Constructivist middle level teachers: An explorative analysis of their backgrounds, passions, and tolerance for ambiguity

Alice Surnamer Gottlieb, Fordham University


The purpose of this research was to identify, analyze, and interpret the backgrounds, practices, and beliefs of middle level teachers who embrace constructivist pedagogy, to answer the following research questions: What leads some middle school teachers to select a constructivist versus a traditional approach to teaching? Does a tolerance for ambiguity mediate the relationship between constructivist versus traditional teaching? If so, how is this mediated? Qualitative research methodology was utilized with data collected from 15 middle school teachers from 4 middle level schools in 1 suburban district. Participants were selected through a reputational sampling; all participants were deemed effective by their principals and represented the ends of the spectrum between constructivist and traditional teachers. The data included open-ended interviews with the participants, classroom visits, and participant completion of the MSTAT-1, a quantitative measure of Tolerance for Ambiguity. Several patterns emerged from this research. The importance of family was a pervasive theme, with busy, large families and noisy, active homes. Themes that emerged from the interviews suggested that the constructivist teachers learned how to deal with free time during their childhoods, structuring their own time and activities. They also seemed to enjoy creative endeavors, often making objects out of found materials. The quantitative data relating an interest in constructive teaching strategies with tolerance for ambiguity suggest another difference between constructivist and traditional teachers. Since the literature in middle level education suggests a preference for constructivist pedagogy over traditional and this study demonstrated a difference between constructivist and traditional teachers, implications for educational leaders exist. Instructional leaders cannot change the childhood experiences of their teachers, but can they create school environments that will compensate for early experience and allow teachers to increase tolerance for ambiguity as they adopt constructivist pedagogy?

Subject Area

School administration|Curricula|Teaching

Recommended Citation

Gottlieb, Alice Surnamer, "Constructivist middle level teachers: An explorative analysis of their backgrounds, passions, and tolerance for ambiguity" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3210267.