By Richard Therrrien

(A compilation of sources useful to an instructional leader in designing curricula, professional development, supervision, and mentoring models based on the ideas of constructivism).


(A compilation of sources useful to an instructional leader in designing curricula, professional development, supervision, and mentoring models based on the ideas of constructivism).



Brooks, J. G., & Brooks, M. G.  (1999) In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist

       Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

This book is a revised edition, first published in 1993. The book lays out five overreaching principles for constructivist teaching. Teachers seek out students’ points of view, pose problems, build lessons around big ideas, challenge preconceptions, and assess in context. After detailing research and giving some case studies, the authors specifically address the five principles. Unfortunately, many of the examples are specific to math and science. The last chapter outlines specific strategies that involve restructuring a building in order to transform it into a constructivist-based school, which is very useful.

Bruner, J (1987) Actual Minds, Possible Worlds.  (Reprint Ed) Cambridge, MA: Harvard

       University Press.

Bruner and the idea of constructivism are nearly synonomous. This collection of essays focuses on how learners, especially of fiction and literature, create possible realities. Fiction as problem solving is used as an example of how constructivism can be applied in the humanities, which is refreshing for an area that seems dominated by science and math research. Essays on the idea of culture and deictic shifts are harder to access for a classroom teacher, but many of the essays manage to connect classroom practice, cognitive theory, and recent research. If we do all indeed create our own realties through our interaction with our society and its symbols, then Bruner is our guide.

Fosnot, C.  (1996) Constructivism: Theory, Perspectives, and Practice. New York: Teachers

       College Press.

This book collects a wide variety of topics all having to do with constructivism. Many of the sections are highly theoretical, referring back to philosophy, social radicalism, and the construction of meaning. The learning theory of cognitive dissonance, active construction, and a democratic classroom are never really tied well together under the umbrella of constructivism. The case studies having to do with the arts and the passion with which constructivism is put forward makes for the more interesting part of the book. Many of the sections are referred to in later articles and works, showing its influence as a good summary for lots of purposes.

Gagnon, G. W., & Collay, M. (2001) Designing for Learning: Six Elements in Constructivist

       Classrooms.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Written by a math and music teacher, this book takes the research into learning from constructivism and makes a new model for curriculum: Constructivism By Design. The six elements of this approach flow back and forth in the learning episodes that allow students to construct mental models. They are situation, grouping, bridging, questioning, exhibiting, and reflection. This book applies the “dance” of learning to all sorts of classrooms, and even offers the six-element matrix for a variety of levels and subject examples.



Henderson, J. G. (1996) Reflective Teaching: The Study of Your Constructivist Practices. (2nd

       Ed) Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

The author uses four teacher characters to serve as a model for a teacher to examine and implement constructivist practices in instructional design and practice. Throughout the examples of creating curriculum, making meaning, setting up caring communities, and using the 4C approach to teaching, the author invites the teacher to engage in metacognition about practices and implementation. The constant emphasis on self-reflection sometimes distracts from the good case studies and story examples, but the fact that it treats teachers as inquiry students of their own work is a novel approach.

Lambert, L., Walker, D.P., Zimmerman, D., Cooper, J.E., Lambert, M. D., Gardner, M. E. &

       Szabo, M. (2002) The Constructivist Leader.  (2nd Ed) New York: Teachers College Press.

This book is a compilation of influential essays and articles that relate the ideas and philosophies of constructivism and apply them to the situation of instructional leadership. The book defines constructivist leadership as a reciprocal process that allows colleagues to construct meanings. Case studies and examples demonstrate that it is the relationships that create the shared vision of the school. Especially useful are the chapters on conversation types (dialogic, inquiring, sustaining, and partnering), and how that is used to build ideas. There are chapters on the role of language, narrative, and stories, as well as case studies. Also helpful are the explicit references to the revisions of ideas and practices as the authors saw their concepts used by school leaders in the time the book was first published. Although the writing is scholarly and theoretical, it creates a good link between the ideas of constructivism and the models of instructional leadership.

Lambert, L., Collay, M. E., Dietz, M., Kent, K., & Richert, A. E. (2001) Who Will Save Our

       Schools?: Teachers as Constructivist Leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA : Corwin Press.

This unsettlingly titled book follows the Lambert’s first text on constructivist leadership. The goal this time is to set forth the case for turning teachers into leaders in the school communities. The emphasis is on how teachers together make meaning of learning, and how they can be trained. Especially useful is the ideas that teachers as leaders of students, and teachers as peer leaders are parallel roles that must be nurtured equally. The authors do spend a great deal of time discussing the role of power and authority in the traditional organization of schools, and how that must be changed. The urgency of the title is not really proved, but the middle chapters, especially, are worthwhile for exploring the links between constructivist teaching and leadership.

Marlowe, B. A. , & Page, M. L. (1997) Creating and Sustaining the Constructivist Classroom.

       Thousand Oaks, CA : Corwin Press.

This book is essentially a handbook for teachers on how to apply the theories of constructivism in a practical way. It is clearly based on research, but offers teachers strategies on how to design and structure their classrooms, curriculum, and assessments. There are background chapters on the relevant research interspersed with case studies, and then chapters on active learning models that a teacher can begin using. The most useful section for instructional leaders involves how to “teach” a principal what to look for in a changed active learning classroom, and how to prepare for working with administrators. It offers us a good method to use with teachers, as well as with peers.



Shapiro, A. (2000) Leadership for Constructivist Schools. Landham, MA : Scarecrow Press.

Arthur Shapiro takes a view of constructivism that is focused more on the social aspect, essentially reducing it to a shared leadership model. He spends a very short time addressing learning theory, and identifies several areas where school administrators need to change to create a different school culture. His methods of changing school meetings, and inviting teachers to have input is not radical, yet in the case studies he uses as the “old” model, it is quite a change. The most useful section is on how this new model can affect supervision and evaluation, but many teachers will not find much new here.

Shapiro, A. (2003) Case Studies in Constructivist Leadership and Teaching. Landham, MA:

       Scarecrow Press. Oaks: Corwin Press.

Shapiro once again focuses on constructivism as shared leadership and autonomy. Many of the 27 case studies point to improved classroom (and staff meeting!) management when the participants are given a voice. Many examples of personal and professional growth are given, and research articles are cited that point to the use of giving over of responsibility as the be all and end all. There is a very short and dismissive summary of the learning theory of constructivism, and the author’s bias against educational research is evident.


Kamii, C., & Ewing, J. (1996 Mid-Summer)  Basing technique on Piaget’s constructivism. 

       Childhood Education, 72, 260-265

This is a clear and well though out article that lays out the early case for using Piaget as the basis for constructivist teaching, especially in elementary math. Physical, social, and logico-mathematical types of knowledge are explained, with examples from classroom curricula. The author describes research that shows that imposing our own models of arithmetic operations (borrowing to subtract, for example) actual impedes the process of learning. This extreme example is used to show how the full application of Piaget’s theories can radically change our teaching methods.

Perkins, D. (1999, November) The many faces of constructivism. Educational Leadership,57, 6-12

An oft-quoted article in an ASCD journal focused on the topic, this article attempts to define constructivism as active, social, or creative. It states that teachers can create appropriate responses dependent on the knowledge; inert, ritual, conceptually difficult and foreign. It uses a case study to show that leaders should be focusing on pragmatic constructivism as a tool for various needs, and not be worried about the ideological definitions.

Sadler, P. M., Schneps, M. H., & Woll, S. (1989). A private universe: Misconceptions that block

       learning [Videotape]. Santa Monica, CA: Pyramid Film and Video.

The seminal work on misconceptions, especially as it ties into science learning. Although constructivism is only mentioned, this tape (and the subsequent series from the Annenberg CPB Project found at shows how students’ construction of their meaning cannot be shaken by simple rote teaching. Harvard graduates are unable to explain the cause of the seasons, or moon phases, and very bright students in high school still hang onto their own mental models of light bouncing through space even after hands on learning. A great place to start with teachers on reforming curriculum to address misconceptions and constructivism.


Terwel, J. (1999, February) Constructivism and its implications for curriculum theory and

       practice. Journal of Curriculum  Studies, 31, 195-199.

This article attempts to outline the current state of the use of constructivism in designing curriculum. Programs dependent on knowledge acquisition that is active, student centered, and collaborative are described. The increased effect on students who did not succeed in traditional programs is acknowledged by the author. However, other factors, such as cooperative learning are also shown to be a key factor. He shows that it is possible that constructivism will fail to spearhead a reform movement simply because of the difficulty of separating out its effects.

Windschitl, M. (2002, Summer) Framing Constructivism in Practice as the Negotiation of

       Dilemmas: An Analysis of the Conceptual, Pedagogical, Cultural, and Political

       Challenges Facing Teachers. Review of Educational Research, 72, 131-175.

The author does a good job in defining some of the current problems and issues facing educators as they attempt to implement constructivist practices in the classroom. The dilemmas are defined as conceptual, pedagogical, cultural, and political. Useful in this article is the summary of how constructivism encompasses research on alternative or misconceptions, use of models and representations, and conceptual problem solving. The author points out cases in the research of disconnections between theory, practice, and implementation in instruction, especially since there are so many models of constructivism from which to choose. The author points to the research literature for examples of the many political difficulties and resistance to reform that a truly constructivist teacher or administrator has. He offers examples of successful professional development as well as conclusions on the future of this movement.


          I started this assignment with a specific goal. I wanted to find the research and theoretical basis for using the principals of constructivism that have always inspired me as a science teacher and apply it to school leadership. There is a wealth of material on constructivism, especially as it applies to dealing with misconceptions and making meaning with students, but my experience had only been in the context of science teaching. I purposely chose NOT to include any of that type of material in the bibliography; I was already familiar with it, and it would not be as useful to most of my classmates. I wanted to see how a leader might build a school that had the vision and philosophy of the “true” meaning of constructivism.

          The biggest obstacles I found were that many researchers and educators use a wide variety of definitions of constructivism, and that most of the learning research is based in the early 1990’s and is focused on science. I found 4 books that were often quoted as being applicable to school leaders and constructivism, two written by Shapiro and two head by Lambert. Both seem to apply the definition of constructivism to the principles of leadership in narrow terms. Lambert and her collaborators seem to understand constructivism in the same way that I do, yet focus on the shared leadership aspect. There is some useful ideas for professional development models, and after a second reading, I can see how the model proposed could be useful. Shapiro focused on being more critical of authoritarian administrators in case studies, and I was disappointed that such an influential book and its follow up seemed to play just one note. I think it is that none of the “constructivist leader” works I found even acknowledges the role of a leader in building a shared vision, and focusing a school around a philosophy of learning. In this sense, I suppose they are more of a social constructivist model.

          The books I found written in the early 1990’s about teachers using constructivism were more helpful. Although each was different in its definition, all focused on the Piagetian and Bruner learning theories, and practical applications to the classroom. I did not find much new for myself as a teacher, but I devoured the case studies of other subject areas and levels. If I am going to “impose” my constructivist vision of instruction and curriculum design, I need to be able to reference examples of how it works with other schools. Of course, I would be applying the shared responsibility of leadership as well.

   I was disappointed to not find as many recent reviews of actual research on constructivist teaching, however. Many research articles focused on a definition of constructivism as simply a “new” way of teaching, whether it is cooperative learning, or some type of inquiry, or authentic assessment. Many research articles dealt with one or two classrooms, and there does not seem to be any commonly referenced articles. I need to be able to point to proof that examining students’ mental models, misconceptions, and building meaning is the best way to structure learning. The articles that I did choose to include give overviews, rather than limit themselves to one definition. Maybe I need to broaden my internal definition, or it could be that the research base just is not there yet. (For subjects other than science, math, and technology). This could be a good starting point for future learning.

          What can a school leader take away from this? I tried to pick at least one or two useful books, and articles that could be used as a springboard for professional development and curriculum design. I believe that when we look at essay questions on the CAPT, and our trend towards more authentic assessments, we as school leaders will find the need to strengthen students’ fundamental understanding of concepts and big ideas. I think that constructivism points the way to both the problem and the solution. A school leader could show “Private Universe” as a starting point for discussion of misconceptions, and share Bruner’s works on literature and constructivism and ask for feedback. I have participated in both, and found that teachers start generating ideas right away that are applicable to their classrooms. The four teaching books have plans and case studies about how to structure teams, curriculum, and work with teachers on moving them towards the model building method of instruction. In that sense, the administrator as instructional leader becomes important, modeling and facilitating the teachers’ endeavors. This fits in with my philosophy of school leadership. I am not as convinced of the usefulness of the constructivist leader approach as being single minded on the idea of shared responsibility. However, a school leader can weave those ideas in order to build a learning community with a common vision and goal, and that is always useful.