Constructivism

Constructivism as Educational Theory - free download


What is constructivism?

Constructivism is seen by many as a theory of student learning, which can inform effective teaching. It has been adopted as a basis of curriculum reform in some countries, and drawn upon for official teaching guidance (e.g., in the UK).

However, a number of major commentators on education and pedagogy consider constructivism to be an excuse for poor teaching, and an approach far inferior to what they term 'direct instruction' (i.e. what they sometimes imply is real teaching!)

As often in education, different scholars mean different things by key terms such as constructivism. (So, in a sense, there are many constructivisms.) Unfortunately, some critics use the term constructivism to include minimally guided teaching approaches (such as totally open-ended enquiry teaching) that have very little in common with a genuinely constructivist teaching approach. Constructivism as educational theory informs optimally guided instruction, not minimally guided instruction.

I have written quite a lot relating to constructivism, especially in science education (external link: link to details of my writing about constructivism). I think that this topic is very important, and the confusion about what counts as enquiry learning, constructivism, direction instruction, etc. is unhelpful to teachers. As I feel strongly about this issue, I have arranged with the Publishers of the Book 'Educational Theory' to make this Chapter freely available for download to anyone interested in this topic.

In the Chapter I obviously present my own take on the topic, and anyone interested in the debate should seek out a range of reading (some authors taking quite different views are cited in the Chapter.)


"Constructivism…a sound theoretical basis for informing teaching at all levels, and in all disciplines"

This chapter was written to explain constructivism as an educational theory that draws upon well-established lines of research about learning, and can inform teaching.

Indeed, whether teachers adopt the term constructivism or not, the core ideas in this chapter are central to understanding the nature of student learning.


Free download: external link: Constructivism as Educational Theory.pdf

Original citation: Taber, K. S. (2011). Constructivism as educational theory: Contingency in learning, and optimally guided instruction. In J. Hassaskhah (Ed.), Educational Theory. New York: Nova, 39-61.


Chapter abstract

Constructivism is a major referent in education, although it has been understood in various ways, including as a learning theory; a philosophical stance on human knowledge; and an approach to social enquiry. In terms of informing teaching, constructivism has variously been seen by different commentators as a basis for progressive, mainstream or failed approaches to pedagogy. This is unfortunate, as the different ways the term has been interpreted have confused debate about the potential of constructivism to contribute to planning effective teaching. This chapter sets out the basis of one version of constructivism: that which is informed by findings from both cognitive science, and from educational studies exploring learners’ thinking about curriculum topics and about classroom processes. A key concept here is the way in which new learning is contingent on features of the learner, the learning context and the teaching. This version of constructivism (which has been widely embraced) offers a theoretical basis for designing effective pedagogy that is accessible to classroom teachers.

The chapter will explain that although constructivism understood this way certainly offers the basis for learner-centred teaching, it is far from ‘minimally-guided’ instruction, as caricatured by some critics. Rather, a feature of this approach is that it does not adopt doctrinaire allegiance to particular levels of teacher input (as can be the case with teaching through discovery learning, or direct instruction) but rather the level of teacher guidance (a) is determined for particular learning activities by considering the learners and the material to be learnt; (b) shifts across sequences of teaching and learning episodes, and includes potential for highly structured guidance, as well as more exploratory activities. When understood in these terms, constructivism provides a sound theoretical basis for informing teaching at all levels, and in all disciplines.

Keywords

Constructivism; learning theory; contingency in learning; designing instruction; evidence-based pedagogy.


Free download: external link: Constructivism as Educational Theory.pdf

Original citation: Taber, K. S. (2011). Constructivism as educational theory: Contingency in learning, and optimally guided instruction. In J. Hassaskhah (Ed.), Educational Theory. New York: Nova, 39-61.







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external link: Exploring Conceptual Learning, Integration and Progression in Science Education

Dr Keith S Taber: kst24@cam.ac.uk

University of Cambridge Faculty of Education

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© Keith S Taber