Education has many different approaches based on the context and the individuals participating in it. There is no one-size-fits-all theory that will work for everyone.
This has caused myriads of theories and philosophies to evolve. One of those being Constructivism.
What is Constructivism?
This concept has been derived from much scientific study which outlines how learning takes place. Constructivism’s premise is that people actively control their own knowledge and learning based on their individual experiences and understanding of the world. When new information is presented people have to decide if they are willing to accept this information by aligning it with their previous conceptions, or discard it due to its inability to fit with their own beliefs. In order to make this distinction, we must ask questions, investigate and evaluate what we know.
Key principles of Constructivist learning and teaching:
- Learning is influenced by the emotional state and perspective of the student.
- Cognition is impacted by society, the environment and even the weather.
- It promotes a wider understanding of the world by engaging the spatial memory system of the brain.
- It creates a challenging, but not intimidating classroom environment.
- Relies on the multiple intelligences of learners and commits to presenting information in a variety of ways.
Traditional learning models once favoured a teacher-centred approach where information was simply given to the students and they were required to take this as finite and simply repeat it back when required. With the progression of school curriculum, technology and the will of society, this style of teaching became outdated in the Western world to cater for a more student-centred style.
What is Constructivism in practice?
Students individual knowledge bases are the core of this type of learning environment. The teacher takes a back seat and allows the student to input which information is relevant to his learning.
The responsibility has shifted to the student to question new information and assess its importance. This new model encourages student to be active in their own learning. It also takes into account individual learning styles and aims to foster the understanding of students in a variety of ways. It is important that both the teacher and the student think of learning as a fluid, an ever-changing dynamic that is open to the inevitable alterations of the world itself.
Key parameters of this type of classroom:
- Even when students have the same learning episode, each person will still draw upon their own set of experiences to interpret it.
- Constructing meaning and evaluating information is a continuous process that students must take responsibility for.
- As new information requires evaluation it may require individuals to call into question their own set of beliefs to either accept or reject it.
Teachers or tutors of this method are not the ones in control. They are mere facilitators of information and are there to be used as a guide and sounding board by the student for their own self-guidance. A constructivist teacher must be able to adopt a support role and let the learner own their discoveries.
What is the role of a constructivist teacher?
The integral point of constructivist teaching is to provide a curriculum that is malleable and can be re-imagined when a student’s experiences, interests and skills become part of the picture. It is vital to appreciate that each student will respond to and evaluate information according to their own philosophy and learning episodes should reflect this variance. A teacher’s central role is to ensure their students feel safe to learn freely and are supported in their individual learning styles.
Key principles for a constructivist teacher:
- Present tasks with real-world application so that students can contextualise their knowledge easily.
- Give assistance so that students are able to consolidate their established understanding with their new learning.
- Provide scaffolds to bridge the gap between what learners know and what they are being presented with.
- Enable relevant experts to lead lessons when appropriate.
In a constructivist classroom the student becomes the centre of attention. Learning revolves around them and uses their personal skills and level to drive the lesson progression and content. In order to challenge themselves, students need to know how to influence their ideas and elicit change. This alteration is aided by learning the significance of societal thinking or community ideals that shape a culture’s understanding. Therefore, the use of tutors or peers in a constructivist classroom is a pivotal addition to their education. It can be a new challenge for them, as it involves having a lot more responsibility for their own progress.
What is the role of the student in a constructivist classroom?
Ordinarily students begin the learning process with pre-determined sets of ideas: prior experience and knowledge. By actively participating in their own learning they can challenge, explore and recreate these preconceptions with new ideas and concepts. By adopting a new perspective, students can start to break down their own barriers and move to a new level of understanding. They also need to explore why they hold certain beliefs and what has shaped them. Students should enter this type of classroom with an open mind and a goal of moving beyond their current level of understanding.
Key tasks of a student learning in a constructivist classroom:
- Students must learn to combine new information with their current knowledge.
- Reflect on their own experiences and establish how they have been affected by them.
- Learners should value the trial and error approach by questioning ideas and evaluating concepts through real-world activities.
- Students must be in control of what and how they learn.
Ultimately, constructivism is a way for education to impart more responsibility on the learner to own their understanding. If a student can influence their own learning, it will create more tangibility for them to see its importance. As a result, a constructivist classroom sees an increased due-diligence and greater outcomes from its participants than its traditional counterparts.