Constructing special ed students

Has constructivism increased the number of special ed students?  Niki Hayes, who’s worked as a special ed teacher, math teacher, counselor and principal, thinks so.

The constructivist classroom doesn’t provide the structure children need — especially those from disadvantaged homes, she writes.

It is students from kindergarten through high school “discovering” their own answers by using manipulatives, working in groups, contriving “real world” problems through “project-based’ activities, moving and talking – a lot — and surviving in a hierarchy of those students who can lead and those who must follow according to their skills.

It is lots of colorful, jazzy pictures in books and on classroom walls that show many different ethnic groups, women, with gender-neutral stories, and with child-directed activities that only require teacher “facilitation.” Children rule the day.

. . . It ridicules practice and repetition as “drill and kill” and believes anything that requires memorization is a waste of time that should be used for “creative” thinking.

. . . It believes that if students are having fun, according to perceived “learning styles,” they will like going to school and they will learn the academics they need to prepare for the world of work.

Taught with constructivist techniques, more children will require special education, Hayes writes. Some will become discipline problems.

No one will ever be able to determine how many hundreds of thousands of children, who came from dysfunctional, even chaotic, home environments and who entered the constructivist classroom with its lack of boundaries, no right or wrong answers, and the expectation to “discover” their own answers, were shuffled from the “feel-good, tolerant, and fun system” into special education programs.

By contrast, children learn when given “explicit, step-driven instruction with consistent consequences of positive results, along with direct teacher support,” Hayes writes.

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  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    Which leads to a troubling thought. The “constructivist classroom” is usually associated with the left. But if Hayes is right, it functions in real life to keep the poor down. Which is directly opposite the left ideal of reduced inequality.

    • Supersub says:

      Well, if the left actually succeeded in elevating the poor, they’d lose their clientele and voting supporters.

  2. Direct Instruction, whether you like it or not, greatly reduces the need for special education.

  3. Mike Curtis says:

    Direct instruction works…whenever “accommodations” for SPED students is imposed upon classroom teachers, the level of learning for the entire class goes down.

    My experience as a high school math teacher for 12 years…special educators have not spent one minute, total time, in my classroom; yet, the institution tells me I must alter my teaching method to accommodate the specific “learning style” of every tri-polar, ADD, ADHD, mommy-dressed-me-funny-when-I-was-little, recalcitrant who transferred in from Texas.

    If our students can’t be measured against a standard, (pass/fail), then why do we keep score? Let’s please everybody and award a certificate of completion based on just showing up. Or; abandon public education and go totally private.

  4. It’s fine for Hayes to have opinions, but speculating about what works is not factual nor useful. This is why education is stagnant. Everyone (and especially commenters, it seems) thinks that their personal experience gives them the ability to diagnose the best way that people learn. Unless you’ve got a rigorous study, all you’re doing is kicking up dust. You are not helping move our understanding of education forward. Learning is not philosophy; it’s science. Brains have specific pathways through which learning occurs. There are ways to affect brain activity that are more or less effective. Only scientific examination of what works will actually improve education.

    In those five paragraphs, Hayes manages to confound constructivism, manipulatives (which are most commonly used in direct instruction), the use of real-world problems (which is about content, rather than instructional style), the emphasis on creativity (which somehow is the direct opposite of memorization?), having fun, learning modalities, and of course everyone’s favorite: environmental influences. These are all independent variables. A teacher who uses manipulatives is not necessarily one who includes creativity into his or her lessons. All this kind of writing does is induce more people into taking sides without any facts.

    Joanne, I appreciate that you spotlight a wide variety of view-points regarding educational issues, but if you’re going to provide an article that doesn’t give any data, perhaps you can point that out as a caveat at the very least.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Project Follow Through. The studies and data have been conclusive for years.

      One of the reasons the public has so little trust in public education and public educators is because we’ve known for years “what works”, but some “experts” have suppressed and obfuscated those results because they don’t align with their political beliefs and goals.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      But Ari, if we couldn’t argue about education without good data, crickets would take over the ed schools and the state departments of education (the federal one too and the various legislative committees dealing with schools).