Students Interact and Construct Understanding

Context: You plan a class and want to maximize student engagement and learning.


Forces & Problem: Traditional teacher-centered instructional strategies (e.g. lecture, demonstrate, lead discussion) encourage students to be passive, or active in only minor ways. These strategies can support rote learning, but work less well as you Climb Bloom’s Taxonomy. Such strategies are not effective for many students, who often over-estimate what they learn (Carpenter, Wilford, Kornell, and Mullaney, 2013). Teachers should focus on typical and struggling students, since strong, highly motivated students can learn on their own. However, teachers often teach as they were taught, although they might be quite unlike their students.


Solution & Consequences: Instead, focus on the desired student outcomes and how best to help students achieve them. Therefore, plan activities and assignments where students interact with others and construct their own understanding. When students interact with each other (particularly in small groups), they have more opportunities to ask and answer questions and resolve points of confusion or disagreement. When students construct their own understanding of key concepts, they are more engaged, more motivated, and more likely to remember what they have learned. Furthermore, interactive constructive strategies provide opportunities for students to apply knowledge and practice skills.

Discussion: The ICAP model (Chi and Wylie, 2014) describes how learning outcomes increase as the learning environment shifts from passive, to active, to constructive (students create their own understanding), to interactive (students collaborate to construct understanding). The ICAP model is based on a meta-analysis of other studies of learning strategies. This pattern extends Active Student, and more explicitly describes the types of student activity that tend to maximize engagement and learning.

These interactive constructive strategies often take more class time than a traditional lecture, and might require training, additional time to prepare and to grade assignments, etc.  Thus, you might read review articles (e.g. Eberlein, Kampmeier, Minderhout, Moog, Platt, Varma-Nelson, and White, 2008; Prince and Felder, 2007), attend educational conferences, and try one or two strategies on a small scale before making a larger commitment. (There are likely other patterns for such general professional development strategies.)

Examples: Students Interact and Construct Understanding in multiple instructional strategies, such as:

  • Peer Instruction (PI): the teacher poses a question based on reading or lecture content, students answer individually, the teacher reviews the answers, students discuss with peers and revise their answers, and the teacher reviews the revised answers.
  • Peer Led Team Learning (PLTL): students participate in problem solving workshops led by peers who have previously take the course.
  • Team Project Based Learning (TPBL): student teams work on real-world project challenges.
  • Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL): student teams work on classroom activities specifically designed to guide them to construct their own understanding (see section 1.2).

Author: Clif Kussmaul

Publication: C Kussmaul. 2017. Patterns in classroom facilitation for Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL). HILLSIDE Proc. of Noridc Conf. on Pattern Lang. of Programs. 17. (Mar-Apr 2017)


Contributors to this page: Clif Kussmaul .
Page last modified on Sat November 11, 2017 13:55:20 EST by Clif Kussmaul. (Version 1)