Constructivism in Teaching

Constructivism is a set of assumptions governing the way people learn and make sense of the world. It’s founded on the premise that, by reflecting on personal experiences, people create their own understanding of the world they live in.

Knowledge bank

  • Constructivism is a significant overarching theory that has an important bearing on the day-to-day work of teachers. However, it should be noted that the theory of constructivism was developed to account for all types of human learning (i.e. not specifically teacher-mediated learning).
  • A principal scholar and point of reference for educationalists interested in constructivism is Swiss philosopher and psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980). He suggested that people construct new knowledge by assimilating it with their internal representations of the world. Accommodation may be required, by reframing one’s view of the world, in order to allow new experiences to fit.
  • Constructivism maintains that learning builds on what learners already know. It also includes the concept that learners need to create personal meaning from any learning situation – this cannot be ‘spoon fed’ by a teacher.
  • The theory of constructivism also contends that adults can intervene in order to facilitate and promote the learning of children and young people – even though meaning making takes place at the individual level.
  • Constructivism also suggests that learning within schools needs to take place in as contextualized a way as possible – i.e. that learners need to learn within parameters as close to real life as possible.
  • The type of learning taking place in schools can be characterized as social constructivism, since it takes place within a collaborative learning environment, orchestrated by a teacher and in the presence of a host of other learners.
  • Within constructivism learners are respected as unique individuals, with unique backgrounds, culture and needs. Learners are also viewed as complex and multi-dimensional. Furthermore, the responsibility for learning must reside increasingly with the learner, who in turn must be motivated to want to learn. Crucially, learners develop their thinking abilities by interacting with adults – or more able peers.
  • Constructivism has given rise to the so-called ‘constructivist’ approach to teaching, which emphasizes the key role of the learner in personal meaning making in the classroom. It also stresses the need for a ‘hands-on’ role of learners in the learning process.
  • A constructivist learning environment is typified by learners being asked questions rather than the teacher trying to ‘transmit’ knowledge; learners being asked to explore their understanding rather than being given the right answer; and learners being encouraged to draw their own conclusions, rather than having one imposed. In this sense, teachers move from being instructors to facilitators.
  • Constructionist approaches, the brain-child of Seymour Papert (1928-), go one step further by suggesting that constructivist approaches are especially effective when people are involved actually making something – such as a book, model or computer program. The rapid development of ICT in schools is enabling learners to ‘create’ in more ways than ever before.
  • Some prominent cognitive scientists have cast doubt on the theory of constructivism, contending that the main ideas may be either misleading or that they contradict known findings. Nevertheless, the theory continues to exert a powerful force in schools, adding weight to much modern thinking on effective teaching and learning approaches. It helps to justify what many teachers have traditionally thought as the most effective ways to teach.

Ask yourself

  • To what extent is your classroom underpinned by constructivist principles?
  • What do you see as the benefits of constructivism from an educational point of view? And the drawbacks?
  • What changes does the constructivist approach to teaching suggest might need to be made in your classroom?

To do list

  • The ideas underpinning constructivism can be difficult to understand, especially for those without a psychology background, yet they have pivotal importance to teachers. Spend an hour doing some internet research on this fascinating topic in order to learn about it.
  • Create an action plan for embracing more constructivist principles in your classroom.
  • Work with a like-minded colleague to explore together your views on constructivism and its relevance to your teaching. Ensure you expose yourself to some of the competing theories too.

Author: Shawn

One Response to “Constructivism in Teaching”

  1. pratap says:

    constractivisit teaching is verry effective for development of students and this article give more imformation about that

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