Constructivism theorizes that we construct our reality through experience and by reflection on that experience. Constructivism in the classroom generally emphasizes active student participation in the learning process through experiment, problem solving and discussion. The teacher works to understand the students' current state of knowledge and belief, then acts as a guide, ensuring that students address the essential issues and achieve reasonable intellectual outcomes.
Constructivism Promotes Engagement
One of the benefits of constructivism in the classroom is that it creates an active, engaging environment for children. Instead of being passive listeners, children, through discussion and collaboration, engage in active thinking and understanding and learn to teach themselves. Students enjoy this approach. Research shows that students learn better and faster when they work actively in problem solving rather than through rote memorization; retention rates also show improvement.
Learning to Learn
As students in a constructivist classroom work out their own solutions to the problems presented, they are not just learning specific materials; they are learning how to learn. This learning model can be an advantage in other classrooms and in life. Constructivist-educated students are prepared to navigate in the real world, where they must collaborate with others, negotiate their views and present ideas in ways that inspire others to accept them.
A Disadvantage of Constructivism in the Classroom
The application of constructivist theory to classroom models has generally been successful. However, as educational psychologist David Palmer has noted, constructivist-based teaching encourages the introduction of discrepant and novel materials and methods as a way of capturing students' attention and motivating them to engage. Unless the teacher remains disciplined in the use of such materials, the classroom experience can devolve into entertainment. Students exposed to this kind of teaching may be unprepared for the rigors -- and occasional boredom -- of the lecture-based teaching methods common in higher education.
Constructivism in the Age of Technology
In a long and thoughtful article on the uses of constructivism in the classroom, educator George Hein notes that constructivism effectively asks the student to construct a reality from materials she assembles herself. From the constructivist perspective, knowledge is dependent on the meaning attributed to experience by the learner. Consequently, constructivist approaches may be less applicable to teaching subjects where there is a heavy load of data-related information to be grasped -- subjects such as computer coding or introductory biology. In that environment, teachers may be tempted to short-circuit student discussion and self-discovery. When that happens, student motivation may not remain high, and one of the theoretical advantages of constructivist teaching disappears.
Patrick Gleeson received a doctorate in 18th century English literature at the University of Washington. He served as a professor of English at the University of Victoria and was head of freshman English at San Francisco State University. Gleeson is the director of technical publications for McClarie Group and manages an investment fund. He is a Registered Investment Advisor.