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Constructivist Teaching - The Key to Making Sense

"I finally worked it all out..." Despite his brilliance as a leader, Richard Branson admits he has poor understanding of the more ‘boring’ aspects of business. Even at the age of 5...

"I finally worked it all out..."

Despite his brilliance as a leader, Richard Branson admits he has poor understanding of the more ‘boring’ aspects of business. Even at the age of 50, he did not understand the difference between the financial concepts of ‘net’ and ‘gross’. This changed one day when one of his associates drew him a diagram of fish in the sea with a net over some of them in the middle, explaining: “The fish here which have been pulled into the net are the profits you’ve got left after expenses.” When it was explained to him in a way he could compare with something he already understood, Branson announced “I finally worked it all out”.  This associate may not have known it, but he was getting through to Branson by using Constructivist Teaching.

How do we make sense of new concepts?

According to Constructivist Learning Theory, the way our mind makes sense of new information is by linking it to something we already understand. It is important however that those 'links' are accurate. Making sense of the unfamiliar by the use of analogies is often the most helpful starting point when trying to explain relationships between concepts which are foreign and those which are familiar. Using comparative explanations (including analogies, metaphors and even parables) has long been used as a powerful communication tool to bridge gaps in knowledge and build stronger understanding.

How do we use Constructivist Teaching to Build Knowledge into Understanding?

Learning however is a progressive construction process. Making sense of our experiences requires our mind to not only understand different concepts, but attach them together like jigsaw pieces to create a continuously expanding picture. When pieces are missing, the picture remains incomplete. When joined incorrectly however the picture becomes confused and distorted. Good Teachers know that creating clarity from confusion requires communicating knowledge by constructing the right pieces in the right order. In Education Psychology, this concept is known as ‘Constructivist Teaching Theory’ and utilizes the concept of ‘scaffolding’ the learning processes.

What is Constructivism and the Constructivist Teaching Approach?

To use an analogy; a good Teacher applies a structured constructivist learning process in a similar way that good Engineers, Architects and Builders construct a house. If the bricks of our children’s learning are not connected piece by piece it creates gaps in their knowledge. If the walls of their knowledge are not built around a constructivist learning framework, it creates weakness in their understanding. If their understanding is not supported by a solid foundation of constructivist teaching, it will crumble under the weight of assessments. When the learning process is supported by a constructivist teaching framework however it converts nonsense into sense, disorder into order and confusion into clarity. To put it simply; constructivist teaching strategies makes hard stuff seem easy!

 It doesn’t matter what kind of communication you’re using or what part of the world you’re using it in either – the same constructivist teaching principals apply. You could be teaching, training, explaining, lecturing or tutoring. Sydney, Washington, London, Beijing, and Delhi – you name it; Constructivist Teaching forms the foundations of all good communication, no matter where you are or who you are communicating with.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Stuar Adams is a Teacher, Careers Advisor, Dietitians and Managing Director at Top of the Class Professional Tuition Sydney



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