Struggles and Successes in Constructivist Jewish Early Childhood Classrooms

Published: 
September, 2018

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 84:3, 284-311 

 

This study examined the experiences of teachers in a Jewish early childhood center implementing constructivist theory and pedagogy through a Reggio Emilia-inspired model. Constructivist practices were described through interviews, surveys, classroom documentation, and observations.

The data indicated that areas that were initially deemed as successes were hard to maintain and seemingly overshadowed by challenges. These areas included understanding constructivist theory, using open-ended materials, and relying on open-ended questions to facilitate knowledge. Furthermore, teachers struggled when comparing information gained by children from classes using a more traditional educational approach. Insights in each area are provided to support Jewish and general studies constructivist teachers.

This qualitative study researched the experiences of teachers in Jewish early childhood education in implementing a Jewish holiday curriculum based on constructivist pedagogy. Focusing on teachers’ theoretical understanding and practice, the researchers describe sources of struggle and success in Jewish teachers’ efforts in aligning their work with constructivist theory and pedagogy. Defining the successes and struggles was based on both the teacher’s self-definition and the researchers’ expert opinion on the alignment between classroom practices and constructivist pedagogy. Practical suggestions are offered to decrease these struggles and increase successes.

The present study took place in a school that follows the tenets of constructivism through the implementation of a Reggio Emilia-inspired approach. Constructivism is a theory of learning that values the ability of children to construct knowledge based on their currently held information coupled with understanding gained from new experiences. The Reggio Emilia model is undergirded by the educational tradition of constructivist theory and pedagogy. The Reggio-inspired approach includes reflective teachers, the valuing of children’s ability to construct knowledge through small-group work, purposeful environments featuring objects from nature, documentation of children’s work, and family involvement Children are encouraged to ask questions, be involved in long-term meaningful projects, and reflect on their experiences. Schools following the Reggio approach often use the term “inspired” to describe their efforts in duplicating this model. This descriptor signifies that the true model relies heavily on the culture of this town in Italy and cannot be authentically duplicated anywhere else. Hence, educators are inspired by the approach with each community and school altering the model based on their own culture and context.

This study centered on the following three research questions: In what ways do early childhood educators in a Reggio-inspired Jewish preschool experience their effectiveness in the theoretical understanding and implementation of a Jewish holiday curriculum based on constructivist pedagogy? What is the nature of the struggles and successes expressed by the educators in these classrooms? How can these data inform the practice of constructivist pedagogy in implementing a Jewish holiday curriculum?

Conclusion

This study, using Piaget’s three types of knowledge, provided an in-depth look into the experiences that teachers in one school encountered during the implementation of a constructivist unit of study. These areas included teachers’ understanding of constructivist theory, the value of open-ended questions, using classroom materials, and defining success in implementing a constructivist pedagogy. Researchers provided recommendations focusing on the importance of (1) utilizing the theory that undergirds a curriculum model, (2) understanding the lengthy process of being a constructivist teacher, (3) choosing engaging classroom materials, (4) applying appropriate assessment techniques, and (5) developing an educator’s schema of successful teaching. The struggles and successes of these teachers could support other educators who find implementing constructivist practices to be a challenge. Continued investigation and further studies with greater generalizability could help determine if these challenges are common in the field and if the suggestions for success are beneficial.
  

Updated: Jan. 30, 2019
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