Constructivist learning and the Australian curriculum

Constructivist learning and the Australian curriculum


In the “information renaissance” (O’Connell, J. 2013) it is no surprise that the way we teach is altering.  Change is not isolated to the modus operandi of the classroom teacher but effects the teacher librarian, specialist staff and potentially the wider, fundamental structures of education (Robinson, K. 2001).  Pedagogy, has shifted away from didactic behavioural modes of teaching into constructivist learning; shifted from content ‘inputting’ to cognitive, inquiry based guided learning. 


“The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows.  Ascertain this and teach him accordingly.” (Ausubel (1968) cited by McGregor, D. 2007) Teacher librarians in tandem with teachers are there to assess what students already know, then guide, support and help the student navigate their way through the varied terrain of educational discovery – supporting content, developing skills, know-how, questioning, prompting, inspiring, provoking and pushing along the way – the teacher librarian is no longer the font of all wisdom/ guardian of resources but the ‘wing man’ of learning.  


Teacher librarians are there at the point of need, to direct, teach, facilitate and equip students with the skills, knowledge and support to further their own inquiries. “Students learn best when the learning and teaching sequence and resources meet their learning needs and in particular their style of learning” (Wall, J. & Ryan, S. 2010 p.2) and who better to assess and implement this than a well-resourced, informed, constructivist minded teacher librarian, who is willing and capable of “providing provocative and diverse sources as well as teaching students to question” (Stripling, B. 2010 p.18), whilst knowingly building on what student’s bring to each topic and making it count.


The new Australian curriculum is suffused with demands that we “encourage use of research skills and inquiry processes” (AusVELs) and adopt a dynamic, constructivist mode of teaching.  It clearly states: “We learn by attaching the new to the old, always building on what has gone before.”(AusVELs) “Constructivist learning theory is based on students using existing knowledge and experience and then developing new knowledge and is the most relevant learning theory” (Wall, J. & Ryan, S. 2011 p.2). 


Educators schooled in constructivism are required to give students a ‘voice’ and continual opportunities to question, freedom to explore new concepts and solve real world problems to enrich their learning, (as demonstrated in Collins et al 2008).  Information is developed, applied, retained and built upon rather than remembered for short term use (e.g. rote learning or a test) and then discarded, as was the case in behaviourist forms of education where “stimulus, response, reinforcement and consequence” (McGregor, D. 2007) were the norm, passivity was accepted and students were largely voiceless. 


A mode of constructivist learning and a key feature of the National Curriculum – guided inquiry, enables students to “co-construct their curriculum” (Mitchell P. & Spence S. 2009 p.6) with teachers and teacher librarians. A symbiotic approach can deliver optimal learning experiences through a more tailored, practical and directed curriculum.  All become key players in the implementation and delivery of quality education.  Teacher librarians innately attuned to ‘resourced based’ learning are poised to improve learning outcomes through a deep understanding of information literacy/fluency. “One of the keys to successful teaching, particularly in relation to information literacy and students’ use of the web, is for the teacher and teacher librarians to collaborate” (Herring, J. 2011 p. 13).


The teacher librarian embodies the paradigm of constructivist learning, adapting it to the Australian curriculum through collaboration with students, teachers and the school community.




AusVELS/ VCAA:  Accessed 15.8.2013


AusVELS/ VCAA:  Accessed 15.8.2013


Collins, Trevor; Gaved, Mark; Mulholland, Paul; Kerawalla, Cindy; Twiner, Alison; Scanlon, Eileen; Jones, Ann; Littleton, Karen; Conole, Grainne and Blake, Canan (2008). Supporting location-based inquiry learning across school, field and home contexts. In: Proceedings of the MLearn 2008 Conference, 7 – 10 Oct

2008, Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire, UK.


Herring, James E. (2011) Improving students’ web use and information literacy: a guide for teachers and teacher librarians London : Facet Pub.


Kramer, P. K., & Diekman, L. (2010). Evidence = Assessment = Advocacy. Teacher Librarian, 37(3), 27-30.


Oberg, D. (2002). Looking for the evidence: Do school libraries improve student achievement? School Libraries in Canada, 22(2), 10-13+. Retrieved from


Stripling, B. (2010). Teaching Students to Think in the Digital Environment: Digital Literacy and Digital Inquiry. School Library Monthly, 26(8), 16-19.


OLSEN, D. G. (1999). Constructivist Principles of Learning and Teaching Methods. Education, 120(2), 347.


Mitchell, P., & Spence, S. (2009). Inquiry into Guided Inquiry. Access (10300155), 23(4), 5-8.

McGregor, D. (2007) Developing Thinking, Developing Learning Open University Press, Buckingham, GBR.

Nitschke, H. (2008). Learning by Guided Inquiry. Australian Library Journal, 57(3), 331-332.


O’Connell, J. (2012). So you think they can learn? Scan, Vol 31. May, 5-11


Robinson, K. (2001). Mind the gap: The creative conundrum. Critical Quarterly, 43(1)


Wall, J. & Ryan, S. (2010) Resourcing for curriculum innovation. Learning in a changing world. Camperwell, Vic. ACER Press.


About kblaich

I live in Melbourne, Australia, have one lovely husband, one delightful daughter, one bouncy son, lots of pets (2 dogs and 3 cats) and work at a primary school part time. I am currently studying my Masters in Teacher Librarianship through Charles Sturt University.
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