What is Constructivism ?
Constructivism is a view of learning based on the belief that knowledge isn’t a thing that can be simply given by the teacher at the front of the room to students in their desks. Rather, knowledge is constructed by learners through an active, mental process of development; learners are the builders and creators of meaning and knowledge.
Piaget (1977) asserts that learning occurs by an active construction of meaning, rather than by passive recipience. He explains that when we, as learners, encounter an experience or a situation that conflicts with our current way of thinking, a state of disequilibrium or imbalance is created. We must then alter our thinking to restore equilibrium or balance. To do this, we make sense of the new information by associating it with what we already know, that is, by attempting to assimilate it into our existing knowledge. When we are unable to do this, we accommodate the new information to our old way of thinking by restructuring our present knowledge to a higher level of thinking.
Similar to this is Kelly’s theory of personal constructs (Kelly, 1991). Kelly proposes that we look at the world through mental constructs or patterns which we create. We develop ways of construing or understanding the world based on our experiences. When we encounter a new experience, we attempt to fit these patterns over the new experience. For example, we know from experience that when we see a red traffic light, we are supposed to stop. The point is that we create our own ways of seeing the world in which we live; the world does not create them for us.
Constructivist beliefs have recently been applied to teaching and learning in the classroom.
Why Is Constructivism Important?
Educational curriculum and teaching methods are changing. One component of the current redevelopment of all subject area curricula is the change in focus of instruction from the transmission curriculum to a transactional curriculum. In a traditional curriculum, a teacher transmits information to students who passively listen and acquire facts. In a transactional curriculum, students are actively involved in their learning to reach new understandings.
Constructivist teaching fosters critical thinking and creates active and motivated learners. Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde (1993) tell us that learning in all subject areas involves inventing and constructing new ideas. They suggest that constructivist theory be incorporated into the curriculum, and advocate that teachers create environments in which children can construct their own understandings . Twomey Fosnot (1989) recommends that a constructivist approach be used to create learners who are autonomous, inquisitive thinkers who question, investigate, and reason. A constructivist approach frees teachers to make decisions that will enhance and enrich students’ development” in these areas. These are goals that are consistent with those stated by Saskatchewan Education in the the 1984 government report, Directions, that launched the restructuring of Saskatchewan’s curricula. This demonstrates that constructivism is evident in current educational change.