Some Thoughts on Constructivism

I stumbled upon this Straight talk on constructivism post by Robert Talbert from 2008 this morning. I am a big believer in constructivism so I took interest right away. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about constructivism in education and I’m not sure his post helps to paint a clearer picture. Talbert, a math and computer science professor, writes:

“Constructivism, when used with the right kinds of students and in the right ways, can be quite effective. But it’s important to remember that not all students are ready for this, and not all material is taught effectively this way. When I teach geometry to junior and senior math majors, it’s almost entirely constructivist, because the process of mathematical investigation and discovery is precisely what I am trying to teach them (through the medium of Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry). But I’d be crazy to try constructivism at that level on, say, a precalculus class full of students who have little skill in and absolutely no taste for math at all. Those students aren’t dumb, but they need structure and guidance a lot more than they need the supposed thrill of mathematical discovery.”

What I think Talbert is missing here is that constructivism is not a classroom technique, it is a theory of learning, described as such in the link he provides in his post.  Keep in mind, he is writing about college students here and suggests college students are not ready for constructivist learning experiences. He states that “not all students are ready for [constructivist learning experiences].” While I can see this being true at this point in time, I don’t think this need be so.

I think it is fairly obvious that most teachers at the K-12 level are using traditional theories (i.e. – behaviorism or cognitivism) more than constructivist approaches to learning. Talbert suggests that if students have been “drilled” enough, that by college, they would be ready for constructivist approaches to learning.

Isn’t that what’s happening now?  Then why are not all students ready?

I believe the opposite is the most effective approach.  Constructivist learning environments and experiences can be set up in ways that students are, not just engaged, but empowered to acquire and refine necessary skills. The “drill and practice” approach to skills should come from the learner’s understanding that they are important, not because it will be good for them some future time that they cannot see or comprehend.

How does constructivism look in your schools?

Photo Credit: College of Education Constructivism by derekcx

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