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Constructivist Learning Design

Constructivist Learning Design
Key Questions for Teaching to Standards

  • George W. Gagnon - University of California, Berkeley, UK, Prairie Rainbow Company, Oakland, CA
  • Michelle Collay - California State University, East Bay, USA, Prairie Rainbow Company, Oakland, CA

Foreword by Richard A. Schmuck

December 2005 | 256 pages | Corwin

"Very practical and user-friendly . . ."
--Linda R. Kroll, Professor
Department of Education, Mills College

Build student-centered learning into your standards-based curriculum and lesson plans!

Educators expect learners to solve problems, think critically, communicate effectively, and collaborate well. These complex processes require young learners to engage in active learning and to understand that their own experience is the foundation for new learning. They also require teachers to move from the traditional role of "sage on the stage" to the new role of "guide on the side."

Constructivist Learning Design offers teachers a six-step framework for lesson planning and assessment:

  • Situation: develop goals, tasks, and curriculum standards
  • Grouping: group students and materials, and use cooperative learning
  • Bridge: recall prior knowledge using students' cognitive maps, skills, values, motivation, and expectations
  • Task: use higher-level thinking skills and problem-based learning
  • Exhibit: arrange student portfolios and work samples
  • Reflection: synthesize critical thinking and knowledge

With clear classroom applications and ready-to-use planning templates, this research-based resource guides teachers through the complex process of aligning constructivist learning events with standards-based curriculum. Engage students in tasks, help them think for themselves, and support them in making meaning of their learning!

About the Authors
Introduction: Learning Design
Situation Section: Constructivist Learning Design  
Groups Section: Learning Considerations  
Bridge Section: What Is Learning?  
Task Section: Learning Characteristics  
Exhibit: Fairy Tales Learning Episodes  
Reflection Section: Precedents for Constructivist Learning Design  
Concluding Remarks: Where Do We Stand?  
Chapter 1: Designing Situations
Situation Section: Defining Guiding Questions  
Groups Section: Co-constructing the CLD  
Bridge Section: Questions for Analyzing Situations  
Task Section: Revising a Situation Element  
Exhibit Section: Example Situation Elements  
Reflection Section: Precedents for a Situation Element  
Concluding Remarks: Thoughts on Designing Situations  
Chapter 2: Organizing Groups
Situation Section: Deciding on Groups  
Groups Section: The Power of Collaborative Thinking  
Bridge Section: Questions for Forming Groups  
Task Section: Revising a Groups Element  
Exhibit Section: Example Groups Elements  
Reflection Section: Precedents for a Groups Element  
Concluding Remarks: Thoughts on Arranging Groups  
Chapter 3: Building Bridges
Situation Section: Surfacing Prior Knowledge  
Groups Section: Connecting With Students’ Thinking  
Bridge Section: Questions for Structuring Bridges  
Task Section: Revising a Bridge Element  
Exhibit Section: Example Bridge Elements  
Reflection Section: Precedents for a Bridge Element  
Concluding Remarks: Thoughts on Building Bridges  
Chapter 4: Crafting Tasks
Situation Section: Crafting a Task  
Groups Section: Thinking Together to Make Meaning  
Bridge Section: Questions for Framing Tasks  
Task Section: Revising a Task Element  
Exhibit Section: Example Task Elements  
Reflection Section: Precedents for a Task element  
Concluding Remarks: Thoughts on Crafting Tasks  
Chapter 5: Arranging Exhibits
Situation Section: Defining the Nature of an Exhibit  
Groups Section: The Power of Students Presenting their Thinking  
Bridge Section: Questions for Encouraging Exhibits  
Task Section: Revising an Exhibit Element  
Exhibit Section: Example Exhibit Elements  
Reflection Section: Precedents for an Exhibit Element  
Concluding Remarks: Thoughts on Arranging Exhibits  
Chapter 6: Leading Reflections
Situation Section: Leading Reflection on Thinking  
Groups Section: Reflecting on Making Meaning  
Bridge Section: Questions for Inviting Reflections  
Task Section: Revising a Reflection Element  
Exhibit Section: Example Reflection Elements  
Reflection Section: Precedents for a Reflection Element  
Concluding Remarks: Thoughts on Leading Reflections  
Chapter 7: Teaching Designs
Dancing a Design  
Pacing, Rhythm, and Footwork  
Choosing Music for the Dance  
Rehearsing the Dance  
A Tale of Three Dancers  
Dancing Together  
Inviting Administrators to the Dance  
Inviting Others to the Dance  

"A very useful contribution to the field. . . . Provides a model that even the newest of teachers can use." 

Geraldine Lefoe
Senior Lecturer, Centre for Educational Development and Interactive Resources, University of Wollongong, NSW Australia

"Provides a structured format for helping teachers design constructivist learning opportunities. . . There are a lot of useful strategies here for teachers and good examples throughout." 

Bruce Marlowe, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology and Special Education
Roger Williams University

"Provides sound advice on many matters, including how to establish a teaching "situation," how and why to group students, how to "hook" students and draw on their interests and past experiences, and how to promote authentic exhibits of their learning."

Clive Beck
Professor, Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, OISE/University of Toronto, Canada

"Very practical and user-friendly. ..This book presents a very clear set of directions and plans for instituting a new way to think about teaching and learning on a very detailed and moment-to-moment basis. The ideas are also grounded in theory and the connections between theory and practice are made explicit."

Linda R. Kroll, Professor
Department of Education, Mills College

"This book should be read by neophyte and seasoned teachers, by teacher educators in colleges of education, and by trainees in preservice programs.  It should also be read by school administrators for insights into how to improve teacher supervision and staff development, by open-minded behaviorists looking for alternatives to direct instruction, by liberal arts professors who want to learn how to teach so that their students want to keep on learning, and by parents with children in school or with children they are schooling at home.  For that matter, everyone concerned with formal education should read this book unless, of course, they already have signed the Faustian pact to search only after the qualities and techniques of authoritarian, direct instruction.

I invite you now to do as I have done.  Read this fine book three times.  Read it first for a general understanding of its concepts.  Read it again and reflect on your own practice.  Read it a third time to engage its ideas as you would engage dance partners.  Then keep the book at your side for reference to its many action ideas."  

Richard A. Schmuck
Professor Emeritus, University of Oregon

"The authors make it clear that this is not your ordinary lesson planning book. This is an interactive workbook in which Gagnon and Collay encourage us as readers to work through the design process by applying the model to our own subject matter, preferrably with a partner or as part of a group so ideas can be shared and collectively reflected upon."

Teaching Theology and Religion, July 2008, Vol. 11(3)
Key features


  • Constructivist lesson planning and teaching using Gagnon & Collay's well-respected six-element Constructivist Learning Design (CLD)
  • Research based, student centered, and developmentally appropriate for K-12 learners 
  • Promotes critical thinking, higher-level thinking, and reflective thinking
  • Offers clear classroom applications, ready-to-use planning templates, and a comprehensive list of resources 
  • Compatible with differentiated instruction, problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, cooperative learning, and other student-centered pedagogies
  • Aligns with standards-based curricular goals and standardized tests


Sample Materials & Chapters


Gagnon Foreword/Preface

Preview this book