How does a teacher teach how-to skills in a constructivist way? As I contemplate how to teach skills I think some direction/instructions are necessary. For example, I teach teachers how to use the tools in Moodle as well as how to use different Web 2.0 tools (like, wikis, Google's tools, etc).

While I let the teacher use some trial and error to explore the features, if I didn't give them some clear directions about how to get started they would likely get frustrated and stop engaging.

What are you thoughts about teaching skills/how-to use things in a constructivist way?

Tags: pedagogy

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What a terrific, thoughtful reply. Thanks, Skip. The idea of graduated independence (i.e increasing stages of constructive action as there skills develop.) is a great one. Your thoughts are very helpful as I'm in the process of refining one of my staff development courses and try to make it more constructive even though it is somewhat front-loaded with some how-to skills.
To me, the constructivist approach benefits tremendously from having comfortable group interaction going on. I like to introduce a new technological tool with the students on computers together in a group, giving them just the minimal starting point, and asking them to explore. Having a SmartBoard or LCD projector seems ideal, as students who discover cool things can come up and demonstrate. There's a flow from individual-experimentation-and-discovery to demonstration, and the demonstration is by the learners. Wild leaps of piggy-back learning gets going, and the learning environment becomes charged and electric. If someone is looking frustrated or lost, voluneers are solicitated to help someone along. No one is left alone, everyone is engaged. The learning enviroment is nurtured so that it's an honor and a privelege to learn, and an honor and a privelege to teach. Everyone does both.
This is the way I teach most technological things. The collaborational environment is key. Moodle was easily learned in one session, and the next day students were eager to bring back discoveries of new features. Everyone brings everyone else up.
By the way, one of my most important teaching tools is being able to honestly model total doofusness; this puts everyone at ease, brings in humor, keeps me humble, and makes the students want to learn more so that they can help their poor teacher!
But I don't know how much of this would apply to a group of teachers. My only trick when I work with teachers is to bring along the students. They love the role of helping teachers along; they become very understanding and supportive.
Hi Skip,

Sorry--I didn't mean to downplay structure. In these cases, there are specific assignments that everyone has to get to. Each individual is responsible for a product (such as a forum on Moodle, a blog, or posting of an assignment for classmates), or a themed podcast or iMovie.

In the above example, I wasn't talking about cases in which individuals already know how to use the technology, I was talking about fresh learning with no previous knowledge. And yes, I was talking about a situation in which I don't know the technology either.

Luckily, we have very tolerant and supportive "techies" at the school. They know to dive under the tables in certain cases, while Connie's class plunges into some new experiment and the initial chaos factor is great. They seem to not mind the craziness, as they see the kids are so involved and happy. The fact that they know and use good manners and are respectful of each other, the teachers, and the equipment makes a big difference. One of our techies said to me, "I have no problem with the kids just diving in. That's a good way to learn some things."

I still maintain that my job as trainer is MOST importantly watching over the quality of interaction in the social learning environment and facilitating an "each one teach one" kind of atmosphere. And I do think that a highly social learning environment is a strong tool leading to individual mastery.
Everyone who posted so far has some really good points about creating a collaborative, just-in-time atmosphere that supports group learning.

It's a myth that if you are a constructivist teacher, you never use instruction, that it's "cheating" in some way. I think the goal though, would be to use instruction sparingly and to weave it in with the collaborative atmosphere, so it doesn't feel like when you talk, everything has to come to a grinding halt.

Like in a good video game, the line between challenge and frustration is fuzzy; that's where a teacher's experience and intuition come into play.
I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels like direct instruction can be in certain situations the most effective teaching tool, though it is certainly a challenge to the balance the two. The other thing about the line or balance between them is that it is not always the same for every learner (which makes managing classrooms all the more of a challenge :) ).

One of the conclusions I'm drawing from the comments and my thinking that has resulted from it, is that we should see the use of direct instruction as a learning tool that helps further the constructivist activities that are happening. If we see the line between challenge and frustration get crossed then maybe we inject a dose of some direct instruction to clear up the confusion and enable the students to continue their learning process.
Seems to me, the key to constructivism is less about directions/instructions and more about frameworks that support construction.

When I have to deal with the skill-training kinds of learning, I try to give students the surrounding structures that allow them to slot the "which key do I press" into a larger context of why and when as much as what and how. By asking them to think about why they'd want to accomplish the specific task that the training is aimed at, about what ways they might apply the skill they're learning, I think it gives the student the kind of cognitive support they need to accomplish "training" in a constructivist mode.

That's just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.
When teaching something from a constructivist perpective I think it's best to start with a question. What is the pupose of the tool they are learning (i.e. what does it do)? Teachers could then brainstorm about what it could be used for in their classrooms. They could then pick one of the things they brainstormed to try out as they learn how the controls, keys, features etc. work. After giving some time to try it out, then you could ask what they want to know how to do, but weren't able to figure out on their own, and go from there.
I don't think "skil" teaching/how to teaching and constructive teaching are mutually exclusive. It is important to show teachers how to do some of these things. However, teacher trainings often fail because we try to give everyone the same exact information - often times we find that some teachers are really bored, some aren't able to keep up, while some find the pace to be perfect. Why not time shift some of this basic skill developing, allowing teachers to pick and choose what they need? Screen-casting and video tutorials from Atomic Learning are a few ways to time shift some of the skill development, freeing your f2f and synchronous training sessions for higher end conversation and sharing.

For mundane things like gradebook training and so forth, I've gone entirely to screen casts and the reception has been extremely positive. so far.

Just a thought.

A great thought Matt. Just as classrooms are always mixed ability, (even if streamed) so too are staff - ours are on a VERY wide continuum. We're going the screencast option combined with a group/learning partnerships approach to staff development. For us re teacher development, an important point is to use the limited time we have for PD as profitably as possible.



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