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Education Theory: Constructive vs. Instructive Models of Education

Luke Holm earned bachelor degrees in English and Philosophy from NIU. He is a middle school teacher and a creative writer.

Defining Educational Jargon

Constructive vs. Instructive/Direct Education

In John Santrock’s Adolescence, he discusses the different approaches to student learning. Throughout his book, it seems clear that Santrock is arguing for a constructivist approach to education over a direct approach to education.

Constructive Model of Education

A constructivist view helps children develop their own minds by means of real-world input. As children explore their world, they discover “knowledge, reflect, and think critically with careful monitoring and meaningful guidance from the teacher” (Santrock 351). It is the belief that children are being dehumanized in the classroom setting. Although they are naturally active individuals, they are restrained from movement, required to sit still and become passive learners.

Instructive Model of Education

In opposition to the constructivist approach is the direct instruction approach. Direct instruction is what we see most, today, in the educational setting. Teachers who practice direct styles of instruction often require full attention on themselves, they have extremely regimented classrooms and procedures, they stuff information into the brains of students, and maximum time is spent on academic tasks. Santrock states that direct instruction approach turns students into passive learners. While this approach is very precise and explicit in its teaching form, the debate continues as to which approach, constructive or instructive, prevails as most effective.


Finding a Balance Approach to Education

In my experience, I've seen both educational styles implemented in the classroom. It seems that older, more experienced teachers often delineate information through the direct instruction approach to education. On the other hand, oftentimes it's the newer teachers who adopt a more liberal approach to education. Using a constructivist approach, these teachers facilitate group work and peer-to-peer discussion.

It's my belief that both approaches to education are important for a well-rounded classroom. Near the end of the chapter, Santrock reflects on a critic’s view of each approach: constructivists claim that instructivists turn students into passive learners who fail to think critically or creatively. However, instructivists claim that constructivists fail to meet educational standards and methodology when applying their approach to subjects such as history or science. Since both sides of the argument propose strong evidence why their method is better than the other, it may be best to adopt both approaches and integrate them accordingly into your overall teaching strategy.

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A Student-Focused Approach

It is also important for students to define which approach best works for them when it comes to learning and comprehending the material being posited by the teacher. If a student learns best by means of direct instruction, they should make the teacher aware of this learning style. Just as well, if a student fails to comprehend material when it is being force-fed to them, it would be smart to alert the teacher that they learn better by means of constructive approaches to education.

As an educator, if you tend to favor the constructivist approach to education, it is likely that you will implement styles of teaching that require group work activities. Using this model of education, it is important to create clear guidelines that promote functional and cooperative groups within your classroom. Make group activities as low-stress as possible. Activities such as peer-to-peer discussions and group identification of current schema should be approached in a light but forthright manner.

Also, it is important to have balanced groups and unfamiliar groups, so the students stay on task and better learn from each other. An activity such as identifying with several pictures displayed on the board that suggests romantic love, and then having the students evaluate the pictures in accordance to their previous knowledge of romantic love, could be a great way to prepare students for the reading of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Learning Theories


There are many ways to integrate the uses of both constructive and instructive approaches to education in your classroom. As long as the teacher is aware of the students’ ability to learn, and the students aware of the teachers’ approaches to education, a well-rounded classroom should be formed.

© 2020 JourneyHolm

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