Constructivism Basics

BY THE 1980S, the research of Dewey and Vygotsky had blended with Piaget's work in developmental psychology into the broad approach of constructivism. The basic tenet of constructivism is that students learn by doing rather than observing. Students bring prior knowledge into a learning situation in which they must critique and re-evaluate their understanding of it. This process of interpretation, articulation, and re-evaluation is repeated until they can demonstrate their comprehension of the subject. Constructivism often utilizes collaboration and peer criticism as a way of provoking students to reach a new level of understanding. Active practice is the key of any constructivist lesson. To make an analogy, if you want to learn how to ride a bike, you don't pick a book on bicycle theory - you get on the bike and practice it until you get it right. It is this repetition of practice and review that leads to the greatest retention of knowledge.

In their book A Case for Constructivist Classrooms, J.G. and M.G. Brooks state 12 principals essential to constructivist teaching:

  1. Encouragement and acceptance of student autonomy and initiative.

  2. Utilization of raw data and primary sources along with manipulative, interactive, and physical materials.

  3. When planning, teachers use cognitive terminology such as "classify", "analyze", and "create."

  4. Allowance of student responses to drive lessons, shift instructional strategies, and alter content.

  5. Inquiry concerning students' understanding of concept before sharing their own understanding of those concepts.

  6. Encouragement of students to engage in dialogue, both with the teacher and with one another.

  7. Encouragement of student inquiry by asking thoughtful, open-ended questions and encouraging students to ask questions of each other.

  8. Pursuit of elaboration of students' initial responses.

  9. Engagement of students in experiences that might engender contradictions to their initial hypotheses and then encourage discussion.

  10. Allowances for wait time after posing questions.

  11. Providing time for students to construct relationships and create metaphors.

  12. Nurturing students' natural curiosity through frequent use of the learning cycle model.

In the last ten years, many researchers have explored the role computers can play in constructivist teaching. Roger Schank, Seymour Papert and Marcia C. Linn among others have demonstrated that computers often can provide an appropriate creative medium for students to express themselves and demonstrate their acquirement of new knowledge. Online collaboration projects and web publishing have both proved to be an exciting new way for teachers to engage their students. But because constructivism can require extended periods of classroom time and individualized attention to students, some educators have resisted its adoption and continue to support a drill-and-practice approach to learning. Schank and others have responded by arguing that this is merely proof of a faulty education culture in which teaching methods haven't evolved in 100 years, thus proving its obsolescence.

Tell me about John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky.
Do many teachers use constructivism?
What's the connection between constructivism and computers?
Tell me about Roger Schank.
Tell me about Seymour Papert.
Tell me about Marcia C. Linn.

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