5: Constructivism and the Individual Learners’ Responsibilities and Leadership
The constructivist theory argues that learners construct meaning from their experiences. In a constructivist setting, both the instructor and the learner play different roles. In the next few sections, we will examine the role of the learner in a constructivist environment.
Goals of the Learner in Personal Development
The learner plays a pivotal role in the learning process. There are five dispositions that the learner should have to help them become active and autonomous learners: be inquisitive, take initiative, be confident, be inventive, and be reflective (Project Construct). First, the learner should be inquisitive. An inquisitive learner is one that asks many questions and wants to find out new information and will investigate. Second, the learner should take initiative. A learner that takes initiative is one that is able to make decisions independently and is a problem solver. Third, the learner should be confident. Confidence is important in the role of a learner because when one has to construct knowledge, one cannot be afraid to take risks and express their thoughts and ideas, and need to be able to handle frustration and disappointments. Another disposition is to be inventive. When constructing individual knowledge, it is important to be able to think about things in new ways and to transfer ideas into different contexts. The last disposition is to be reflective. Learners who reflect will more than likely use their prior experiences to direct them in new situations and experiences.
Goals of the Learner in Social Development
In addition to developing personally, learners must also develop socially. This is critical in constructivism, because in a constructivist environment, the learner will work cooperatively with others. There are four goals of social development for the learner: build relationships of mutual trust and respect with adults, build relationships of mutual trust and respect with peers, consider the perspectives of others, and cooperate and collaborate as a member of a learning community (Project Construct). First, building a relationship of mutual trust and respect with adults is necessary because children need guidance and support as they work to make their own decisions. Second, building a relationship of mutual trust and respect with peers is also necessary because through peer interactions, children learn to share their ideas, negotiate, and collaborate. Third, learners should consider the perspectives of others. When they learn to consider the views of others, they are more able to respect different opinions from their own. This is important in a constructivist environment because learners must be able to work together and talk through problems and solutions as they construct their own knowledge. Finally, learners should cooperate and collaborate as a member of a learning community. When learners take part in the learning community, they are able to take risks, and recognize that they are accountable for their actions.
Role of the Learner in Knowledge Building
Knowledge building is the “collective knowledge of a group through social discourse” (Hmelo-Silver and Barrows, 48). Knowledge building occurs when all learners are actively engaged, and they take responsibility not only for their own, but for other’s learning. Discourse requires the learner to take responsibility for learning what they need to know. In order for knowledge building to occur, several conditions must be in place. The learner must have a goal of improving the quality of ideas, and be able to discuss their ideas and the ideas of others, the group has a responsibility for advancing and furthering their knowledge and understanding, and everyone in the group must contribute. With these conditions in place, the learner is active and responsible for their own learning.
Role of the Learner in the Classroom
In a constructivist classroom, learning is an active process. Students are actively engaged, and are responsible for their learning. According to Grennon Brooks and Brooks, the learner controls their own learning, not the teacher. In addition, the learner should give their opinions and viewpoints. Learners should also demonstrate their knowledge everyday in a variety of ways. In the classroom setting, the learner would be asking questions. They would express an interest in the activities and would initiate interactions with others. The learner also would make decisions, and be confident in their ability to share their ideas and opinions with others. In addition, the learner makes connections based on previous experience. All of these characteristics require the learner to be an active agent in the learning process, which requires a prevalent role in the classroom.
Technology Tools and the Learner
Technology can be a powerful tool in assisting the learner construct knowledge. Technology tools can include, but are not limited to computers, SMARTBoards or ActiveBoards, audio clips, video clips, and software such as PowerPoint, Inspiration, iMovie, or GarageBand. These tools are designed to meet the learning styles and modes that support all learners as they work to construct knowledge (Solvie and Kloek). In addition, technology tools help learners acquire relevant information and give them opportunities to look at a variety of viewpoints so that they can construct their own knowledge (Tam).
The learner is key in constructivist theory. The learner must develop certain dispositions personally and socially in order to thrive in the constructivist environment. Overall, the learners are responsible for their own learning, and they control what exactly they learn. Technology is a tool that can assist the learner as they construct knowledge.
Brooks, M. & Grennon Brooks, J. (1999). The courage to be constructivist. Educational Leadership, 57(3), 18-24.
Hmelo-Silver, C., & Barrows, H. (2008). Facilitating collaborative knowledge building. Cognition and Instruction, 26(1), 48-94.
Project Construct National Center. (2005). The early childhood framework for curriculum and assessment. Columbia, MO: Project Construct National Center.
Solvie, P. & Kloek, M. Using technology tools to engage students with multiple learning styles in a constructivist learning environment. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(2), 7-27.
Tam, M. (2000). Constructivism, instructional design, and technology: Implications for transforming distance learning. Educational Technology and Society, 3(2).
Zhang, J., Scardamalia, M. et al. (2006). Socio-cognitive dynamics of knowledge building in the work of 9 and 10 year olds. Educational Technology and Development, 55(2), 117-145.
Chapter 5 Quiz
Questions #1-4 Directions: Each correct and complete answer is worth 0.5 points. Incorrect or incomplete answers are worth 0 points.
1. Which of the following is NOT one of the five dispositions that learners should have to help them become active and autonomous learners in constructivist classrooms?
a. Be reflective
b. Be confident
c. Be aggressive
d. Take initiative
2. In addition to developing personally, learners must also develop ___________ in order to be successful in today’s constructivist classroom.
3. List the four goals of social development for the learner.
4. What are the four conditions that need to be in place in order for knowledge building to occur in the constructivist classroom?
Questions #5-6 Directions: Each essay question is worth 1 point. See rubric below each question.
5. Describe the role of the learner in the constructivist classroom.
Question #5 Rubric
Score: 0 = Student offers incomplete or inaccurate answer.
Score: 0.5 = Student lists and describes 4 or less tasks associated with the role of the learner in the constructivist classroom.
Score: 1 =Student lists and describes 5 or more tasks associated with the role of the learner in the constructivist classroom.
6. Explain why technology can be a powerful tool in helping learners construct knowledge in the constructivist classroom. List at least three examples of technology tools that can be used to help learners construct knowledge in today’s constructivist classroom.
Question #6 Rubric
Score: 0 = Student offers incomplete or inaccurate answer.
Score: 0.5 = Student gives and explains 2 or less reasons why technology can be a powerful tool in helping learners construct knowledge OR he/she lists 2 or less examples of technology tools that can be used in today’s constructivist classroom.
Score: 1 = Student gives and explains 3 or more reasons why technology can be a powerful tool in helping learners construct knowledge AND he/she lists 3 examples of technology tools that can be used in today’s constructivist classroom.
Overall Quiz Scoring Guide
Score 0-1 Unsatisfactory = Learner’s answers exhibit very little if any understanding of chapter topics (see individual question rubrics for details).
Score 2 Developing = Learner’s answers exhibit a vague understanding of chapter topics (see individual question rubrics for details).
Score 3 Proficient = Learner’s answers exhibit a proficient understanding of chapter topics (see individual question rubrics for details).
Score 4 Advanced = Learner’s answers exhibit an advanced understanding of chapter topics (see individual question rubrics for details).