Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment/Educational Philosophy/Constructivism

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Todd Douglas Vanderbilt

Constructivism[edit]

Table of Contents[edit]

  1. What is Constructivism?
  2. Jean Piaget’s Theory of Constructivism
  3. Lev Vygotsky’s Theory of Constructivism
  4. Constructivism in the Classroom
  5. Response from the Author
  6. Reference List
  7. Test Yourself


What is Constructivism?[edit]

The root word of Constructivism is “construct.” Basically, Constructivism is the theory that knowledge must be constructed by a person, not just transmitted to the person. People construct knowledge by taking new information and integrating it with their own pre-existing knowledge (Cooper, 2007; Woolfolk, 2007). When trying to learn the applications of Constructivism, it is good to know the theory first.


Jean Piaget’s Theory of Constructivism[edit]

Jean Piaget was one of the major constructivists in past history. His theory looks at how people construct knowledge cognitively. In Piaget’s theory, everybody has schemes. People organize and structure knowledge and information. This organization, or structure, of knowledge and information is known as a scheme. For example, “food” can have a scheme. It can be organized into different food groups such as the following: bread/ pastas, fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and sweets (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007).


According to Piaget’s theory, one way people construct knowledge is through assimilation. People assimilate when they incorporate new knowledge and information into pre-existing schemes. Here is an example. A child sees a car and learns that it can be called a vehicle. Then the child sees a motorcycle and learns that it can be called a vehicle as well. Then the child sees a truck and calls it a vehicle. Basically, the child developed a scheme for “vehicles” and incorporated trucks into that scheme (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007).


Another way people construct knowledge, according to Piaget’s theory, is through accommodation. People accommodate when they modify or change their pre-existing schemes. Here is an example. A child sees a dog (a furry four-legged animal) and learns that it can be called a pet. Then the child sees a cat (a furry four-legged animal) and learns that it can be called a pet as well. Then the child sees a raccoon (also a furry four-legged animal) and calls it a pet. Afterwards, the child learns from his or her parents that a raccoon is not a pet. At first, the child develops a scheme for “pet” which includes all furry four-legged animals. Then the child learns that not all furry four-legged animals are pets. Because of this, the child needs to accommodate his or her scheme for “pet.” According to Piaget, people learn through a balance of assimilation and accommodation (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007).


Lev Vygotsky’s Theory of Constructivism[edit]

Lev Vygotsky was another major constructivist in past history. While Jean Piaget’s theory is a cognitive perspective, Vygotsky’s theory is a sociocultural perspective. His theory looks at how people construct knowledge by collaborating with others. In Vygotsky’s theory, people learn and construct knowledge within the Zone of Proximal Development. People have an independent level of performance where they can do things independently. Likewise, people have an instructional level of performance where they can do things above the independent level with the help and guidance of others. The range, or zone, between these two levels is the Zone of Proximal Development (Cooper, 2007; Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007; Woolfolk, 2007).


In the Zone of Proximal Development, assistance needs to be given by another person. This assistance, help, or guidance is known as scaffolding. Because the zone has a range, assistance needs to be given, but not too much. If not enough assistance is given, a person may not be able to learn the task. On the other hand, if too much assistance is given, the person may not be able to fully construct the new acquired information into knowledge. For example, a child needs help doing math homework. With no help, the child may not be able to do it. With too much help, the homework is done for the child, so the child may not fully understand the math homework anyway (Cooper, 2007; Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007; Woolfolk, 2007).

Constructivism in the Classroom[edit]

In the classroom, the teacher can use Constructivism to help teach the students. The teacher can base the instruction on the cognitive strategies, experiences, and culture of the students. The teacher can make the instruction interesting by correlating it with real life applications, especially applications within the students’ own communities. Students can work and collaborate together during particular activities. The teacher can provide feedback for the students so they know what they can do independently and know what they need help with. New concepts can be related to the students’ prior knowledge. The teacher can also explain how new concepts can be used in different contexts and subjects. All these ideas are based on Constructivism(Sherman & Kurshan, 2005).


Research shows that constructivistic teaching can be effective. According to research conducted by Jong Suk Kim at Chungnum National University in Korea, constructivistic teaching is more effective than traditional teaching when looking at the students’ academic achievement. The research also shows that students have some preference for constructivistic teaching (Kim, 2005). Again, when the theory of Constructivism is actually applied in the classroom, it can be effective for teaching students.


Response from the Author[edit]

According to the research, incorporating constructivistic teaching into the classroom is a good idea. Allowing students to work together can be beneficial; however, there may be a problem with time management if the classroom management is not under control. Correlating new concepts to real life applications is a great way to further develop students’ schemes. Again, the problem with doing this may be time management. With all the material that needs to be covered throughout the school year due to standardized testing, it is possible that real life applications can become “irrelevant” because they won’t be on the standardized tests.


Based on Constructivism, it can be argued that rote memorization is not real learning. Rote memorization requires no assimilation or accommodation. It is like putting information on a solitary island all by itself. Once the information has served its temporary purpose, it will just float away. By assimilating new information into pre-existing schemes, this problem can be avoided.


The last point is that it is not the sole responsibility of the teachers to educate the students. According to Constructivism, students have some responsibilities when learning. A student may be quick to blame the teacher for not understanding the material, but it could be the case that the student it not doing everything he or she could be doing. Because knowledge is constructed, not transmitted, students need to make an effort to assimilate, accommodate, and make sense of information. They also need to make an effort to collaborate with others, especially if they are having a hard time understanding the information.


Reference List[edit]

Cooper, Ryan. (2007). Those Who Can, Teach ( 11th ed. ). Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.


Kail, Robert V., & Cavanaugh, John C. (2007). Human Development: A Life-Span View ( 4th ed. ). Canada: Thomson Learning, Inc.


Kim, Jong Suk. (2005). The Effects of a Constructivist Teaching Approach on Student Academic Achievement, Self-Concept, and

Learning Strategies, 6, 7-19 . Retrieved February 18 2008, from ERIC database.


Sherman, Thomas M., & Kurshan, Barbara L. (2005). Constructing Learning: Using Technology to Support Teaching for

Understanding, 32, 10-13. Retrieved February 18 2008, from ERIC database.


Woolfolk, Anita. (2007). Educational Psychology ( 10th ed. ). Boston, New York: Pearson Education, Inc.


Test Yourself[edit]

1. Jean Piaget’s theory of Constructivism is a _____________ perspective.

A. ecological
B. sociocultural
C. cognitive
D. behavioral


2. Lev Vygotsky’s theory of Constructivism is a _____________ perspective.

A. ecological
B. sociocultural
C. cognitive
D. behavioral


3. Incorporating new knowledge into pre-existing schemes is known as ___________.

A. scaffolding
B. assimilation
C. accommodation
D. scheme development


4. The range between a person’s independent level of performance and their instructional level performance is known as ___________.

A. the learning level of performance
B. the mesosystem
C. the range of scaffolding
D. the Zone of Proximal Development


5. All the following are examples of constructivistic teaching except _____________.

A. using positive reenforcement
B. allowing students to work together
C. relating new concepts to prior knowledge
D. providing feedback to the students


List some of the methods of constructivistic teaching and explain how they relate to the theory of Constructivism.


Answers to the Multiple Choice Questions

1. C
2. B
3. B
4. D
5. A