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Constructivism: Actively Building Arts Education

A brief introduction to constructivism and how arts educators can utilize it effectively

Overview

What is constructivism?

In constructivism, learning occurs through experiencing the world. This 20th-century theory is built on the work of psychologist Jean Piaget, who believed that children build their own knowledge through play and their experiences. Constructivism also takes cues from psychologist Lev Vygotsky and his understanding that learning is a social activity.

Arts = constructivism

Arts education lends itself very naturally to constructivism, and constructivist learning is described much like arts learning. According to Bruce Marlowe and Marilyn Page, constructivism emphasizes thinking, analyzing, understanding, and applying (2005). Constructivism is not about rote memorization or the regurgitation of information. Philosophically, arts and constructivist learning dovetail nicely.

Curriculum standards are on the forefront of many teachers’ minds. All the arts disciplines have curriculum standards in most states. So the question arises: “Can students have a standards-based arts education through constructivism?” The answer is “absolutely.” Constructivism is simply a way for students to learn more effectively (Mesibov, Flynn, Vermette, & Smith, 2009).

Like good arts classrooms, constructivist classrooms are learner-centered and, often, collaborative among students. Constructivist learning frequently engages the student by using real-world contexts. Real-world tasks are frequently employed in arts education, including performances and exhibitions. For example, a constructivist dance teacher turns the task of choreography, as well as the ability to explain it with examples, over to students. With a well-planned structure set in place by the teacher, students gain understanding of choreography because they capture the real-world job.

Assessment will take on many forms in a constructivist classroom, as in an arts classroom. Constructivist and arts teachers have a wide variety of tools with which to determine their students’ understanding. Portfolios and performances, as well as tests and quizzes, are part of the assessment toolbox both constructivist and arts teachers can access. Self-assessment is another key commonality. Constructivist students will frequently reflect on their learning, giving them further ownership of their knowledge, skills, and understanding. The ability to self-reflect and assess are critical for young artists both in and outside the arts classroom.

Putting constructivism to work

  • Constructivism learning requires skills, knowledge, and higher-order understanding. Music students must use knowledge and skills such as rhythm, note recognition, melody, and harmonics correctly in order to reach their higher-order goals, such as expressing meaning through composing music. As students pursue composition in a constructivist music classroom, they develop expertise, which is now shared by both students and teacher.
  • Constructivist classrooms, like arts classrooms, are active and active can mean the volume gets louder and kids are up out of their seats working with others. But active also means that students are testing their questions, discovering their own answers, and developing their own interpretations. Not only does the teacher need to prepare extensively for this to happen but students do as well.

Being a constructivist learner is a skill that students must master. Constructivism helps students learn “how to learn” as well as how to manage themselves. Arts teachers may find scaffolding these skills is necessary for success. In constructivism, students have to learn how to problem-solve, collaborate, and manage themselves—all assets to be fostered in arts education.

Credits

Writers

Patti Saraniero
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

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SUPPORTING INDIVIDUAL NEEDS

Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.

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