Direct Instruction and Constructivism

The OECD describes direct instruction as where “a teacher’s role is to communicate knowledge in a clear and structured way, to explain correct solutions, to give students clear and resolvable problems, and to ensure calm and concentration in the classroom.”¹ Constructivism, on the other hand, “focuses on students not as passive recipients but as active participants in the process of acquiring knowledge,” and gives “students the chance to develop solutions to problems on their own, and allow[s] students to play active role in instructional activities.”² There is debate on which strategy is best for student learning and teachers vary in their approaches. 

Wiggins and McTighe state that content and thinking are inseparable, that a person cannot think about nothing and conceptual understand requires cognitive skills.³ This statement acknowledges that direct instruction and constructivism must go hand in hand, that there is actually a continuum of learning rather than simply an either/or for how to teach and learn. The OECD found that direct instruction has a positive impact on student achievement, but that the teacher must provide learning opportunities that are recognized and utilized by the student in order to be effective.

Noddings advocates interdisciplinary lessons that engage students to examine how the material in their curricula relates to their own lives. 4 He believes that standardized tests are not bad because of the facts that are taught and tested, but because there needs to be more of a critical thinking piece for students to connect with the material. This combination of direct instruction and constructivism is vital to student success.

Neuman maintains that background knowledge is crucial to a child’s academic success.5 Her focus on early childhood finds that many students, especially from low-income families, come to school with a knowledge deficiency that later impacts their comprehension and skill development. For these students, thinking critically and developing solutions are a challenge because they are “information have-nots.” Teachers must help students develop understanding of knowledge and concepts as a foundation for later learning. “We must develop pedagogy that is both sensitive to children’s development and representative of conceptual knowledge that has sufficient coherence and depth.” Direct instruction is a necessary base for constructivist teaching, and the two methods are inseparable for true knowledge building.


1.  https://www.oecd.org/berlin/43541655.pdf

2.  https://www.oecd.org/berlin/43541655.pdf

3. Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design .Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

4.  Noddings, N. Critical Lessons: What Our Schools Should Teach. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

5. Neuman, S. (2006). “How We Neglect Knowledge and Why.” American Educator, http://www.readingrockets.org/article/how-we-neglect-knowledge-and-why