Guidance: None at All, Minimal or Enough for The Desired Educational Outcome?

Is just having the ingredients enough for the recipe to come out properly?

I recently went back to school and pursuit of my Master’s.  In the first series of classes that I’m taking, I’m learning that there is a that there are different schools of thought when it comes to education. I’m sure I’ve learned these ideas when I originally went through my credential classes in the mid-to-late 90s. However being a teacher I don’t come to work every day and wonder if I am a constructivist or a proponent of passive learning, or somewhere in between.   One course required us to review literature regarding and idea that we have for education. I was very surprised to learn that many of my teaching techniques fall under the constructivist view of education.  

However there are some constructivist ideas that I just don’t agree with. The projects that I called project-based learning would be called learning with projects to a true constructivist. What do I have a problem with?  Simply put, the true constructivists believe that there should be minimal to no guidance as students are working on their projects.  Quoting Cummings, Thibodeaux, and Hararpnuik, “This ownership ‘requires that the learner have choice over all aspects of the learning’” (Cummings et al., 2018, p. 71). The problem that I have with this approach in a practical sense is that when you’re dealing with kids that have knowledge gaps, you have to guide them in such a way that they will have foundational knowledge.  They can then scaffold that knowledge into the knowledge that they’re using to make their project. 

Recently one of my daughters has been asking my wife if she would make potato burritos. My wife has been busy and the timeline that my daughter wants my wife to be on is not fast enough. My daughter has been proclaiming that if she had the ingredients, she would make the potato burritos on her own. Herein lies the problem.  These are not just potato burritos with mashed potatoes rolled up in a tortilla.  I will say that these potato burritos are a hit everywhere we go anytime we’re asked to bring food and she brings potato burritos everybody wants to recipe. To bring this analogy full circle we can’t walk into the kitchen with potatoes bacon butter tortillas salt pepper onions and  tell my daughter make potato burritos.  As Kirschner points out:

“The goal of instruction is rarely simply to search for or discover information. The goal is to give learners specific guidance about how to cognitively manipulate information in ways that are consistent with a learning goal, and store the result in long-term memory” (Kirschner et al., 2006, p. 77). 

We need to be mindful that we are teaching students that might not have a large amount of prior knowledge. As a result, our projects need to be put together in such a way as to lead them to the desired educational outcomes.


Cummings, C., Harapnuik, D., & Thibodeaux, T. (2018). Choice , Ownership and Voice through Authentic Learning. In Handbook of research on digital content, mobile learning, and technology integration models in teacher education (p. 68). Creative Commons.

Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75–86. Retrieved February 14, 2021, from

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