Understanding how students learn, and particularly how they learn to read and write, influences the instructional approaches that teachers use. The table below presents an overview of the four learning theories: Behaviorism, Constructivism, Sociolinguistics, and Cognitive/Information Processing.

Orientation Theory Characteristics Applications
Teacher-Centered Behaviorism
  • Focuses on observable changes in behavior
  • Views the teacher's role as providing information and supervising practice
  • Describes learning as the result of stimulus-response actions
  • Uses incentives and rewards for motivation
  • Basal readers
  • Minilessons
  • Repeated readings
Student-Centered Constructivism
  • Describes learning as the active construction of knowledge
  • Recognizes the importance of background knowledge
  • Views learners as innately curious
  • Advocates collaboration, not competition
  • Suggests ways to engage students so they can be successful
  • Literature focus units
  • K-W-L charts
  • Reading logs
  • Thematic units
  • Word sorts
  • Emphasizes the importance of language and social interaction on learning
  • Views reading and writing as social and cultural activities
  • Explains that students learn best through authentic activities
  • Describes the teacher's role as scaffolding students' learning
  • Advocates culturally responsive teaching
  • Challenges students to confront injustices and inequities in society
  • Literature circles
  • Shared reading
  • Buddy reading
  • Reading and writing workshop
  • Author's chair
  Cognitive/Information Processing
  • Compares the mind to a computer
  • Recommends integrating reading and writing
  • Views reading and writing as meaning-making processes
  • Explains that readers' interpretations are individualized
  • Describes students as strategic readers and writers
  • Guided reading
  • Graphic organizers
  • Grand conversations
  • Interactive writing
  • Reciprocal questioning