The Misuses and Effective Uses of Constructivist Teaching

Dec. 26, 2009

Source: Teachers and Teaching, Volume 15, Issue 6 (December 2009), pages 737 – 746.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Constructivism has emerged as a very powerful model for explaining how knowledge is produced in the world as well as how students learn. Moreover, constructivist teaching practices are becoming more prevalent in teacher education programs and public schools across the nation, while demonstrating significant success in promoting student learning.

In this essay, the author takes a serious look at constructivist teaching practices highlighting both the promises and potential problems of these practices.
The author argues that constructivist teaching has often been misinterpreted and misused, resulting in learning practices that neither challenge students nor address their needs. The author outlines some of the ways in which constructivism has been misconstrued and analyzes several ways in which constructivist teaching has been misused.

The author also presents two examples that illustrate the effective use of constructivist teaching and explains what makes them successful.
For both teachers, it is clear that learning is not about accumulating random information, memorizing it, and then repeating it on some exam; learning is about understanding and applying concepts, constructing meaning, and thinking about ideas.
Both teachers (Peterson and Dusting) assumed an active role in their classes and facilitated their students learning through explanations, mini-lectures, and guiding their research. That is, they created a community of learners in their classrooms in which they were an integral and dynamic part.

Second, the examples of Peterson and Dusting illustrate that effective constructivist teaching has to be challenging for students: that they have to be able to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the subject matter and be held to rigorous standards of performance.

Finally, is the notion that good constructivist teaching ought to be flexible and attend first and foremost to the actual needs of students and not just to the teacher's perceptions of those needs.


As evidenced by the examples of Peterson and Dustings, constructivist teaching can produce tremendous results when used correctly and judiciously; it can also lead to poor results and ineffective learning when it is misconstrued or misused.

Updated: Jan. 31, 2010