Constructivist teaching is a method of teaching based on the constructivism learning theory. According to the theory, students learn by building on their previous knowledge and experiences and by actively engaging in the learning process, instead of receiving knowledge passively though lectures and memorisation. Constructivist teaching uses guided discovery, discussions on thoughts and ideas as well as activities to help students learn. There are both advantages and disadvantages of constructivism in teaching.
What is Constructivism?
According to the theory of constructivism, when a person encounters a new experience or idea they must reconcile that new experience or idea with previous experiences and ideas. This act of reconciliation will result in either a change of the original belief or a discarding of the new information. Therefore, we as humans create, or construct, our own knowledge by asking questions, exploring and assessing what we know.
Constructivism in the Classroom
Constructivist teachers focus more on learning through activity, rather than learning from textbooks. The teacher will make an effort to understand their students' pre-existing conceptions and use active techniques, such as real-world problem solving and experiments, to address the students' conceptions and build on them. In a constructivist classroom, teachers encourage students to question themselves, their strategies and assess how the various activities are enriching their understanding. Students become expert learners in actively constructing knowledge instead of reproducing a series of facts.
There are some advantages to constructivism teaching. This method of teaching is effective for students who learn better in a hands-on environment and helps students to better relate the information learnt in the classroom to their lives. The constructivism curriculum also caters to the students' prior knowledge, encourages teachers to spend more time on the students' favourite topics and allows teachers to focus on important and relevant information. In a constructivism classroom, students often work in groups. This helps students learn social skills, support each other's learning process and value each other's opinion and input.
There are also some disadvantages to constructivism teaching. The training necessary for constructive teaching is extensive and often requires costly long-term professional development. This may be unreasonable for school budgets as well as disruptive to the students' learning. With an average number of students in one classroom, teachers are unable to customise the curriculum to each student, as their prior knowledge will vary. The constructivism curriculum also eliminates standardised testing and grades. This eliminates grade-centred goals and rewards as well as the comparisons of student statewide or district-specific progress.