Running head: a new era of education: Classroom Essentials for Learning

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A New Era of Education: Classroom Essentials for Learning

Michelle R Miklinski

Liberty University


Research has found a positive relationship between student-centered instruction and higher academic achievement, critical thinking skills and intrinsic motivation. Piaget and Vygotskys’ cognitive and social development theories underscore the need for constructivist methods. A positive teacher-student relationship whose focus is on the unique learning style that each child possesses contributes to an effective learning environment and increases the likelihood of long-term memory and recall. Quantitative and qualitative research will be used in determining and authenticating the results.

Keywords: Constructivist approach, intrinsic motivation, effective teacher, effective classroom, teacher-centered, student-centered, Piaget and Vygotsky, cognitive development, stages of development, direct instruction, learning theories, learning styles, quantitative research, qualitative research, classroom management, self-regulation, long-term memory, episodic memory, technology in the classroom, student learning styles

In 2007 I began volunteering in the Dupage County public school system as an educational speaker with Amplify Youth Development, an abstinence education program in Downers Grove, IL. I was lead to mentor students in seventh and eighth grade, middle school classrooms on: boundary issues, decision making opportunities, the pitfalls associated with peer pressure and the need to feel accepted. The fact is, at their age I did not have the skill or the foresight to respond competently to situations that were new to me. I did not know the questions to ask nor did I have a mentor to advise me on consequences of which I was not familiar. This compelled me to share my story in hope that this generation stop and think before they act. My concern was; with puberty in full swing and hormones taking effect, new issues are forming for students and decisions will have to be made. Decisions they are not fully equipped to make at this stage of development. Development refers to how people grow, adapt, and change over the course of their lifetimes through physical, personality, socio-emotional, cognitive (thinking), and language development (Slavin, 2009).

Piaget, a French-speaking Swiss developmental psychologist, known for his theory of cognitive development observed that adolescents between the ages of 7 – 11 only focus on the present; they have not developed the understanding for, or the concern about future consequences. Piaget defined this stage of development as the “Concrete Operational Stage,” of development. Persons at this stage of development can only solve problems that apply to actual (concrete) objects or events, and not abstract concepts or hypothetical tasks (Wikipedia) as they will in the future. They are not thinking, “How is my decision today going to affect me twenty years down the road.”

The “Formal Stage of Development” formulated by Piaget can be reached between the onset of puberty into adulthood. Adolescents can hypothetically place themselves in unforeseen circumstances and execute critical thinking skills to aid in self-regulation. Self-regulation refers to the self’s capacity to alter its behaviors (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). These behaviors are changed in accordance to some standards, ideals, or goals either stemming from internal or societal expectations (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). Specifically, self-regulation places one’s “social conscience” over selfish impulses, allowing people to do what is right and not what they want to do (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). In addition, the self-regulatory process prevents impulses that could be costly to the individual in the long-run, even when there are short-term benefits (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007).

The purpose of my research is: To determine if my method of instruction is best suited for capturing student interest and long-term retention of what is being taught in the classroom. The research questions are: What characteristics does an effective teacher have? What contributes to an effective learning environment? What approach has positively affected student learning, interest, teacher-student relationship and intrinsic motivation? What research method is best used to measure the outcome?

Future research will result in finding the answer to the question: Does having a testimonial speaker increase the likelihood of students signing purity contracts, as opposed to direct instruction only methods? The research will be conducted by a mixed-method approach with both qualitative and quantitative methodologies.


It is my theoretical opinion, student-centered constructivist methods of education incorporate the qualities necessary for: effective teaching, an effective learning environment, increased motivation, positive relationships, academic achievement and assimilation of new concepts for memory retention. A synthesis review of the literature studied for this topic recommends and confirms; the constructivist method of instruction which emphasizes student-centered teaching methods to attain the results I envision.

Constructivism as a Theory (n.d.) tells us that, “Many theories of learning have been proposed in the last century. Until recently, behavioral psychology has influenced education in the U.S to such a startling degree that it had a virtual stranglehold on how textbooks were defined and how teachers planned and implemented lessons.” Teacher-centered instruction or direct instruction was once regarded as the educational norm. In teacher-centered classrooms the teacher is the sole center of attention (Freiberg, H. J., 2009) and in its approach it is chiefly associated with the transmission of knowledge (Kathy Laboard Brown, 2003). Students have not had the opportunity to actively participate, only listen and mechanically take notes. As Freiberg (2009) has said, teacher-centered instruction has limited the ability for students to learn self-direction or self-discipline. Students were left feeling under-appreciated, bored and engaged in rote learning instead of respected, intrinsically motivated, and actively engaged.

Out of Jean Piagets’ research on his view of psychological development and Vygotskys’ thoughts on social learning, constructivism became the preferred method of learning to engage the senses in positive cognitive and effective learner outcomes. Katherine Powell agrees that an effective classroom is where teachers and students communicate and inquiry teaching methods are practiced creating a forum for cognitive and social interaction (Powell).

Constructivist methods also take into account the individual differences of the child. Having studied learning theories for my bachelor of science in Psychology, I can appreciate the uniqueness of each individual student. Learning theories evaluate by what means an individual learns, creating a method of instruction that will stimulate optimal learning. Learning theories are important tools, but they must be used in conjunction with the individuals’ giftedness, in the unique ability to acquire and use knowledge or what is interpreted as, “learning style.” Learning styles are discovered by the assessment of a study skills inventory such as, “Parker’s Study Skills Inventory (Parker & Parker).” This evaluation will help the student discover if he is: a dependent or independent learner, if he learns and remembers best by interacting with people, data, things or writing, and if they are a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner. Visual learners are stimulated by such things as: note-taking, memorizing flash cards or highlighting in their text. Auditory learners are stimulated by: hearing instruction, talking about solutions to problems, or listening to music while they study. Kinesthetic learners are stimulated by: doing and participating, role-playing or cooperative learning. Since the importance of multimodalities in student learning is crucial, the inclusive method of student-centered (constructivist) instruction is preferred.

The Effective Teacher

Teachers play a prominent role in adolescents’ lives. For example, teachers affect students’ achievement, their involvement in school, and their motivation for learning. (Hamman & Hendricks, November/December 2005). Just as parents are to teach their children throughout the day, “Whether at home or on the road; whether rising in the morning, lying down to sleep at night, or sitting at home during the day” (Deuteronomy 6:4), it is the teachers responsibility to make instruction memorable, intentional and an integral part of their daily routine. Julia Bret puts it this way in her article, “Going Soft;” “Great teachers know that education is much more than filling up students with bits of knowledge or helping them master selected skills. It’s about helping them grow into adult human beings. That means, helping them become independent thinkers and compassionate citizens. Great teachers help students develop their own decision-making processes rather than simply orchestrating things for them (2010).” Great teachers also know that building relationships with students can be crucial to their academic, social and emotional success. Students need to know they have a personal connection with their teacher; they want to know how much you care long before they want to learn how much you know.

In a journal article written by H Jerome Freiberg (2009), students were asked, why they liked school; the children indicated that they felt trusted and respected, they felt a sense of relationship as if they were part of a family, they felt their teachers were encouraging them to succeed and listened to their opinions and ideas. Freiberg found out that the use of constructivist, student-centered instruction where students were challenged to participate in discussions, to engage in cooperative learning groups (groups of students working together toward a common goal), were given responsibility in the classroom and encouraged to build meaningful relationships, were much more motivated than their traditionally educated counterparts.

As a public speaker for junior high school students, I have the opportunity to speak with students about boundary issues and positive life choices. According to Piaget, students between the ages of 11 to Adulthood are developing, what Piaget has termed, “The Formal Operational Stage,” of development. Students are just coming into puberty at this time and their thinking begins to develop into the form that is characteristic of adults. (Slavin, 2009, p. 38) Abstract thinking becomes possible for this age group, now that they have successfully made it through the, “Concrete Stage,” of development, which occurs between the ages of seven to eleven years old. During this stage, children form concepts, see relationships, and solve problems, but only as long as they involve objects or situations that are familiar. (Slavin, 2009, p. 37) As they begin to master concrete awareness, they can then start thinking about and understanding hypothetical reasoning. It also becomes easier for them to acknowledge and assess their own thinking. This abstract thinking is important because it will help them set boundaries for future situations they will need to resolve.

As an effective teacher, I need to be aware of the developmental milestones, to ensure that students are able to relate to the events and situations I am talking about. Due to differences, I must take advantage of real life events and examples, some that are familiar to students so they can assimilate the lesson into their cognitive experience. Junior high is a tumultuous time in the life of the adolescent. So many changes are taking place at differing rates, and as an intentional teacher, I need to make adjustments for developmental maturation differences. I believe the best learning environment for this to take place is the student-centered, constructivist approach. I am teaching lessons that the students will need to know and internalize, for future relationships, in order to make positive life choices. As an educational speaker, who is concerned with deep conceptual change, I need to facilitate in a way that will foster intrinsic motivation. I will need to precipitate dialogue and debate through cooperative learning, critical thinking and role playing. Vygotsky’s Social Learning Theory is the method, I prefer. I agree with Vygotsky, that an emphasis on learning through social interactions with knowledgeable and experienced adults and peers assists in the development of self-regulation.

The Effective Classroom

“An effective classroom where teachers and students are communicating optimally is dependent on using constructivist strategies, tools and practices.” (Lujan, 2010)

It is generally agreed that, after the home, one of the major instruments for socializing individuals in terms of our cultural values and mores is the school. It has also been pretty well determined that this induction into the customs of our society will be carried on in a group situation of twenty-five or more pupils guided by an adult, considered to be a representative of our values, who will oversee and aid the youngsters' learning and growth. We seem committed both from a social, psychological, and economic viewpoint to this method of inculcating in young people the ideas and ideals we have developed over the years. In view of this fact and in view of the "group-guided-by-a-teacher" learning situation which is normal and accepted in our educational system, it seems important to examine the way in which the teacher fulfills his function in the classroom (Withall), particularly with respect to classroom management.

Freiberg asks, “Is there discipline in the student-centered classroom?” (2009) Absolutely! In fact there is more self-discipline in the constructivist classroom than any other form of instruction. By sharing control, learners become responsible for their own actions, they realize that self-discipline will help them grow and develop as a person, without someone monitoring.

Classroom cooperation is achieved through: shared leadership, guidance management and the premise that all students are an integral part of managing the classroom. Classroom structure is also maintained from the moment the first student walks into the classroom until the final bell has rung and all students have left the room. Instruction starts on time and is not interrupted by tardiness or behavior management. All students are aware of the rules and also have participated in implementing the policies and procedures agreed upon by all. Students are expected to respect one another and formulate a positive relationship between one another for optimal classroom conduct.

The effective classroom will be technologically advanced. With the importance of multimodalities in student learning, teachers incorporate the latest in technology and visual aids; such as video, computer graphics, smart-boards, pictures and diagrams, to present tangible material that will emphasize the concepts that are being presented for optimal understanding and enforcement. Auditory learners will benefit from cooperative learning groups, and facilitator instruction through vicarious learning, analogies and discussion. Finally, kinesthetic learners will profit from role playing, enlisting oneself for instructor assistance, and brainstorming sessions.

Teaching is about building relationships-knowing your students, sharing ideas and all life events. In a time of test-driven schools, the need for relationships is greater. To be genuine in the classroom is difficult but necessary. Some students do not learn from people they do not like or do not respect, but building relationships can be crucial to their academic, social, and emotional success. If this is done, students will respond with interest, excitement, motivation and willingness to learn. If the student feels safe and valued in the classroom, he will be more inclined to listen and take to heart the instruction that is being shared.

I feel that based upon the constructivist method of learning I will be an effective teacher that will retain student interest, energize classroom cooperation, increase participation and successfully present an environment that is mutually beneficial for all student learning styles. In order to measure my success I will like to design a mixed-method of measurement, using qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods

My goal is to measure the effectiveness of my instruction as well as the student interest in retaining what they have learned, assimilating it into their everyday lives and self-regulate their decisions based upon the information they now possess.

Qualitative methods of measurement will be applied as surveys, pencil and paper scales or interview. Since the sample in immediately accessible, all students will participate in final evaluation. Based on the response indicating the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the measurement, quantitative research may be applied by addressing those students who signed the purity contract. The constant includes the survey that was prepared to capture the response of the students. Grade level of students, age of participants, and completion of the purity contract will be the variables that will be tested and that can become constants in future research. An experimental and control group will be established to administer a t-test against those students who participated in the constructivist classroom of instruction as opposed to those who only attended the direct instruction class. In addition a test-retest can be administered since students have the potential to participate in the class next year.


Research has found a positive relationship between student-centered instruction and higher academic achievement, critical thinking skills and intrinsic motivation. I believe that although direct instruction is necessary for initial knowledge of a subject it is enhanced and solidified into long term memory with student-centered learning. Constructivist methods take into account the individual differences of the child. Learning theories evaluate by what means an individual learns, creating a method of instruction that will stimulate optimal learning. Learning theories are important tools, but must be used in conjunction with the individuals’ giftedness, in the unique ability to acquire and use knowledge or what is interpreted as, “learning style.”

Findings show, student-centered instruction encourages self-discipline and self-regulation indicating that the method enhances self-respect, discipline and character. Research confirms that the student-centered constructivist approach builds stronger teacher-student relationships than teacher-centered or traditional classrooms. It can be determined that constructivist methods of instruction positively enhance the creation of intrinsic motivation that will solidify the foundation for long-term memory and recall.


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