Logo ESF Logo ESF   Logo UP

Improving Quality of Science Teacher Training in European Cooperation

  Assessing Science for Understanding (CZ) Training Module Based on Socio-cognitive Constructivism (CY) European Dimension in Integrated Science Education (LT) Development Procedural Skills in Science Education (BG) Using Laboratory to Enhance Student Learning and Scientific Inquiry (TR)  
Unit 1 - Purpose and Characteristic of Classroom Assessment Unit 2 - A Constructivist Approach in Assessment Unit 3 - Planning and Implementing Classroom Assessment Projects
Unit 4 - Techniques for Assessing Knowledge and Skills Unit 5 - Techniques for Assessing Learner Attitudes, Values and self-awareness Unit 6 - Assessing Learner Reactions to Instructions

Unit 2
A Constructivist Approach in Assessment

Valid XHTML 1.1

Valid CSS!

©2007 - 2009    created by: Petr Hamal

A Constructivist Approach in Assessment


Constructivism and Assessment

Three constructs emerge from the literature regarding constructivism and have implications for the learning environment. They are (1) learning is an active process, (2) the learner has prior knowledge, and (3) the learner takes responsibility for their own learning (Yager, 1991; Cobb et al 1992, Magoon, 1977; Hewson & Hewson, 1988). These three ideas are central to this study. These ideas can be operationalized by the following statements:

  1. Assessments are in a meaningful context that is relevant or has emerging relevance to students (Brooks & Brooks, 1993).
  2. The process of learning does not shut down during assessment (Brooks & Brooks, 1993).
  3. Assessments are tailored to specific modules and teaching situations (Zahorik, 1995).
  4. Assessments include higher order thinking skills, i.e., application, evaluation, analysis, synthesis (Burry-Stock, 1995; Yager, 1991).
  5. Assessments include application of knowledge and comprehension (Zahorik, 1995).
  6. A range of techniques is used in assessments (Burry-Stock, 1995; Zahorik, 1995).
  7. Assessments focus on the big pictures on concepts and on issues and their accompanying facts and evidence (Zahorik, 1995).
  8. Assessment includes inquiry (Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Yager, 1991).
  9. Students go beyond initial information levels (knowledge and comprehension) through elaboration doing in-depth analysis of big ideas, issues and concepts (Brooks & Brooks, 1993).
  10. Students solve problems in which they extend and re-conceptualize (accommodation) knowledge in new contexts (Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Osborne & Wittrock, 1983; Zahorik, 1995).
  11. Students generalize (synthesis) experiences from earlier concrete experiences a to understand abstract theories and applications (Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Osborne & Wittrock, 1983; Zahorik, 1995).
  12. Students exhibit knowledge through application (Yager, 1991).
  13. Students interact with each other in all circumstances including during assessments (Zahorik, 1995).

Assessment can be used to build understanding through reflection and iteration. There is great promise for deeper understanding and appreciation of the creative, generative process we call learning when a student is aware of scholastic expectations and understands how to effectively review and critique his or her own work. This process has three steps:

  1. The teacher must help students understand from the outset the criteria by which their work will be judged.
  2. Students must document their work process for the duration of the project or unit.
  3. Through performance and feedback, students come to understand the complex nature of judging and improving upon one´s work.
Assessment and Constructivic Classroom

Constructivism is basically a theory - based on observation and scientific study - about how people learn. It says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. When we encounter something new, we have to reconcile it with our previous ideas and experience, maybe changing what we believe, or maybe discarding the new information as irrelevant. In any case, we are active creators of our own knowledge. To do this, we must ask questions, explore, and assess what we know.

In the classroom, the constructivist view of learning can point towards a number of different teaching practices. In the most general sense, it usually means encouraging students to use active techniques (experiments, real-world problem solving) to create more knowledge and then to reflect on and talk about what they are doing and how their understanding is changing. Constructivist teachers encourage students to constantly assess how the activity is helping them gain understanding. By questioning themselves and their strategies, students in the constructivist classroom ideally become "expert learners." This gives them ever-broadening tools to keep learning. With a well-planned classroom environment, the students learn HOW TO LEARN.

Constructivism transforms the student from a passive recipient of information to an active participant in the learning process. Guided by the teacher, students construct their knowledge actively rather than just mechanically ingesting knowledge from the teacher or the textbook.

In the constructivist classroom, the focus tends to shift from the teacher to the students. The classroom is no longer a place where the teacher ("expert") pours knowledge into passive students, who wait like empty vessels to be filled. In the constructivist model, the students are urged to be actively involved in their own process of learning. The teacher functions more as a facilitator who coaches, mediates, prompts, and helps students develop and assess their understanding, and thereby their learning. One of the teacher's biggest jobs becomes ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS.

As is the case with many of the current/popular paradigms, you're probably already using the constructivist approach to some degree. Constructivist teachers pose questions and problems, then guide students to help them find their own answers. They use many techniques in the teaching process. For example, they may:
Characteristics of Assessment

In the context of constructivist approach , assessments need to gauge the progress of students in achieving the three major learning outcomes of constructivist approach: conceptual understanding in science, abilities to perform scientific inquiry, and understandings about inquiry.

All learners come to a learning tasks with some relevant knowledge, feelings and skills. Meaningful learning occurs when the learners seeks to relate new concepts and propositions to relevant existing concept and propositions in her/his cognitive structure (Mintzes, Novak, Wandersee, 2000).

Constructivist approach to assessment is a formative rather than a summative. Its purpose is to improve the quality of student learning, not to provide evidence for evaluating or grading students. Assessment have to respond to the particular needs and characteristics of the teachers, students and science content. Assessment is context-specific: what works well in one class will not necessarily work in another.

Assessment is ongoing process. Teachers get feedback from students of their learning. Teachers then complete the loop by providing students with feedback on the results of the assessment and suggestions for improving learning.

Tasks (assignments)

  1. Can you find any differences between the assessment in traditional classroom and constructivist classroom?
  2. Can you see significant differences in basic assumptions about knowledge, students, and learning in constructivist classroom?
  3. Can you explain why many people (teachers, students and parents) still prefer traditional approach to the assessment?
  4. Do you think that it is necessary to change traditional approaches to assessment?
  5. How are you going to implement new strategies to assessment?

Benefits of Constructivist Classroom:
Next Reading

Novak, J. (2002). Meaningful Learning: The Essential Factor for Conceptual Change in Limited or Inappropriate Propositional Hierarchies Leading to Empowerment of Learners. Science Education, 86(4), 548-571.

Valanides, N. (2002). Aspects of Constructivism: Teaching shadows to sixth-grade students. Journal of Baltic Science Education, 2, 50-58.

Valanides, N. (2003). Learning, Computers, and Science Education. Science Education International, 14(1), 42-47.

Valanides, N., & Angeli, C. (2002). Challenges in achieving scientific and technological literacy: Research directions for the future. Science Education International, 13(1), 2-7.

Valanides, N., & Angeli, C. (2005). Learning by Design as an Approach for Developing Science Teachers' ICT-Related Pedagogical Content Knowing. In S. Rodrigues (Ed.), International Perspectives on Teacher Professional Development: Changes Influenced by Politics, Pedagogy and Innovation (pp. 79-101). New York, NY: Nova Science Publishers Inc.


Brooks, J. G., & Brooks, M. G. (1993). In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Alexandria, CA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Burry-Stock, J. A. (1995). Expert Science Teaching Evaluation Model (ESTEEM): Theory, Development, and Research. (1st ed.). Kalamazoo, MI: Center for Research on Educational Accountability and Teacher Evaluation (CREATE), Western Michigan University.

Burry-Stock, J. A., & Cochran, H. K. (Eds.). (1996). Handbook for BER 450/550 Tests and Measurements. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama.

Cobb, P., Yackel, E., & Wood, T. (1992). Interaction and Learning in Mathematics Classroom Situations. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 23(1), 99-122.

Hewson, P. W., & Hewson, M. G. A. B. (1988). An Appropriate Conception of Teaching Science: A View from Studies of Science Learning. Science Education, 72(5), 597-614.

Magoon, A. J. (1977). Constructivist Approaches in Educational Research. Review of Educational Research, 47(4), 651-693.

Osborne, R. J., & Wittrock, M. C. (1983). Learning Science: A Generative Process. Science Education, 67(4), 489-508.

Seigel,S. Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning. http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/constructivism/index.html

Yager, R. E. (1991). The Constructivist Learning Model: Toward Real Reform in Science Education. The Science Teacher, 58(6), 52-57.

Zahorik, J. A. (1995). Constructivist Teaching. (Vol. 390). Bloomington: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundations.