There are many ways constructivist teaching methods have already been implemented in classrooms across the world. The ideas have certainly been incorporated into the new learning paradigm and are finding many supporters around the world. Of course, that doesn’t mean things are all rosy and we should follow the tenets of constructivism to a t. Today’s blog post aims to highlight some of the more useful methods used in constructivist teaching but also provide some examples of its more dubious sides.
How you can use constructivist ideas in your teaching
The idea behind constructivist teaching is that children are active creators of their knowledge. To make sense of their world they fit new information into their preexisting knowledge and thus construct a coherent image of their world. This also means that constructivist learners are very driven – they actively search for experiences and information to help them in meaning-creation.
Of course, this type of approach is very often stifled in educational systems around the world, where much of learning is highly regulated and restricted to fit existing curricula. However, in your classroom, you can still attempt to create a supportive and inspiring learning environment to help children in making sense of their world.
Guiding not forcing
Another important idea in cognitive and radical constructivism is that you as a teacher are unable to teach children anything – all you can do is show them how to learn. Of course, Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development would argue against this idea (and for good reason!), but the idea of a teacher as a facilitator instead of an enforcer of learning is an important one to adopt in your classroom, too!
Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind the importance of previous knowledge and experience on knowledge-creation. That means that learners can interpret the ideas you introduce them in a very different way based on their life experiences and cultural context. To make sure your teaching is effective, you need to be aware of these potential issues.
So, if you want to be effective in teaching, you need to figure out what previous knowledge your students already have on a topic, active it by revision or reminding them, and then tie the new topic you want to convey to the previous knowledge. This way, the neural networks your students create have a much better chance of incorporating the new information. Just keep in mind the main tenet of constructivism: that your students are the only ones who can create their own knowledge, so it’s understandable if they interpret things differently than you.
What to remain suspicious of in constructivism
Of course, not everything is as rosy as simply incorporating some new methods into your teaching and that being the end of it. There are still plenty of questions that constructivism doesn’t answer.
For example, there is still a question of where the line goes between a student’s internal curiosity and the influence of social context in their learning.
Additionally, it must be said that constructivism doesn’t even take into account the role of extrinsic motivation and emotions when it comes to drivers of learning. Nor does it account for the importance of practice as a mode of acquiring a skill.
Applying some constructivist principles to your teaching is certain to help you become more efficient and motivate your students. Improving their self-regulation and providing tools for them to create their own learning are all important goals to strive towards. It is, however, equally important to keep in mind the limitations of a purely constructivist classroom. Where true balance lies is anyone’s guess.