Constructivist View of Learning

According to the Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors (Houston, 1995), constructivism is a "viewpoint in learning theory which holds that individuals acquire knowledge by building it from innate capabilities interacting with the environment" (p. 64).

Constructivist theory suggests that as students learn, they do not simply memorize or take on others' conceptions of reality; instead, they create their own meaning and understanding. Even very young children exhibit this strong constructivist approach to making sense of the world as they learn to speak and communicate. Adults speak to children using the adult forms of language: "It's time for Nikki to eat!" Yet, when children repeat back what they have heard, they reveal their own understanding of how language functions. A child may reply, "Nikki eat," even though that form was not heard and therefore could not have been copied. Studies of how children learn to speak languages in discrete cultures around the world have all shown similar results: Children don't mimic adult forms. They try to figure out rules and regularities and then construct their own interpretations of what to say. As they get more feedback and have more experiences trying to communicate, they eventually come to accepted constructions and expressions.

In the classroom, learners use similar ways to construct their own meanings from stimuli and input available to them. If three students describe a movie they have seen, there likely will be three quite different responses. The task of the human brain is to make sense of experience. From all the input and past experiences, students are continually constructing a view of what is real. Each student does this in a unique way.

Students need regular opportunities to do more than memorize what teachers and books tell them. For deep learning to occur, students need to deal with information and experience and put it together to make meaningful sense. Teachers can help students acquire deep learning by:

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