Constructivist Teaching: Principles & Explanation

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  • 0:04 What Is Constructivism?
  • 0:51 Five Principles of…
  • 2:47 A Classroom Example
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

How can educators teach students to be good learners? In this lesson, we'll look at constructivist teaching, which focuses on how to create successful learners. We'll explore the principles of constructivism and look at a classroom example.

What Is Constructivism?

Malik is a history teacher. He wants to teach his students about the Dust Bowl and isn't quite sure about the best way to approach it. He's heard that constructivist teaching can help him, but he's not sure what it is or how he can use it in his classroom.

Constructivism allows students to construct their own learning. Constructivist teaching is about making good learners as opposed to simply giving students information. In a constructivist classroom, Malik will want to have his students explore concepts in an organic way. His focus will be on teaching students how to learn, instead of just giving them facts about history.

This all sounds pretty good to Malik, but he's not sure how to use constructivism in his classroom. To help him out, let's look at the five major principles of constructivist learning and how they can be used in the classroom.

Five Principles of Constructivism

Constructivist teaching is built upon five major principles, which explain how constructivist classrooms are different from traditional classrooms.

These principles are:

1. Teachers Seek and Value Students' Points of View

Unlike traditional teaching, where students are expected to provide the one right answer the teacher is looking for, in a constructivist classroom students are encouraged to elaborate on their ideas and use evidence to bolster their opinions. Through supportive questioning, teachers can get students to communicate what they're thinking and why.

2. Classroom Activities Challenge Student Assumptions

Through constructivism, students are encouraged to explore an aspect of something that they haven't tried or thought about before. Whether that's a new product (such as writing a screenplay instead of an essay) or a new point of view, constructivist teaching is about challenging and broadening student views.

3. Teachers Pose Problems of Relevance

Constructivism is about exploring complex, real-world problems that allow students to engage with the material. Tying learning to ideas or problems that relate to the students' lives and interests can help bolster their motivation to learn and deepen their understanding of material.

4. Teachers Build Lessons Around Big Ideas

There are certain essential concepts that students need to learn, such as understanding cause and effect, critically analyzing documents, or inquiry-based exploration. Lessons in constructivist classrooms are built to encourage mastery of these essential concepts or big ideas.

5. Teachers Assess Learning in the Context of Daily Teaching

Traditionally, teachers give information for a certain amount of time and then hand out a test to see if students learned the content. In constructivist teaching, assessment is about spending time every day focusing on what still needs to happen for student success. Assessments are often authentic and in-the-moment, such as discussion questions or collaborative projects.

A Classroom Example

So how can Malik apply these principles?

Let's take a look at something that Malik wants to teach his students. He wants to teach them about the Dust Bowl in the United States in the 1930s and how it impacted the lives of ordinary Americans.

Malik will want to start with his big idea: learning how the Dust Bowl impacted the lives of ordinary Americans. Perhaps Malik wants to add an additional essential skill to his lesson. As an example, perhaps he also wants his students to be able to analyze primary documents.

Now that he has his big ideas (the Dust Bowl's impact on Americans and analyzing primary sources) it's time for him to plan the lesson. He decides to assemble a wide array of documents and photographs from the Dust Bowl era. He'll make them available to the class, let them choose several documents and photos, and then explore them in small groups.

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