Ways Of Engaging Students Through Constructivism

It is a constant struggle for educators to engage students and inspire a love of learning. Children’s academic achievement depends on their engagement. Lack of engagement can impact a child’s attitude and behavior towards school (Alam & Lunenburg – Omotayo & Adeke – Omotayo & Edeleke (2017); Powell & Kalina (2009) ; Vos & Der Meijden & Dessen E. – Vos & Deessen E. – Denessen E. ). Teachers’ instruction and activities can play a key role in the attitude of a learner towards school. It is not uncommon for traditional pedagogical practices to be counterproductive and lead to negative didactic outcomes. The banking model is one example of this, where teachers deposit information into their students’ heads (Freire (2005). Constructivists like Piaget believe that children will learn better in a student-centered learning environment that encourages problem solving and inquiry (Brooks & Brooks, 1993 ; Butz, 2018 ; Constance & Ewing, 1996 ; Fosnot & Kalina, 2009 ; Skrabankova, 2011 ; Tiilikainen, Karjalainen, Toom, Lepola, & Husu, 2019 ; Toom According to Piagetian philosophy, constructivism encourages children and youth to be more engaged in academics by providing them with active learning experiences. This paper seeks to prove this claim, by exploring the history of constructivist theories, their educational benefits, and how they are applied to modern pedagogy.

Butz (2018, p. 9) says that constructivism has two distinct aspects: cognitive or social. Piaget has been credited for the conception of cognitive constructivism. Piaget was a Swiss biologist and a psychologist who developed a model of epistemology based on the four stages of cognition that are widely accepted (Powell & Kalina, 1999). Each stage is characterized by disequilibrium in children and youth. Before moving to the next level, they must assimilate and accommodate new information in their schemata. Piaget argued, that by incorporating new information and integrating personal experiences into their schemata, humans are able to create their meaning. The traditional model of banking is a passive one, in which teachers simply transmit information to students. Banking education is effective for some students, but many others are disengaged (Brooks & Brooks, 1993). Constructivism states that teachers cannot transmit content intact to students (Hyslop Margison, Strobel & Strobel (2007)). Constructivist theory is an alternative to Freire’s Banking Model of Education. It encourages teachers to foster learning in the classroom, rather than merely transmitting information. It is important that students are encouraged to construct their knowledge in classrooms like this, instead of simply relying upon transmission. Constructivist theory of learning is associated with a number of positive outcomes.

Constructivism has many advantages in the classroom. The constructivist approach to learning is notable for its cognitive and emotional benefits. It is a motivator for students, emphasizes active engagement, and encourages engagement. Butz (2018). Furthermore, constructivist practice allows teachers to meet diverse learning needs. Children’s engagement is increased when educators allow them to make their own meaning using Piagetian-based active learning and inquiry strategies (Brooks & Brooks 1993; Butz 2018; Hyslop Margison & Strobel 2007; Omotayo & Adeleke 2017). Tiilikainen et al. (2019) concludes that constructivist theories of learning allow teachers to take on a variety role to enhance student’s learning. In contrast to teacher-directed teaching, constructivism allows learners to acquire information in multiple ways, with the help and guidance of their instructors. It is beneficial to all students as they can make connections with the content based on their prior knowledge, backgrounds, and experiences. Children develop critical thinking and higher order thinking skills when they interact in a constructivist setting (Lunenburg 2011). Powell and Kalina (2009) argue that constructivist methods, strategies, and tools create classrooms where students can learn in a meaningful and relevant way. According to the authors, “in many school districts, constructivism has been deemed the best way of teaching and educating” (Powell & Kalina (2009) p.241). It is possible that this is due to the strong correlation between interest and achievement. Students will be more motivated to learn if they show greater interest in a given subject (Omotayo & Adeleke (2017) or Powell & Kalina (2009). Constructionist practices are a great way to get students engaged in any subject.

Constructivist theories can be applied to a wide range of curriculum areas, allowing them to serve today’s classrooms. Noteworthy, its classroom implications can be found in elementary and secondary schools, as well as post-secondary educational institutions. Constructivism is a key component of student success in core subjects such as mathematics and language (Lunenburg, 2011, Omotayo & Adeleke 2017). Teachers who use the Piaget-inspired methodologies are able to elicit autonomy, empowerment, problem solving, and other desirable traits in students. Omotayo (2017), for example, found that constructivist teaching in secondary mathematics had positive outcomes. A 5E-approach was adopted, in which youth explored mathematical ideologies by engaging, exploring, explaining, elaborating, and evaluating. Through exploring the material in pairs and individually, children displayed a better understanding of concepts and a greater willingness to apply them to new situations. Students showed positive responses to concepts, increased interest and academic performance (Omotayo& Adeleke (2017)). Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016, states that constructivist approaches are also beneficial to stakeholders in the Ontario Kindergarten Program. Powell and Kalina’s (2009) research reveals the benefits of discovery-based learning for both students and teachers. Play-based learning, which is the foundation of Ontario’s kindergarten program, creates a dynamic and effective learning environment where independent cognition reigns. The kindergarten class is a place for constructivist education, and children are encouraged to act like “little researchers” within the classroom environment. This is in line with Piaget’s vision (Powell & Kalina (2009). The most important discovery is the transfer of constructivism to content. This includes core subjects, kindergarten programs and other areas. This includes the arts, social studies and geography as well, as well, as science. This latter subject represents an important expansion of Piaget’s intended learning within content. Physical education has traditionally explored concepts through skill-building and movement. In the constructivist view, students are given the freedom to investigate and discover new concepts by solving problems and pursuing inquiries (Brooks & Brooks; Vos et.al., 2011). Cognitive constructivism, in its essence, is a method that teachers of every subject can use to reach their students (Powell & Kalina, 2009). There is a large body of research that praises constructivist principles. However, there are still critics. They are largely fallacies, but they deserve to be questioned.

The first criticism is that Piaget used children to test his theories. This argument, which was initially a heated one, has been largely resolved. Piagetian theories are widely accepted. The authors acknowledge that Piaget’s constructivist ideas have been modified by other scholars, but his core principles still stand. The authors also cite the fact that constructivism requires a strong commitment from educators. Many seem to be intrigued by its promise and power but are reluctant to adopt related strategies, like inquiry-based education (Brooks & Brooks, 1993). The academics believe that this is due, at least partly, to a disruption of the traditional hierarchical relationship between teacher and student (Brooks & Brooks 1993; Hyslop Margison & Strobel 2007; Lunenburg 2011). Lunenburg (2011, p. 5) offers five pillars to support the use of constructivism. These principles are useful in any learning situation (Lunenburg). Brooks and Brooks, 1993, simplify cognition using inquiry-based education to reassure teachers about constructivism. The framework of the author includes 12 descriptors, which enable youth to lead curriculum under teachers’ guidance. These techniques can include Socratic Questioning Methodologies, facilitating the students’ innate curiousity, and allowing appropriate waiting time for students to engage in debates or independent cognition. Although the teacher’s role is reframed in this way, it does not diminish (Tiilikainen and others, 2019). Due to the fact that constructivism relies on cognition as its foundation, opponents of constructivism will often cite student differences in ability. Some children may not be considered capable of succeeding within a constructivist environment. Hyslop Margison & Strobel (2007) also agree that learning is based on individual cognition. The authors also state that learning is facilitated by the schemata of learners. Some argue that without significant prior experiences, people cannot make the deep connections necessary for cognitive disequilibrium to accommodate and assimilate any new learning. (Powell & Kalina – 1999). They limit the learning process and ignore differentiated teaching as an individualized approach. This fact confirms that children learn at their own pace within constructivism, as they pass through cognitive stages. Piaget’s sensoryimotor stage starts at zero years old. At any level of development, children can apply their knowledge to new situations. Constructivism has active learning activities for different abilities based on cognitive development levels (Tiikinainen and al., 2011). Two last criticisms of constructivist theory are related to radical perspectives which focus on sectarianism and relativism. Piaget’s critics state that it is okay for students to have erroneous beliefs about their own learning. This, however, is a misunderstood statement. Hyslop Margison Strobel (2007, p. 3) reminds skeptics the constructivism was not intended to make students believe that they were correct. Literature (Brooks & Brooks 1993) supports this. As a limitation to inquiry-based education, authorities also point out that other teaching methods, like lectures, are not taken into consideration. Constructivism is not the only teaching strategy that works, and it acknowledges the need for other methods in the classroom. Teachers who employ constructive and effective didactic practices can dismiss each criticism and limitation (Butz, 2018, Lunenburg, 2011, etc.).

Piaget’s cognitive-constructivist learning theory is a powerful tool for both students and teachers. There are benefits to be found in a variety of subject matter and around the world, including the Netherlands. The active, inquiry-based and student-centered learning that is a hallmark of the program has positive outcomes (Brooks & Brooks 1993; Butz 2018; Powell & Kalina 2009). The improved cognitive and educational achievement is accompanied by increased affective effects, including interest, engagement, and motivating (Lunenburg, 2011; Omatayo & Adeleke, 2017). Although the implications for teaching are promising, a systemic approach to incorporate dynamic constructivist approaches is necessary (Hyslop Margison & Strobel (2007); Powell & Kalina (2009). Teachers should not establish a dominant position, but instead ensure students have a full stake in their own learning. This can be done by offering authentic, rich and meaningful discovery opportunities. Students will be inspired and able to reach their full potential. The educational and social implications of this are endless.


  • jamielane

    Jamie Lane is a 31-year-old blogger and traveler who loves to share his educational experiences with others. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has been traveling the world ever since. Jamie is always looking for new and interesting ways to learn, and he loves to share her findings with others.

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