Constructivist Learning FAQs


What is Constructivist Learning ?

Constructivist learning is a practice in which students and teachers gather — often around a seminar table, but not always — to explore and gain perspective about some question or problem.

Working together, students help each other in pairs, small groups or entire-class discussions, to achieve understanding and give each other feedback. Their teachers support, encourage and coach them and give them the space to build their own learning.

Distinguished by its powerful and transformative approach to education, the Masters School has embraced teaching around seminar tables for twenty years, engaging students in the learning process by inspiring them to prepare thoroughly, participate daily, solve problems collaboratively, explore divergent ideas, challenge assumptions, and learn to lead class discussions. Regardless of college track or professional field, these talents and skills are critical to future achievement and success, because as the educational reformer John Dewey once put it, “The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.”

What is the role of the teacher and what are students doing?

Teachers promote active participation, independent thinking and equitable deliberation in which: all voices are heard; students are met where they are; and students collaborate and listen with empathy.

Because teachers trust the wisdom of the students to achieve learning objectives respecting their thinking, experience and perspectives  they put students at the center of the educational process. While teachers do provide scaffolding and give students examples, they don’t provide students with formulas to blindly follow.

In a student-centered environment, teachers create relationships of trust and support in which students feel authorized to engage in healthy dialogue, and in which they are empowered to:

· explore openly
· take risks
· work together
· make connections
· create something
· dig deep
· self-implicate
· listen with empathy
· pose and respond to questions
· reflect willingly
· share hunches and observations
· pursue leads
· express dissenting opinions
· question assumptions
· experience learning
· assess approaches, methods and paradigms
· reconsider their thinking
· articulate the skills they are practicing
· take responsibility for their learning
· apply their learning

How would you characterize the interactions among students?

Students construct their learning as they decide how to proceed; they practice key skills and do so in different modes; they identify what resources they need to show their understanding and transfer concepts; they engage in a dynamic process that facilitates their learning and visions. They agree and disagree at every turn, and think divergently, too.  

         Teacher-Led Learning                    Student-Led Learning

Do teachers ever lecture?

Teachers sometimes provide background information and context during class, but when they assign readings for students to prepare ahead of a day’s lesson or activity, the students are more prepared to do the higher order thinking together and show their individual and collective understanding.  

In taking responsibility for their learning, students create knowledge during class rather than passively rely on teachers (or on rote memorization) to demonstrate their comprehension. As such, knowledge is not passively transmitted from teachers to students or shown by students through regurgitation of material.

Why think of Constructivist-Learning as an ethos rather than a method?

As there is no one method to facilitate constructivist education, given the range of forms it might take in a learning environment, it is more productive to think of it as an architecture that facilitates collective ownership in the classroom.

. Put differently: it is a way of doing  of students utilizing and discovering talents and skills  that promotes meaningful inquiry for all of them, among all of them.

What does collaboration look like in a student-led classroom?

Whether reflecting on paper or out loud, students are always asked to do so with an open mind: to defer judgment, share openly and listen with empathy.

“Harkness definitely allows every single person to gain a voice.” - Thomas, ‘17
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