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Research on child development has yielded many theories on children's development. These theories can be rooted in research and experimentation or they may be philosophical and hypothetical. Whatever their basis, the importance of observation is a common strand in the work of many theorists who were interested in finding out how children learn.
For the purpose of this assignment I will be focussing on the two theories of behaviourism and constructivism. Whilst discussing these theories I will evaluate the impact they have on the teaching and learning for my focus child. Taking into consideration the maturational development of my focus child, the area of learning that i will predominantly look at is mathematics. I will also be looking briefly at science and physical education. By doing so I aim to gain a better understanding of theory to practice, finding effective strategies of teaching.
Looking first at one of the oldest theories of learning, behaviourism, the key theorist I will be looking at is Burrhus Skinner. Prior to skinners work, behaviourism theory began with the work of Ivan Pavlov (date?), Pavlov looked at classical conditioning where a certain stimulus is followed by a certain expected response. His famous dog observation discovered that dogs could be trained to salivate when a bell rang, if feeding was consistently preceded by a bell ringing. By pairing a natural response with an artificial one the two become associated with one another. The response therefore becomes conditioned.
Skinner on the other hand, looked at what was termed as operant conditioning, also known as a form of behaviour shaping, this occurs when a response to a stimulus is reinforced. This is basically a feedback system, wherefore a reward or reinforcement follows the response to a stimulus, then the response would be more likely to occur in future. This concept of reinforcement central to Skinner's behaviourism was initially expressed by Edward Thorndike as the Law of Effect (Driscoll, 2000 sheet). His theory suggests that any behaviour leading to a positive consequence will be repeated. What behaviourism focuses is on is the present environment of a subject, the behaviour exhibited and lastly the consequences which follow.
Behaviourism essentially defines learning as a more or less permanent change in behaviour that can be detected by observing an organism over a period of time. Behaviourism ignores what goes on inside the head because we cannot directly measure or observe it. There are two critical fields of thought within behaviourism. Firstly, in order to understand learning, you need to look for a change in behaviour, and secondly, to be certain of what learners are actually doing, then the learner needs to be observed. My criticism here is, since behaviourism disregards putting emphasis on the activities of the mind, it does not account for all types of learning. For example, there is no explanation of some learning, for instance the recognition of new language patterns by young children. To explain this from a behaviourist perspective would be impossible as there are no reinforcement mechanisms. Language learning cannot be explained through stimulus-response approaches. Skinners application to language is very far stretched. He believes that all language is learned by reward, where with a baby we praise words and sounds we recognise, but don't reinforce words or sounds that make no sense. This does not explain the phenomena in language learning.
Furthermore, one of the most common criticisms of Skinner, is that his experiments were conducted on rodents and pigeons, his focus on animals has produced a far too simplistic view of human learning and motivation. (pg43 koestler) Also, when talking of conditioning learners to respond to rewards, rewards can risk becoming counter-productive. (find studyhttp://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/ror.htm) Studies in which young children were rewarded for drawing pictures, for example, demonstrated that quickly children no longer drew pictures unless they were rewarded. To rely on such a strategy could put the learner in control.
More importantly, behaviourism ignores the emotional states and complex motives that account for human behaviour. Humans are treated as though they lack mind or soul and consist only of a brain that responds to external stimuli. The role of thoughtful judgement and reflection in thinking is disregarded.
There are many theorists who have opposed the theory of behaviourism, this brings me to the theory of constructivism.
Constructivism is not a unitary theory but is seen as a continuum that is divided into three broad categories. The two that I will be focussing on will be Cognitive constructivism and social constructivism. Cognitive constructivism is associated with information processing, where social constructivism deals with the social nature of knowledge, and the belief that knowledge is a result of social interaction and language usage.
The theory can be defined as the belief that learners construct their own knowledge from their experiences. Constructivism is predominantly a philosophy of learning that is based on the premise that we all construct our own understanding of the world we live in, through reflection on our experiences. We build mental models as our internal representation of this knowledge thus learning is an adjustment of these models to accommodate new experiences. This concept is referred to as assimilation and accommodation.
Piaget, predominately a cognitive constructivist, believed that the mind of the child evolves through a series of pre-determined stages to adulthood, he argued that these stages were a natural sequence for the development of thought governed by what he termed 'genetic epistemology.' In brief the four stages of intellectual development were as follows, the sensorimotor stage is within the first two years of a childs life, where children remain ego centric and knowledge is drawn from physical actions and senses. The second stage is the preoperational stage, from the age of two to six, children are able to solve problems that are concrete, requiring no logic. The children are able to play with ideas but their concepts are still incomplete. Thirdly, during the concrete operational stage, from seven to eleven years of age, children are able to develop more complex processes of thought, they are able to apply some logic to things that are tangible and can be seen. Lastly the formal operations stage begins at the age of twelve and carries on to adulthood, the children are be able to think hypothetically and abstractly apply logic to thought.
Piaget believed that it is not enough to teach idea by simple reinforcement or practice, the child needs to be at a particular maturational stage of development to be able to learn new concepts.
Social constructivism extends on Piagets ideas, however piaget did not look in depth at culture, social interaction or language. Vygotsky, a social constructivist, emphasised the significant role that language plays in the development of abstract thought. He believed that childrens language both results from and is part of social interaction. Vygotsky expressed the importance of having experience of talking with adults about familiar everyday experiences as crucial, where piaget believes that this use of relevant language only follows the development of a concept. Vygotsky essentially believed that everything a child learns is from their social experiences, where they are able to solve practical tasks with the help of speech, eyes and hands.
Vygotsky also developed a theory called the Zone of Proximal development, which he described to be the gap between what a child can do alone and what they can do with the help of a more able other. He argued that the capacity to learn through instruction was a fundamental feature of human intelligence. For piaget, learning was solely dependent on the childs readiness to learn. For vygotsky, the key factors were not just about the childs existing knowledge and understanding but also about what they could do with help. He emphasised work with peer support, where children could work with other more able chidren. This process not only helps the child but also makes the more able childs' ideas more explicit, rendering the grasp of what they know clearer and more objective.
Both social and cognitive development work together. While Piaget believes that knowledge comes from personal experience, vygostsky emphasised the importance of families, communities and other children. Vygostsky saw language as one of a range of cultural tools or tools for thinking and learning.
Both behaviourism and constructivism share likeliness in that reality is interpreted through signs both internal and external, and knowledge is negotiated from experience and reason. Both theories base a childs acquisition of knowledge on the childs active participation in the environment, frequent repetition of activities, and opportunities to explore the environment in meaningful ways. Both approaches require careful planning of the environment as well as frequent and routine observation of learning. Other similarities include requiring the teacher to change the environment as a result of the analysis of progress, going from simple to more complex tasks and directing the teacher to be actively involved with the learning environment.
However, there are also some distinct differences between the two theories. Behaviourism relies heavily on the epistemological orientation of objectivism, where reality is assumed to be external to and separate from the learner, while on the other hand constructivism relied heavily on the orientation of interpretivism, where reality is assumed to be constructed by the learner through rationalism and idealism. Behaviourally orientated programs require a methodical task analysis o the skills to be taught, identification of behaviours to be increased or decreased, and use intense direct instruction. The instructional format may consist of repetitive drill-like activities. There is planned reinforcement and corrections and continual feedback. Systematic and consistent application of the behavioural techniques is paramount. Constructivist orientated program is one where children are encouraged to explore materials and use them creatively. Mistakes and errors are viewed as an opportunity to construct knowledge rather than an event that requires correction. The emphasis here is on the process of learning and not on the end product.
Behaviourism centers on students' efforts to accumulate knowledge of the natural world and on teachers' efforts to transmit it. It therefore relies heavily on a transmission, instructionist approach which is largerly passive, teacher directed, and controlled. The theory emphasises on observing external behaviours and avoids reference to meaning, representation and thought. Constructivism takes a more cognitive approach. The theory takes a variety of forms just like behaviourism, however, the basic distinction is that while the behaviourists view knowledge as nothing more than passive, largely automatic responses to external factors in the environment, the constructivistic school views knowledge as a constructed entity made by each and every learner through a learning process.
According to Heylighten (1993), the history of epistemology, the trend has been to move from a static, passive view of knowledge towards a more adaptive and active view. Jonassen (1991), states that the important assumption of objectivism is that the world is real, structured, and that structure can be modelled for the learner. In contrast, constructivism argues that knowledge and reality do not have an objective or absolute value or at least, that we have no way of knowing this reality. Von Glasersfeld (1995), believes that reality is made up of the network of things and relationships that people rely on. The learner thus, interprets and constructs a reality based on his experiences and interactions with his environment.
In order to better evaluate the impact both theories have on the teaching and learning, I will apply them to my observation of Tomas, my focus child.
Tomas is a year four pupil at Grange Manor school. The school is a larger than average three form entry school, with 687 pupils on the school roll. The school aims to provide an inclusive education, meeting the needs of all pupils and ensuring they have access to a broad and balanced curriculum to which they are entitled. The school makes this a reality through the attention paid to the different groups of children within the school.
Tomas is a bright 8 year old boy who has very low concentration in the classroom. This is evident from his IEP's (Individual Education Plan) dating from Nursery to the present time. In order to address his low concentration and to learn more effectively Tomas requires visual and kinestetic strategies of teaching, this is to ensure that he is engaged in tasks. In reference to Piagets stages of development, Tomas is at the concrete operational stage. His maturational level allows him to develop complex processes of thought, whilst also being able to apply logic to things that are tangible. Tomas is currently working at a respectable 2A in maths, 2A in writing and a 3A in reading.
Looking now at the different approaches used in the classroom, I will first look at the teaching of mathematics. Mathmatics, if thought of from a behaviourist perspective, would be simply a set of facts, definitions and algorithms. Where to teach the subject, we would do so through instruction, just like transmitting an immutable body of knowledge that students would have to accept as a fact without reasoning. However, constructivists would argue that mathematics is a cultural, creative and empirical activity where learners are in the position of constructing their own mathematical knowledge.
Whilst observing a mathematics lesson one afternoon, the teacher began the lesson recapping what the children learnt in the previous lesson, this is to ensure that learning is built on the childrens existing knowledge. This is working in line with Vygotskys theory, the zone of proximal development (ZPD), scaffolding on what the children already know, and what they need to learn next. The work is differentiated throughout, including when activities are teacher led, the children are given a choice of examples to work out, this allows Tomas to choose his own comfortable level of learning. The main body of the lesson is usually a series of worksheets. The children are given clear instructions on what they should be doing and the steps they need to take. Most of the worksheets are repetitive, reinforcing the knowledge consistently to ensure children have learnt what it is they need to. This works alongside the behaviourist view of repetition, that if a solution is repeated countless times it will become learned. To accompany this view, the worksheets are not just a set of sums in a row, but a selection of problems which require the use of a mathematical solution. This aspect of the worksheet takes on a constructionist view, allowing the children to learn in relation to real life experiences and situations. For example, the question. 'QUESTION' allows the child to demonstrate their knowledge of solving the correct amount of money they should have left after a visit to the grocery store.
Mathematics in the classroom is constantly adapted to real life situations, giving reasoning behind the different functions taught. Constructivism, as opposed to the behaviourist way of teaching and learning, claims that knowledge should not be transferred from one individual to another in educational environments. Knowledge must be actively constructed as the learner is an entity with previous experiences that must be considered as a knowing being. Learning is therefore seen as an adaptive and experiental process rather than a knowledge transference activity (Candy, 1991). Constructivism gives recognition and value instructional strategies in which students are able to learn mathematics by personally and socially constructing knowledge. Constructivist learning strategies include more reflective orientated learning activities in mathematics education suc as exploratory and generative learning. More specifically, theses activities include problem solving and situated learning (Murphy, 1997; wood, cobb & Yackel, 1991).
A behaviourist teaching style in mathematics education tends to rely on practices that emphasize rote learning and memorisation of formulas, one-way to solve problems, and adherence to procedures and drill. Repetition is seen as one of the greatest means to skill acquisition. Teaching is therefore a matter of enunciating objectives and providing the means to reach those objectives and situated learning is given little value in instruction (Leder, 1994). This over emphasis on procedures and formulas resembles traditional formalist and logicist ideas.
In terms of assessment, in order to assess the childrens levels, the children are regularly tested using standardised written tests . These summative tests are done in strict exam conditions where the children work in silence on their own. What becomes problematic with standardised tests is that they do not necessarily identify and categorise students accurately in terms of the problem solving aspect of their mathematical leaning. In my opinion, I fear that teachers are moving towards teaching children how to pass a test, perhaps having a negative influence on the childs participation in the wider aspects of mathematics. According to Clarke (1992) assessment is a high profile classroom activity which impacts significantly on students self-esteem and on students classroom behaviours. Testing conditions can become stressful to some which can be reflected in the results of a test. Standardiesed tests, in my opinion, do not assess the essential skills the students may be learning but rather reports on the indicators of achievement in terms of behaviourist achievement objectives. They do not take into account the emotional state of a child, for example, a child may be experiencing an 'off-day', participating in a test therefore may result in incorrect or inappropriate decisions being made about the childs learning. Some would argue that regular test conditions are a useful tool in allowing the teacher to view a clear picture of where the children are at in terms of what they are able to do. Other pros would include the idea of getting the child used to test conditions, whereby the idea of a test will not cause them to have any stress or anxiety.
Formative assessment is often in the form of marking workbooks with the criteria of two stars and a wish. As effective as this method is, my only criticism would be that there is not enough of it. Children very rarely work in their mathematics books, working either or worksheets or whiteboards which often go unmarked.
The key approaches used in mathematics teaching are not as effective for Tomas, working at a 2B in mathematics, he has a target of 3B. The regular use of worksheets and standardised tests are not meeting his holistic needs to learn more efficiently. As mentioned before, Tomas has a low concentration level which results in him becoming bored in the classroom and is generally off task. He is currently not stimulated enough in these lessons resulting in an unwillingness to learn.
As part of my emerging pedagogy i would apply the use of a more constructivist approach. According to Clarke (1997) teachers' assessment is constructive when it assists in fostering student learning. He writes that assessment can only be constructive when it values what a student can already do and helps that student to gain further knowledge. There needs to be more recognition of students' personal experiences, their way of thinking, and the extent to which these are culturally determined. Taking this into account I would firstly reduce the amount of worksheet tasks significantly and provide more stimultating tasks where children could use their language and problem solving skills in a social environment. In considering the impact of this Begg (1992) reminds us that from a constructivist learning perspective, a teacher is concerned to help students to develop their schemas by providing rich learning activities that involve both new notions and challenge to old ones. An implication of this is that as a teacher i would have to be flexible and open minded. I would need to extend, confirm and challenge childrens knowledge schemas, whereby to facilitate childrens learning rather than teach to the textbook. Howe (1996) supports this notion, stating
because language and culture are intertwined, the acceptance of the role of language in learning implies that learning is also dependent on culture. While social interaction, communication and discussion are valued within the learning process, the way learners of different cultures view their teachers (as respected elders, or authority figures) will influence the forms of interaction that their culture accepts.
Moving on to the teaching approaches used in science. Much of the science lessons observed have been very practical where children are able to explore and experiment. In one particular lesson, the children were learning the basics of temperature. The lesson began with a short starter of questioning leading to an experiment and a plenary of what results were found. Through questioning in the classroom the teacher was able to guide the children, firstly determining what they already know about temperature and what it is they will be learning next (Kheradmand, 2012 SBT 6). Constructivists emphasize questioning and hands-on inquiry-oriented instructions to promote childrens conceptual knowledge by building on prior understanding, active engagement with the subject content, and applications to real world situations. (Stofflett & Stoddart, 1994). The questions in the lesson have been open ended allowing the children to discover, experiment and solve problems.
In science, knowledge and understanding is constructed by the learner through their experiences, this is a belief that corresponds with Piaget and Vygotskys ideas of how children learn effectively. The experiement in this particular lesson consisted of going outside in the playground and touching different types of objects and materials, the children had to determine whether these objects were warm or cold, recording their findings in a table. This particular lesson was less teacher led, where the children were encouraged to work together and discuss their findings with each other. Vygotskys theory underlined the contribution made by others, where children are able to learn from their peers who either have more experience or are more competent. This worked effectively with children who lacked confidence, they were able to work alongside their more able peers, making their ideas more explicit. This process also enabled the more able children to render the grasp of what they know more clear and more objective (Vygotsky,date)
If taught from a behaviourist perspective, what i would expect to see in a science lesson would be a vast amount of time spent using textbooks. There would be no opportunities for children to explore or create their own meanings but rather a set of steps and instructions used to reinforce knowledge.
Wildy and Wallace (1995) believed that good science teachers are those who teach for deep understanding. They provide experiences to test and challenge ideas to help children arrive to a more concrete understanding. The classrooms of such teachers are learner-centered places where group discussion, exploration and problem solving are common place. In my own practice I would implement the ideas of Wildy and Wallace, creating opportunities for children to be stimulated by the environment. I believe to teach science effectively, tasks need to match the childrens competence level with enough scope where they are able to explore within their own comfort levels.
Due to there being a more constructivist approach to the teaching of science, Tomas' achievement levels within this subject are particularly high. The lessons meet his holistic needs as a kinestetic learner, where he is regularly active and challenged.
In order to assess childrens learning in science, there are only formative assessments. Similar to the formative assessments in mathematics, the teacher uses the two stars one wish strategy, providing constructive feedback to children. This works particularly well as children are able to celebrate what they do well as well as know what they need to do next time, scaffolding their learning.
Lastly, the final area of the curriculum i will be looking at is physical education (P.E.). During my observation of these lessons i have found that the children are very much restricted by the teachers obsession with health and safety. I use the term 'obsession' as i believe the teacher is fearful of the safety of the children to an extent where they are denied the opportunity to experience P.E. in a way that i personally deem appropriate. The children are active for a third of the lesson (Kheradmand, 2012 sbt14), the main reasoning behind the lack of physical activity is the countless occasions where the teacher stops the class to give more instructions. The children are given clear instructions on what it is they need to do, and the steps they need to take, they are not given the opportunity to explore or interact with their peers. The teacher takes a dominant position rewarding the children who follow instructions and punishing those who do not, often by removing them from the lesson. This subject as opposed to the other subjects i have observed is very much taught in a behaviourist way.
Tomas, once again a very active learner, struggles to express himself in P.E. because of the restrictions placed on him and his peers. I believe in order to teach P.E. effectively children need to be able to explore and learn what they can do in their own time. The learning environment needs to be stimulating and fun, allowing the children to develop at their own pace working with their peers to develop their creativity levels.
My personal philosophy on education in the classroom embodies and incorporates behaviourist and constructivist theories of learning. Both of these theories, if adapted effectively could be used to educate children in the best possible manner. As a teacher i would like for my classroom to be flexible and adaptive in agreement with the constructivist viewpoint. To be an effective teacher i believe a classroom needs to be open to change, adapting strategies and lesson plans on a daily basis in reference to the childrens needs. In order to maintain good behaviour management i would incorporate the behaviourist idea of rewards and punishments as i believe children work well with incentives. However, care would need to be taken to not over-use rewards and punishments in fear of them becoming counterproductive.
Predominantly, i believe strategies used in the classroom should work towards allowing children to become independent and confident learners. The use of a constructivist teaching style is highly beneficial in the classroom as it gives children the opportunity to have a hands on experience to learning where they are able to make personal discoveries. In contrast to this, teaching from a behaviourist style requires a large proportion of learning to be teacher dominated, leaving little room to learn interactively. I do not believe this to be as effective as it is not teaching our children to learn independent skills. Children need to be engaged and actively involved in their own learning, this in my opinion, is far more valuable than any other method of learning.