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Constructivism (learning theory)

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For other uses, see Constructivism.
Constructivism is a theory of knowledge (epistemology)
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that argues that humans generate
knowledge and meaning from their e#periences. Constructivism is not a specific pedagogy,
although it is often confused with constructionism, an educational theory developed $y
%eymour &apert, inspired $y constructivist and e#periential learning ideas of Jean &iaget.
&iaget's theory of constructivist learning has had wide ranging impact on learning theories
and teaching methods in education and is an underlying theme of many education reform
movements. (esearch support for constructivist teaching techni)ues has $een mi#ed, with
some research supporting these techni)ues and other research contradicting those results.
%ocial constructivism has $een critici*ed for $eing a kind of $ehaviorism, which reduces the
individual to his or her social environment.
!istory
+n past centuries, constructivist ideas were not widely valued due to the perception that
children's play was seen as aimless and of little importance. Jean &iaget did not agree with
these traditional views, however. ,e saw play as an important and necessary part of the
student's cognitive development and provided scientific evidence for his views. -oday,
constructivist theories are influential throughout much of the informal learning sector. .ne
good e#ample of constructivist learning in an informal setting is the +nvestigate Centre at -he
/atural ,istory 0useum, 1ondon. ,ere visitors are encouraged to e#plore a collection of real
natural history specimens, to practice some scientific skills and make discoveries for
themselves.
Some historical figures who influenced constructivism:
2iam$attista 3ico (!4456!788)
+mmanuel 9ant (!7:86!5;8)
John <ewey (!5=>6!>=:)
0aria 0ontessori (!57;6!>=:)
W?adys?aw %tr*emi@ski (!5>A6!>=:)
Jean &iaget (!5>46!>5;)
1ev 3ygotsky (!5>46!>A8)
,ein* von Foerster (!>!!6:;;:)
Jerome Bruner (!>!=C)
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,er$ert %imon (!>!46:;;!)
&aul Wat*lawick (!>:!6:;;7)
Drnst von 2lasersfeld (!>!7C)
Ddgar 0orin (!>:!C)
For more detailed information on the philosophy of the construction of human knowledge,
see constructivist epistemology.
Constructivist theory
Formali*ation of the theory of constructivism is generally attri$uted to Jean &iaget, who
articulated mechanisms $y which knowledge is internali*ed $y learners. ,e suggested that
through processes of accommodation and assimilation, individuals construct new knowledge
from their e#periences. When individuals assimilate, they incorporate the new e#perience into
an already e#isting framework without changing that framework. -his may occur when
individuals' e#periences are aligned with their internal representations of the world, $ut may
also occur as a failure to change a faulty understandingE for e#ample, they may not notice
events, may misunderstand input from others, or may decide that an event is a fluke and is
therefore unimportant as information a$out the world. +n contrast, when individuals'
e#periences contradict their internal representations, they may change their perceptions of the
e#periences to fit their internal representations. Fccording to the theory, accommodation is
the process of reframing one's mental representation of the e#ternal world to fit new
e#periences. Fccommodation can $e understood as the mechanism $y which failure leads to
learning: when we act on the e#pectation that the world operates in one way and it violates
our e#pectations, we often fail, $ut $y accommodating this new e#perience and reframing our
model of the way the world works, we learn from the e#perience of failure, or others' failure.
+t is important to note that constructivism is not a particular pedagogy. +n fact, constructivism
is a theory descri$ing how learning happens, regardless of whether learners are using their
e#periences to understand a lecture or following the instructions for $uilding a model
airplane. +n $oth cases, the theory of constructivism suggests that learners construct
knowledge out of their e#periences. ,owever, constructivism is often associated with
pedagogic approaches that promote active learning, or learning $y doing.
Constructivist learning intervention
The nature of the learner
The learner as a unique individual
%ocial constructivism views each learner as a uni)ue individual with uni)ue needs and
$ackgrounds. -he learner is also seen as comple# and multidimensional. %ocial
constructivism not only acknowledges the uni)ueness and comple#ity of the learner, $ut
actually encourages, utili*es and rewards it as an integral part of the learning process
(Wertsch !>>7).
"he importance o# the $ackground and culture o# the learner
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%ocial constructivism encourages the learner to arrive at his or her version of the truth,
influenced $y his or her $ackground, culture or em$edded worldview. ,istorical
developments and sym$ol systems, such as language, logic, and mathematical systems, are
inherited $y the learner as a mem$er of a particular culture and these are learned throughout
the learner's life. -his also stresses the importance of the nature of the learner's social
interaction with knowledgea$le mem$ers of the society. Without the social interaction with
other more knowledgea$le people, it is impossi$le to ac)uire social meaning of important
sym$ol systems and learn how to utili*e them. Goung children develop their thinking a$ilities
$y interacting with other children, adults and the physical world. From the social
constructivist viewpoint, it is thus important to take into account the $ackground and culture
of the learner throughout the learning process, as this $ackground also helps to shape the
knowledge and truth that the learner creates, discovers and attains in the learning process
(Wertsch !>>7).
"he responsi$ility #or learning
Furthermore, it is argued that the responsi$ility of learning should reside increasingly with
the learner (2lasersfeld, !>5>). %ocial constructivism thus emphasi*es the importance of the
learner $eing actively involved in the learning process, unlike previous educational
viewpoints where the responsi$ility rested with the instructor to teach and where the learner
played a passive, receptive role. 3on 2lasersfeld (!>5>) emphasi*es that learners construct
their own understanding and that they do not simply mirror and reflect what they read.
1earners look for meaning and will try to find regularity and order in the events of the world
even in the a$sence of full or complete information.
"he motivation #or learning
Fnother crucial assumption regarding the nature of the learner concerns the level and source
of motivation for learning. Fccording to 3on 2lasersfeld (!>5>) sustaining motivation to
learn is strongly dependent on the learnerHs confidence in his or her potential for learning.
-hese feelings of competence and $elief in potential to solve new pro$lems, are derived from
firstChand e#perience of mastery of pro$lems in the past and are much more powerful than
any e#ternal acknowledgment and motivation (&rawat and Floden !>>8). -his links up with
3ygotskyHs I*one of pro#imal developmentI (3ygotsky !>75) where learners are challenged
within close pro#imity to, yet slightly a$ove, their current level of development. By
e#periencing the successful completion of challenging tasks, learners gain confidence and
motivation to em$ark on more comple# challenges.
"he role o# the instructor
%nstructors as #acilitators
Fccording to the social constructivist approach, instructors have to adapt to the role of
facilitators and not teachers (Bauersfeld, !>>=). Where a teacher gives a didactic lecture that
covers the su$Ject matter, a facilitator helps the learner to get to his or her own understanding
of the content. +n the former scenario the learner plays a passive role and in the latter scenario
the learner plays an active role in the learning process. -he emphasis thus turns away from
the instructor and the content, and towards the learner (2amoran, %ecada, K 0arrett, !>>5).
-his dramatic change of role implies that a facilitator needs to display a totally different set of
skills than a teacher (Brownstein :;;!). F teacher tells, a facilitator asksE a teacher lectures
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from the front, a facilitator supports from the $ackE a teacher gives answers according to a set
curriculum, a facilitator provides guidelines and creates the environment for the learner to
arrive at his or her own conclusionsE a teacher mostly gives a monologue, a facilitator is in
continuous dialogue with the learners ((hodes and Bellamy, !>>>). F facilitator should also
$e a$le to adapt the learning e#perience Lin midCairH $y taking the initiative to steer the
learning e#perience to where the learners want to create value.
-he learning environment should also $e designed to support and challenge the learner's
thinking (<i 3esta, !>57). While it is advocated to give the learner ownership of the pro$lem
and solution process, it is not the case that any activity or any solution is ade)uate. -he
critical goal is to support the learner in $ecoming an effective thinker. -his can $e achieved
$y assuming multiple roles, such as consultant and coach.
F few strategies for cooperative learning include
(eciprocal Muestioning: students work together to ask and answer )uestions
Jigsaw Classroom: students $ecome Ie#pertsI on one part of a group proJect and teach
it to the others in their group
%tructured Controversies: %tudents work together to research a particular controversy
(Woolfolk :;!;)
"he nature o# the learning process
&earning is an active' social process
%ocial constructivism, strongly influenced $y 3ygotsky's (!>75) work, suggests that
knowledge is first constructed in a social conte#t and is then appropriated $y individuals
(Bruning et al., !>>>E 0. Cole, !>>!E Dggan K 9auchak, :;;8). Fccording to social
constructivists, the process of sharing individual perspectivesCcalled collaborative
elaboration (0eter K %tevens, :;;;)Cresults in learners constructing understanding together
that wouldn't $e possi$le alone (2reeno et al., !>>4)
%ocial constructivist scholars view learning as an active process where learners should learn
to discover principles, concepts and facts for themselves, hence the importance of
encouraging guesswork and intuitive thinking in learners (Brown et al.!>5>E Fckerman
!>>4). +n fact, for the social constructivist, reality is not something that we can discover
$ecause it does not preCe#ist prior to our social invention of it. 9ukla (:;;;) argues that
reality is constructed $y our own activities and that people, together as mem$ers of a society,
invent the properties of the world.
.ther constructivist scholars agree with this and emphasi*e that individuals make meanings
through the interactions with each other and with the environment they live in. 9nowledge is
thus a product of humans and is socially and culturally constructed (Drnest !>>!E &rawat and
Floden !>>8). 0c0ahon (!>>7) agrees that learning is a social process. ,e further states that
learning is not a process that only takes place inside our minds, nor is it a passive
development of our $ehaviours that is shaped $y e#ternal forces and that meaningful learning
occurs when individuals are engaged in social activities.
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3ygotsky (!>75) also highlighted the convergence of the social and practical elements in
learning $y saying that the most significant moment in the course of intellectual development
occurs when speech and practical activity, two previously completely independent lines of
development, converge. -hrough practical activity a child constructs meaning on an
intrapersonal level, while speech connects this meaning with the interpersonal world shared
$y the child and herNhis culture.
(ynamic interaction $etween task' instructor and learner
F further characteristic of the role of the facilitator in the social constructivist viewpoint, is
that the instructor and the learners are e)ually involved in learning from each other as well
(,olt and WillardC,olt :;;;). -his means that the learning e#perience is $oth su$Jective and
o$Jective and re)uires that the instructorHs culture, values and $ackground $ecome an
essential part of the interplay $etween learners and tasks in the shaping of meaning. 1earners
compare their version of the truth with that of the instructor and fellow learners to get to a
new, socially tested version of truth (9ukla :;;;). -he task or pro$lem is thus the interface
$etween the instructor and the learner (0c0ahon !>>7). -his creates a dynamic interaction
$etween task, instructor and learner. -his entails that learners and instructors should develop
an awareness of each other's viewpoints and then look to their own $eliefs, standards and
values, thus $eing $oth su$Jective and o$Jective at the same time (%avery !>>8).
%ome studies argue for the importance of mentoring in the process of learning (Frchee and
<uin !>>=E Brown et al. !>5>). -he social constructivist model thus emphasi*es the
importance of the relationship $etween the student and the instructor in the learning process.
%ome learning approaches that could har$our this interactive learning include reciprocal
teaching, peer colla$oration, cognitive apprenticeship, pro$lemC$ased instruction, we$ )uests,
anchored instruction and other approaches that involve learning with others.
Colla$oration among learners
1earners with different skills and $ackgrounds should colla$orate in tasks and discussions to
arrive at a shared understanding of the truth in a specific field (<uffy and Jonassen !>>:).
0ost social constructivist models, such as that proposed $y <uffy and Jonassen (!>>:), also
stress the need for colla$oration among learners, in direct contradiction to traditional
competitive approaches. .ne 3ygotskian notion that has significant implications for peer
colla$oration, is that of the *one of pro#imal development. <efined as the distance $etween
the actual developmental level as determined $y independent pro$lemCsolving and the level
of potential development as determined through pro$lemCsolving under adult guidance or in
colla$oration with more capa$le peers, it differs from the fi#ed $iological nature of &iaget's
stages of development. -hrough a process of 'scaffolding' a learner can $e e#tended $eyond
the limitations of physical maturation to the e#tent that the development process lags $ehind
the learning process (3ygotsky !>75).
&earning $y teaching (&d&) as constructivist method
Main article: Learning by teaching
+f students have to present and train new contents with their classmates, a nonClinear process
of collective knowledgeCconstruction will $e set up.
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"he importance o# conte)t
-he social constructivist paradigm views the conte#t in which the learning occurs as central
to the learning itself (0c0ahon !>>7).
Onderlying the notion of the learner as an active processor is Ithe assumption that there is no
one set of generalised learning laws with each law applying to all domainsI (<i 3esta
!>57::;5). <econte#tualised knowledge does not give us the skills to apply our
understandings to authentic tasks $ecause, as <uffy and Jonassen (!>>:) indicated, we are not
working with the concept in the comple# environment and e#periencing the comple#
interrelationships in that environment that determine how and when the concept is used. .ne
social constructivist notion is that of authentic or situated learning, where the student takes
part in activities directly relevant to the application of learning and that take place within a
culture similar to the applied setting (Brown et al. !>5>). Cognitive apprenticeship has $een
proposed as an effective constructivist model of learning that attempts to Ienculturate
students into authentic practices through activity and social interaction in a way similar to
that evident, and evidently successful, in craft apprenticeshipI (Fckerman !>>4::=).
*ssessment
,olt and WillardC,olt (:;;;) emphasi*e the concept of dynamic assessment, which is a way
of assessing the true potential of learners that differs significantly from conventional tests.
,ere the essentially interactive nature of learning is e#tended to the process of assessment.
(ather than viewing assessment as a process carried out $y one person, such as an instructor,
it is seen as a twoCway process involving interaction $etween $oth instructor and learner. -he
role of the assessor $ecomes one of entering into dialogue with the persons $eing assessed to
find out their current level of performance on any task and sharing with them possi$le ways
in which that performance might $e improved on a su$se)uent occasion. -hus, assessment
and learning are seen as ine#trica$ly linked and not separate processes (,olt and WillardC,olt
:;;;).
Fccording to this viewpoint instructors should see assessment as a continuous and interactive
process that measures the achievement of the learner, the )uality of the learning e#perience
and courseware. -he feed$ack created $y the assessment process serves as a direct foundation
for further development.
"he selection' scope and se+uencing o# the su$,ect matter
-nowledge should $e discovered as an integrated whole
9nowledge should not $e divided into different su$Jects or compartments, $ut should $e
discovered as an integrated whole (0c0ahon !>>7E <i 3esta !>57).
-his also again underlines the importance of the conte#t in which learning is presented
(Brown et al. !>5>). -he world, in which the learner needs to operate, does not approach one
in the form of different su$Jects, $ut as a comple# myriad of facts, pro$lems, dimensions and
perceptions (Fckerman !>>4).
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.ngaging and challenging the learner
1earners should constantly $e challenged with tasks that refer to skills and knowledge Just
$eyond their current level of mastery. -his captures their motivation and $uilds on previous
successes to enhance learner confidence (Brownstein :;;!). -his is in line with 3ygotskyHs
*one of pro#imal development, which can $e descri$ed as the distance $etween the actual
developmental level (as determined $y independent pro$lemCsolving) and the level of
potential development (as determined through pro$lemCsolving under adult guidance or in
colla$oration with more capa$le peers) (3ygotsky !>75).
3ygotsky (!>75) further claimed that instruction is good only when it proceeds ahead of
development. -hen it awakens and rouses to life an entire set of functions in the stage of
maturing, which lie in the *one of pro#imal development. +t is in this way that instruction
plays an e#tremely important role in development.
-o fully engage and challenge the learner, the task and learning environment should reflect
the comple#ity of the environment that the learner should $e a$le to function in at the end of
learning. 1earners must not only have ownership of the learning or pro$lemCsolving process,
$ut of the pro$lem itself (<erry !>>>).
Where the se)uencing of su$Ject matter is concerned, it is the constructivist viewpoint that
the foundations of any su$Ject may $e taught to any$ody at any stage in some form (<uffy
and Jonassen !>>:). -his means that instructors should first introduce the $asic ideas that
give life and form to any topic or su$Ject area, and then revisit and $uild upon these
repeatedly. -his notion has $een e#tensively used in curricula.
+t is also important for instructors to reali*e that although a curriculum may $e set down for
them, it inevita$ly $ecomes shaped $y them into something personal that reflects their own
$elief systems, their thoughts and feelings a$out $oth the content of their instruction and their
learners ((hodes and Bellamy !>>>). -hus, the learning e#perience $ecomes a shared
enterprise. -he emotions and life conte#ts of those involved in the learning process must
therefore $e considered as an integral part of learning. -he goal of the learner is central in
considering what is learned (Brown et al. !>5>E Fckerman !>>4).
"he structuredness o# the learning process
+t is important to achieve the right $alance $etween the degree of structure and fle#i$ility that
is $uilt into the learning process. %avery (!>>8) contends that the more structured the learning
environment, the harder it is for the learners to construct meaning $ased on their conceptual
understandings. F facilitator should structure the learning e#perience Just enough to make
sure that the students get clear guidance and parameters within which to achieve the learning
o$Jectives, yet the learning e#perience should $e open and free enough to allow for the
learners to discover, enJoy, interact and arrive at their own, socially verified version of truth.
/inal remarks
F constructivist learning intervention is thus an intervention where conte#tualised activities
(tasks) are used to provide learners with an opportunity to discover and colla$oratively
7 | P a g e
construct meaning as the intervention unfolds. 1earners are respected as uni)ue individuals,
and instructors act as facilitators rather than as teachers.
0edagogies $ased on constructivism
0ain article: Constructivist teaching methods
+n fact, there are many pedagogies that leverage constructivist theory. 0ost approaches that
have grown from constructivism suggest that learning is accomplished $est using a handsCon
approach. 1earners learn $y e#perimentation, and not $y $eing told what will happen. -hey
are left to make their own inferences, discoveries and conclusions. +t also emphasi*es that
learning is not an Iall or nothingI process $ut that students learn the new information that is
presented to them $y $uilding upon knowledge that they already possess. +t is therefore
important that teachers constantly assess the knowledge their students have gained to make
sure that the students' perceptions of the new knowledge are what the teacher had intended.
-eachers will find that since the students $uild upon already e#isting knowledge, when they
are called upon to retrieve the new information, they may make errors. +t is known as
reconstruction error when we fill in the gaps of our understanding with logical, though
incorrect, thoughts. -eachers need to catch and try to correct these errors, though it is
inevita$le that some reconstruction error will continue to occur $ecause of our innate retrieval
limitations.
+n most pedagogies $ased on constructivism, the teacher's role is not only to o$serve and
assess $ut to also engage with the students while they are completing activities, wondering
aloud and posing )uestions to the students for promotion of reasoning (<e3ries et al., :;;:).
(e#: + wonder why the water does not spill over the edge of the full cupP) -eachers also
intervene when there are conflicts that ariseE however, they simply facilitate the students'
resolutions and selfCregulation, with an emphasis on the conflict $eing the students' and that
they must figure things out for themselves. For e#ample, promotion of literacy is
accomplished $y integrating the need to read and write throughout individual activities within
printCrich classrooms. -he teacher, after reading a story, encourages the students to write or
draw stories of their own, or $y having the students reenact a story that they may know well,
$oth activities encourage the students to conceive themselves as reader and writers.
%pecific approaches to education that are $ased on constructivism include:
Constructionism
o Fn approach to learning developed $y %eymour &apert and his colleagues at
0+- in Cam$ridge, 0assachusetts. &apert had worked with &iaget at the
latter's +nstitute in 2eneva. &apert eventually called his approach
Iconstructionism.I +t included everything associated with &iaget's
constructivism, $ut went $eyond it to assert that constructivist learning
happens especially well when people are engaged in constructing a product,
something e#ternal to themselves such as a sand castle, a machine, a computer
program or a $ook. -his approach is greatly facilitated $y the ready
availa$ility of powerful 'constructing' applications on personal computers.
&romoters of the use of computers in education see an increasing need for
students to develop skills in 0ultimedia literacy in order to use these tools in
constructivist learning.
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(eciprocal 1earning
o -wo teach each other.
&rocedural Facilitations for Writing
Critical D#ploration (<uckworth, :;;4) -he two components of critical e#ploration
are curriculum development and pedagogy. +n this method teachers find ways to
encourage their students to e#plore the su$Ject matter and e#press their thoughts on
the material(<uckworth).
Cognitive -utors
Cognitively 2uided +nstruction
o F research and teacher professional development program in elementary
mathematics created $y -homas &. Carpenter, Dli*a$eth Fennema, and their
colleagues at the Oniversity of WisconsinC0adison. +ts maJor premise is that
teachers can use students' informal strategies (i.e., strategies students construct
$ased on their understanding of everyday situations, such as losing mar$les or
picking flowers) as a primary $asis for teaching mathematics in the elementary
grades.
+n)uiryC$ased learning
&ro$lemC$ased learning
Cognitive apprenticeships
3arious methods involving colla$oration or group work
Cooperative learning (reciprocal )uestioning, Jigsaw Classroom, structured
controversies)
Fnchored +nstruction (Bransford et al.)
o &ro$lems and approaches to solutions are em$edded in a narrative
environment.
Cognitive Fpprenticeship (Collins et al.)
o 1earning is achieved $y integration into a specific implicit and e#plicit culture
of knowledge.
%i# features of cognitive apprenticeships: modeling of the
performance, support through coachingNtutoring, scaffolding, students
articulate knowledge, reflection on progress, e#ploration of new
applications. (Woolfolk, :;!;)
Cognitive Fle#i$ility (%prio et al.)
Constructive Flignment (Biggs and -ang, :;;7)
9 | P a g e
o F constructivist approach to curriculum design, in which the learning activities
spelled out in the intended learning outcomes are $uilt into the teaching
methods and assessment tasks.
&ragmatic Constructivism (0Qller, 9laus :;;!)
-he %ilent Way
o F constructivist approach to foreign language teaching and learning developed
$y Cale$ 2attegno who worked with &iaget $efore WW++ and in the late
!>8;s.
1esearch and evidence supporting constructivism
,meloC%ilver, <uncan, K Chinn cite several studies supporting the success of the
constructivist pro$lemC$ased and in)uiry learning methods. For e#ample, they descri$e a
proJect called 2en%cope, an in)uiryC$ased science software application. %tudents using the
2en%cope software showed significant gains over the control groups, with the largest gains
shown in students from $asic courses.
:"
,meloC%ilver et al. also cite a large study $y 2eier on the effectiveness of in)uiryC$ased
science for middle school students, as demonstrated $y their performance on highCstakes
standardi*ed tests. -he improvement was !8R for the first cohort of students and !AR for the
second cohort. -his study also found that in)uiryC$ased teaching methods greatly reduced the
achievement gap for FfricanCFmerican students.
:"
2uthrie et al. (:;;8) compared three instructional methods for thirdCgrade reading: a
traditional approach, a strategies instruction only approach, and an approach with strategies
instruction and constructivist motivation techni)ues including student choices, colla$oration,
and handsCon activities. -he constructivist approach, called C.(+ (ConceptC.riented
(eading +nstruction), resulted in $etter student reading comprehension, cognitive strategies,
and motivation.
A"
Jong %uk 9im found that using constructivist teaching methods for 4th graders resulted in
$etter student achievement than traditional teaching methods. -his study also found that
students preferred constructivist methods over traditional ones. ,owever, 9im did not find
any difference in student selfCconcept or learning strategies $etween those taught $y
constructivist or traditional methods.
8"
<oSru and 9alender compared science classrooms using traditional teacherCcentered
approaches to those using studentCcentered, constructivist methods. +n their initial test of
student performance immediately following the lessons, they found no significant difference
$etween traditional and constructivist methods. ,owever, in the followCup assessment !=
days later, students who learned through constructivist methods showed $etter retention of
knowledge than those who learned through traditional methods.
="
Criticism o# educational constructivism
10 | P a g e
Fs with any theory it is important to consider opposing perspectives. %everal cognitive
psychologists and educators have )uestioned the central claims of constructivism. +t is argued
that constructivist theories are misleading or contradict known findings.
4"7"5">"
0atthews
(!>>A) attempts to sketch the influence of constructivism in current mathematics and science
education, aiming to indicate how pervasive Fristotle's empiricist epistemology is within it
and what pro$lems constructivism faces on that account.
!;"
+n the neoC&iagetian theories of cognitive development it is maintained that learning at any
age depends upon the processing and representational resources availa$le at this particular
age. -hat is, it is maintained that if the re)uirements of the concept to $e understood e#ceeds
the availa$le processing efficiency and working memory resources then the concept is $y
definition not learna$le. -herefore, however active a child is in a leaning endeavor, to learn
the child must operate in a learning environment that meets the developmental and individual
learning constraints that are characteristic for the child's age and this child's possi$le
deviations from her age's norm. +f this condition is not met, construction goes astray.
!!"!:"
%everal educators have also )uestioned the effectiveness of this approach toward instructional
design, especially as it applies to the development of instruction for novices (0ayer, :;;8E
9irschner, %weller, and Clark, :;;4). While some constructivists argue that Ilearning $y
doingI enhances learning, critics of this instructional strategy argue that little empirical
evidence e#ists to support this statement given novice learners (0ayer, :;;8E 9irschner,
%weller, and Clark, :;;4). %weller and his colleagues argue that novices do not possess the
underlying mental models, or IschemasI necessary for Ilearning $y doingI (e.g. %weller,
!>55). +ndeed, 0ayer (:;;8) reviewed the literature and found that fifty years of empirical
data do not support using the constructivist teaching techni)ue of pure discoveryE in those
situations re)uiring discovery, he argues for the use of guided discovery instead.
0ayer (:;;8) argues that not all teaching techni)ues $ased on constructivism are efficient or
effective for all learners, suggesting many educators misapply constructivism to use teaching
techni)ues that re)uire learners to $e $ehaviorally active. ,e descri$es this inappropriate use
of constructivism as the Iconstructivist teaching fallacyI. I+ refer to this interpretation as the
constructivist teaching fallacy $ecause it e)uates active learning with active teaching.I
(0ayer, :;;8, p. !=). +nstead 0ayer proposes learners should $e Icognitively activeI during
learning and that instructors use Iguided practice.I
+n contrast, 9irschner, et al. (:;;4) descri$e constructivist teaching methods as Iunguided
methods of instruction.I -hey suggest more structured learning activities for learners with
little to no prior knowledge. &erhaps $ecause of this proposition the 9irschner, et al. (:;;4)
article has $een critici*ed $y a num$er of authors for various reasons.
Criticisms o# -irschner' 2weller' and Clark
Critics argue that the article creates a false dilemma $etween IguidedI and IunguidedI
instruction without recogni*ing the continuum of guidance and structure possi$le within
constructivist, pro$lemC$ased learning, and other methods.
:"!A"!8"
9irschner et al. also group
a num$er of learning theories together (<iscovery, &ro$lemCBased, D#periential, and +n)uiryC
Based learning), disregarding the differences and actual amount of structure and scaffolding
included in the theories.
!A"!8"
,meloC%ilver, <uncan, K Chinn have stated that highly
scaffolded constructivist teaching methods like pro$lemC$ased learning and in)uiry learning
are effective, and the evidence does not support 9irschner, %weller, and Clark's conclusion.
:"
11 | P a g e
,meloC%ilver et al. argue that 9irschner et al. IoverlookedI research favora$le to pro$lemC
$ased learning. -hey include in their response a :;;A metaCanalysis showing &B1 has
$enefits for knowledge application over traditional curriculum.
:"
+n addition, some critics state 9irschner, %weller, and Clark focus more on learning as
memori*ation rather than learning as $ehavior change or action. For e#ample, in their article
they critici*e a proJectC$ased learning e#periment for medical students $ecause students did
not perform as well on a written test as traditionally taught students. -he medical students
demonstrated $etter clinical skills, $ut were less efficient, ordering more unnecessary tests
during clinical tests. /evertheless, some critics of 9irschner et al. have argued that they
personally would prefer the $etter clinical skills, regardless of written test performance.
!="
* re$uttal to the criticisms o# -irschner' 2weller' and Clark
While there are critics of the 9irschner, %weller, and Clark article, %weller and his associates
have written in their articles a$out:
!. instructional designs for producing procedural learning (learning as $ehavior change)
(%weller, !>55)E
:. their grouping of seemingly disparate learning theories (9irschner et al.,:;;4) andE
A. a continuum of guidance $eginning with worked e#amples that may $e followed $y
practice, or transitioned to practice (9alyuga, Fyres, Chandler, and %weller, :;;AE
(enkl, Ftkinson, 0aier, and %taley, :;;:)
9irschner et al. (:;;4) descri$e worked e#amples as an instructional design solution for
procedural learning. Clark, /guyen, and %weller (:;;4) descri$e this as a very effective,
empirically validated method of teaching learners procedural skill ac)uisition. Dvidence for
learning $y studying workedCe#amples, is known as the workedCe#ample effect and has $een
found to $e useful in many domains e.g. music, chess, athletics (Ftkinson, <erry, (enkl, K
Wortham, :;;;)E concept mapping (,il$ert K (enkl, :;;7)E geometry (-armi*i and %weller,
!>55)E physics, mathematics, or programming (2erJets, %cheiter, and Catram$one, :;;8)".
9irschner et al. (:;;4) descri$e why they group a series of seemingly disparate learning
theories (<iscovery, &ro$lemCBased, D#periential, and +n)uiryCBased learning). -he
reasoning for this grouping is $ecause each learning theory promotes the same constructivist
teaching techni)ue CC Ilearning $y doing.I While they argue Ilearning $y doingI is useful for
more knowledgea$le learners, they argue this constructivist teaching techni)ue is not useful
for novices. 0ayer states that it promotes $ehavioral activity too early in the learning process,
when learners should $e cognitively active (0ayer, :;;8).
!4"
+n addition, %weller and his associates descri$e a continuum of guidance, starting with
worked e#amples to slowly fade guidance. -his continuum of faded guidance has $een tested
empirically to produce a series of learning effects: the workedCe#ample effect (%weller and
Cooper, !>5=), the guidance fading effect ((enkl, Ftkinson, 0aier, and %taley, :;;:), and the
e#pertiseCreversal effect (9alyuga, Fyres, Chandler, and %weller, :;;A).
Criticism o# discovery3$ased teaching techni+ues
12 | P a g e
4
Ffter a half century of advocacy associated with instruction using minimal
guidance, there appears no $ody of research supporting the techni)ue. +n so far
as there is any evidence from controlled studies, it almost uniformly supports
direct, strong instructional guidance rather constructivistC$ased minimal
guidance during the instruction of novice to intermediate learners. Dven for
students with considera$le prior knowledge, strong guidance while learning is
most often found to $e e)ually effective as unguided approaches. /ot only is
unguided instruction normally less effectiveE there is also evidence that it may
have negative results when student ac)uire misconceptions or incomplete or
disorgani*ed knowledge
5

T Why 0inimal 2uidance <uring +nstruction <oes /ot Work: Fn Fnalysis of the
Failure of Constructivist, <iscovery, &ro$lemCBased, D#periential, and +n)uiryC
Based -eaching $y 9irschner, %weller, Clark
0ayer (:;;8)
!4"
argues against discoveryC$ased teaching techni)ues and provides an
e#tensive review to support this argument. 0ayer's arguments are against pure discovery, and
are not specifically aimed as constructivism: I/othing in this article should $e construed as
arguing against the view of learning as knowledge construction or against using handsCon
in)uiry or group discussion that promotes the process of knowledge construction in learners.
-he main conclusion + draw from the three research literatures + have reviewed is that it
would $e a mistake to interpret the current constructivist view of learning as a rationale for
reviving pure discovery as a method of instruction.I
!4"
0ayer's concern is how one applies discoveryC$ased teaching techni)ues. ,e provides
empirical research as evidence that discoveryC$ased teaching techni)ues are inade)uate. ,ere
he cites this literature and makes his point UFor e#ample, a recent replication is research
showing that students learn to $ecome $etter at solving mathematics pro$lems when they
study workedCout e#amples rather than when they solely engage in handsCon pro$lem solving
(%weller, !>>>). -odayHs proponents of discovery methods, who claim to draw their support
from constructivist philosophy, are making inroads into educational practice. Get a
dispassionate review of the relevant research literature shows that discoveryC$ased practice is
not as effective as guided discovery.V (0ayer, :;;8, p. !5)
0ayerHs point is that people often misuse constructivism to promote pure discoveryC$ased
teaching techni)ues. ,e proposes that the instructional design recommendations of
constructivism are too often aimed at discoveryC$ased practice (0ayer, :;;8). %weller (!>55)
found evidence that practice $y novices during early schema ac)uisition, distracts these
learners with unnecessary searchC$ased activity, when the learner's attention should $e
focused on understanding (ac)uiring schemas).
"he math wars and discovery3$ased teaching techni+ues
0ain article: 0ath Wars
-he math wars controversy in the Onited %tates is an e#ample of the type of heated de$ate
that sometimes follows the implementation of constructivistCinspired curricula in schools. +n
the !>>;s, mathematics te#t$ooks $ased on new standards largely informed $y constructivism
were developed and promoted with government support. Flthough constructivist theory does
13 | P a g e
not re)uire eliminating instruction entirely, some te#t$ooks seemed to recommend this
e#treme. %ome parents and mathematicians protested the design of te#t$ooks that omitted or
deCemphasi*ed instruction of standard mathematical methods. %upporters responded that the
methods were to $e eventually discovered under direction $y the teacher, $ut since this was
missing or unclear, many insisted the te#t$ooks were designed to deli$erately eliminate
instruction of standard methods. +n one commonly adopted te#t, the standard formula for the
area of a circle is to $e derived in the classroom, $ut not actually printed in the student
te#t$ook as is e#plained $y the developers of C0&: I-he student role of formulating,
representing, clarifying, communicating, and reflecting on ideas leads to an increase in
learning. +f the format of the te#ts included many worked e#amples, the student role would
then $ecome merely reproducing these e#amples with small modifications.I
!5"
%imilarly, this approach has $een applied to reading with whole language and in)uiryC$ased
science that emphasi*es the importance of devising rather than Just performing handsCon
e#periments as early as the elementary grades (traditionally done $y research scientists),
rather than studying facts. +n other areas of curriculum such as social studies and writing are
relying more on Ihigher order thinking skillsI rather than memori*ation of dates, grammar or
spelling rules or reciting correct answers.
Constructivist learning environments6 ...#or which learners6
<uring the !>>;s, several theorists $egan to study the cognitive load of novices (those
with little or no prior knowlege of the s!"#ect $atter% !ring pro"le$ solving&
'ognitive loa theor( was applie in several conte)ts (Paas* 1992+ ,oreno -
,a(er* 1999+ ,o!savi* .ow* - /weller* 1995+ 'hanler an /weller* 1992+
/weller - 'ooper* 1985+ 'ooper - /weller* 1987%& 0ase on the res!lts of their
research* these a!thors o not s!pport the iea of allowing novices to interact
with ill1str!ct!re learning environ$ents& 2ll1str!ct!re learning environ$ents
rel( on the learner to iscover pro"le$ sol!tions (3onassen* 1997%& 3onassen
(1997% also s!ggeste that novices "e ta!ght with 4well1str!ct!re4 learning
environ$ents (note the iagra$ "elow fro$ 3onassen* ,a(es* - ,c5leese*
1993%&
Jonassen (!>>7) also proposed wellCdesigned, wellCstructured learning environments provide
scaffolding for pro$lemCsolving. Finally $oth %weller and Jonassen support pro$lemCsolving
scenarios for more advanced learners (Jonassen, !>>7E 9alyuga, Fyres, Chandler, and
%weller, :;;A).
%weller and his associates even suggest wellCstructured learning environments, like those
provided $y worked e#amples, are not effective for those with more e#perienceTthis was
later descri$ed as the Ie#pertise reversal effectI (9alyuga et al., :;;A). Cognitive load
theorists suggest worked e#amples initially, with a gradual introduction of pro$lem solving
scenariosE this is descri$ed as the Iguidance fading effectI ((enkl, Ftkinson, 0aier, and
%taley, :;;:E %weller, :;;A). Dach of these ideas provides more evidence for Fnderson's
FC-C( framework (Clark K Dlen, :;;4)
!>"
. -his FC-C( framework suggests learning can
$egin with studying e#amples.
14 | P a g e
Finally 0ayer states: I-hus, the contri$ution of psychology is to help move educational
reform efforts from the fu**y and unproductive world of educational ideologyTwhich
sometimes hides under the $anner of various versions of constructivismTto the sharp and
productive world of theoryC$ased research on how people learn.I (0ayer, :;;8, p. !5).
Con#usion $etween constructivist and maturationist views
0any people confuse constructivist with maturationist views. -he constructivist (or
cognitiveCdevelopmental) stream Iis $ased on the idea that the dialectic or interactionist
process of development and learning through the student's active construction should $e
facilitated and promoted $y adultsI (<e3ries et al., :;;:). Whereas, I-he romantic
maturationist stream is $ased on the idea that the student's naturally occurring development
should $e allowed to flower without adult interventions in a permissive environmentI
(<e3ries et al., :;;:). +n other words, adults play an active role in guiding learning in
constructivism, while they are e#pected to allow children to guide themselves in
maturationism.
2ocial constructivism
+n recent decades, constructivist theorists have e#tended the traditional focus on individual
learning to address colla$orative and social dimensions of learning. +t is possi$le to see social
constructivism as a $ringing together of aspects of the work of &iaget with that of Bruner and
3ygotsky (Wood !>>5: A>). -he term Communal constructivism was introduced $y Bryn
,olmes in :;;!. Fs descri$ed in an early paper, Iin this model, students will not simply pass
through a course like water through a sieve $ut instead leave their own imprint in the learning
process.I
:;"
%n#luence on computer science
Constructivism has influenced the course of programming and computer science. %ome
famous programming languages have $een created, wholly or in part, for educational use, to
support the constructionist theory of %eymour &apert. -hese languages have $een
dynamically typed, and reflective.
1ogo is a multiCparadigm language, which is an easierCtoCread adaptation and dialect
of 1isp, without the parentheses. 1ogo is known for its introduction of turtle graphics
to elementary schoolchildren in the !>5;s. +ts creators were Wally Feur*eig, and
&apert.
%malltalk is an o$JectCoriented language that was designed and created at Wero#
&F(C $y a team led $y Flan 9ay.
Dtoys is $eing developed since the !>>;s under the direction of Flan 9ay, most
recently $y the 3iewpoints (esearch +nstitute, $ased on 0orphic tile scripting. Dtoys
was initially targeted at primary school math and science education.
%cratch was developed in the early :!st century at 0+- 0edia 1a$ under 0itchel
(esnick. 1ike Dtoys, it is $ased on 0orphic tile scripts. %cratch is initially targeted at
programming interactive multimedia, in primary and secondary education.
15 | P a g e
%tar1ogo -/2 was developed $y the 0+- %cheller -eacher Dducation &rogram under
Dric 9lopfer. +t com$ines a $lock programming interface with compelling A<
graphics. +t is targeted at programming games and gameClike simulations in middle
and secondary schools.
1e#erences
!. Jean &iaget, !>47. %caffolding and Fchievement in &ro$lemCBased and +n)uiry
1earning: F (esponse to 9irschner, %weller, and Clark (:;;4) ,meloC%ilver, <uncan,
K Chinn. (:;;7). Educational Psychologist, 42(:), >>6!;7
:. +ncreasing (eading Comprehension and Dngagement -hrough ConceptC.riented
(eading +nstruction, 2uthrie et al., :;;8, ournal of Educational Psychology, !"(A),
pp. 8;A68:A
A. 9im, :;;=. -he Dffects of a Constructivist -eaching Fpproach on %tudent Fcademic
Fchievement, %elfCConcept, and 1earning %trategies. #sia Pacific Education $eview,
4(!) p7C!>
8. <oSru and 9alender, :;;7, Fpplying the %u$Ject UCellV -hrough Constructivist
Fpproach during %cience 1essons and the -eacherHs 3iew, ournal of Environmental
% Science Education, : (!), AC!A
=. Fpplications and 0isapplications of Cognitive &sychology to 0athematics
Dducation 7 Constructivism in %cience and 0athematics Dducation, 0ichael (.
0atthews (esearch 1ink N Caution: Constructivism Fhead ,olloway, Educational
Leadershi&, '((A). /ovem$er !>>>.
4. 3ygotskyHs philosophy: Constructivism and its criticisms e#amined 1iu K 0atthews,
)nternational Education ournal, :;;=, 4(A), A54CA>>.
7. Journal of %cience Dducation and -echnology
5. 7 <emetriou, F. (!>>5). Cognitive development. +n F. <emetriou, W. <oise, 9. F. 0.
van 1ieshout (Dds.), Life*s&an develo&mental &sychology (pp. !7>C:4>). 1ondon:
Wiley.
>. 7 <emetriou, F., %hayer, 0., K Dfklides, F. (!>>:). +eo*Piagetian theories of
cognitive develo&ment: )m&lications and a&&lications to education. 1ondon:
(outledge
!;. X
a

b
9irschner, %weller, Clark (:;;4) (eadings, %tephen <ownes, /ovem$er !:, :;;7
!!. X
a

b
(esponse to 9irschner, %tephen <ownes, /ovem$er !5, :;;7
!:. 7 Why We %till /eed -eachers, <rs. Fernette and Brock Dide, .cto$er :4, :;;4
!A. X
a

b

c
0ayer, :;;8 %hould -here Be a -hreeC%trikes (ule Fgainst &ure <iscovery
1earningP #merican Psychologist, 8(!), !86!>
!8. 7 Why 0inimal 2uidance <uring +nstruction <oes /ot Work: Fn Fnalysis of the
Failure of Constructivist, <iscovery, &ro$lemCBased, D#periential, and +n)uiryCBased
-eaching &aul F. 9irschner Otrecht Oniversity, -he /etherlands, John %weller
Oniversity of /ew %outh Wales, (ichard D. Clark Oniversity of %outhern California
16 | P a g e
!=. 7 C0&: &arent We$site FFM
!4. 7 Clark, (. D. K Dlen, J., (:;;4). When less is more: (esearch and theory insights
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Comple#ity in 1earning Dnvironments: (esearch and -heory. 1ondon: Dlsevier. :5AC
:>=.
!7. 7 !" ICommunal Constructivism: %tudents Constructing 1earning for as well as with
others,I $y ,olmes, et al.
John (. Fnderson, 1ynne 0. (eder, and ,er$ert F. %imon, Fpplications and
misapplications of cognitive psychology to mathematics education, -e#as
Dducational (eview 4 (:;;;).
John (. Fnderson, 1ynne 0. (eder, ,er$ert F. %imon, 9. Fnders Dricsson, and
(o$ert 2laser, (adical Constructivism and Cognitive &sychology, Brookings
&apers on Dducation &olicy (!>>5), no. !, ::7C:75.
Ftkinson, (. 9., <erry, %. J., (enkl, F., K Wortham, <. W. (:;;;). 1earning from
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in Science 5eaching 2= (=): 8;A68!4.
3ygotskii, 1.%. (!>75). Mind in society: 5he develo&ment of higher mental
&rocesses. Cam$ridge, 0F: ,arvard Oniversity &ress
Wood, <. (!>>5) -ow Children 5hin4 and Learn0 :nd edition. .#ford: Blackwell
&u$lishers 1td. +%B/ ;C4A!C:;;;7CW.
Wertsch, J.3 (!>>7) I3ygotsky and the formation of the mindI Cam$ridge.
Constructivism as a 0aradigm #or "eaching and &earning
(0art :) http://pka$.wordpress.com/2>>8/>=/:</paradigma3konstruktivisme/ (2;3;32>:>>
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Constructivism is $asically a theory T $ased on o$servation and scientific study T a$out
how people learn. +t says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the
world, through e#periencing things and reflecting on those e#periences. When we encounter
something new, we have to reconcile it with our previous ideas and e#perience, may$e
changing what we $elieve, or may$e discarding the new information as irrelevant. +n any
case, we are active creators of our own knowledge. -o do this, we must ask )uestions,
e#plore, and assess what we know.
+n the classroom, the constructivist view of learning can point towards a num$er of different
teaching practices. +n the most general sense, it usually means encouraging students to use
active techni)ues (e#periments, realCworld pro$lem solving) to create more knowledge and
then to reflect on and talk a$out what they are doing and how their understanding is
changing. -he teacher makes sure she understands the studentsH pree#isting conceptions, and
guides the activity to address them and then $uild on them.
Constructivist teachers encourage students to constantly assess how the activity is helping
them gain understanding. By )uestioning themselves and their strategies, students in the
constructivist classroom ideally $ecome Ue#pert learners.V -his gives them everC$roadening
tools to keep learning. With a wellCplanned classroom environment, the students learn ,.W
-. 1DF(/.
Gou might look at it as a spiral. When they continuously reflect on their
e#periences, students find their ideas gaining in comple#ity and power,
and they develop increasingly strong a$ilities to integrate new
information. .ne of the teacherHs main roles $ecomes to encourage this
learning and reflection process.
For e#ample: 2roups of students in a science class are discussing a
pro$lem in physics. -hough the teacher knows the UanswerV to the pro$lem, she focuses on
helping students restate their )uestions in useful ways. %he prompts each student to reflect on
and e#amine his or her current knowledge. When one of the students comes up with the
relevant concept, the teacher sei*es upon it, and indicates to the group that this might $e a
fruitful avenue for them to e#plore. -hey design and perform relevant e#periments.
Ffterward, the students and teacher talk a$out what they have learned, and how their
o$servations and e#periments helped (or did not help) them to $etter understand the concept.
6] Contrary to criticisms $y some (conservativeNtraditional) educators, constructivism does
not dismiss the active role of the teacher or the value of e#pert knowledge. Constructivism
modifies that role, so that teachers help students to construct knowledge rather than to
reproduce a series of facts. -he constructivist teacher provides tools such as pro$lemCsolving
and in)uiryC$ased learning activities with which students formulate and test their ideas, draw
conclusions and inferences, and pool and convey their knowledge in a colla$orative learning
environment. Constructivism transforms the student from a passive recipient of information
to an active participant in the learning process. Flways guided $y the teacher, students
construct their knowledge actively rather than Just mechanically ingesting knowledge from
the teacher or the te#t$ook.
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Constructivism is also often misconstrued as a learning theory that compels students to
Ureinvent the wheel.V +n fact, constructivism taps into and triggers the studentHs innate
curiosity a$out the world and how things work. %tudents do not reinvent the wheel $ut,
rather, attempt to understand how it turns, how it functions. -hey $ecome engaged $y
applying their e#isting knowledge and realCworld e#perience, learning to hypothesi*e, testing
their theories, and ultimately drawing conclusions from their findings.
-he $est way for you to really understand what constructivism is and what it means in your
classroom is $y seeing e#amples of it at work, speaking with others a$out it, and trying it
yourself. Fs you progress through each segment of this workshop, keep in mind )uestions or
ideas to share with your colleagues.
Constructivism
http://www.#understanding.com/content/constructivism 2;3;32>:>
(e#inition
Constructivism is a philosophy of learning founded on the premise that, $y reflecting on our
e#periences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in. Dach of us
generates our own UrulesV and Umental models,V which we use to make sense of our
e#periences. 1earning, therefore, is simply the process of adJusting our mental models to
accommodate new e#periences.
(iscussion
-here are several guiding principles of constructivism:
!. 1earning is a search for meaning. -herefore, learning must start with the issues
around which students are actively trying to construct meaning.
:. 0eaning re)uires understanding wholes as well as parts. Fnd parts must $e
understood in the conte#t of wholes. -herefore, the learning process focuses on
primary concepts, not isolated facts.
A. +n order to teach well, we must understand the mental models that students use to
perceive the world and the assumptions they make to support those models.
8. -he purpose of learning is for an individual to construct his or her own meaning, not
Just memori*e the UrightV answers and regurgitate someone elseHs meaning. %ince
education is inherently interdisciplinary, the only valua$le way to measure learning is
to make the assessment part of the learning process, ensuring it provides students with
information on the )uality of their learning.
!ow Constructivism %mpacts &earning
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Curriculum6Constructivism calls for the elimination of a standardi*ed curriculum. +nstead, it
promotes using curricula customi*ed to the studentsH prior knowledge. Flso, it emphasi*es
handsCon pro$lem solving.
)nstruction6Onder the theory of constructivism, educators focus on making connections
$etween facts and fostering new understanding in students. +nstructors tailor their teaching
strategies to student responses and encourage students to analy*e, interpret, and predict
information. -eachers also rely heavily on openCended )uestions and promote e#tensive
dialogue among students.
#ssessment6Constructivism calls for the elimination of grades and standardi*ed testing.
+nstead, assessment $ecomes part of the learning process so that students play a larger role in
Judging their own progress.
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