Constructivism & Technology/Assessment

7: Assessment in the Constructivist Classroom


Constructivists view assessment as a process that involves both the instructor and the student. Educators who prefer to use constructivist methods and principles in evaluating student work have several different avenues to choose from that can help enhance the learning experience of students (Holt & Willard-Holt, 2000). Similarities between constructivist and traditional methods of assessment do exist. Even though constructivists continue to research and experiment with more interactive, experience based assessments, the more traditional methods still prevail and are being used in classrooms as the predominant means of assessment.

Principles of Assessment in a Constructivist ClassroomEdit

One principle of assessment in a constructivist classroom is not to isolate evaluation as a single exercise. Constructivists often see learning as a cyclical process. Since the shape of a circle has no beginning and no end, then the mark of where to assess could become blurry. Constructivists do not see assessment as an ending activity, but rather an ongoing process that helps the student continue to learn (Holt & Willard-Holt, 2000). For example, one constructivist learning format comes from the Biological Science Curriculum Study. They isolated “Five Es" of constructivism: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. Not only is assessment its own category (evaluate), but it is also interwoven throughout each of the other stages of the learning process. For example, when a teacher is engaging students in a learning opportunity, the instructor begins to question. The process of questioning not only interests students in a topic, but also gives the instructor an idea of the amount of prior knowledge a learner will bring to the experience. During the exploring stage, "...students’ inquiry process drives instruction during an exploration." Driving instruction is one purpose of assessment, whether in a traditional or constructivist classroom. During the explain stage, communication occurs between student and teacher. At this point, an instructor can input more information or points of inquiry as needed; again they are actively assessing. Also during the explain stage, artifacts become available that demonstrate concrete evidence of student understanding. When students begin to elaborate on their ideas and observations, possible avenues of future research can develop. Therefore, evaluation as a stage is not meant to be solitary and final, but a constant in each stage of constructivist learning (Miami Museum of Science, 2001).

Also embedded within the model provided by the Biological Science Curriculum Study is another principle of constructivist assessment: not having the instructor as the only source of assessment (Cole, 1992 as sited by University of Saskatchewan, 1995). Many constructivists encourage self-reflection as a means of assessment, or encourage students to exchange evaluations of each other’s work (NCREL, 1993). Some in the constructivist camp encourage instructors to employ several professionals or specialist in the topics being evaluated to give varying assessments on a given project (Cole 1992 as sited by University of Saskatchewan, 1995). When assessing, no matter who the evaluator is, many constructivists encourage an assessment of how the learner is thinking rather than just the outcome (Collins & Brown, 1987; McLellan, 1993; Gay & Mazur, 1993 as cited in University of Saskatchewan; NCREL, 1993). In assessing, a constructivist's goal is to help the learner acquire knowledge, not make the learning process laborious and undesirable. Therefore, it is important to have a non-critical attitude as one evaluates in a constructivist format. (Brooks & Brooks (1993) as cited in NCREL, 1993).

Principle Tools and Methods Used in Constructivist AssessmentEdit

When constructivists assess students, they prefer to use methods that either allow them to engage in dialogue with the learner, or give them opportunities to observe a student as he or she develops knowledge (Wilson, Teslow, & Osman-Jouchoux as cited in Skaalid, n.d.; Holt & Willard-Holt, 2000). Teachers can initiate a wide variety of verbal discussions such as interviews, debates, knowledge telling, co-investigations, or dramatizations. In constructivist evaluation, observation does not only mean listening to a student for comprehension of a concept, but a physical assessment of the whole child as well. When observed, a constructivist instructor will note physical stance and expression. KWL Charts (and other such baseline assessments), Mind mapping, portfolios, checklists, investigative projects, paper and pencil tests, and performance tasks are also often used to evaluate work in a constructivist frame (Badders, 2000; Constructivist Teaching Methods, n.d.). Many of the Web 2.0 tools can be integrated into constructivist teaching and assessment, including blogging, podcasting and audio sharing, social networking, video sharing, wiki creation, web authoring, and mashups.

Similarities and Differences Between Constructivist and Traditional AssessmentEdit

In comparing and contrasting constructivist methods of assessment and more traditional practices, the two types of evaluation have a few similarities. Both types of assessment can take on a variety of formats: paper and pencil, physical hands on experience, or some type of exchange. The phrasing and use of critical thinking terminology in questioning can also be similar. Instructors in traditional classroom also use assessments in order to plan lessons and develop activities. Responses to traditional questions will also require more than a 'yes' or 'no' answer. However, the idea that interactive feedback occurs between evaluators and learners as well as the concept of judging the active construction of thinking as well as the outcome are greater priorities to the constructivist assessor than a traditional method of evaluation (NCREL, 1993; Jonassen, 1991 as cited by University of Saskatchewan, 1995). Another difference lies in the support of standardized testing. Traditional learning environments support standardized testing and make many educational decisions off of those scores. Constructivists have a very negative view of this particular testing vehicle (Wiggins, 1993 as cited by Reeves & Okey, 2004). Constructivists prefer that assessments have more of a 'real-life' application (Herman, Aschbacher, Winters, 1992 as cited by Reeves & Okey, 2004). The types of assessment preferred by constructivists would be: authentic, performance, or portfolio assessment. These types of assessment, according to Reeves & Okey, require more genuine thought from the learner and provide a more stimulating form of evaluation than traditional classroom testing.


Despite the research and the attempts of many educators to incorporate a constructivist assessment into their curriculum, traditional types of assessment are viewed as a more reliable means to measure learner understanding (Reeves & Okey, 2004). Researchers who attempted to incorporate peer review into their social constructivist assessment procedure were unsuccessful (Price et al., 2007). Standardization by the government and questions regarding how valid constructivist assessments are lead Reeves and Okey to conclude that more studies need to be done before constructivist evaluation techniques can be more widely used. A survey of high school math teachers found that more traditional means of assessment are the dominant means of collecting knowledge data on students (Ohlsen, 2007). One program in Nebraska that allowed educators to use a variety of classroom assessments in their "standard based accountability reforms" that yield constructivist outcomes was put to an end by senators in that state because the politicians thought the program was, "...too complicated and time consuming...state tests were more amendable to NCLB [No Child Left Behind] compliance," (Ohlsen 2007; Gallager ).

Reeves & Okey concluded that before alternative assessments can be considered "viable and feasible", more research is needed. Although traditional methods still are considered more reliable and therefore more widely accepted to measure student achievement, constructivist learning formats such as Biology Science Curriculum Study's 5 E's can provide useful opportunities for educators to engage in student assessment constantly throughout a learner’s thinking process (Collins & Brown, 1987; McLellan, 1993; Gay & Mazur, 1993 as cited in University of Saskatchewan; NCREL, 1993). Although not completely relied on yet by the educational community to monitor student learning, constructivist assessments can be utilized in order to provide a learner with an opportunity to further develop knowledge and become challenged by engaging in dialogue and questioning from other.


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Constructivist Teaching Methods. (n.d.) Retrieved on March 8, 2009 from The Psychology Wiki: [2]

Gallager, C. (2009). Kairos and Informative Assessment: Rethinking the Formative/Summative Distinction in Nebraska. Theory into Practice, (48) 1, 81-88. Retrieved on March 17, 2009 from ERIC database. DOI: 10.1080/00405840802577676.

Holt, D. G. & Willard-Holt, C. (2000). "Let's get real – students solving authentic corporate problems". Phi Delta Kappan 82 (3).

Lake, C. (1997). Constructivism's Implication For Formative Evaluation. In Constructivism and Formative Evaluation, ACET. Retrieved on March 25, 2009 from [3] (source from M. Beckman, personal communication, March 17, 2009)

Miami Museum of Science. (2001.) Constructivism and the Five E's. Retrieved on March 10, 2009 from [4]

Neimeyer, R. A., & Levitt, H. (2004, February 15). Constructivist Assessment. The Internet Encyclopaedia of Personal Construct Psychology. Retrieved March 10, 2009, from [5]

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. (1993). Assessment in a Constructivist Classroom. Retrieved March 10, 2009, from Learning Point Associates Web site: [6]

Ohlsen, M.T. (2007). Classroom Assessment Practices of Secondary School Members of NCTM. American Secondary Education, (36) 1, 4-14. Retrieved on March 24, 2009 from ERIC database.

Price, M., O'Donovan, B., Rust, and C. (2007). Putting a Social-Constructivist Assessment Process Model into Practice: Building the Feedback Loop into the Assessment Process through Peer Review. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, (4), 2. Retrieved from ERIC on March 17, 2009.

Reeves, T.C. & Okey J.R. (2004). Alternative Assessments for Constructivist Learning Environments. In Constructivist Learning Environments: Cases in Instructional Design. Brent G. Wilson (ed.). Forward by: David N. Perkins. Educational Technology Publications: Englewood Cliffs New Jersey. Retrieved March 15, 2009 from [7]

Skaalid, B. (n.d.) Evaluation of Constructivism Learning. Retrieved on March 6, 2009 from [8] (originally from "The Impact of Constructivism (and Postmodernism) on ID Fundamentals" by Wilson, Teslow, & Osman-Jouchoux.)

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Chapter QuizEdit

1. Which statement best defines how constructivists perceive assessment in education?

 a. Constructivists measure learning at the ending activity. 
 b. Constructivists use an ongoing process to help students continue to learn. 
 c. Constructivists use multiple choice exams at the end of every chapter. 

2. Which of the following are examples of teaching methods constructivists use to assess student learning?

 a. Mind mapping and KWL charts 
 b. Verbal discussions including interviews and investigations. 
 c. True and False quizzes and close-ended questioning. 
 d. Both a and b. 

3. When assessing, one goal of a constructivist is to

 a. figure out how the learner is thinking and acquiring knowledge. 
 b. make certain the learner is fulfilling a desired outcome.

4. All of the following are examples of assessments constructivists use except?

 a.  Portfolio assessment 
 b.  Performance based assessment 
 c.  Isolated preformance tests 
 d.  Authentic Assessment

5. Based on the five “E’s” of constructivist assessment, explain how you could use two "E’s" in a lesson to model the ongoing process of learning from one stage to the next.

 Scoring Guide
 1 point: Student explains one “E” in the sample lesson.
 2 points: Student accurately explains two ‘E’s” in the sample lesson. 	
 3 points: Student accurately explains both “E’s” moving from one stage to the next. Explanation on how it is an ongoing process is vague.
 4 points: Student accurately explains two of the five “E’s” and identifies how learning is an ongoing process.

6. Explain two ways constructivist-based assessment is the same and two ways it is different from traditional assessment.

 Scoring Guide
 1 point: Student explains one similarity or difference accurately.
 2 points: Student accurately explains a total of two similarities or differences.	
 3 points: Student accurately explains two similarities and one difference (or vice versa.)
 4 points: Student accurately explains two differences and two similarities.

Quiz is out of 20 points.

4: 18-20 3: 15-17 2: 12-14 1: 11 and below