Constructivist Principles of Learning and Teaching Methods

By Olsen, Dwayne G. | Education, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Constructivist Principles of Learning and Teaching Methods


Olsen, Dwayne G., Education


As K-12 teachers strive to help students learn academic content, skills, and dispositions, teacher educators strive to prepare these teachers. So how should today's elementary and secondary preservice teachers be educated? This article identifies principles of cognitive science that teachers must know and apply. The ultimate goal is to identify ways in which principles from cognitive science, particularly constructivist theory and research from cognitive psychology, are useful in teaching and learning. As a result, teachers and teacher educators will have better theory, principles, and pedagogy on which to build their teaching and student learning so that all teachers are better prepared to educate their students. Based on these theories and principles, specific approaches to teaching and learning will be identified that assure high-quality learning experiences for all students.

Constructivism and Constructivist Principles

There are several approaches to constructivism with two major branches, those built on philosophical theory(ies) of learning (see von Glaserfeld, 1996) and those built on psychological theories (Fosnot, 1996) intended to explain constructivism as a theory of human learning. Bentley (1996), a science educator, believes that social-contextual constructivism and radical constructivism are most prominent. Loving (1997), another science educator, sees the varieties of constructivism as including" ... personal (Ausubel) to the radical (Piaget and Von Glaserfeld) to the social (Vygotsky) and finally to the critical (Habermas p. 432)." For Fosnot (1996), constructivism is either social or cognitive while Stahl and Casteel (1997) advocate what they call an information constructivist perspective.

Although there are several approaches to constructivism, for Phye (1997), "[c]ommon perspectives include the view that academic knowledge construction on the part of students is basically a learning process that involves change. Thus, knowledge is the desired outcome or effect of the process of learning." (p. 594) For Phye (1997), implementing a constructivist classroom requires that The classroom teacher must be in a position to:

(1) influence or create motivating conditions for students

(2) take responsibility for creating problem situations ...,

(3) foster acquisition and retrieval of prior knowledge ..., and

(4) create a social environment that emphasizes the attitude of learning to learn ... IT]he learning process not the product of learning is the primary focus of constructivism ... (p. 596)

In facilitating teachers' understanding of constructivism, Brooks (1990) presents an extensive list of constructivist teaching practices. These require the teacher to recognize and encourage student autonomy and leadership, encourage the use of " ... raw data and primary sources, along with manipulative, interactive, and physical materials," (page 70) use the vocabulary of cognitive science such as predict, analyze, and classify in developing student activities, maximize student thinking and their use of instructional strategies, question students to identify" ... their theories about concepts before sharing your understandings of those concepts ...," (page 70) promote dialogue between students and between teachers and students, help students to elaborate their ideas, challenge students' thinking by presenting contradictions to their ideas without demeaning them as persons, use wait-time after questioning students, promote inquiry by students through questioning them and having them question one another, provide time for student processing and thinking, encourage student reflection, design curriculum "... around conceptual clusters--of problems, questions, discrepant situations," (page 70) use curriculum at the students' level of development, identify students conceptions and misconceptions and develop lessons that respond to such immediately, and, for some tasks, group students by intellectual ability. …

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