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How a Constructivist Approach Can Help Students Learn

Scenario: You have just taught a unit on African history for the first time in your high school world history class, and you are quite disappointed in the results of the unit test. Many students seemed unable to remember the basic facts necessary to answer the multiple-choice questions and hardly any were able to answer the general essay question about significant contributions made by different African civilizations. Yet you had provided your students with a list of the important people and events you wanted them to remember from the chapter, and in your lectures you had tried to emphasize elements of our current culture which originated in Africa. Since your students didn't seem to get much out of the unit, you wonder if you should just go back to teaching mainly European history next year, or if there is some way you could improve your teaching so that students would learn better in this area.

Question: Describe one strategy a constructivist would suggest to remedy this learning problem and explain how some aspect(s) of Vigotsky's constructivist theory would support this strategy as being useful. (Note: Feel free to say a brief word about your assumed constructivist cause if you need to in order to explain the reason for your strategy.)

Solution Preview

Constructivism is an approach to teaching and learning based on the premise that students learn by fitting new information together with what they already know. Russian theorist, Lev Vygotsky was a social constructivist. He believed learning is a social, collaborative activity based on input from others. He developed the term "zone of proximal development", which means that teachers should challenge students with activities that are just slightly above their current level of development. As students successfully meet these challenges, they gain confidence which motivates them to continue learning.

Social constructivist classrooms share the following four ...

Solution Summary

In this scenario, a teacher uses a traditional approach to teaching and is disappointed with her students' final grades. How could the teacher use a constructivist approach to get different results from the students? My answer explains the four principles of a constructivist classroom, and outlines classroom activities that would incorporate each of these four principles. (Note: The scenario is based on a high school history class, but the answer is broad enough that it could be adapted to any age group or subject area.)

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