Learning theories in practice/Constructivism
Constructivism in Practice
The purpose of Constructivism in Practice is to explain the possible advantages of practicing constructivism within the classroom setting. A constructivist classroom is one that concentrates on students forming his or her ideas, concepts, and conclusions while encouraging a more student-centered approach to education. Where as in a traditional, didactic classroom, a teacher may simply instruct and leave little time for classroom discussion; in comparison, a constructivist classroom would expect and reinforce a more egalitarian setting where students construct or co-construct their knowledge and focus on their learning process rather than learning products. When the teacher is in the role of a facilitator and students are actively engaged, then constructivist learning is being promoted within the classroom.
The goals of the chapter are the following: first, to shed some insight on what constructivism looks like in the classroom setting; second, to provide some context in the area of classroom transformation or reform; and third, to help explore the concept of constructivism as a tool for promoting student-centered learning.
The full scope of constructivism would require more to be written on the use and practice of constructivist teaching. For this chapter, the area of concentration will be in providing a resource section for further learning and discussion. For example, links will be provided for video, online research, and possible articles in relation to constructivism in practice. By encouraging the reader to explore on his or her own, this section is promoting constructivism in practice by reinforcing notion of developing a student’s personal insight or take on learning.
An Explanation of Constructivism
The term constructivism alone may refer to a progressive or a more active form of classroom instruction and student learning. In a constructivist classroom setting, for example, a teacher is expected to facilitate information and foster learning among students. Such facilitation takes place in an attempt to encourage active or social engagement that is geared towards enhancing learning, discovery of new knowledge, and an increase in personal insight (Perkins, 1999). The more that student-to-student classroom interaction occurs, the more opportunity there is for constructivism in practice to take shape. It is through this social interaction among the students and the teacher that a more autonomous classroom emerges. When the classroom provides opportunities for collaboration, discussion, or dialogue, then the emphasis on student learning is placed on developing, reevaluating, and reflecting upon the ideas of students. A teacher, in a constructivist classroom, will intentionally seek to help students learn new information by encouraging the communication of prior knowledge as well as the awareness of personal insight or context, as a means for better understanding and future discourse within and outside the classroom setting (Brooks & Brooks, 1993).
Constructivism in Practice
According to Schulte (1996) the following aspects are often encouraged and integrated into the classroom setting: an awareness of a student’s prior knowledge, the construction of knowledge through reciprocal student-to-student or student-to teacher interaction, and an emphasis on the learning process by actively engaging in activities as much as possible. Therefore, each attempt at constructivism is an opportunity for experimentation, risk, and challenge. Whereas a traditional classroom setting may have the teacher present content information without considering student-to-teacher dialogue, in comparison, a constructivist teacher works to take on a more creative, spontaneous, and interactive classroom encouraging discussion and debate. As a teacher attempts to spur student thought, reflection, interaction, and collaboration, the active communication that occurs may push students as well as themselves in a direction towards expanding upon cognitive, social, and behavioral territory that previously would not have been traversed.
When comparing a constructivist versus traditional classroom, the intentions of a teacher and how the learners receive the classroom may differ in a variety of ways. The following listing of descriptions of a constructivist classroom setting versus a traditional one, adapted from Disney Learning Partnership in collaboration with 13 EdOnline, provides insight into what aspects align with each perspective. In addition, the scenario following the listing may also help to distinguish further as to what a constructivist classroom would look like.
Constructivist Classroom Setting:
- Introduction of an overarching concept followed by expansion of individual components.
- Knowledge is compiled through active dialogue between students and teacher.
- Group interaction is encouraged to foster negotiation among students.
- Value is placed on the process of learning through experience and interaction.
- Learning occurs as students gain exposure to a variety of individual perspectives.
- Construction of knowledge based upon a comprehensive view of learning.
- Student-centered learning is the essence.
Traditional Classroom Setting:
- Lessons begin often start with the components of a particular concept presented first.
- Teacher instruction without much dialogue encouraged.
- Students work individually versus in groups.
- More value is placed on testing or results versus the process or application of knowledge.
- Learning is best assessed based upon the scores on exams.
To better understand the practice of constructivism, consider the following example.
A constructivist activity in the classroom has a teacher present an issue to the class and then provides the student with a multiple,diverse range of opportunities for further exploration. In a middle school science classroom, for example, a teacher may present the following question: what is global warming and how does it impact us? From here, a teacher may choose to break students into groups and present each with a component of global warming—yet allowing for the group to build from this hint and also add too it based on any prior knowledge. Then, each group can present to the entire class what they were able to gather through collaboration and the exchange of ideas. As each group presents, the teacher acting as a facilitator, can place the overarching ideas presented on the board while informing the class to watch for any links or connections that can be made from everyone’s input. Next, a teacher may help fill-in the blanks or any gaps of information that the students may not have considered. In addition, such an activity may also provide an opportunity to tie in various skills and tools that may be applied to enhance a student’s approach to finding information or problem solving.
If this activity were to occur over the course of several days, then perhaps each day could be designed to expose the students to an array of activities such as a day dedicated to searching the Internet for more information and then another day dedicated to hearing a guest speaker or lecturer on the given subject. Each new experience that the student encounters or is exposed to may help him or her to build upon prior knowledge, construct new knowledge, or potentially spark interest in a related subject. Therefore, in the case of a lesson on global warming, a student may enter the activity with some knowledge of the term global warming, but, theoretically, the main idea is to have the student leave the activity better informed and with the capability of becoming more informed if he or she chooses to.
Recognizing Challenges to Constructivism
In the previously mentioned comparison and scenario on constructivism, a stronger emphasis is placed on fostering an autonomous classroom within the classroom setting. A question, however, that still may remain is whether one approach works best over the other. Although the shift from a traditional approach to classroom instruction may appear more innovative and promising on the surface, will it also likely have some challenges present, along with it. Inexperienced teachers, for example, may find that placing too much attention on being creative is too time consuming and may be difficult to fit into the weekly schedule of moving towards improving high stakes test scores. If a new teacher has never had experience in teaching in such a manner, a constructivist approach may appear to be too demanding. As such, a significant amount of skill, practice, and appreciation for the process necessary to run an effective constructivist classroom setting might be considered, at least by some educators, as a challenging process (Windschitl, 1999).
A teacher may need to practice and also look to make adjustments overtime such as considering including more group activities and student feedback. In addition, it may take a teacher’s willingness to try a variety or mixture of teaching approaches, emphasizing the facilitation of knowledge and focusing on actively including students in classroom discussions. The effort placed in trying to combine several teaching approaches to the classroom setting may ultimately be the best solution to teaching and leaning (Alesandrini & Larson, 2002). Case in point—in the previously mentioned scenario about the lesson on global warming, a significant amount of time and planning may likely need to occur for this type of approach to be effective.
In retrospect, however, what if the teacher does have experience in teaching in such a manner? What if the students learning can be enhanced or reinforced by a constructivist classroom? Although a constructivist approach to teaching and learning may appear to be challenging, what if one classroom or many are successful?
Imagine a classroom setting where teachers engage with their students with the intention of redistributing information, not for just teaching sake, but for student empowerment. Perhaps this already occurs, but then again perhaps students have yet to experience this type of transformative instruction. Constructivism in practice seeks to do just that—move away from a traditional classroom setting and into a more hands-on approach to teaching and learning intended to spark a student's interest, while motivating them and allowing them to reflect upon as well as construct information (Palmer, 2005). Further research on constructivism is needed to rally enough proof that it can actually provide a greater sense of autonomy in the classroom and that the students, as much as teachers, benefit from such a classroom setting. The links at the end of this chapter provide a rich variety of resources to help shed additional insight into constructivism.
Constructivism is vital to progressive education and school reform. While we must not neglect didactic and lecture-based forms of instruction, thoughtfully integrating knowledge exploration, construction, and sharing episodes should spark student interest in learning. Constructivism is just the means; enhanced learning and motivation is the goal.
Constructivist Learning Environments:
Selected articles to better inform teachers and educators alike:
Powerpoint presentation linking the math and sciences to constructivism:
Video: Groups of two or more students discuss and debate about how to best solve math problems:
Alesandrini, K., & Larson, L. (2002). Teachers bridge to constructivism. Clearing House, 75(3), 118-121.
Brooks, J., & Brooks, M. G. (1993). In search of understanding: The case for constructivist classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Castle, K., & Rogers, K. (1994). Rule-creating in a constructivist classroom community. Childhood Education, 70(2), 77-80.
Cook, L. S., Smagorinksy, P., & Fry, P. G. (2002). Problems in developing a constructivist approach to teaching: One teacher's transition from teacher preparation to teaching. Elementary School Journal, 102(5), 389-413.
Disney learning Partnership (http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/index.html) Workshops on Constructivism as Paradigms for Teaching and Learning (with partner 13 Ed line Online—Disney Learning Partnership
Palmer, D. (2005). A motivational view of constructivist-informed teaching. International Journal of Science Education, 27(15), 1853-1881.
Perkins, D. (1999). The many faces of constructivism. Educational Leadership, 57(3), 6-11.
Schulte, P. L. (1996). A definition of constructivism. Science Scope, 20(3), 25-27.
Windschitl, M. (1999). The challenges of sustaining a constructivist classroom culture. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(10), 751-755.