading the text and taking tests. We want them to maintain a positive attitude towards the subject matter and to retain the information that they have studied. This happens more readily when students work in a social environment and are involved in experiential learning.

In order to use a more constructivist teaching approach I have utilized small groups for math and science, but it has not always worked well in our setting. Mostly, the students work at literacy centers and they also work with a partner during math and reading. However, I would like the students to do more research projects, and more cooperative group activities. I need a good system for managing the students. Our school administration will allow us to adapt the curriculum, as long as the students do well on their assessments, which must be done at least every 4 weeks. In order to build a more Constructivist learning environment I must overcome the problems that arise when students work in groups.

The problematic frame factors that must be solved in building this type of learning environment are physical, personal and temporal in nature. The first problem is a physical problem. Because I work at a charter school, the room is less than half the size of a typical classroom. The second problematic frame factor is personal in that students usually don't know how to get along in groups when they arrive in a first grade classroom on day one. Part of the problem in social situations with students of this age is that they have their sphere of friendships. They tend to form cliques, some students tend to be bossy, some tend to be self-centered, others tend to be shy and not participate much. The third problem is a personal factor regarding my lack of understanding in how to train children to work well together in groups. The fourth frame factor that is problematic is temporal. Taking the time to train students to work cooperatively takes time away from the textbook learning that is usually done in a traditional classroom. When the students work individually at their desks, or tables, and they see that the teacher has her eye on them at all times, they tend to stay on task, but they remain in their own individual hemispheres. I would like my students to become part of a larger sphere as in a community of learners.

In order to build this type of community I need to look to others that have more experience in this area. Therefore I will be looking for input from teachers who have been using this approach successfully and also researching scholarly articles that pertain to the problematic frame factors. My expectations are that I will learn how to adapt learning centers to the physical restraints of the room and I will learn new methods for training students to work together successfully.

Critical Analysis #2

The problem with our current state of affairs in Arizona Schools is that principals expect students to always be on task and to work quietly during the school day, except for small periods when they might work in guided reading, math or science groups.

In contrast, a more constructivist type classroom would look more like this: students work in groups on inquiry based projects, they would have choices throughout the day and would be voicing their opinions on the subject matter without fear of reprisal.

New teachers may not been trained in building this type of classroom. Much of the theory that is taught in the College of Education must be lived out in practicality when a teacher has his/her own classroom. This is a much more daunting task then than taking over a classroom that has already been trained by a previous teacher. As student teachers we have not been in the classroom to witness the weeks and months of training and skill building that went on before we arrived. Speaking from my own personal experience, student teaching was not adequate preparation for my first classroom setting.

Next year I will be teaching a mixed group of first, second and third graders. Children of this age tend to think mostly about what they want and what they need, many times oblivious to the needs of others. As Mary E. McGlamery and Steven E. Ball state in their article, The Case for Social Skills Training in the primary school curriculum, "According to Piaget’s (1929) theory, it is through interaction with the environment that children move from this egocentric view to an understanding that others are also thinking, feeling beings with needs, wants, and perspectives that may be quite different from their own." (McGlamery and Ball, 28).

If children learn best by working together in groups, then they need training in how to do this successfully. As their teacher I want to make sure I am equipped to give them these skills. Therefore, I am on a journey to figure out the best way to do this. I have begun to research articles about cooperative groups and social skills training for students at the primary level. So far I found one article on guided writing instrution, one on the jigsaw method for team learning, one on Peer Assisted Learning or (PAL), one called
The effects of Cooperative Learning on Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary Acquisition and Motivation to Read. And one called The Case for Social Skills Training in the Primary School Curriculum. As I read these and other articles I will integrate all of the tidbits of information from these articles and weave them into a long ball of gray yarn. Next, they will become intertwined together through a huge basket, layered with the existing curriculum, and other more exciting colors of yarn will become integrated into the basket, created individually for the students as time progresses. These colorful strands will be inquiry based group activities and social skills building activities. This layering of ideas, concepts and new experiences will make the basket much more attractive as a whole. Eventually the basket will be filled with multicolored experiences that we as a class have been through toegether. This artistic collage may someday transform from a basket into some other shape, maybe a beautiful tapestry, maybe something even better. I envision the end product to be much different than it was when I began my journey. Hope fully I will find useful, practical information for this coming school year, to help my students advance towards these goals: becoming more aware of the perspectives of others, becoming more creative and developing more self confidence and success in both academic and social realms.

McGlamery, Mary E. & Ball, S. E. (2008). The Case for Social Skills Training in the Primary School Curriculum. Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue, 10, (1,2) 27-39. http://libproxy.nau.edu:2054/pdf9/pdf/2008/I4C/01Sep08/35829143.pdf?T=P&P=AN&K=35829143&S=R&D=a9h&EbscoContent=dGJyMMvl7ESep7Y4yOvsOLCmr0qeqK5Sr6i4Ta6WxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGmrkiuprVNuePfgeyx44Dt6fIA

ECI 696
Final project
Preparing Students For the Future

Currently in America, our public schools are using traditional learning methods for teaching students. This includes, pacing all skill building to make sure every topic and objective is taught by the end of the year. The thought behind this is that, if we cover all the objectives our students will not have missed anything and they will be prepared for the standardized tests. Another way schools are helping students to pass the test is that they are being taught mostly through two learning styles or 'intelligences", logical-mathematical and linguistic. This is because the questions on the AIMS test are written from these two perspectives.

The problem with this traditional approach is that students learn best by constructing their own knowledge and not all students will learn from one style (Moran, S. Kornhaber, M. & Gardner, H., 2006). Another important method of teaching comes from the social constructivist framework. Lev Vygotsky was a proponent of social constructivism. Vygotsky's "zone of proximal development" states that students can, with help from adults or children who are more advanced, master concepts and ideas that they cannot understand on their own.

I have four suggestions that may transform our classrooms into learning communities based on a constructivist framework: use small groups for learning, use peer assisted learning, teach to more than one learning style (intelligence), and most importantly, teach students social skills so that they will be able to work effectively in small groups.

There are many ways to implement small groups. In an article titled, Planning of Classroom Plays with Adult or Child Direction, (Baker-Sennett, J., Matusov, E. & Rogoff, B., 2008) the authors studied a classroom of first and second grade students who were working in small groups. The students' goal was to plan and perform plays based on themes given to them by the teacher. Some groups were student-led and other groups were led by parent volunteers. The study found that students did more planning in the groups that were led by other students, than they did in the adult-led groups. The authors maintain that learning to plan and to interact with adults is a skill necessary in the real world. (Baker-Sennett, et al., 2008).

In another article about working together, Alphie Khon says that students should participate in making decisions in the classroom. He believes in a learner centered and constructivist philosophy of education. He says that teachers should give students choices. They should be included in deciding what rules should be posted on the classroom wall. He says students should be able to choose a favorite reading place and position, where they would like to go on a field trip, what they would like to write about during creative writing, etc. Khon also states that teachers should promote problem-solving skills, instead of handing out consequences when students have conflicts. (Khon, 1993). He says students should have at least one block of time in which children can decide what to do, such as get a head start on homework, writing in a journal, reading or doing an art project. "Students should not only be trained to live in a democracy when they grow up; they should have the chance to live in one today", (Khon, 1993).

Anther a way for children to learn in social situations is through small groups. One way to include small groups is during writing instruction. One very informative article that describes working in small groups is called An Effective Framework for Primary-Grade Guided Writing Instruction. In this article Gibson paints a picture for teachers to observe how she coaches students while they work in guided writing groups. She aptly describes teacher/student conversations. Before students move into small groups she uses whole group sessions. During these sessions she says that teachers can present a quick "think aloud", introduce a cue card, or have students participate in a science experiment. Then, she teaches a writing strategy that they may use to write about the whole group activity. As a community students discuss how they might use this strategy in their own writing. After that, students go to their guided writing groups and begin writing about their own topics. During this time the teacher guides the students along. If a student can't decide what to write next, the teacher will prompt her with questions such as, "Do you have enough details so that readers will understand?" (Gibson, 2008). The teacher doesn't tell the student what to write, but helps the student think about key aspects of her writing task. At the end of each guided writing session the students share their writing with the class. Several students take turns sitting in a "writer's chair". In this way, students gain experience reading for an audience and answering the audience's questions about their writing. Gibson believes that there is a "reciprocal relationship between learning to read and learning to write" (Gibson, 2008). Gibson's methods are based on Vygotsky and Wertsch's sociocultural perspectives. The specific details in her article help to put Vygotsky's "Zone of Proximal Development" into practical terms.

Another way to build a community of learners is through Peer Assisted Learning. "Research has demonstrated the close relationship between student academic achievement and the development of friendship skills, self-esteem, and behavioral control" (Ginsburg-Block, Marika D., Rohrbeck, Cynthia A., Fantuzzo, John W., 2006). In their article they explain why Peer Assisted learning is beneficial for primary students, especially those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) helps students to build a better self-concept and helps them to gain autonomy. "One carefully conducted study of an urban school district found that peer tutoring surpassed computer-assisted instruction, class size reduction, and instructional time as the most economical method of raising reading and mathematics achievement" (Ginsburg, et.al. 2006).
My third suggestion for transforming our classrooms is teaching to more than one learning style. Should teachers focus only on linguistic and logical-mathematical skills because the standardized tests are written that way? Alternatively, is it possible to focus on all nine of "Howard Gardner's intelligences" at the same time? Gardner's nine intelligences are "linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and existential." Gardner and others authored an article titled, "Orchestrating Multiple Intelligences". The authors write that many times school administrators ask teachers to prepare eight or nine separate entry points for every lesson, so that they are teaching to all 9 learning styles. Gardner and his co-authors state, "the last thing we wanted to do was multiply educators' jobs nine-fold", (Moran, Kornhaber and Gardner, 2006). The authors discusses how policy makers in education are currently trying help struggling students through remediation so they can pass the standardized tests. But they say this is not the best approach. Instead, they believe educators should give students chances to use their skills, abilities and gifts in the classroom. If a teacher can highlight learning opportunities in a students' strongest intelligence, this student will have a much better chance of excelling. Out of the nine intelligences that Gardner identified, most people are strongest in one or two. Students need to be aware of all the intelligences that can be utilized in real life. When the students graduate they won't use just one type of intelligence. "The multiple intelligences approach involves creating rich experiences in which students with different intelligence profiles can interact with the materials and ideas using their particular combinations of strengths and weaknesses. Often, these experiences are collaborative." (Moran, et.al. 2006).
Not only do students need to use their own learning styles in the classroom, but they also need to learn social skills. Teaching this will vary depending on the age group of the children. For example, when working with six-year olds, teachers may find that they are very egocentric. This causes them to have a lot of trouble working cooperatively at the beginning of the year. As Mary E. McGlamery and Steven E. Ball state so eloquently in their article, The Case for Social Skills Training in the Primary School Curriculum. "According to Piaget’s (1929) theory, it is through interaction with the environment that children move from this egocentric view to an understanding that others are also thinking, feeling beings with needs, wants, and perspectives that may be quite different from their own." (McGlamery and Ball, 2008).

Teachers will need help these young students to understand other people's perspectives. Teachers may need to spend the beginning months of the year training the students to solve problems, to take turns, and give them jobs to help them work effectively in small groups. For example, in a small group one child can be the "go-getter". This person will get supplies and bring them back to the table. Another person can be the "scribe". This person will write notes as the group conducts a science experiment, plans a play, or works on a math problem. Teachers can assign roles to students so that they won't all try to do things at the same time. If the students seem more mature she can let the students choose who will do what in the group. The teacher can coach them when necessary and gradually give them more freedom as they show they are able to handle the freedom of choice. The goal is to have students working together as a community. As they learn this they will be able to cooperate, solve problems and accomplish their goals.

These are all examples of how one might develop a classroom of students who construct their own knowledge and learn to work in community with one another. Students eventually must learn to work together, gaining social skills as they go along. They may work with partners, older peers, in small groups and in whole group settings. These learned skills and abilities can be utilized not only in the classroom, but also in the real world. Lets prepare our students to enter the workforce not only with the subject matter knowledge, but also with social skills that will serve them well in the future.


Baker-Sennett, Jacquelyn, Matusov, Eugene, Rogoff, Barbara. (2008). Children’s Planning of Classroom Plays with Adult or Child Direction. Social Development, 17(4), DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2007.00452.x

Gibson, S. A. (2008), An Effective Framework for Primary-Grade Guided Writing Instruction. The Reading Teacher, 62: 324–334. doi: 10.1598/RT.62.4.5

Ginsburg-Block, Marika D., Rohrbeck, Cynthia A., Fantuzzo, John W., (2006). A Meta-Analytic Review of Social, Self-Concept, and Behavioral Outcomes of Peer-Assisted Learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(4). DOI: 10.1037/0022-0663.98.4.732

Khon, Alphie, (1993). Choices for Children Why and How to Let Students Decide, PHI DELTA KAPPAN, September 1993

Khon, Alphie, (1996). What to Look for in a Classroom Educational Leadership. Copyright © 1996 by Alfie Kohn.

McGlamery, Mary E. & Ball, S. E. (2008). The Case for Social Skills Training in the Primary School Curriculum. Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue, 10, (1,2) 27-39. http://libproxy.nau.edu:2054/pdf9/pdf/2008/I4C/01 Sep08/35829143.pdf?T=P&

Moran, S. Kornhaber, M. & Gardner, H. (2006). Orchestrating Multiple Intelligences. Educational Leadership, 64(1), 22. Retrieved from: http://libproxy.nau.edu:3402/ehost/detail?vid=10&hid=113&sid=bb06ac04-e18a-4eea-b82d-6372505e35fb%40sessionmgr114&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#db=f5h&AN=22288318

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