Reflecting upon my undergrad experience in the Faculty of Education, I do not recall spending a significant amount of time engaging with content about learning theories. This never occurred to me until Alec mentioned this during class. Although this information would have been interesting and beneficial to learn during my undergrad, I found these theories easier to understand by having experience (or in this case, maybe schema?) to relate this new knowledge to… How cognitivism-y…
How have my beliefs shifted and changed?
Personally, I think it is difficult to choose only one (or even a couple) theories of learning that reflect my teaching philosophy. I like to consider my philosophy a dynamic hybrid of learning theories that occasionally shift based on my learners and what they need in order to be successful. In addition, classroom environment and circumstances impact which learning theories are going to prevail in my teaching practices. For example, my co-teachers and I have focused very heavily on collaborative learning through inquiry-based experiences. So that means lots of group work and using our learning community for large scale inquiry based projects with all 75 students… Working in groups… With students from other classes… Sharing materials… Not very “covid friendly.” With that being said, the way I need to structure my classroom this year looks very different than in previous years. The way I go about enacting my teaching philosophy will certainly look different and may impact which learning theories are going to dominate. If there is anytime to take risks and get creative, it’s now!
What is “knowledge” and “learning” anyway?
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave really struck me last class. My take away from the video shown in class was how people can share such different perspectives on something that seems so obvious or black and white. Megan and Nancy highlighted last class how the infamous mask debate is somewhat of a modern day comparison. There’s an abundance of information out there (some accurate, some not) that people believe. This is also reflective of some of the conversations we had in EC&I 832 regarding the facts (or knowledge) people choose to focus on and how these beliefs can be reinforced by social media algorithms. These algorithms are used to display only certain kinds of content that validate a person’s feelings or views on something. To take this a step further, A.C. Grayling examines the question, “What does it mean to know something.” In order to know something, his Theory of Knowledge requires three pieces:
- It must be true.
- You must believe it.
- You must be able to justify your belief.
Makes sense. However, how do we get to that point where we know something (or think we know something). How do we acquire that knowledge and through what process? Which leads me to my next point…
Ertmer and Newby quote Schunk (1991) when offering a definition of learning. They note, “Learning is an enduring change in behavior, or in the capacity to behave in a given fashion, which results from practice or other forms of experience.” What drew me to this definition was that there is an emphasis on practice. Repetition is part of learning. To me, this means that learning is the process of acquiring knowledge and since learning is a process, there are an abundance of ways to go about learning. Ertmer and Newby highlight that there are three main theories of learning: behaviourism, cognitivism, and constructivism.
I see my teaching philosophy align with all three of these learning theories in some way. However, social constructivism (mainly the connectivism strand) caught my attention as a learning theory that, more recently, started playing a role in my teaching philosophy. This graphic offers a brief description of each learning theory, along with some examples.
Which learning theories underpin my teaching philosophy and classroom practices?
Constructivism: I would say my teaching philosophy mostly aligns with the constructivist approach. As noted in the graphic above and by Ertmer and Newby, humans create their own meaning through experience, rather than acquiring it. Experiences for me are inquiry and collaboration. Like I mentioned above, my co-teachers and I provided many experiences for our students that reflect this theory. Students are allowed to freely explore, without having the constraints of specific predetermined criteria. In order to assess, we have used a variety of self or peer assessments and broadly defined expectations outlined in rubrics or checklists. In order for this theory to be successful, I do think having a space that allows for such flexibility and group work is key. At my school, we follow the open-concept design, which tends to lend itself more to collaboration than traditional arrangements. In addition, conducting large scale inquiry projects with many students requires that collaborating teachers also have a shared vision. Learning to work with others and how to think “outside of the box” is an important skill to develop, however, I believe that sometimes creativity gets lost when teachers feel the pressure to meet curricular outcomes in such a limited amount of time. Making this learning theory work can be a little hectic, as you’re often working with many different projects, but it never ceases to amaze me the understanding kids can develop about different concepts!
The first time I was introduced to cognitivism, it was while reading the book, Comprehension Connections by Tanny McGregor. She introduces the concept of metacognition or “thinking about your thinking” when discussing reading strategies. As a way to explain this to young children, she explains what metacognition is through her “thinking salad” analogy. She explains the green part represents thinking about what you’re reading and the red part represents what the actual text says. The idea is that you want to have more green than red. Check out a lesson example here for more details!
Although this lesson is intended for children, I found it helpful to understand the core concept of cognitivism and how it can play a role in creating self-aware readers. Students need to have opportunities to make connections and to think critically about the content they are learning. Cognitivism requires students to dig into their schema or prior knowledge to make sense of new concepts. I tend to start my school year with review or use pre-assessments to gauge what my students can recall from the previous year. In addition, when it comes to assessment, I like to know what my students’ thinking processes involve. Whenever possible, I try to have students “think out loud” or write about their understanding.
Social Constructivism (Connectivism):
Connectivism was a new one for me! To be honest after looking at the entire the graphic that was part of our readings for the week, lots of learning theories were new to me! However, what resonated with me about connectivism was that it is considered a newer theory, as noted by Siemens. He highlights that previous learning theories were not impacted by technology. He notes the core principles of connectivism:
I wouldn’t necessarily say that connectivism is very prominent in my teaching philosophy, however, during inquiry projects students not only collaborate with each other, but also conduct research using the technology available at the school. Last year, we did a project that involved connecting with local businesses to learn how they made their “idea” a reality. We connected with these businesses via Twitter and Instagram. We also spent some time on these business’ social media accounts to examine the kind of content they posted, which sparked a lot of conversation around digital citizenship. At times, I find connectivism is more prevalent in my teaching, depending on what we are learning about at the time.
Behaviourism: I would say this learning theory is the least prevalent in my teaching. However, like we discussed in class, I do use some reward based behaviour management systems. This includes receiving privileges for positive, “above and beyond” behaviour and negative consequences for unacceptable behaviour. I use an individual and class contingency as well. Some rewards are for the collective group, while others are for specific students. Ertmer and Newby highlight, this theory does not necessarily promote higher levels of thinking, as it is based mainly on stimuli, consequences, and reinforcement. Even though I tend to gravitate toward a constructivist approach when it comes to instructional strategies, there are times when drill and practice and lectures are needed to provide pre-teaching for inquiry-based projects.
I am curious to see how the rest of the school year progresses and if new theories of learning will develop from this extraordinary time! Anything is possible, right? Have the changes in your classroom environment and overall practices impacted your teaching philosophy or learning theories that you implement?
Thanks for taking a read!
Until next time,