Different Teaching Methods And Relative Education Theories

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Two different theorists come into our sight: Skinner and Vygotsky. Walker (1975) indicates that B.F.Skinner's theories of behaviorism are based on the notion that learning is generally a passive function that changes learners' behavior while responding to environmental stimuli. He asserts that unlike what Cartesians say, the so-called 'voluntary behavior' is not determined internally as an "act of will", but by the exterior environments. He suggests "All acts of conscious and unconscious life are determined by contingencies of reinforcement."(p.46). Furthermore, Sheehy asserts that rather than being a bridge to understand the psychological process, the behavior itself should be the focus of analysis. As part of his theories, Skinner introduced key concepts such as 'operant conditioning' and the application of both positive and negative reinforcement in the learning process, which have greatly shaped our formal education system. Operant conditioning involves both reinforcement and punishment by respectively scheduling rewards and evading dangers, which has been considered as a powerful tool in changing human behaviors. According to Walker (1975), reinforcement can either be positive (achieving goals or obtaining rewards) or negative (tendency to avoid discomfort or suffer) while punishment is likely to give rise to aversiveness and lose reinforcers. As one of the applications of operant conditioning, the Teaching machine, an instrument requires participants to answer a set of questions by using this machine and they can be rewarded for each correct answer and therefore positively reinforced through this learning process. Skinner's theory focuses on the environmental conditioning of human learning behavior whereas Vygotsky's constructivism sees learning in a different way. According to Dimitriadis and Kamberelis (2006), Vykotsky's theories involve the conceptual development in which he contends that learning is a highly social-cultural related process where learners analyze and synthesize ideas and knowledge from the environmental contexts with an emphasis of the importance of language, which he recognize as the most powerful tool of mediation. They contend that private speech is considered useless in Piaget's view, but Vygotksy see it as a way of self-regulation in learning. They also emphasize that learning is not just about constructing new knowledge upon the previous-learned one but a more complex development that cannot be isolated from its social or historical contexts which is called "internalization", the method which he believes can lead to higher skills in learning. The concept of ZPD (Zone of proximal development) also constitutes his theory of constructivism, which according to Dimitriadis and Kamberelis (2006), can be defined as "the distance between the level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (p.196). They suggest that ZPD should not be seen as simply setting a limiting frontier for learning, but on the contrary, a constant-changing space where learners can master social tools and resource within a social-historical context. By applying the theory of ZPD, students can progress faster with the "scaffolding" of either/both teacher or/and more competent peer students and ultimately reach a higher point in their learning that they cannot possibly attain simply by their independent studies.

In terms of its significance, Skinner's theory of behaviorism has tremendously revolutionized our perception on both learning and teaching. His famous operant-conditioning theories have been applied to our everyday school teaching: the more effectiveness of positive reinforcement than punishment. Evans (1968) asserts that human beings can more likely to be affected by positive reinforcement while the most common human reaction for punishment is to avoid it rather than correcting his/her own misbehaviors. Therefore many teaching skills such as "starting from the simple to complex" or "reinforce correct actions by rewards" are actually influenced and even framed by the theories of Skinner. But meanwhile he also points out the limitation of his theories also emerges. Although the researches in behavior controlling have achieved great success with no doubt, the application of his theories in practical teaching and learning seem to be not always effective. One of the major arguments is that the Garcia effect which usually happens in the learning process has obvious defied the consistency with his theory of behavior modification. The Garcia effect, according to Sheehy (2004), refers to "the phenomenon whereby an animal that falls ill after eating a novel food may acquire a permanent aversion to it - even if the food is eaten just for once"(p.208). He indicates that this phenomenon can be attributed to the instinct of human or animals, but in Skinner's theory there is no place for the instinct, which might be one of its major limitations. Dimitriadis and Kamberelis (2006) indicate due to some political reasons, Vygotsky's theory of constructivism came into sight late in the western countries, but it has greatly shaped the conventional perception of learning development by linking individual learning with social and historical contexts, which emphasizes not just on the acquisition of knowledge or concepts but also the development of social-cultural cognition. Rather than being egocentric in learning, the views held by Piagetians, Vygotskians believe that children actually learn through interaction with social-historical contexts in a more dynamic and systematic way and this argument has overthrown the traditional thinking of learning by placing students in an isolated context setting. Therefore the traditional role of teacher as an "instructor" or "knowledge giver" no longer exists, according to Vygotsky's interpretation, instead students would play a more active role in learning while the theories of ZPD requires the teacher to help students facilitating their "construction" of knowledge and experience so as to let students maximize their learning potentials as much as possible. The theories of ZPD and the idea of scaffolding have been influential in western countries and have been widely accepted and applied by many schools in Australia as one of the major guidelines in teaching. But just like Skinner's theory, Vygotsky's one is limited as well. French and Sim (2004) argues that Vygotksy's perception of learning development as fundamentally a function of the environment seems partial since instead of just playing a passive role by receiving knowledge from the environment, students are actively participating in the interaction with it.

As has been mentioned above, both theories have great impact on contemporary education, including shaping teaching methods of my learning area: LOTE (French). According to interpretation of Richards and Rodgers (2001), "language mastery is represented as acquiring a set of appropriate language stimulis-response chains."(p.56). Therefore they declare the inefficiency of the traditional way of language learning by repeating words and phrases since only by establishing this "stimulis-response chain" relationship can we increase the possible occurrence of consolidating words and phrases in language learning and ultimately enables students to produce their own sentences in communication in a foreign language. Skinner's theories also indicate positive reinforcement as more effective in forming a habit in language by giving correct and authentic responses rather than making mistakes which can be considered negative reinforcements. For example, although having been employed by some teachers, error-correction seems to establish a negative "stimulis-response chain" between learners and target language, imposing negative reinforcements that might decelerate their acquisition of authentic language. On the contrary, by rehearsing or simulating dialogues correctly students can minimize the possibility of making mistakes in using language. This learning process could also incorporate multi-sensory approach to enhance the "stimulis-response chain" by motivating students' senses as positive reinforcement. For instance, when teaching fruits in French, teacher can bring some real fruits in the classroom and allow students to match words with the correspondent fruits. By touching, smelling and even eating these fruits, students can build a more solid "stimulis-response chain" than simply showing them pictures since all senses are engaged in language learning as well. Apart from Skinner's theories of reinforcement, Vygotsky's emphasis on social-cultural contexts should also be included in language teaching since language learning is more than just memorizing words or phrases, learners' cultural awareness and social-historical perspective plays an equally important role in sharing knowledge and constructing a constructivism learning environment that provides students with contextual experience while motivating them to learn by themselves. We cannot just present a French lesson about Victor Hugo's Les Miserables without holistically mentioning the changes, reforms and uprisings of French society in 19th century, otherwise simply learning lexicon and syntax will isolate learners from the social-historical context. Therefore presenting students with an extract from a famous novel might not be far from enough, teacher should try to engage students in a purposeful and meaningful reading which enables them to create an awareness of the characters in that text, rather than just analyze the syntactic points in it. Therefore Richard and Rodgers (2001) concur that teacher's role should be a facilitator who encourages students to form their own interpretation of the text rather than imposing his own comprehension of the text upon students, although teacher can help students overcome the linguistic and cultural difficulty for their better understanding of the context. In addition, scaffolding can also be adopted in LOTE teaching by engaging teacher as well as some more capable peer learners. By working with peer in groups, comparing notes or discussing their opinion about the text, learners can see how others perceive the same topic in a different way, which will liberate them from a teacher-centered learning environment.

Since the traditional teacher-centered classroom seems no longer effective in helping students construct their own mental framework that cannot be cloned from teacher's knowledge whose personal experience differs from those of the students. Therefore Killen (2009) declares that teacher's role in the classroom might be altered to a facilitator who encourages students to construct their knowledge structure based on their personal experience rather than simply transferring knowledge to students. Meanwhile Allan and Evans (2006) suggest teacher should be a designer who combines students personal experience with authentic and social-historical related contexts, ensuring students are not learning isolated from the real world, looking for the connections between different disciplines and ultimately enable students to comprehend the complex relationship of knowledge after their internalization of what they learned. A good teacher should be capable of perceiving students' difficulties in learning and it is vital for teacher to expect that all students can achieve successfully in their learning since students are less likely to give up when facing difficulties as long as they believe are in control of their learning. But meanwhile Allan and Evans (2006) also expect teacher to utilize and challenge students' previous knowledge and motivate them to accommodate new knowledge while thinking critically about not just the knowledge itself, but also their values, their attitude of justice, their perception of truth, their outlook on life, etc. Finally, they suggest assessment of students should be continuous in daily teaching in the classroom instead of utilizing examinations as the only way to assess student's learning progress so students can get feedback from the teacher immediately and consequently they can adjust their learning style while guiding their learning activities on their own.

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