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The Journal of Higher Education 73.2 (2002) 307-309

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Book Review

Creating Contexts for Learning and Self-Authorship: Constructive Developmental Pedagogy

Creating Contexts for Learning and Self-Authorship: Constructive Developmental Pedagogy, by Marcia Baxter Magolda. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 1999. 320 p. $49.95 ($24.95)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to teach a course where you didn't lecture, where class discussions focused on what students had discovered was important, and where you surrendered your status as knowledge giver to a new role as facilitator and co-learner? In Creating Contexts for Learning and Self-Authorship, Marcia Baxter Magolda identifies a pedagogical approach to student learning that makes such a course format possible. Her approach is based on an understanding of how students construct knowledge and how the construction of knowledge relates to the ideas they form about themselves.

College faculty want students who can think independently, debate ideas, are motivated for independent learning, and are capable of using a wide range of information to make decisions. Unfortunately, the most widely used teaching methods--lecturing, multiple choice tests, reading assignments, and brief class discussions--are not very effective in achieving these outcomes. Despite this knowledge, most college faculty teach according to the method by which they were taught, regardless of its effectiveness. Baxter Magolda offers an alternative. She calls it "constructive developmental pedagogy." Her pedagogical approach is based on the assumption that students construct knowledge through a process of making meaning of their own experiences. The goal is self-authorship, [End Page 307] a process of self-reflection resulting in an organization of thoughts and feelings to form an opinion or decision.

The constructive developmental approach grew from Baxter Magolda's research on epistemological development of college students and continued for eight years beyond college. Through a process of annual interviews, she explored students' thoughts about faculty, learning, peers, and ways they learned. In this book, Baxter Magolda briefly reviews her research on epistemological development and then focuses on four courses that she and another researcher either taught or observed others teach. In a detailed account of the way the courses were taught, the questions instructors asked, and an examination of how the discussions proceeded in the class, Baxter Magolda constructs a pedagogical approach based on three principles: (1) validating students as knowers, (2) situating learning in students' own experience, and (3) defining learning as mutually constructing meaning. When students are validated as knowers, they are recognized as capable and their viewpoint is respected. Situating learning in students' own experiences involves using the experiences of students as the starting point for learning. Instead of starting from a faculty viewpoint, the instructor is forced to think about knowledge in the way students construct knowledge from their experience and then help students build on what they already know. Defining learning as mutually constructing meaning requires both teacher and student to share the learning process. Together, students and the faculty member make meaning of experiences based on the available evidence.

Baxter Magolda uses an inductive approach to reveal the outcomes of her research. Much of the book is constructed of dialogue between teachers and students. The reader is invited to draw his or her own assessments of this evidence. The author offers her perspective and interpretation and then weaves these together into relationships between students' ways of knowing and various pedagogical approaches.

The pedagogical components and underlying assumptions of the book come from a social constructivist perspective consistent with educators such as Kenneth Burffee (1993), Henry Giroux (1988), and Ira Shor (1992). All of these educational reformers focus on learning-centered educational practice. Although Baxter Magolda's book is part of this educational reform literature, it differs from these books in three ways. First, the book offers a pedagogical approach focused on both self-authorship and subject mastery. Second, this pedagogical approach is linked to students' cognitive development in a way that helps students move toward self-authorship. And third, the book identifies both the structure and the process for implementing...


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