Traditional and more progressive classroom learning
Traditional classroom learning is based on the Behaviourist Theory. The teacher initiates actions and interactions. Students learn passively as they listen to the teacher and memorise what is being taught in order to recall this information at a later stage. Learning happens when knowledge is transferred from the teacher to the student. The student responds to stimuli. Reinforcing the resulting behaviour increases the probability that the behaviour will occur again. B. F. Skinner (1968) gathered much of the experimental data that form the basis of the Behavioural learning theory. Behaviour is either strengthened or weakened by the presence of a reward or punishment. Behaviourists believe that the learner starts off as a clean slate and behaviour is shaped through positive or negative reinforcement. Learning is therefore defined as a change in behaviour in the learner. The Behaviourist theory of learning does not develop the student’s ability to work with other students in group situations.
The basis of the Constructivist theory is that learning happens when knowledge is constructed through scaffolding in the brain. Understanding is constructed step by step through active involvement. Lev Vygotsky's ‘Social Development Theory’ is one of the foundations of the Constructivist theory. He believed that social interaction is required in the development of understanding and that community plays a central role in this social interaction. Vygotsky suggested that 'The Zone of Proximal Development' (ZPD) and the 'More Knowledgeable Other' (MKO) form the basis of the scaffolding for which to build understanding on. The ZPD is the distance between a student’s ability to do a task under the teacher’s guidance (or peer collaboration) and the student’s ability to do the task on their own. According to Vygotsky learning occurred in this zone. The MKO refers to someone who has a better understanding or higher ability level with regard to the task than that of the learner. The MKO is often the teacher but could also be the learners peer (Santrock, 2004).
In a constructivist classroom the emphasis is on the student’s ownership of the learning through constructing their own meanings. These students are not only the consumers of knowledge but also the producers of knowledge (Oldfather, 1999). Constructivism has become an appealing alternative to traditional educational practices. It promises to create lifelong active learners who can apply their skills to appropriate needs of the future.
Jean Piaget studied the process of cognitive development. He investigated the psychological development of children. He called for teachers to understand the steps of development in a child's mind. He believed that for a child to understand he/she had to discover for themselves. This would enable the child to be productive and creative and not just simply repeating what they heard from their teacher (Piaget, 1973).
Cognitive psychologists began to focus their attention on the development of mental abilities. Bruner (1966) stated that subjects should not be taught in order to “produce little living libraries on that subject” but that students should take part in getting the knowledge for themselves. “Knowing is a process not a product”.
Often intelligence is measured by exam results and school grades. Alfred Binet tried to devise a type of measure that would predict the success or failure of primary school children’s grades. This was the fore runner of the IQ test. In the 1980’s a psychologist Howard Gardner identified that people have different cognitive strengths as well as cognitive styles (Gardner, 1983). Gardner proposed eight types of intelligences. The intelligences are like talents and gifts and there are many different combinations. These Intelligences can also be strengthened in the individual.
Gardners' (1999) eight intelligences are:
1. Verbal/Linguistic: the ability to use language to describe events and/or sensitivity to the meaning and order of words.
2. Logical/Mathematical: ability to use numbers in order to describe or apply in personal daily life and/or to have the ability to apply the aesthetics of mathematics or logic to solve problems
3. Musical: the ability to understand and develop music and/or sensitivity to pitch, melody, rhythm, and tone.
4. Spatial: ability to visually perceive the world and/or to creatively express ideas into visuals.
5. Bodily/Kinesthetic: ability to use the body and to handle objects skilfully and/or ability to build and repair.
6. Interpersonal: ability to understand people and relationships and/or help people solve problems.
7. Intrapersonal: ability to understand oneself and others and/or ability to organise others.
8. Naturalist: the aptitude for observing nature and /or ability to recognise and classify features of the environment.
As a response to Gardner’s theory many teachers changed their view of how students learn. They accepted that all students learn differently and that these differences should be reflected in education. Gardner stated that students “must be given the opportunity to work on certain topics in depth, in detail instead of having a broad overview of everything in a rigid curricular system” (Gardner, 1991).
In 2005 George Siemens proposed another learning theory which recognises the impact that technology has on society and ways of acquiring knowledge. He called this theory Connectivism. He surmised that learning in the digital age occurs through interaction with various sources of knowledge (e.g internet, learning platforms) and communities of participation (e.g. social networks). His learning theory is based on individuals connecting with each other and with technology. Learning is achieved by retrieving information from one self, others and machines collaborating to create knowledge (Siemens, 2005).
“Learning style is the way individuals concentrate on, absorb, and retain new or difficult information or skills. It is not the materials, or strategies that people use to learn: those are the resources that complement each person's style. Style comprises a combination of environmental, emotional, sociological, physical, and psychological elements that permit individuals to receive, store and use knowledge or abilities” (Exceptional Children,1983).
Jody Whelden, a psychotherpist, counselor and teacher concluded that “each learning style is like an instrument in an orchestra, kids need to know what instrument is theirs and how they fit into the orchestra.” She acknowledged that teachers who know what learning styles suit their students are going to be more successful in getting through to their students.
Along with Vida Groman, (a teacher, consultant and therapist) they conducted a workshop in 1996 on “Learning Styles-Creating More Success for Students.”
They concluded that Learning styles are based generally on three pathways to learning; visual (sight), kinesthetic (body, sensation, motion), and auditory (sound); and three states of consciousness: conscious, subconscious and unconscious. By combining these and other factors, you can identify a person as falling into one of six learning styles. A learning style is identified by connecting pathways and states of consciousness. Whelden and Groman said knowing learning styles can help teachers in the classroom to “help children think and learn to the best of their abilities” and also to understand behaviours that might stand in the way of learning”.
They identified Six Learning Styles for the classroom
Show and Tellers (V-A-K)
These learn best through reading and enjoy telling stories. They are good students but shy away from sport
Seer / feelers (V-K-A)
These learn best by doing as they were shown and tend to ask endless questions. Usually prefer group work.
Leaders of the Pack (A-K-V)
These learn by teaching others. May have difficulty learning to read and write but have an extensive speaking vocabulary.
Verbal gymnasts (A-V-K)
These are good communicators who love facts and have to talk to understand. May not be good at sports.
Wandering wonderers (K-V-A)
These learn best in solitude. Don’t need verbal instruction to do physical tasks. Can become overwhelmed by listening.
Movers and groovers (K-A-V)
These need to use their bodies in order to learn — often labeled hyperactive. Reading and writing may be very difficult.
(As described by author Dawna Markova, 1996)
A basic awareness of learning styles can aid teachers in helping children think, learn and act to the best of their abilities. The objective of education should be to help students “build their skills in both their preferred and less preferred modes of learning” (Felder 1996).
Multi Intelligences approach in the classroom
In a traditional classroom setting the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences are the ones most frequently used. In order to ‘tap in’ to students whose strengths and abilities can be found in other intelligences a more balanced curriculum that incorporates the arts, self-awareness and communication may be useful.
Even though the ‘Multiple Intelligence’ theory was not addressed to teachers but to psychologists, the educational community embraced Gardner’s theory. ‘Multiple intelligence’ is a natural way to structure learning in school classrooms as all students are different and respond differently to various modes of instruction. A classroom that embraces the ‘Multiple Intelligences’ learning style will see the role of the teacher shift from the traditional teaching and learning role to a modern way of teaching and learning. The role of the student also changes. The student becomes more responsible for their learning and the relationship between teacher and learner changes.
Katrin Becker (2003) acknowledges that it is not possible to fully ‘understand’ something without involving more than one ‘intelligence’. That to simply recite a piece does not prove that something has been fully ‘understood’ but if it can be “transferred from one form of expression to another” then it can be assumed that ‘understanding’ was achieved.
In Elizabeth Hope’s paper “Dissemination of Information for children” she concludes that there is a great need for teachers to think ‘outside the box’ and explore different ways of communicating with their students. Teachers often lose opportunities to reach their students because they prefer to use tradition methods of teaching instead of engaging in different approaches. This results in “lack of motivation, resistance, misperceptions, failure and unthoughtful work from the students”. She acknowledges that the “ideal classroom addresses the multifaceted needs of the children and entices young minds to expand and explore the unknown”.
Working in Groups
When working in a group, knowledge is shared among the group. The group are not learning passively as in traditional classroom learning. They are active participants learning with and from their peers. This type of learning assists students to develop higher order thinking and deeper understanding of what they are learning (Palloff & Pratt, 2005).
The main emphasis of group work is that the “centre of learning lies within the group”. When doing a task or activity the group offers mutual assistance to its members, which in turn leads to mutual learning (Unesco, 1981).
Smaller group sizes of four or five students are better than larger groups. Larger groups restrict student participation and so provide less learning opportunities. With a smaller group size each student is given an opportunity to increase their learning and skills (Cooper, 1990). Students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is being taught and retain the information longer. Working in collaborative groups also appears to be more satisfying for students (Johnson, Johnson, and Smith, 1991).
The Primary Professional Development Service offer the following advice when considering the group size for primary school collaborative group work
• The shorter the time available, the smaller the group should be, as there is less setting up time, and the children have more time to be heard.
• The larger the group, the more skilful children must be in terms of turn taking, and the more support they will need to process the task/learning.
• The nature of the task or the resources available may dictate the size of the group.
Steiner (1972) offers four categories of tasks which should be considered when contemplating group work.
These tasks require only one member of the group to be capable of achieving. This does not allow other members of the group to participate as they can rely on the more knowledgeable member to achieve it.
These tasks require each group member to contribute and if the task is successful then the whole group should have acquired satisfactory learning.
These tasks refer to group work where each additional group member has something to add to the overall output.
These tasks allow group members to have discretion in how they combine their efforts.
Group work and ICT
The introduction of computers into classrooms tends to increase communication and collaboration among students (Chernick & White, 1981). Students prefer to work together at the computer than on their own (Muller & Perlmutter, 1985). Working at the computer together is more fun and enjoyable which in turn increases the students’ intrinsic motivation allowing for a more satisfied learner who is more likely to retain the knowledge learned for longer (Dev, 1997). Using computers for collaborative group work can accommodate different learning styles and cultures more easily. Research has shown that children working in small groups, and interacting with computers can have beneficial effects on learning and development, especially among young children (Stanton, Neale, & Bayon, 2002).
Experiences at the University of Hagen in Germany, who have been using various online teaching methods for over 10 years, found that students are much more motivated when learning on-line and that the dropout rate is decreasing. The feedback they receive has been entirely positive for their on-line teaching methods. They also found that for some groups, communication extended longer than the duration of their students studies (Feldmann, 2006).
Feldmann (2006) defines three group types in the context of e-learning. These are
The Study Team
The study team would normally be within one school or university. They would be an informal group of various sizes. These groups continue through the complete time of the student’s studies and offer communication and support for its members.
The Learning Team
These groups are similar to the study team groups but would be more involved in collaborative learning for exam preparation and offer (along with communication and support) motivation to its members in the preparation of exams.
The Working Team
The main difference between this group and the previous two is that this group’s purpose is very clearly described to its members. There is a particular goal to be achieved. The other difference between this group and the others is that tutor guidance is essential for the group’s success.
Communication and Collaboration
The Irish primary school curriculum acknowledges the importance of communication between students and states that in a “rapidly changing society effective interpersonal and intrapersonal skills and skills in communication are essential for personal, social and educational fulfilment” (Curriculum, 1999) .
Communication and collaboration with other students provokes activity, makes learning more realistic and stimulates motivation. The focus is on the learner’s ability to mentally construct meaning of their own environment and to create their own meaning enabling students to become more active and independent learners. Evidence suggests that for many learners “the opportunity to engage in social, collaborative learning is intrinsically engaging” (Becta, 2008).
In 1965 Vygotsky wrote, “What children can do together today, they can do alone tomorrow” (Johnson & Johnson, 1994). The Irish primary School curriculum acknowledges the importance of collaborative work in the classroom. In its introduction it states that the “experience of collaborative learning facilitates the child’s social and personal development, and the practice of working with others brings children to an early appreciation of the benefits to be gained from co-operative effort” (Curriculum, 1999).
Learning through communication and collaboration, assists teachers in a specific objective through a shared activity, by means of social interactions among members of the group. Working in collaborative groups has social and academic benefits for children (Dillenbourg, 1999).
Haiwei Jin (2009) offers five principals of design for creating an effective learning module for cooperative learning.
The principal of student-centred
Learning is achieved by students discovering and constructing meaning through active exploration.
The principle of incentive
The incentive is to stimulate motivation. The “focus of incentives is to improve the students interest in learning to meet the learning needs”. Jin describes performance as a person’s “ability and level to stimulate”. He suggests that strong motivation can make up for weak ability.
The principal of sharing
Knowledge is shared either through direct communication or exchange of documents with group members and/or teachers.
The principal of Interaction
For effective collaboration there must be interaction among students. The basic effective interaction is communication.
The principal of Feedback
Letting students know the results of their learning will enhance the “role in promoting the learner to learn harder”. “Instant feedback is more effective than delayed feedback”.
Motivation plays a major part in learning. It is the difference between a student learning something superficially or permanently. “Student motivation naturally has to do with students’ desire to participate in the learning process” (Lumsden 1994). When “children’s self-esteem and self-confidence are raised” then “their motivation to learn is increased” (Curriculum, 1999)
Extrinsic motivation refers to a learner who learns “in order to obtain some reward or avoid some punishment external to the activity itself,” such as school grades or teacher approval (Lepper, 1998).
Intrinsic motivation refers to the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment a learner gets from learning. The learner is motivated to learn because he/she enjoys it regardless of whether it brings an immediate reward or not (Covington, 1998). If a student is intrinsically motivated they will retain information longer (Dev, 1997) and are more likely to be lifelong learners who will continue to educate themselves outside of the classroom (Kohn, 1993).
Holt (1987) found that members of a group showed decreased motivation when they were not psychologically connected. If the group can be made to matter to it’s members then motivation and collaboration are increased. One way of making a group matter to it’s members (especially children) is to include activities that the group consider as ‘fun’. This is increase interaction and motivation within the group leading to group commitment to the task in hand.
Technology in the classroom
Technology in the classroom
Today’s generation of learners no longer are satisfied receiving information passively in the classroom but instead want to discover for themselves and become “interactive with the learning” (Tapscott, 1998). In 2008 the UNESCO released the ICT Competency Standards for teachers - Implementation Guidelines. It states "To live, learn, and work successfully in an increasingly complex, information-rich and knowledge-based society, students and teachers must utilize technology effectively." In 2007 Becta published a report which highlighted the benefit of using technology for learning. In the report it states that “teachers and pupils are highly positive about the impact that using technology can have on motivation and engagement”. It does acknowledge the fact that in a lot of cases technology is still being used for whole class teaching instead of “supporting independent or small group learning”. The report acknowledges that "Where technology is used to support learning, even if utilised purely to enhance existing practice, we can now be confident there is a positive general impact on learning outcomes” (Becta. 2007). Students are more motivated and engaged in their learning when they are active and have some control over the learning process (Anderman & Midgley, 1998).
Using computer based applications “can enhance how children learn by supporting four fundamental characteristics of learning: (1) active engagement, (2) participation in groups, (3) frequent interaction and feedback, and (4) connections to real-world contexts” (Roschelle, 2000). The use of computers enables educators to enhance the quality of learning for their students. New computer technology applications nurture constructivist curriculum goals as they involve and motivate students as they actively learn. Students can work together in groups and give support and help (MKO) where needed. Emerging computer technologies allow teachers to offer learning in new ways “offering new opportunities for learner control, individual and social construction of knowledge and learning through collaboration and conversation” (Becta, 2007)
Using computers allows for communication and collaboration between students. This will result in “different and contrasting views”, which will develop a “rich and robust knowledge base” (Sulaiman et al 2004).
The Irish Context
The Irish primary school curriculum acknowledges the importance of integrating ICT into the Curriculum. In its introduction it states “The curriculum integrates ICT into the teaching and learning process and provides children with opportunities to use modern technology to enhance their learning in all subjects” (Curriculum, 1999).
In 2000 the Irish Government launched an ICT programme to integrate ICT into the Irish educational system. In 2008 an allocation of €252 million was made available to the National Development Plan for the ‘ICT in schools programme’. A report commissioned by the Department of Education and Science (2008) acknowledges that “Learning is changing” and that “a pivotal force in bringing about this change is the use of information and communications technology (ICT)” It goes on to acknowledge that when ICT is used effectively it “enriches learning and enhances teaching. It invigorates classroom activities and is a powerful motivational tool that encourages learners to progress in more personalised and self-directed ways”. (Dep, of Ed and Science 2008)
Despite all the ICT initiatives computer technology in the Irish classroom is still being seen as a subject to be learned instead of a tool to support learning (McGarr, 2009). It is probable that the use of ICT in schools is connected to the teacher’s competence in using ICT applications. If this is the case teachers should receive adequate training in the use of ICT and its application to curriculum subjects (Eivers, Shiel, Perkins & Cosgrove).
McGarr and Kearney (2009) conducted a study to ascertain the “role of the teaching principal in promoting ICT use in small primary schools in Ireland”. The study involved interviewing 13 primary school principals and their view of ICT in their schools. The study found that the principals were initially enthusiastic with the national ICT in schools initiative in 2000. However its introduction added more demands to their positions as principals. This along with “lack of up to data resources, poor levels of technical support and time” were identified as the main reasons for ICT not be utilised effectively. Conclusions from the study suggest that principals shouldn’t be given the extra burden of being “responsible for the leadership of ICT” and highlights the need for “alternative models of support and leadership”. They suggested that the formation of a network of similar sized schools “providing pedagogical leadership in the areas of ICT” could be effective. Also schools collaborating with one another “sharing models of good practice” could encourage effective and beneficial dialogue between teachers about the use and future use of ICT in the classroom.
The term “Web 2.0” was coined in 2004 by Dale Dougherty, a vice-president of O’Reilly Media Inc. (Anderson, 2007) to launch new web network applications where the web is used as a platform. Software applications are built upon this web platform as opposed to upon the desktop. Web 2.0 is an “umbrella term that is used to refer to a new era of Web-enabled applications that are built around user-generated or user-manipulated content, such as wikis, blogs, podcasts, and social networking sites” (Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2010)
Before Web 2.0 the internet was 'static' or 'read-only'. Information was published to websites and accessed by the reader. However, with the introduction of Web 2.0 it has now become as easy to create or 'write' content, as it is to access and read it. The reader can now also be a writer of information. The web has changed from a “read-only medium to one where anyone can publish and share content and easily collaborate with others” (Richardson, 2006). Research has shown that students “feel a sense of ownership and engagement when they publish work online and this can encourage attention to detail and an overall improved quality of work” (Becta, 2008).
Merchant (2009) offers four characteristic features of Web 2.0 spaces
Presence: Web 2.0 spaces “encourgages users to develop an active presence” online.
Modification: Web 2.0 spaces “allows users to link one application to another or import objects and features from one space to another”.
User-generated content: Web 2.0 spaces “are based upon content which is generated within and by the community of users rather than provided by the site itself”.
Social participation: Web 2.0 spaces “provide an invitation to participate”.
Web 2.0 in the classroom
More and more students are using Web 2.0 applications in their leisure time. In 2008 Becta carried out major research into the use of Web 2.0. The reports found that "young learners are prolific users of Web 2.0 technologies in their leisure time but that the use of Web 2.0 in the classroom was limited." Adapting these applications within the classroom environment would help “to encourage student engagement and increase participation” (Becta, 2008).
Sword and Leggott (2007) offer “seven principles for education the ne(x)t generation”.
1. Relinquish authority
2. Recast students as teachers researchers and producers of knowledge
3. Promote collaborative relationships
4. Cultivate multiple intelligences
5. Foster critical creativity, and
6. Craft assignments that look both forward and backward
7. Encourage resilience in the face of change
Halsey (2007) acknowledges that “through careful planned and thoughtful integration” the first six could be achieved in a primary school classroom using Web.2 tools. She argues that the seventh principal is “perhaps more applicable to the teacher”.
The use of Web 2.0 applications allow teachers to offer learning in new ways. They allow for “new opportunities for learner control, individual and social construction of knowledge and learning through collaboration and conversation”. (Becta, 2008)
Evidence suggests that for many learners engaging in social and collaborative learning is “intrinsically engaging. Web 2.0 practitioners regularly noted that even more reticent learners made powerful contributions to online collaborations”(Becta, 2008) also report that even though students use collaborative spaces online e.g. social networks, they don’t “always make the connection between these social spaces and their potential as platforms for learning”. Teachers need to support learners to “use these familiar tools to support learning, and to support them in developing the skills needed for this”.
Learning Platforms/Virtual Classrooms
The way in which people learn is changing constantly and as a result the when, where and how students learn needs to keep pace with this change. With the introduction of ICT in the classroom new avenues of learning opened up. A recent trend in education has seen learning change from the traditional way in which students learn with the introduction of learning platforms or virtual classrooms. Learning platforms or virtual classrooms are terms covering a variety of different products, all of which support learning by the use of a variety of digital applications which can be uploaded to a shared on-line environment. Since the introduction of Web 2.0, learning platforms and virtual classrooms are becoming more commonplace in the classroom. These online environments can provide students with “new, engaging learning experiences and support the development of effective learning techniques for all learning styles. It enables children to participate and continue their learning in a safe, familiar environment, both inside and outside school” (Becta, 2009).
When used effectively, these new technologies help make learning more effective and also extend the students learning outside the classroom thus allowing learning to continue in the home. When used effectively, these new technologies help make learning more effective and also extend the students learning outside the classroom thus allowing learning to continue in the home. In a recent (2010) recent publication on learning platforms by Becta it states “Effective communication and collaboration help make teaching more efficient. Learning platforms also enable school leaders to develop new practices to manage and monitor learning and teaching outcomes”.
If the design of a learning platform is not perfect it will hinder the development of successful cooperative learning (Haiwei Jin, 2009). Three principal problems were identified in current learning platforms (Mou Zhan-sheng; Guo Xi-yue; Chen Ji-chao, 2009) “1. Excessive kinds and numbers of agents; 2. Focusing on modeling, not on implementation; 3. Paying much more attention to the agent itself and ignoring the nature of collaborative learning”. If a learning platform is designed correctly it “enhances learning interest, learning effects and communication and collaborative competences of students”.
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