Constructivism and “The Disciplined Mind”

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“A discipline constitutes a distinctive way of thinking about the world”

-Howard Gardner, 5 Minds for the Future

Looking at constructivism (with a “v” because it includes verbal communication) and “The Disciplined Mind” there are many parallels to be found. Constructivism is focused on having a negotiation, regardless of if the negotiation takes place in our heads or out loud, to understand how new knowledge and existing knowledge can be intertwined to make sense. Constructivism is not necessarily a lateral effect. Students are not required to learn all of the new information available prior to taking time to negotiate how this information builds on, parallels, or differs from their previous knowledge on the topic. Instead, constructivism should be a regular practice taking place as students are obtaining new information.

Similarly, Howard Gardner, author of 5 Minds for the Future, shares that a disciplined mind requires time and training to support and learn a new skill. With that new skill should include prior knowledge and understanding into how the prior knowledge supports the new understanding and concepts. A disciplined mind should be able to take knowledge that they have deeply studied and integrate that knowledge into solving a problem where the answer cannot be found in a textbook or online. Students have to grapple with their understanding of the content, and similar to constructivism, they negotiate how the knowledge can support them in solving a new problem.

Achieving a disciplined mind does not happen over night. Gardner walks us through 4 essential steps to gain a disciplined mind:

  1. The topic/content needs to be important and meaningful.
  2. Time needs to be allotted to truly dive into the new content/topic
  3. Multiple approaches should be taken to better understand the content/topic
  4. Ample opportunities should be provided to showcase performance of understanding on the content/topic

Personally, constructivism has felt like a natural social learning theory to implement with elementary students. I would ask students to share their understanding, think-pair-share, incorporate text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world opportunities for reflection, and students would showcase their knowledge through language. Now that I have a better understanding for what it takes to have a disciplined mind, it is clear that more intention and focus needs to be put on allowing students to develop a disciplined mind. Students need to be given multiple opportunities and time to understand new concepts. With this includes making the concepts relevant and meaningful to student learning and understanding. Formative assessments should also be shifted to allow for genuine constructivism to occur.

As an instructional coach, I spend a lot of time developing my capacity and deeper understanding for coaching cycles, reflection, innovation, and inquiry. I am achieving a disciplined mind through graduate courses, professional development, self-paced courses, podcasts, #PLNs, and books. I can truly say that I enjoy the work that I am doing and I also know that I have so much more to learn. How can I take that same drive that I have for myself and support students in developing a disciplined mind?


Gardner, H. (2008). Five minds for the future. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

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