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Using Constructivism in the Classroom

written by: Luds Kadimba • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

Constructivism has its origins in the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky's work on child development and education. Its emphasis on active learning has been explored and developed further since. Constructivist teaching is still very popular amongst teachers and educators.

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    Why Include Constructivist Teaching?

    Constructivism has many advantages and strategies for constructivist teaching ought to be part of today's teaching landscape. Traditional teaching methods characterized by a one way knowledge delivery system (teacher led) have been subject to much criticism due to the high level of student passivity they imply. Students, in order to retain and understand what they are taught, must be active participants in the learning process. Constructivist teaching offers just that!

    Another positive aspect of constructivism is that it is adaptable and can therefore be used with children of any age and adults alike, as well as in any subject. Although possible, constructivism does not need to be the only teaching method used in the classroom. Its combination to other teaching and learning methods is perfectly feasible and acceptable. Also, some teaching content and learning objectives may be more suited to constructivist activities than others and most teachers will be able to spot that.

    While new input may better be introduced in a traditional way, it can ideally be practiced using constructivist type of activities. There are numerous constructivist teaching strategies that teachers can twist to fit subject and curriculum content.

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    Practical Uses

    Added Cues Strategy

    Giving your learners cues to discover something can be done informally during a lesson or as a more integral part of your planning in specifically designed constructivist exercises. These consist of activities in which the learner is able to complete a task step-by-step by discovering cues that help him find out what he should do each time. Cues can be verbal, either written or auditory, as well as visual through the use of images or objects. The cues should be subtle and while not telling the student exactly what to do, explicit enough for him to recall their link to previously assimilated knowledge or understanding.

    Knowledge of your learners' abilities should help you design appropriate cues and plan for differentiation accordingly. This activity may be ideal for group work, though it can also be assigned to individual students who then assume the role of sole investigators. The final product of adding cues could be a written piece in English or a foreign language, a timeline of important events in history, a new prototype in design and technology, or an informative science poster. It is possible to reverse this strategy by giving students a final product and getting them to design cues in order to have others guessing and building meaning or construct.

    Logical/Sequential Re-ordering Strategy

    Among the strategies for constructivist teaching, this strategy is very effective to promote students' logical thinking and a good way to check understanding. It consists of giving your student a series of things, whether statements or phrases in English or a foreign language studied, or images or symbols representing steps to solve a math problem or to conduct a science experiment in the wrong order. Students must use their logical thinking to re-order these appropriately. Students carrying out this activity should be encourage to discuss their chosen order or justify their choice.

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    Classroom Debate Contest Strategy

    This strategy consists of initiating students' thinking by giving them something specific to defend, promote, advocate or market depending on the subject and topic. It requires students to work in small groups and come up with arguments to back up or promote a book or movie in English, advocate for a specific groups' rights or political party in History or citizenship education, market a new product in the foreign language classroom, or defend or criticize a scientific prediction for the future, such as living on the moon.

    The key to this strategy is having students get involved in the debate so as to express their own opinion and articulate their thoughts as freely as possible. Their ability to back up or disprove their given debate topic can be assessed by other participating groups. Such strategies can be extremely enriching for students who are bound to enjoy the independence they entail as well as promoting valuable critical thinking skills.

    Inferential and Deductive Strategy

    This type of strategy implies the use of cause and effect in learning and again requires students to use their logic and analytical skills. As they look at results in inferential learning, or anticipate effects of potential causes in deductive learning, they are bound to be genuinely involved in their learning process, constructing meaning according to the information made available to them. Inferential teaching strategies in math, for example, could consist of giving the students a sum and have them infer diverse ways to reach that sum. In foreign language teaching, looking at how using male, female or plural nouns affect associated adjectives could help students further deduce the outcomes of newly introduced adjectives. These inferential and deductive strategies may be particularly suited to science and could be integrated in a number of activities.

    When well planned for, the strategies for constructivist teaching discussed here can be very successful and used in numerous ways. Content should always be considered carefully in planning the use of any constructivist strategies. Their educational value is sure to be multi-faceted, benefiting students in a variety of ways. For better implementation, knowing the pros and cons of constructivism might help.

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    References

    Author's own ideas