Throughout this course and my experience as a middle school teacher, I have learned that though there are many theories that seek to be known as the premier theory of learning. When asked, I believe many teachers would pinpoint one theorist whom they believe best exemplify their teaching styles. At one time, I too probably would identify one or at the most two theories that support how I teach. Further examination of my teaching styles has shown me that I utilize a compilation of learning theories as a teacher and as a student myself. It is my opinion that an effective teacher utilizes Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Constructivism strategies in their classroom and when developing their lesson plans. I also like in incorporate Kolb's experiential learning theory into my teaching style and knowledge base. I believe in order for teachers to makes decisions that are effective in the classroom; they must have a solid understanding of the varying learning and developmental processes. This knowledge base should include an understanding of the learning theories, application in the classroom, the stages of development as well as the theories of development.
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As a middle school Social Studies teacher for the past seven years, I learned early on that no two students learn alike. I also learned that one style of teaching such as direct instruction, collaborative learning or inquiry learning do not work separately. They must be incorporated together daily. If not used together, the teacher is not maximizing the learning potential of her students. It is important to note that is not a onetime deal kind of teaching format but throughout the course. This will provide the opportunity for a student to learn in at least one way that will match their learning style. My opinion of a well-developed weekly, lesson plan includes direct instruction, reading opportunities, visual and audio aids as well as at least one hands-on activity. To understand how to utilize these learning styles in the classroom, we must first understand the theories of learning: Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Constructivism.
The foundations of Behavioral theories of learning are attributed to theories developed by Ivan Pavlov and B. F. Skinner. Pavlov's theory of classical conditioning, "the process of repeatedly associating a previously neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus in order to evoke a conditioned response" (Slavin, 130) can be utilized when a teacher is involved in establishing classroom management rules in the classroom. Skinner's operant conditioning theory, "the use of pleasant or unpleasant consequences to control the occurrence of behavior" (Slavin, 131) can also be used in developing appropriate classroom management rules. When adapting this theory to teaching practices, our focus is understanding what strengthens a behaviors and what discourages a behavior. When strengthening a behavior, we often utilize positive and negative reinforcements. To discourage a behavior, we often utilize no reinforcement, removal punishment (forbidding a desirable task or situation) or presentation punishment (imposing an undesirable task or situation). When using these consequences in behavioral learning, we, as teachers, are conditioning our students to what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior in the classroom setting.
A second theory of learning, Cognitivism considers how human memory works to promote learning. The focus here is short term and long term memory. The information processing model, a type of cognitive learning, is a cognitive theory of learning that describes the processing, storage and retrieval of knowledge in the mind. The goal here is to take information that is starts as short term to working memory and transfer it to long term memory. Cognitivism also focuses on the mental workings of the mind to understand how people learn. These processes include thinking memory, knowing and problem solving.
A theory of learning associated with Cognitivism is Bloom's taxonomy. Bloom identifies six (6) levels of learning from knowledge at the lowest level to the highest level, evaluation. Bloom's taxonomy at the lowest level utilizes simple recall or recognition of facts at the lowest level (knowledge). From there, it increases to more complex and abstract levels at the highest end (evaluation). Teachers can use this framework in a weekly plan as they take the students from the knowledge level to full understanding at the evaluation level.
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The third theory of learning, Constructivism, is defined as a learning process in which learners actively build new ideas, thoughts or concepts based on their current and past knowledge and experiences. One important component of Constructivism is that it is based on the observation and scientific study of how people learn. In laymen's terms, people build their own understanding and knowledge through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. This helps us to understand that we are active participants and creators of our own knowledge.
For example, in the classroom setting, a teacher can use the scaffolding approach as a teaching style. Vygotsky's definition of scaffolding instruction is the "role of teachers and others in supporting the learner's development and providing support structures to get to that next stage or level" (Raymond, 2000, p. 176). Vygotsky also defines the zone of proximal development (ZPD) as "the distance between what children can do by themselves and the next learning that they can be helped to achieve with competent assistance" (Raymond, 2000, p.176). This approach can provide individualized support that is based on the learner's ZPD. Scaffolding used in a collaborative setting allows the student to benefit from the knowledge base of his peers and adults. As a constructivist teacher constantly encourages students to assess their learning and understanding s they become expert learners.
The last theory I feel should be incorporated in a teacher's collection of learning theories is Kolb's experiential learning theory. Kolb's experiential learning theory is a four stage cycle of learning. This cycle of learning focuses on experiences, perception, cognition and behavior. What I like about this theory is that one can start at any one of the four stages but will follow through the other three in sequences. The four stages are: the concrete experience (or "Do"), reflective observation (Observe), abstract conceptualization (Think) and active experimentation (Plan).
In the concrete stage, teachers provide the details, factual information and teach the children to "do." Children will go from the concrete stage to the abstract (ability to think on their own or develop their own concepts). The active stage allows the student to have actual hands on or be engaged in their learning and the reflective stage allows the student to reflect or observe what has occurred.
With an understanding of these theories, a teacher is on the way to becoming an effective teacher. The description of an effective teacher varies according to the person you are speaking with. A principal may see an effective teacher as one who submits lesson plans on time, comes to work on time and has few discipline referrals. A co-worker may see an effective teacher as one who gets along with her co-workers and volunteers to serve on various committees. Noted author of The First Days of School, Harry K. Wong developed a list of sixty-one (61) characteristics of an effective teacher. Though I don't feel that a teacher has to exemplify all sixty-one characteristics, there are several I identify with. Like Wong, I believe that my expectations of the students will greatly influence their achievement in my classroom and in their lives. I firmly believe in giving my students a goal to obtain, by already treating them as f they have already met and exceeded the goal. I also believe that what I do on the first day determines my success for the rest of the year. My students know from day one that I have high expectations of each of them and that the goal is within their reach. Also like Wong, as an effective teacher, I make my students want to come to class by making it as inviting as possible. There is no time for idleness; when they cross the threshold, they are ready to work. The effective teacher also has firm discipline. Rules, consequences and rewards are set on day one. There is also the Two Cs approach used to encourage my students - Cooperate with each other, Compete only against yourself.
In my years of teaching, I have learned that an effective teacher exhibits enthusiasm, knows the content and is well organized. An enthusiastic teacher makes learning fun and engaging for the student, who then becomes eager to learn. It is important to keep up with the content and changing trends
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