Poetry and Constructivism, and Better Learning

A reader from India posted a question on our Constructivism page, asking how constructivism would be applied to a poetry class. Let’s imagine that a teacher were interested in teaching students the poetry of Shakespeare. Constructivism would challenge the teacher to:

  • assure the students draw from their experience to relate to the poem
  • keep a larger context, where they don’t just break down the poem into small pieces but keep the ‘whole’ in mind
  • somehow, someway learners get involved in constructing their own poems and through them, find a way to relate to the poems being taught

This activity is easier if students are allowed to select their own poems. Ideally students would be offered a large variety of poems to choose from so they could select the ones that most relate to their experience. If the poems of Shakespeare were the subject, then perhaps students can draw from Shakespeare the poetry that best matches their lives. Students interested in leadership might select Henry V, and the romantics might choose from Romeo and Juliet or the sonnets.

Let’s make it harder though and assume that you want to teach the famous ‘To be or not to be….” soliloquy from Shakespeare. If you want to try a constructivist approach, what you don’t want to do is dissect the passage, explaining each line as you go. A more constructivist approach might be to:

  1. ask students to describe a situation in their life where they felt alone and at conflict
  2. have each student write about that feeling
  3. work with students to convert their passage into something that matches a shared understanding of ‘poetic.’
  4. then describe for them what Hamlet was feeling just before the speech begins, and ask the students how they feel Hamlet might react
  5. review the students posts and challenge them to revise the passage to get either closer to Hamlet’s, or to at least understand how their version is different than his

Recognize that steps 4 and 5 above in particular could take a long time to work through. The teacher’s goal is to guide the student into discovery. Hard to do, and time consuming and standard curriculum don’t often allow this luxury. If you have limited time, adapt what you can.

And remember, constructivism is an excellent approach to learning but not the only approach. As an instructor you are an artist, tasked to come up with the best method to teach a topic at a given time.

Thoughts? Other ideas?

About the author -


Funderstanding is a resource for teachers, parents, and students to stay up to date on education-related issues. The company focuses on innovative and progressive approaches to inspire learning in classrooms as well as homes.

4 Responses to Poetry and Constructivism, and Better Learning

  1. Baliya J N says:

    I think the best way to take up any poem with the constructivist appraoch is to ask them to connnect the basic message of the poem with their day to day life experiences and compose a short story or any poem of their own reflecting the same theme

    • Kumudu says:

      Most of traditional eduoaticn breaks wholes into parts and then focuses separately on each part. But many students are unable to build concepts and skills from parts to wholes. These students often stop trying to see the whole before all the parts are presented to them and focus on the small, memorizable aspects of broad units without ever creating the big picture (P. 46).I can’t count the number of times I have gone over all the individual parts of a concept with a student and then watched as they couldn’t put it all together. A good example of this is when I teach a student first about the staff, then about beats, then chords and then present them with a simple chord progression to read. The look at me like I have six heads, but when I ask them questions that force them to break the progression down into its components, they can answer them. I have always assumed that providing students with the basic foundations of any subject was the way to go since most of the time they will be able to put it all together with some guidance. I would never just ask them to go and figure it out on their own. I see what the authors are saying when they mention later that first presenting the whole will allow the students to divide the concepts into parts they can understand on their own level, but I worry about overwhelming them. What if they view the end result as being too complex and rebel against the entire thing? I’ve seen that happen inadvertently. While starting a student on soloing, I sometimes demonstrate what a simple, put together product might sound like. While most of the students are intrigued and can’t wait to get there, there have been some who get put off by my playing because they can’t imagine themselves ever getting to that point. I have always felt that allowing the students to start small and showing them how everything connects later was effective because at the very least they have somewhat of an understanding that I can then help develop into something broader. Then again, every subject is different. The history example the authors use makes perfect sense, but I can’t say that same idea would work for music or English. I don’t really agree with allowing aspiring writers to make up their own spelling or grammar because then it may be harder for them to break this habit later on, much like if a student teaches themselves how to hold a bow and we say nothing for a good while because we just want them to play. We’re humans and we get comfortable with a certain way of doing things after a while, but we don’t want our students getting used to doing the wrong thing even if it does allow them to be creative. I do adhere slightly to the saying you need to know the rules before you can break them. Overall, I feel that what the authors described here is something to definitely be explored, but also something to be careful with. We don’t want our students missing out on very basic concepts by accident. I’m certainly not a fan of memorization for the sake of passing a test, but there are other ways that we have read about that would allow the students to become immersed in the subject matter on a deeper, more personal level. Regardless of the path chosen, the ultimate goal should of course be to get the students to see the “big picture.” Random facts never helped anyone unless they were on Jeopardy. I hope I am not sounding too traditionalist.

  2. VIVIENE says:

    I strongly believe that all teachers must adopt the constructivist approach in their classrooms if they want to foster divergent thinking among their students while helping them to hone their own learning. In this way learning becomes more meaningful to them and it helps them to think critically which is the way forward.

    • noval says:

      I quoted from last chaeptr last week. (I thought we were suppose to read the entire book) I went ahead and read the book one more time this week and decided quote from last week’s reading. QUOTE #1- When students work with adults who continue to view themselves as learners, who ask questions with which they themselves still grapple, who are willing and able to alter both content and practice in the pursuit of meaning, and who treat students and their endeavors as works in progress, not finished products student are more likely to demonstrate these characteristics themselves. -pg.9This quote is a living testimony of my beloved hidden piano teachers (institution-less) and creative teachers I have encountered throughout my musical journey. They saw me as a not finished products but work in progress . They saw POSSIBILITIES (giving new IDENTITY) beyond grades and assessments or institutional degree (label), and they shared their knowledge passionately as a (MUCH better) learner themselves with passion for the subject. This quote deeply resonates with me and bring back wonderful memories. Personally, most successful cases were one-on- one instructions (I am not a fan of group activities with good reason), that were perfectly balanced conception of both Bobbitt and Dewey.I do not think these teachers knew that they were being constructivist but intuitively knew how to teach in a balancing dance of both ideas. I should really pay respect to my old professors by re-visiting my once thought caged environment. On the contrary, I came to realize no one can cage anyone’s thinking or creative process. As no one can hinder ones IDENTITY. QUOTE #2- [W]hen the classroom environment in which students spend so much of their day is organized so that student- to- student interaction is encouraged, cooperation is valued, assignments and materials are interdisciplinary, and students’ freedom to chase their own ideas abundant, students are more likely to take risks and approach assignments with a willingness to accept challenges to their understandings. Such teacher role models and environmental conditions honor students as emerging thinkers. pg.11How do students takes RISKS? freedom to chase their own ideas abundantly ? Such TEACHER ROLE MODELS and ENVIRONMENTAL conditions honor students as emerging thinkers Dr. Allsup is a great example of a teacher role models and try his utmost to create environmental conditions that feels safer and the class tends to take risks and chase own ideas with willingness and challenges to their understanding. However, what if the environmental condition is beyond the teacher’s effort and control?I almost quit music (did pursue another degree) because of psychotic competitions that followed as degree level went up. My passion for music remained ((I try to be highly critical and high achiever when it evaluating my progress) but did not appreciate this competitive environment and decided to retreat from it for a while. I began teaching and realized that jealousy and envy lies deeply in human nature, even the youngsters I teach (who are sweetest children on earth) sports mild competition by asking how the other is doing. It is a often challenge as a teacher, group cooperation can result into awful experience those who do not seek competition with peers but competition among ones own betterment.This made me think about how to design and group students in a larger cooperative settings and still thinking about how to avoid IDENTITY obstacles in life. Especially, students learn from peers the most (peer pressure) then instructor. How do I prevent students from sneering at each other or discouraging one another. it would be ongoing conditions that needs to be sort out immediately, somehow to create safer environment for ALL. Only if one can extract PROS of both or newer ideas might be better remedial condition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Be a better parent, better teacher.
Get our newsletter.

Receive our newsletter every 2 weeks. We never share your information.

Each newsletter contains:

• Q&A with experts in education/learning
• learning tips from experienced educators
• latest developments in education technology