What is Constructivism?
• The term refers to the idea that learners construct knowledge for themselves---each learner individually and, socially constructs meaning---as he or she learns.
• Constructivism views learning as a process in which the learner actively constructs or builds new ideas or concepts based upon current and past knowledge or experience.
• Constructivist learning, therefore, is a very personal endeavor, whereby internalized concepts, rules, and general principles may consequently be applied in a practical real-world context.
• This is known as social constructivism.
• Social constructivists posit that knowledge is constructed when individuals engage socially in talk and activity about shared problems or tasks.
• Constructivism itself has many variations, such as active learning, discovery learning, and knowledge building.
• Regardless of the variety, constructivism promotes a student's free exploration within a given framework or structure.
• Born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, (1896 –1980)
• Was a psychologist and philosopher, well known for his pedagogical studies.
• He is the great pioneer of the constructivist theory of knowing.
• He inspired the transformation of European and American education, including both theory and practice, leading to a more ‘child-centered’ approach.
• Piaget's influence is stronger in early education and moral education.
• In conversations with Jean Piaget, he says: "Education, for most people, means trying to lead the child to resemble the typical adult of his society . . . but for me and no one else, education means making creators. . . . You have to make inventors, innovators—not conformists" (Bringuier, 1980, p. 132).
• Piaget believed in two basic principles relating to moral education: that children develop moral ideas in stages and that children create their conceptions of the world.
• According to Piaget, "the child is someone who constructs his own moral world view, who forms ideas about right and wrong, and fair and unfair, that are not the direct product of adult teaching and that are often maintained in the face of adult wishes to the contrary" (Gallagher, 1978, p. 26).
• Piaget believed that children made moral judgments based on their own observations of the world.
• He also had a considerable effect in the field of computer science and artificial intelligence.
• His theory of cognitive development can be used as a tool in the early childhood classroom.
• According to Piaget, children developed best in a classroom with interaction.
Stages of Piaget’s Theory:
• Sensorimotor stage: from birth to age 2. Children experience the world through movement and senses (use five senses to explore the world). During the sensorimotor stage children are extremely egocentric, meaning they cannot perceive the world from others' viewpoints.
• Preoperational stage: from ages 2 to 7 (magical thinking predominates, acquisition of motor skills). Egocentrism begins strongly and then weakens. Children cannot conserve or use logical thinking
• Concrete operational stage: from ages 7 to 12 (children begin to think logically but are very concrete in their thinking). They are no longer egocentric.
• Formal operational stage: from age 12 onwards (development of abstract reasoning). Children develop abstract thought and can easily conserve and think logically in their mind.
Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky
• Novermber 5,1896 – June 11, 1934
• He was a Soviet psychologist.
• Was also a highly prolific author: his major works span 6 volumes, written over roughly 10 years, from his Psychology of Art (1925) to Thought and Language [or Thinking and Speech] (1934).
• His work covered such diverse topics as the origin and the psychology of art, development of higher mental functions, philosophy of science and methodology of psychological research, the relation between learning and human development, concept formation, interrelation between language and thought development, play as a psychological phenomenon, the study of learning disabilities, and abnormal human development.
• Vygotsky introduced the notion of zone of proximal development, an innovative metaphor capable of describing not the actual, but the potential of human cognitive development.
• "Zone of proximal development" (ZPD) is Vygotsky’s term for the range of tasks that are too difficult for the child to master alone(because he is not mature enough) but that can be learned with guidance and assistance of adults or more-skilled children. The lower limit of ZPD is the level of skill reached by the child working independently. The upper limit is the level of additional responsibility the child can accept with the assistance of an able instructor.
• Vygotsky investigated child development and how this was guided by the role of culture and interpersonal communication.
• He observed how higher mental functions developed historically within particular cultural groups, as well as individually through social interactions with significant people in a child's life, particularly parents, but also other adults.
• Through these interactions, a child came to learn the habits of mind of her/his culture, including speech patterns, written language, and other symbolic knowledge through which the child derives meaning and which affected a child's construction of her/his knowledge.
• This key premise of Vygotskian psychology is often referred to as cultural mediation.
• The specific knowledge gained by children through these interactions also represented the shared knowledge of a culture. This process is known as internalization.
• Internalization can be understood in one respect as “knowing how”.
• Perhaps Vygotsky's most important contribution concerns the inter-relationship of language development and thought.
• This concept, explored in Vygotsky's book Thought and Language, establishes the explicit and profound connection between speech (both silent inner speech and oral language), and the development of mental concepts and cognitive awareness.
• It should be noted that Vygotsky described inner speech as being qualitatively different from normal (external) speech.
• An infant learns the meaning of signs through interaction with its main care-givers, e.g., pointing, cries, and gurgles can express what is wanted. How verbal sounds can be used to conduct social interaction is learned through this activity, and the child begins to use, build, and develop this faculty, e.g., using names for objects, etc.
• Language starts as a tool external to the child used for social interaction.
• The child guides personal behavior by using this tool in a kind of self-talk or "thinking out loud." Initially, self-talk is very much a tool of social interaction and it tapers to negligible levels when the child is alone or with deaf children. Gradually self-talk is used more as a tool for self-directed and self-regulating behavior.
• Then, because speaking has been appropriated and internalized, self-talk is no longer present around the time the child starts school. Self-talk "develops along a rising not a declining, curve; it goes through an evolution, not an involution. In the end, it becomes inner speech" (Vygotsky, 1987, pg 57). Inner speech develops through its differentiation from social speech.
• October 20, 1859 – June 1, 1952
• He was an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer whose ideas have been very influential to education and social reform.
• His educational theories were presented in My Pedagogic Creed (1897), The School and Society (1900), The Child and Curriculum (1902), Democracy and Education (1916) and Experience and Education (1938).
• Dewey was an educational reformer, who emphasized that the traditional teaching's concern with delivering knowledge needed to be balanced with a much greater concern with the students' actual experiences and active learning.
• At the same time, Dewey was alarmed by many of the "child-centered" excesses of educational-school pedagogues who claimed to be his followers. In How We Think, Dewey wrote:
“The older type of instruction tended to treat the teacher as a dictatorial ruler. The newer type sometimes treats the teacher as a negligible factor, almost as an evil, though a necessary one. In reality, the teacher is the intellectual leader of a social group, He is a leader, not in virtue of official position, but because of wider and deeper knowledge and matured experience. The supposition that the teacher must abdicate its leadership is merely silly.”
• Learning by doing
• Dewey was the most famous proponent of hands-on learning or experiential education, which is related to, but not synonymous with experiential learning. Dewey went on to influence many other influential experiential models and advocates.
• Many researchers credit him with the influence of Project Based Learning (PBL) which places students in the active role of researchers.
Before and After Constructivism
Traditional Classroom Constructivist Classroom
Curriculum begins with the parts of the whole. Curriculum emphasizes big concepts, beginning with the whole and expanding to include the parts.
Emphasizes basic skills. Process is as important as product
Strict adherence to fixed curriculum is highly valued. Pursuit of student questions and interests is valued.
Materials are primarily textbooks and workbooks Materials include primary sources of material and manipulative materials.
Learning is based on repetition. Learning is interactive, building on what the student already knows.
Teachers disseminate information to students; students are recipients of knowledge. Teachers have a dialogue with students, helping students construct their own knowledge.
Teacher's role is directive, rooted in authority. Teacher's role is interactive, rooted in negotiation.
Assessment is through testing, correct answers. Assessment includes student works, observations, and points of view, as well as tests.
Knowledge is seen as inert. Knowledge is seen as dynamic, ever changing with our experiences.
Students work primarily alone. Students work primarily in groups.
• It prompt students to formulate their own questions. (inquiry)
• It allows multiple interpretations and expressions of learning (multiple intelligences)
• It encourage group work and the use of peers as resources (collaborative learning)
Principles of Learning
What are some guiding principles of constructivist thinking that we must keep in mind when we consider our role as educators?
1. Learning is an active process in which the learner uses sensory input and constructs meaning out of it. The more traditional formulation of this idea involves the terminology of the active learner (Dewey's term) stressing that the learner needs to do something.
2. People learn to learn as they learn: learning consists both of constructing meaning and constructing systems of meaning.
3. The crucial action of constructing meaning is mental: it happens in the mind. Physical actions, hands-on experience may be necessary for learning, especially for children, but it is not sufficient; we need to provide activities which engage the mind as well as the hands. (Dewey called this reflective activity.)
4. Learning involves language: the language we use influences learning. On the empirical level. researchers have noted that people talk to themselves as they learn. On a more general level. there is a collection of arguments, presented most forcefully by Vigotsky, that language and learning are inextricably intertwined.
5. Learning is a social activity (Vigotsky): our learning is intimately associated with our connection with other human beings, our teachers, our peers, our family as well as casual acquaintances, including the people before us or next to us at the exhibit.
6. Learning is contextual: we do not learn isolated facts and theories in some abstract ethereal land of the mind separate from the rest of our lives: we learn in relationship to what else we know, what we believe, our prejudices and our fears.
7. One needs knowledge to learn: it is not possible to assimilate new knowledge without having some structure developed from previous knowledge to build on. The more we know, the more we can learn. Therefore any effort to teach must be connected to the state of the learner, must provide a path into the subject for the learner based on that learner's previous knowledge.
8. It takes time to learn: learning is not instantaneous. For significant learning we need to revisit ideas, ponder them try them out, play with them and use them.
9. Motivation is a key component in learning. Not only is it the case that motivation helps learning, it is essential for learning. Unless we know "the reasons why", we may not be very involved in using the knowledge that may be instilled in us even by the most severe and direct teaching.
In a constructivist classroom the teacher…
pose problems of emerging relevance to students.
structure learning around primary concepts.
seeks and values students' points of view.
adapts instruction to address student suppositions.
assess student learning in the context of teaching.
serves as a guide or facilitator to his/her students
develops a situation for students to explain
selects a process for groupings of materials and students
builds a bridge between what students already know and what the teachers want them to learn
anticipate questions to ask and answer without giving away an explanation
encourage students to exhibit a record of their thinking by sharing it with others, and
solicit students' reflections about their learning.
In a constructivist classroom the students…
can construct additional knowledge by figuring out/analyzing:
• solutions to problems in your school or community
• math formulas to explain a problem, or pose a solution
• categorization method for some plants or animals in your area based on careful observation (perhaps a small collection, or homemade "museum")
• a plan for a scavenger hunt
• a treasure hunt (in which clues involve vocabulary from the topic)
• a collection of objects from nature
• the night sky, food chain, water cycle, or other science topic
• local, national, or international environmental concern
can construct additional knowledge by writing:
• short plays
• screen plays
• legal briefs
• song lyrics
• letters (or e-mail) to experts
• original advertisements
• new endings for stories or songs
• "what if..." thought experiments
can construct additional knowledge by making/inventing/designing/drawing:
• board games
• concept maps
• multimedia presentations
can construct additional knowledge by performing/presenting:
• a play
• a concert
• role-play lecture (such as a well-known person from history)
• a dance based on literature or historical event
• collected songs about a topic from another era
Benefits of constructivism
Develops thinking skills.
• Problem solving teaches students to consider multiple perspectives on a given situation.
• This develops flexibility in thinking and reasoning skills, as students compare and contrast various possibilities in order to draw their conclusions.
• Students tap into their prior knowledge and experience as they attempt to solve a problem.
• Students also learn to make connections and associations by relating the subject matter to their own life experience.
• Students learn to support their conclusions with evidence and logical arguments.
• Students learn to synthesize several sources of information and references in order to draw conclusions and then evaluate these conclusions.
• Students learn to question ideas and knowledge through the process of comparing and contrasting alternative ideas and contexts.
• Students are encouraged to engage in individual reflection in order to organize and understand the world.
• Students experience insights as they think through a problem or inquiry activity, and draw inferences that allow them to go beyond the simple acquisition of facts and information by learning how to see implications and apply them to other situations.
Develops communication and social skills.
• Students must learn how to clearly articulate their ideas as well as to collaborate on tasks effectively by sharing the burden of group projects. Students must therefore exchange ideas and so must learn to "negotiate" with others and to evaluate their contributions in a socially acceptable manner. This is essential to success in the real world, since they will always be exposed to a variety of experiences in which they will have to navigate among others' ideas.
• Students learn how to communicate their ideas and findings with others. This becomes a self-assessment activity, whereby the students gain more insight into how well or poorly they actually understand the concepts at hand.
Encourages alternative methods of assessment.
• Traditional assessment is based on pen-and-paper tests whereby students demonstrate or reproduce knowledge in the form of short responses and multiple-choice selection, which often inspire little personal engagement. Constructivist assessment engages the students' initiative and personal investment through journals, research reports, physical models, and artistic representations. Engaging the creative instincts develops a student's ability to express knowledge through a variety of ways. The student is also more likely to retain and transfer the new knowledge to real life.
Helps students transfer skills to the real world.
• Students adapt learning to the real world, gaining problem-solving skills and ability to do a critical analysis of a given set of data. These skills enable the student to adapt to a constantly changing real-world environment. Thus, classroom learning does not result in (only) acquisition of a canon of absolute "truth"; it also results in a resource of personal knowledge.
Promotes intrinsic motivation to learn.
• Constructivism recognizes and validates the student's point of view, so that rather than being "wrong" or "right," the student reevaluates and readjusts his knowledge and understanding. Such an emphasis generates confidence and self esteem, which, in turn, motivate the student to tackle more complex problems and themes.