does this theory differ from traditional ideas about teaching
does constructivism have to do with my classroom?
is the history of constructivism, and how has it changed over
are some critical perspectives?
are the benefits of constructivism?
does constructivism have to do with my classroom?
As is the case with many of the current/popular paradigms,
you're probably already using the constructivist approach to
some degree. Constructivist teachers pose questions and problems,
then guide students to help them find their own answers. They
use many techniques in the teaching process. For example, they
More information on the above processes is covered in other workshops
in this series. For now, it's important to realize that the constructivist
approach borrows from many other practices in the pursuit of its
primary goal: helping students learn HOW TO LEARN.
- prompt students to formulate their own questions (inquiry)
- allow multiple interpretations and expressions of learning
- encourage group work and the use of peers as resources (collaborative
In a constructivist classroom, learning is . . .
Students are not blank slates upon which knowledge is etched.
They come to learning situations with already formulated knowledge,
ideas, and understandings. This previous knowledge is the raw
material for the new knowledge they will create.
Example: An elementary school teacher presents a class problem
to measure the length of the "Mayflower." Rather than starting
the problem by introducing the ruler, the teacher allows students
to reflect and to construct their own methods of measurement.
One student offers the knowledge that a doctor said he is four
feet tall. Another says she knows horses are measured in "hands."
The students discuss these and other methods they have heard
about, and decide on one to apply to the problem.
The student is the person who creates new understanding for
him/herself. The teacher coaches, moderates, suggests, but allows
the students room to experiment, ask questions, try things that
don't work. Learning activities require the
students' full participation (like hands-on experiments). An
important part of the learning process is that students reflect
on, and talk about, their activities. Students also help set
their own goals and means of assessment.
Examples: A middle-school language arts teacher sets aside time
each week for a writing lab. The emphasis is on content and
getting ideas down rather than memorizing grammatical rules,
though one of the teacher's concerns is the ability of his students
to express themselves well through written language. The teacher
provides opportunities for students to examine the finished
and earlier drafts of various authors. He allows students to
select and create projects within the general requirement of
building a portfolio
1. Students serve as peer
editors who value originality and uniqueness rather than the
best way to fulfill an assignment.
In a history class, asking students to read and think about
different versions of and perspectives on "history" can lead
to interesting discussions. Is history as taught in textbooks
accurate? Are there different versions of the same history?
Whose version of history is most accurate? How do we know? From
there, students can make their own judgments.
Students control their own learning process, and they lead the
way by reflecting on their experiences. This process makes them
experts of their own learning. The teacher helps create situations
where the students feel safe questioning and reflecting on their
own processes, either privately or in group discussions. The
teacher should also create activities that lead the student
to reflect on his or her prior knowledge and experiences. Talking
about what was learned and how it was learned is really important.
Example: Students keep journals in a writing class where they
record how they felt about the class projects, the visual and
verbal reactions of others to the project, and how they felt
their own writing had changed. Periodically the teacher reads
these journals and holds a conference with the student where
the two assess (1) what new knowledge the student has created,
(2) how the student learns best, and (3) the learning environment
and the teacher's role in it.
The constructivist classroom relies heavily on collaboration
among students. There are many reasons why collaboration contributes to learning. The main reason it is used so much in constructivism is
that students learn about learning not only from themselves,
but also from their peers. When students review and reflect on their learning processes together, they can pick up strategies
and methods from one another.
Example: In the course of studying ancient civilizations, students
undertake an archaeological dig. This may be something constructed
in a large sandbox, or, as in the Dalton School's "Archaeotype"
software simulation, on a computer. As the students find different
objects, the teacher introduces classifying techniques. The students are encouraged to (1) set up a group museum by developing criteria and choosing which objects should belong, and (2) collaborate with other students who worked in different quadrants of the dig. Each group is then asked to develop theories about the
civilizations that inhabited the area.
The main activity in a constructivist classroom is solving problems.
Students use inquiry methods to ask questions, investigate a
topic, and use a variety of resources to find solutions and
answers. As students explore the topic, they draw conclusions,
and, as exploration continues, they revisit those conclusions.
Exploration of questions leads to more questions. (See the CONCEPT TO
Example: Sixth graders figuring out how to purify water investigate
solutions ranging from coffee-filter paper, to a stove-top distillation
apparatus, to piles of charcoal, to an abstract mathematical
solution based on the size of a water molecule. Depending upon
students' responses, the teacher encourages abstract as well
as concrete, poetic as well as practical, creations of new knowledge.
Students have ideas that they may later see were invalid, incorrect,
or insufficient to explain new experiences. These ideas are
temporary steps in the integration of knowledge. For instance,
a child may believe that all trees lose their leaves in the
fall, until she visits an evergreen forest. Constructivist teaching
takes into account students' current conceptions and builds
What happens when a student gets a new piece of information?
The constructivist model says that the student compares the
information to the knowledge and understanding he/she already
has, and one of three things can occur:
- The new information matches up with his previous knowledge
pretty well (it's consonant with the previous knowledge),
so the student adds it to his understanding. It may take
some work, but it's just a matter of finding the right fit,
as with a puzzle piece.
- The information doesn't match previous knowledge (it's
dissonant). The student has to change her previous
understanding to find a fit for the information. This can
be harder work.
- The information doesn't match previous knowledge, and
it is ignored. Rejected bits of information may just
not be absorbed by the student. Or they may float around,
waiting for the day when the student's understanding has
developed and permits a fit.
Example: An elementary teacher believes her students are ready
to study gravity. She creates an environment of discovery with
objects of varying kinds. Students explore the differences in
weight among similarly sized blocks of Styrofoam, wood, and
lead. Some students hold the notion that heavier objects fall
faster than light ones. The teacher provides materials (stories,
posters, and videos) about Galileo, Newton, etc. She leads a
discussion on theories about falling. The students then replicate
Galileo's experiment by dropping objects of different weights
and measuring how fast they fall. They see that objects of different
weights actually usually fall at the same speed, although surface
area and aerodynamic properties can affect the rate of fall.
Workshop: Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning
Explanation | Demonstration | Exploration | Implementation | Get Credit
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