What is Constructivism?

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Constructivism is a theory about learning.

It requires a shift in thinking from the traditional way of teaching, in which students are lead step by step through what educators want them to do. During traditional processes, learners sometimes have minimal knowledge why they are doing it or what the end result will be. In this traditional way of teaching, teachers often end up saying, “Someday you’ll see the value of this. Someday you’ll thank me.”

Instead, in a constructivist approach, the teacher focuses on defining the end result of the task that is assigned and allows the student to figure out the steps that will lead to the end result. The guidance the teacher provides throughout the lesson is called scaffolding, and is essential to the learner’s success. Learners are given the chance to succeed and are given as much support as they need, but not one bit more.

Effective educators are those who can create learning environments where students can have opportunities to construct well reasoned meanings for what they observe and experience. When planning lessons, teachers should be conscious of the main tenets of constructivist theories about learning as outlined by Brooks and Brooks, such as:

(1) Learning occurs when people construct their own knowledge by connecting new information with prior knowledge;

(2) Learning grows out of social interaction;

(3) Learning lasts when learners are actively engaged with information.

Lectures can be part of a constructivist based lesson as long as it addresses these tenets. Certain practices such as well structured group work, reflection, and think-pair-share are also often reflective of constructivist theory.

To understand Constructivism better, consider the following scenario from Flynn, Mesibov, Vermette & Smith’s (2008) book Captivating Classrooms with Constructivism.

“Wouldn’t ‘The Wizard of Oz’ have been a different story if Dorothy had never left the farm? What if Glinda had visited Dorothy in Kansas and had explained why Dorothy should be grateful to be in Kansas and why she should be appreciative of all the people and surroundings that were available to her? Would Dorothy have listened for 46 minutes, nodded understandingly, and then said, “Thank you, good witch of the North, now I understand why I am so fortunate, everything I could ever want is right here in my own backyard?” Yeah, right. As Glinda says in response to a question from Scarecrow, ‘Dorothy had to learn it for herself.’”

For more information on constructivism, please consider these valuable resources.


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