Constructivism in Education

Constructivism is a theory founded on the premise that humans construct their knowledge and understanding of the world by reflecting on their own experiences.

The concept of constructivism dates back to ancient Greece, when Socrates asked his students questions which led them to realize the weakness of their thinking. Constructivist educators still use this method as a teaching technique.

Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget and American philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey developed theories of childhood development and education that led to the evolution of constructivism. Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky and American psychologists Jerome Bruner and David Ausubel added new perspectives to the constructivist learning theory.

Piaget believed that assimilation and accommodation are the two processes through which knowledge is internalised by learners. He suggested that humans construct new knowledge through their experiences. When individuals assimilate new knowledge they add it to an existing framework, without changing its structure. Accommodation is the process of changing the internal mental structure to fit new experiences.

Constructivist teaching creates motivated learners. All school subjects involve constructing new ideas. Teachers should create environments in which students can construct their own ideas and understanding. Constructivist teachers encourage students to assess how classroom activities help them gain understanding.

Unlike traditional teaching, in a constructivist classroom the focus is no longer on teachers who transfer their knowledge to passive learners, but on students, who are urged to be actively involved in the process of learning. Teachers are facilitators who, by asking questions, mediate and help students develop their understanding. Teachers no longer give answers according to a set curriculum, but help students come to their own conclusions and create their own ideas. Teachers are in continuous dialogue with their students, unlike in traditional classrooms where they mostly give monologues.

In a constructivist classroom, knowledge is no longer something that should be memorised, but dynamic views of the world we live in. Learners are encouraged to discover concepts and facts for themselves. Constructivist classrooms are based on a constant dialogue between teachers and students who develop an awareness of each other's viewpoints and opinions. At the same time, learners are encouraged to work in groups and collaborate in tasks. Rather than absorbing the information that is being presented, students are able to interact, interpret and analyse everything.

In traditional classrooms learning is based on repetition. In constructivist classrooms learning is interactive and students build new knowledge starting from what they already know.

Negotiation is an important aspect of a constructivist classroom. Teachers should openly talk about how new information may be learned and can invite students to contribute and modify the educational programme.

Traditionally, assessment is based on testing. In constructivist teaching, assessment is not based only on tests, but also on students' work, observations and points of view. Assessment should be used to enhance both the student's learning and the teacher's understanding of what students understand. Constructivists don't see assessment as an isolated exercise, but as a continuous process. They encourage students assess their own knowledge and evaluate each other's work.

The main benefit of constructivism is that students enjoy learning more when they are actively involved than when they are just given information about a subject. Moreover, constructivism focuses more on understanding and learning to think, unlike traditional teaching which focuses on memorisation.

The dynamism of the lessons engages students' initiatives and gives them ownership of what they learn. Constructivism develops students' ability to express and use their knowledge in a myriad of ways in real life situations.

At the same time, students improve their communication skills by collaborating and exchanging ideas with the rest of the class. They learn how to negotiate and clearly express their ideas so that they the group they are working in accomplish a task.

However, constructivism has been criticised on various grounds. Some critics say this teaching method has been more successful with children who have committed rich parents, while traditional methods work better with students lacking such resources.

Other critics believe that in each constructivist classrooms there are students who dominate the whole class and the other students are somehow forced to conform to their opinions. Moreover, they claim there is little evidence constructivist methods work. By rejecting evaluation through testing, teachers have made their students' progress unaccountable.

Constructivism in Education: Selected full-text books and articles

Constructivism in Education By Leslie P. Steffe; Jerry Gale Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1995
In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms By Jacqueline Grennon Brooks; Martin G. Brooks Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1999
Constructivism and the Technology of Instruction: A Conversation By Thomas M. Duffy; David H. Jonassen Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992
Understanding Constructivism(s): A Primer for Parents and School Board Members By Vermette, Paul; Foote, Chandra; Bird, Cliff; Mesibov, Don; Harris-Ewing, Sharon; Battaglia, Cathy Education, Vol. 122, No. 1, Fall 2001
Between Constructivism and Connectedness By Gordon, Mordechai Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 59, No. 4, September-October 2008
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
A Review and Analysis of Constructivism for School-Based Practice By Green, Susan K.; Gredler, Margaret E School Psychology Review, Vol. 31, No. 1, Winter 2002
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Practice of Constructivism in Science Education By Kenneth Tobin Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993
Philosophy of Education By Nel Noddings Westview, 1998
Librarian's tip: "Constructivism" begins on p. 115
Constructivism and Understanding: Implementing the Teaching for Understanding Framework By Graffam, Ben Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Vol. 15, No. 1, Fall 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Constructivist Principles of Learning and Teaching Methods By Olsen, Dwayne G Education, Vol. 120, No. 2, Winter 1999
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