“Constructivism is based on a type of learning in which the learner forms, or
constructs, much of what he or she learns or comprehends” (Shelly, Gunter,
With regard to schooling, this means that students will construct their own
subjective knowledge through the objective activities and assignments that
the teacher provides.
This theory has four main theorists: Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, Lev
Vygotsky, and John Dewey.
In Piaget’s theory, a child’s development precedes their learning abilities.
“Piaget believed that children were constructing new knowledge as they
moved through different cognitive stages, building on what they already
knew” (Shelly, Gunter, & Gunter).
The four stages are sensorimotor (0-2 years), preoperational (2-7 years),
concrete operational (7-12 years), and formal operational (12 through
During these four approximate stages, children go through adaptation. They
assimilate and/or accommodate new information into their existing schemas.
Bruner believes that constructivist learners form their knowledge through
active learning and discovery.
Advantages of discovery learning: promotes motivation, autonomy,
responsibility, independence, and develops creativity and problem solving
Disadvantages include: potential misconceptions and cognitive overload.
Bruner also supported the spiral curriculum, in which students continuously
build upon previous information.
In Vygotsky’s theory, a child’s learning abilities precede their
Vygotsky believed that children have a zone of proximal
ZPD is a place within the learning process that requires the help of
another more advanced individual in order for the child to learn.
According to Vygotsky, the teacher should help students build their
knowledge by continually decreasing their involvement as the child
reaches the end of ZPD. He called this process scaffolding.
Like the aforementioned theorists, Dewey believed that “learning should
expand and build upon the experiences of learners” (Shelly, Gunter, &
Dewey put particular emphasis on experience.
He also believed that education was a social process and should involve
some collaborative learning.
The learner is not a blank slate.
Constructivist teaching involves constructing knowledge rather than simply
A misconception of constructivism is that the instructor should never tell
students anything directly. This is not true. No matter how one is taught they
can still develop their own understanding from past experiences or
IN THE CLASSROOM:
Using the constructivist theory in the classroom involves providing your
students with many different activities from which they can actively construct
Teachers should act as facilitators of learning rather than lecturers. They
should encourage students to ask questions and engage them in discussion.
To incorporate technology into constructive learning teachers should allow
students to use technology to enhance their exploration and understanding
An example of such technology use could be allowing students to use the
internet to research something for a project. This allows students to find new
information on a topic and build upon their previous knowledge.
IN THE CLASSROOM:
Constructivist learners are active learners so students must be just that.
For students to be constructivist learners they must have an active interest
in their learning. This means that students must participate in activities, ask
questions, have discussions with classmates, and discover new concepts to
create their own understanding of material.
All of the activities above point toward the Socratic method of learning, which
is a method supported by constructivists.
Students can use technology in order to engage in discovery learning. By
using their previous knowledge and experiences students may discover new
information when using a word processor, the internet, a power-point
program, or even playing a game.
I have always favored the constructivist approach of teaching and I do plan
to use a lot of the components in my own classroom. I firmly believe that
students learn better when they construct their own understanding of
information rather than listening to a teacher lecture about the “only way” that
something can be right or wrong. However, I do believe that when using this
approach the teacher must be vigilant of how the students are encoding the
information and make sure to clear up any misinformation or misconceptions
the student may have discovered.
One way I plan on implementing the constructivist approach in my future
classroom is through the use of station learning. During a portion of the day
students will engage in “stations”. Small groups of students will rotate
through certain pre-arranged activities at set time increments and one station
will be working with me, the teacher. In doing so the students are able to use
discovery learning, collaborative learning, and I can use scaffolding at my
station. My station will serve to clear up any misinformation, like mentioned
Atherton, James. Learning and Teaching. National Teaching Fellowship, 10 February
2013. Web. 9 April 2014.
“Jean Piaget.” Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 April 2014.
Learning Theories. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 April 2014.
“Lev Vygotsky.” Drawing. Wikimedia Commons. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 April 2014.
“Schoolchildren Reading.” Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. N.p., 5 February 2014.
Web. 9 April 2014.
Shelly, Gary, Gunter, Glenda, and Randolph Gunter. Teachers Discovering
Computers: Integrating Technology in a Connected World. Boston: Cengage
Learning, 2012. Print.
Watson-Schütze, Eva. “John Dewey in 1902.” Photograph. Wikimedia Commons.
N.p., 27September 2010. Web. 9 April 2014.
Woodleywonderworks. “Using Centers and Stations to Teach.” Photograph. Flickr.