Constructivism in language learning

The word ‘inquiry’ brings up visions of minds teetering on the verge of discoveries and explorations full of questions waiting to be answered. The inquiry method is a cornerstone of the International Baccalaureate and propels learners to venture from the known to new horizons. The content taught in an IB school closely resembles other institutions in that country or area; however, the techniques used to develop that concept in young students’ minds would be entirely novel.

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This quote resonates with me as it encompasses the essence of an IB education. While inquiring into a topic, there are no right or wrong answers, no set paths to discover something new. Collaboration is at the heart of this journey, and peer interactions leave learners with contrasting opinions, sessions of reflection, phases of research, and careful consideration of how to move forward with problems. Young learners pick up the skills vital to succeed at a young age. They become capable and mature young adults ready to assimilate, organize and present information seamlessly. The voyage of ‘how to learn’ is of utmost importance for tomorrow’s global citizens.

I attempted to deepen my grasp on inquiry by studying ‘Constructivism’ as well. Actively constructing or creating one’s own knowledge through personal experience seemed similar to the inquiry method to an extent. I began wondering how far I could implement Constructivism in a language class. The answer lay in the phases of teaching a language (pre, during, and post) and allowing the students to inquire at every level.

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The ‘pre-activities’ for listening, speaking, reading, or writing are essential. Prepping the learner before beginning an activity allows them to activate schemata and understand an activity’s expectations. Asking when, where, who, and how questions can get the student’s neurons firing and ready to dig deeper into the material. Simply asking the students to share their opinion on the cover of a book and asking them to predict what the book will be about can pique their curiosity and set the stage for the questions to be asked and answered.

Inquiring into the time period of Oliver Twist and making predictions based on the cover

During the activity, the facilitator can ask the students to create a character sketch or ‘step into another’s shoes’ to understand their perspective. Creating a rich understanding of the character and setting is crucial for learners to develop a lifelong love of reading and languages.

Post reading activities
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The reading session should culminate in the students displaying their understanding through various mediums such as roleplays and the creation of timelines, maps, and alternative story endings. Asking the students how the story plot would change if it was set in a different era allows them to wield their imagination and hone their thinking skills.

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When it comes to writing, the learners should have a clear cognizance of the purpose of the writing activity, the goal, and their role. The creation of checklists or rubrics is a wonderful way of involving the students in their learning journey and implementing student agency in a classroom. This will further guide them during the task and once the task is completed to self-assess their performance.

Writing a letter to the editor- beginning with pre-writing activities
The process of writing unfolds with the students involved in every step of planning and implementation
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For speaking tasks, ensure that the students inquire into the topic themselves and have a firm grasp on what they would like to say about it. Mind-mapping and brainstorming are creative ways of organizing information and coming up with questions that they need to inquire about further. Creating interview sheets or surveys are authentic ways of joining the dots of information.

The students should lead the inquiry so that they are prepared to speak on the topic

The connection between constructivism and inquiry is undeniable and has enriched my language classes. Our school organized ‘The DPSI Café’ wherein teachers conducted workshops for their peers, and I was privileged to share my knowledge. When we reflected on our learning and how other teachers implemented these concepts in their classrooms, the results spoke for themselves. Students were more engaged and involved in their language classes. They became active participants and voracious readers and writers as they felt the onus of developing their perception of the characters and pursuing the story’s elements with a thorough understanding.
I would like to conclude by sharing some screenshots of the ideas that I presented during the DPSI café session. May they bring the joy of language learning back into your classroom!

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