In order for learning to occur, students need to connect to their own prior knowledge. Connections are like building bridges between the old and new. This building bridge can be brief or in-depth as long as it serves the needs of all learners. Pre-assessment determines prior knowledge whereas connections provides the link between old knowledge and new knowledge. This step is critical to applying constructivist theory in a classroom.
How do I build community?
- create trust between teacher and student and among the students
- build self-confidence so students will take risks, engage in dialogue
- move from competition to collaboration
- form ‘community clusters’
create learning circles of like-minded teachers to provide support and share ideas
practice working in collaborative groups and assign specific roles and tasks
encourage partner or peer tutoring situations
begin using reflective journals and/or learning logs
be open with the students that you are trying a different way of teaching and explain why – allow them time to express thoughts & feelings throughout the process
How do I group my students?
- students need to be taught how to work in a collaborative group
- keep groups “fluid” where students move in and out as needed
- use a variety of groupings based on ability or readiness, instructional needs and interests
- heterogeneous – a group of students with varying ability where each student takes a role in an area of strength that adds to the knowledge of the whole group
- homogeneous – ‘cluster’ grouping of a group of students with similar abilities or interest area can be effective for certain areas of study
- a group of 3 or 4 students works well in most settings
- teacher may choose and at other times, students may choose group members
- establish home-based teams and work teams to blend a heterogeneous group with a homogeneous group
- multiage groupings allow students of similar interests to learn from each other and work together
What strategies or instructional approaches can help students make connections?
Blogs – Blogs, short for weblogs, are online journals or diaries that have become popular since the mid 1990’s. Bloggers post personal opinions, random thoughts, connections and real life stories in order to interact with others via the Web! Weblinks and photos can also be added to the blog. A learner may choose to have their own blog to record their learning on a specific topic. A group of learners could choose to share a blog and read, write, challenge, debate, validate and build shared knowledge as a group. Check out Blogger.com to set up your own personal or professional blog – develop your digital voice and model for your students.
Graphic Organizers or Mind Maps – instructional tools used to illustrate prior knowledge. Student sample page
See Best Practice Graphic Organizers for more information and examples.
KWL Charts – K-what do the students already know? W-what do the students need and want to know? L-what did the students learn? An effective pre-assessment tool but also an effective tool to evaluate the level of understanding. Many teachers use the L part as an open-ended question on an exam allowing the students to share the depth of knowledge that was gained in the unit of study.
Questioning Techniques – Questions are a key element in each of the building blocks of constructivism. Categories of questions are guiding, anticipated, clarifying and integrating.
Reflective Journals or Learning Logs – Journals can be used to assess for process of learning and student growth. They can be open-ended or the teacher can provide guiding, reflective questions for the students to respond to. These often provide insight on how the students are synthesizing their learning.