Active Processing Via Constructivism

While we have not formally discuss this concept yet, let’s apply two of its principles to get us started (you may already have some knowledge about Active Processing)

  1. Take a few minutes to write down your definition of Active Processing or some of its components.
  2. After you go through the information on this page (Word and/or Voiceover), compare and contrast that with what you wrote from above (What surprised you, What you agree/disagree with, What you will incorporate into your delivery system).

Listen to a voiceover of this page

In this section we examine the concept of “Active Processing’’; since this concept emanates from the Constructivist philosophy, let’s first take a look at Constructivism

Constructivism: A Changing Perspective

Following are two situations I have encountered, and probably all of you also have experienced something similar.

  1. I once went to a meeting and afterwards compared notes with a colleague. Surprise! Our notes were very, very different from each other. I remember saying to a colleague, “What meeting did you go to? Didn’t you hear what I heard?”
  2. As a young geometry teacher at the secondary level, I went over a proof again and again, and I then put the same proof on the quiz the very next day. To my chagrin, most of the students got it wrong, even most of my “better” students. I remember telling a trusted colleague, “I don’t get it. I told them the answers. I told them the important points.”

Clearly, at that time I believed that knowledge was a static entity, prepackaged, and something I could give to someone. As I continued with my teaching career, I gradually realized that knowledge is not something that is transferred or given to someone else; rather, it is an entity that is created by the individual person. I recognized that I had to change my outlook on the nature of learning and how one learns. This recognition led me to study Constructivism. When I started this process, I asked myself, “What exactly is Constructivism? How does it relate to true learning and more effective teaching?”

Constructivist Perspective

It is of the utmost importance to understand the nature of Constructivism. Constructivism does not directly tell an educator how to teach, nor is it a teaching theory. It is actually a philosophy about how one learns (Pelech, 2010). In discussing Constructivism, Airasian and Walsh (1997) stated: “Although Constructivism might provide a model of knowing and learning that could be useful for educational purposes, at present the Constructivist model is descriptive, not prescriptive” (p. 444). Others view Constructivism as a description of the learning process. Foote, Vermette, and Battaglia (2001) wrote, “Constructivism describes the process undergone by the learner during instruction” (p. 3). In a similar vein, Fosnot and Dolk (2001) described Constructivism “as the process of building one’s own understanding by modifying one’s previous schemes and structures” (p. 147).

Research into Constructivism theory has resulted in many definitions (Fosnot & Dolk, 2001; Gabler & Schroeder, 2003; Shapiro, 2002; von Glaserfeld, 2005). However, there are some common themes.

  • Knowledge is not transmitted to others.
  • People create knowledge, and they do so by connecting it to previous knowledge.
  • Real learning involves reorganizing one’s thinking process.
  • Learning is influenced by interaction with others and with one’s previous experience.
  • The learning process begins when people are confronted with problems their present thinking system cannot solve.

From Constructivism to Learning Principles

As was mentioned above, Constructivism does not prescribe how to teach, it is not a pedagogy.  Since I wanted to implement the Constructivist philosophy in practice, I decided that I wanted to examine and understand the actual cognitive processes of creating knowledge. This was done by examining and researching the following five questions:

  • What is the nature of knowledge?
  • What does knowledge look like?
  • How does knowledge come into existence?
  • How is it organized?
  • What does society or other people have to do with learning?

After researching and synthesizing the results, the following Learning Principles were created:

Learning Principle 1: Since knowledge is a subjective construction, people learn by creating their own philosophy, core values, rules, procedures, theories, and definitions.

Learning Principle 2: The brain is wired differently for different people, and this is due to experience, genetics, and different development rates.

Learning Principle 3: Knowledge manifests itself in different forms.

Learning Principle 4Knowledge manifests itself in different contexts.

Learning Principle 5: We feel before we learn; feelings and emotions are the starting point for the construction of knowledge. 

Learning Principle 6: Students learn when they connect to their prior knowledge and modify or reorganize their prior knowledge or thinking schemes.

Learning Principle 7: Students learn when they are continuously presented problems, questions, or situations that force them to think differently. It is cognitive disequilibrium or cognitive perturbations that can initiate the learning process.  

Learning Principle 8:  People learn and make mental connections by applying the “Essential Eight”: (1) creating patterns;  (2) self-explaining and teaching others; (3) comparing and contrasting; (4) summarizing; (5) hypothesizing and predicting /evaluating, and theorizing (6) multisensory learning; (7) metacognition; and (8) real- world problems

Learning Principle 9: Students learn by working with other people who are the source of contradictions, different perspectives, and confirmation.

Learning Principle 10: Contemporary society provides the parameters for what skills are necessary for survival and also acts as the source for real-world problems for students to study

Learning Principle 11:  A person learns by creating knowledge at different levels of complexity and thinking.

Learning Principle 12: A person learns by organizing knowledge into a hierarchical, connected, and complex framework.                  

After a careful examination of these principles and after re-organizing them through combining and rearranging, I established the following Active Processing Guidelines :

  • Connecting previous knowledge and experiences to new experiences and knowledge
  • Creating patterns, themes, and categories
  • Comparing and contrasting different concepts, perspectives, and ideas
  • Summarizing concepts, ideas, and procedures,
  • Hypothesizing predicting, evaluating, synthesizing, and theorizing
  • Learning through multiple senses and presenting knowledge in multiple modes
  • Re-organizing thinking patterns or schemes
  • Monitoring / analyzing one’s learning  and creating a plan for improvement
  • Analyzing and creating solutions to real-world / authentic problems
  • Encountering situations in which the present thinking scheme does not work (disequilibrium), and then creating a new form of thinking
  • Self-explaining and teaching others
  • Working with others to create new perspectives and/or to create disequilibrium

There is one very important note that I wish to briefly discuss. An overriding or umbrella principle of Active Processing is that the learner is an autonomous entity, interacting with others and the environment to create knowledge.

To be more precise, we can define active processing as: The act of the mind in transforming/manipulating information into a more meaningful or complex form. To put it in more “down-to-earth” terms, I will use a phrase I used many times with my students: “Do something with that information, besides regurgitate it”.

Some Resources

In accordance with the Active Processing framework, I will not tell you anymore about Constructivism/Active Processing; rather, you are encouraged to consult and utilize the following (this list includes the references from previous paragraphs):

Airasian, P.W., & Walsh, M.E. (1997) Constructivist Cautions. Phi Delta Kappan,  78(6).444-449.

Brooks, J. G., & Brooks, M. G. (1999). In search of understanding: The case for constructivist classrooms. ASCD.

Brooks, J. G., & Brooks, M. G. (2021). Schools reimagined: unifying the science of learning with the art of teaching. Teachers College Press.

Foote, C. J., Vermette, P. J., & Battaglia, C. (2001). Constructivist strategies: Meeting standards and engaging adolescent minds. Eye on Education.

Fosnot, C. T., & Dolk, M. (2001). Young Mathematicians at Work: Constructing Multiplication and Division. Heinemann, 88 Post Road West, PO Box 5007, Westport, CT 06881.

Gabler, I. C., & Schroeder, M. (2003). Constructivist Methods for the Secondary Classroom: Engaged Minds [SM]. Allyn and Bacon, 75 Arlington Street, Boston, MA 02116.

Mesibov, D., & Drmacich, D. (2022). Helping Students Take Control of Their Own Learning: 279 Learner-Centered, Social-Emotional Strategies for Teachers. Routledge.

Pass, S. (2004). Parallel paths to constructivism: Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. IAP.

Pelech, J. (2010). The comprehensive handbook of constructivist teaching: From theory to practice. IAP.

Pelech, J. (2013). Guide to transforming teaching through self-inquiry. IAP.

Pelech, J. (2021). Student-centered Research: Blending Constructivism with Action Research. IAP.

Shapiro, A. (2002). The Latest Dope on Research (About Constructivism): Part I: Different

Approaches to Constructivism—What It’s All About. International Journal of Educational Reform11(4), 347-361.

Von Glasersfeld, E. (1995). Piaget’s constructivist theory of knowing. Radical Constructivism: A way of knowing and learning, 53-75.