Schools as Social Systems Part Two: Educational Philosophies and Grouping Practices.


November 28, 2012 by sarahmortonisp

The educational philosophy a teacher utilizes in class “plays a major role in children’s learning”, according to Berk. Two educational philosophies Berks discusses are “traditional” and “constructivist” classrooms, each of which “differ[s] in what children are taught, the way they are believed to learn, and how their progress is evaluated” (p.319). 

Traditional Classrooms: 
-teacher is “sole authority” for knowledge, rules, and decision making
-teacher does most of the talking 
-students are “relatively passive”: they listen and speak when called on
-students complete assignments assigned by the teacher
-progress is evaluated by “how well they keep pace with a uniform set of standards for their grade”

Constructivist Classrooms:
-founded on Piaget’s theory that “children are active agents who reflect on and coordinate their own thoughts rather than absorbing those of others” (p.320). 
-“richly equipped learning centers”
-small groups
-teacher responds to childrens’ needs
-progress evaluated in relation to individual prior development

Traditional Classrom-educated students “have a slight edge in achievement test scores”; yet children from Constructivist Classrooms “gain academic motivation, critical thinking, social and moral maturity, and positive attitudes toward school” (p.320). 

In addition to these two philosophies, a newer style of teaching called social-constructivistism has emerged, grounded in a sociocultural theory proposed by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. In social-constructivist classrooms, students learn by interacting with teachers and peers, where they “become competent, contributing members of their classroom community” and “advance in cognitive and social development”. Vygotsky’s theory also emphasizes cooperative learning, a style of learning in which small gropus of classmate work toward common goals. This requires “extensive guidance” in Western cultural-majority children. 

Grouping, a practice seen across all styles of education, consists of students being assigned to groups with peers of “similar ability levels” (p.322). This, however, can be “a potent source of self-fulfilling prophecies”, where “low-group students….get more drill on basic facts and skills, engage in less discussion, and progress at a slower pace….homogenous grouping widens the gap between high and low achievers” (p.320). Even placing students with special needs in the same classroom as gifted students, as long as the teacher works with each student’s individual pace and provides them with unique opportunities.



One thought on “Schools as Social Systems Part Two: Educational Philosophies and Grouping Practices.

  1. Elizabeth Marshall says:

    This post is my favorite because it compares the “typical” classroom to your ideal classroom. The ideas you have listed seem well researched and pieced together. If you follow through with this information in the future in your classroom I feel that it will be a productive, joyful, and open place!

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