There are plenty of isms out there that have to do with how and why to teach. Constructivism is only a small part of that vast cloud of terms and yet you can find it used in more direct or roundabout ways in many education philosophies. So what is constructivist teaching and how it pops up in various classrooms is the topic to today’s blog post.
A confusion of terms
The first issue when talking about constructivism is that the term is used in many different meanings and contexts. For educational purposes, the most commonly used and perhaps important one is simply the idea that students construct their own knowledge in order to make sense of the world.
The theory is originally based on Piaget’s work with children and his interpretation of how knowledge is created. According to him, children construct knowledge thanks to their innate curiosity and through experiencing the world around them. This idea is called cognitive constructivism and it focuses on the individual’s quest for knowledge.
Another important name in talking about constructivism is that of Lev Vygotsky. He agreed with Piaget that children learn through experience and construct their own knowledge, but according to him, the catalyst for knowledge construction is social interaction. Children mimic their parents, talk to their peers, and consume media (a form of indirect communication), through all of which they gather information and construct their own understanding of the world.
Of course, the previous are really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talking about this term. There are many other thinkers, who have discussed the topic and come to their own conclusions. For example, John Dewey came down somewhere between Piaget and Vygotsky. According to him, children certainly construct their own knowledge, but we need to take into account the social context in which they operate.
There are other philosophers that expand the idea to include that all knowledge is constructed and there might not even be an objective reality. Some have applied the concept to mean that all knowledge is the product of your surroundings and cultural environment.
What does that mean for teachers?
However you want to expand the idea of constructivism – the central tenet is that, as a teacher, you can’t simply provide knowledge to the children you teach. They are active participants in the process and you need to take that into consideration. Simply providing students with information will not lead them to understanding and knowledge creation. How you can use constructivist ideas to improve your teaching is the topic of the next blog post.
While there are some differences in opinions between what is the origin of knowledge, constructivism in its most basic form simply means that children aren’t passive receivers of meaning but they take an active role in its creation. For a teacher, that means it’s not enough to simply provide them with information and hope for the best, but children need to actively engage in the learning process.