Integrating Constructivist Teaching Strategies for First-Year Criminal Justice Students

Constructivist learning theory is a learning concept that students build knowledge based upon their prior knowledge and learning from the world around them (Hrynchak & Batty, 2012; Yoders, 2014).

Lev Vygotsky, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget are the main theorists in the development of constructivist learning (Hrynchak & Batty, 2012; Yoders, 2014). Constructivist learning is a good match for first-year criminal justice students working in collaborative group activities (Hrynchak & Batty, 2012; Yoders, 2014).

Hrynchak and Batty (2012) and Yoders (2014), credit the research of both John Dewey and Jean Piaget with influential learning and the development of constructivist learning strategies. Yang et al. (2014) concluded that constructivist teaching strategies creates a healthy and supportive learning environment for first-year college students. Meetoo-Appavoo (2011) argued that constructivist-teaching strategies have two primary goals, which are cultivating the learner’s critical thinking skills and encourage lifelong learning.

Constructivist teaching strategies are not passive but actively encourage students to engage in the learning process and gain new knowledge by supporting and guiding students. The constructivism learning theory and teaching practices is a good fit for first-year criminal justice students (Wheeldon, 2013).

The Role of the Criminal Justice Professor

The classroom professor has three major roles using constructivist learning and teaching strategies (Bowman, 2013). The first role is modeling and showing students by performing and displaying expectations of quality work (Bowman, 2013). The second role is coaching and motivating students to engage and produce quality work (Bowman, 2013). The third role is scaffolding, and this skill requires cognitive, teaching, and social presence of the instructor to create a supportive learning environment (Bowman, 2013). This leads to selecting technology that supports the teaching strategy and is engaging for students. This active andragogy approach will help guide the first-year criminal justice students as they build their academic confidence.
The constructivist teaching strategy allows the classroom professor to be an active guide and support for first year students allowing the students to experiment and seek out their own knowledge and resources and the classroom instructor acts as positive role model encourage interaction, sharing, and problem solving among the learning group members (Hrynchak & Batty, 2012; Yoders, 2014).

Creating measurable learning objectives communicates what you want students to learn and know after completing the course. Creating assignments that align with the measurable learning objectives and have clear assessment guidelines and tools ensures that the learner can demonstrate master of the course-learning objective through their academic course work.

Meetoo-Appavoo (2011) stated that constructivist-teaching strategies allow the classroom professor to be flexible and customize lessons that help the students effectively collaborate sharing knowledge in a group for deeper understanding and reflection by the learner. Flexibility by the classroom professor to provide first-year students with additional resources as needed creates a supportive learning environment for the student to take risks and develop their own study habits as they learn new concepts. According to Rufii (2015), constructivist-teaching strategies occur around assessments that promote social interaction and learning takes place through active communication and engagement. Constructivist teaching strategies present authentic problems to students as a way of challenging students to find realistic evidence-based solutions as they build their knowledge.

Valentine-Maher et al. (2014) found evidence from the educator’s point of view that constructivist pedagogy promotes the students critical thinking and conceptual synthesis. The study included seasoned upper undergraduate students; however, with a supportive classroom professor employing constructivist-teaching strategies cultivating progression towards developing these skills is one of the goals of collaborative group assignments (Valentine-Maher et al., 2014). Valentine-Maher et al. argued that constructivist pedagogy promotes inquiry and helps formulate good organizational skills. The literature on constructivist teaching strategies indicates that this approach to guiding and supporting students promotes opportunities for learning. Further analysis indicated that constructivist learning strategies create an opportunity to create a supportive learning environment for first-year criminal justice students as they develop academic skills for success.


Bowman, S. W. (2013). A formative evaluation of wiki’s as a learning tool in a face to face juvenile justice course. Educational Technology Research & Development, 61(1), 3-24. https://10.1007/sl1423-012-9273-2  

Hrynchak, P., & Batty, H. (2012). The educational theory basis of team-based learning. Medical Teacher, 34(10), 796-801. https://10.3109/0142159X.2012.687120

Meetoo-Appavoo, A. (2011). Constructivist-based framework for teaching computer science. International Journal of Computer Science and Information Security, 9(8), 25-31.

Rufii, R. (2015). Developing module on constructivist learning strategies to promote students’ independence and performance. International Journal of Education, 7(1), 18-28. 

Valentine-Maher, S., Van Dyk, E. J., Aktan, N. M., & Bliss, J. B. (2014). Teaching population health and community-based care across diverse clinical experiences: Integration of conceptual pillars and constructivist learning. Journal of Nursing Education, 53(3), S11-S18. https://10.3928/01484834-20140217-01

Wheeldon, J. (2013). To guide or provoke? Maps, pedagogy, and the value(s) of teaching criminal justice ethics. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 24(1), 97-121. https://10.1080/10511253.2011.604338  

Yang, J., Kinshuk, Yu, H., Chen, S., & Huang, R. (2014). Strategies for smooth and effective cross-cultural online collaborative learning. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 17(3), 208-208, 221.

Yoders, S. (2014). Constructivism theory and use from 21st century perspective. Journal of Applied Learning Technology, 4(3), 12-20.

About the Author

Mark Bond has worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms instructor for more than 33 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in criminal justice, and M.Ed in educational leadership with Summa Cum Laude honors. As a lifelong learner, he holds a doctoral degree in education (EdD) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an associate professor of human justice studies at a university.