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identify and discuss the significance of relevant theories and principles of learning and communication.
The students on my vocational catering courses within Offender Learning come from a variety of social backgrounds; the majority have received a poor basic education and have little knowledge of haute cuisine. Preparing high quality food, which is not part of the normal menu, acts as a reward and creates its own behaviour management; the learner has to know how the food should look and taste and poor behaviour means exclusion from the exercise (Behaviourism). Practical sessions are taught by explanation, example and practise (audio, visual, kinaesthetic). In order to teach the theory elements of the various units, it is essential to know the best ways in which my students learn and make each session as inclusive as possible. An understanding of learning theories enables me to utilise a variety of delivery styles and incorporate minimum core skills into the lessons. The following quote sums up the primary role of the teacher.
"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."
Teaching methods change as new ideas come along. Thousands of years ago, teaching was based on a set of principles handed down from master to student (or craftsman to apprentice) in the forms of philosophies and/or practical examples. Since the late nineteenth century, learning theories based on psychology have emerged and become the acceptable norm. Modern times have given rise to more inclusive forms of learning. These activities are considered to establish effective communication with students and optimistically maintain mutual respect and an order of discipline. Different social environments have a significant effect on teaching and learning; recently I gave a lesson on computer technology to a class of students in The Gambia where schooling is a privilege and has to be paid for. Students respect teachers and elders for the knowledge they can give them as this means a better prospect for their future. No talking in class, no music players or mobile phones, just genuine commitment and concentration.
As I continue my journey through teacher training, I find that the teaching methods I use without even realising, have already been identified, theorised, classified and given names. Another realisation is that I am not alone in this thinking and therefore how apt the following quote is.
"It is a rare mind indeed that can render the hitherto non-existent blindingly obvious. The cry 'I could have thought of that' is a very popular and misleading one, for the fact is that they didn't, and a very significant and revealing fact it is too". Douglas Adams (1974)
Honey and Mumford (1986) developed a questionnaire, based on Kolb's learning cycle, to identify the four main learning styles:
Activists learn best when working with others, like to be 'thrown in at the deep-end' with a challenge and enjoy being the centre of attention. Unfortunately, they tend to act without suitable consideration and quickly get bored with theory work.
Reflectors will stand back and carefully observe others before reviewing what they have learned. They do not like deadlines and do not learn well if unprepared.
Theorists need to question ideas behind practical tasks and be able to use their existing knowledge and skills in clearly structured situations. They do not learn well if the situation involves showing their emotions as they feel ill-prepared and therefore vulnerable.
Pragmatists enjoy working in an advantageous way such as saving time or energy and love trying new techniques and getting feedback. These students learn very little if there is no 'practice run' or obvious benefit, and definitely do not enjoy written work.
The most important aspect to understand in catering is that of teamwork and it is also one of the most beneficial methods of teaching as it can encompass different learning styles. Organising and preparing the work task (mise en place) is essential for the smooth running of any kitchen. I have planned my teaching to encourage students to form peer groups in order to learn from their individual strengths and learning styles. Creating small groups encourages competition. It produces a sympathetic environment as one group or individual will help another to overcome a problem.
The cognitive approach taken by Kolb (1975) and Gardener (1983) looks at the way our brains process information based on memory (prior learning), thinking and problem solving. Material to be learned must be logically organised if purposeful learning is to take place. Relating the brain to a computer, the analysis of data is mathematical and therefore logical. If the data input has no relevance then neither will the output. Cognitive theories imply that teaching purely factual information is unproductive as the learner forgets most of it and therefore cannot utilise it. Knowledge is stored cognitively as symbols and learning is the process of connecting symbols in a meaningful and memorable way. The knowledge itself is given as absolute and does not take the individuality of the learner into consideration.
Using a cognitive approach enables me to present knowledge to the students in a logical order. Before they are allowed to use the knives they must understand the dangers, how to maintain them safely and the correct ways of holding and cutting. This leads to preparing 'tolerant' vegetables such as potatoes, through the classical French cutting techniques and on to asparagus and other 'less tolerant' vegetables. Lessons are repeated for new students as they join the course and also to refresh and reinforce the knowledge of existing learners. Although a lesson is given to a group, each student receives the individual attention they require, not only from the teacher but also their peers.
Abraham Maslow (1908-1970 appendix 7) studied high achieving individuals such as Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson, who were role models at the time, and recognised they all shared certain characteristics. He concluded that after individuals had met their basic requirements for food and shelter, they needed to feel safe, feel love and acceptance. Only then, could they fulfil their potential, gain self-esteem and proceed to self-actualisation. Reflecting on the examples given to justify using Kolb's approach, the satisfaction demonstrated by students when they reach competence and precision (French cutting techniques) is representative of progression through the hierarchy.
Humanists Carl Rogers (1902-1987 appendix 4), Neill (1883-1973 appendix 6) and Maslow (1908-1970 appendix 7) believed that students should be allowed to follow their own interests and develop existing talents and reach their full potential; they rejected the notion that students are nothing more than knowledge data banks. It is therefore up to the teacher to become a facilitator and increase the range of learning experiences for each and every student and allow them the freedom of how they learn from this.
Behaviourists such as Pavlov (1849-1936), Watson (1878-1958), and Thorndike (1874-1949) argued that learning needs to be stimulated and reinforced by reward (operant conditioning). Pavlov's famous experiment with dogs proves how effective this can be. In fact, the best method of training a dog is by giving treats and praise as a reward until it becomes accustomed to the command. When the action has become conditioned, the praise is given but not always the treats. Learning continues because the dog wants the praise and attention. Likewise, when we teach, we must organise a schedule of rewards so that the required outcomes of learning are reinforced and poor behaviour is discouraged. It is essential to provide positive feedback to the learner as this represents an emotional reward and is required as part of the assessment strategy dictated by the awarding body.
Neo-Behaviourists Skinner (1904-1990 appendix 1), Tolman (1886-1959 appendix 2, 5) and Gagné (1916-2002) believed that learners were more selective in their response to stimuli and required purpose as well as reward. Learners need to know what is expected of them and follow a logical path in order to achieve specific predefined goals. Diagnostic assessment shows where they should start; questioning and assessments demonstrates where they are. The goal is the accumulation of the skills and knowledge required to achieve certification. Gagné identified five conditions of learning to simplify methods of teaching and assessing:-
Motor skills are essentially basic everyday practical skills that improve with practise (e.g. French cutting techniques)
Verbal information is the building blocks of knowledge; it must be relevant and presented in a clearly understood and organised manner. Consideration must be given to the individual learning styles in order to attain maximum inclusivity.
Intellectual skills rely on the previous learning of rules to enable employment of concepts; however, this should not be a barrier to new learning by students with little prior knowledge. A strategy is in place to develop inclusivity by targeted one to one sessions.
Cognitive strategies define how the student thinks, remembers, learns and solves problems. Giving students the opportunity to practise literacy and numeracy tests on the computer builds confidence and identifies areas for developing a more inclusive environment.
Attitudes are not taught; they are usually a consequence of social and economic surroundings. Changes can however, be brought about by psychological means via team building activities which identify acceptable standards.
Behaviourism focuses solely on observable behaviour and is defined by the outward expression of new behaviours. There is recognition of inherited learning which is instinctive and context-independent. Lessons need to be highly structured with rewards and punishments as the responsibility for student learning rests entirely with the tutor.
"Children, we must never forget, are not repositories for adult knowledge, but organisms, which like all of us, are constantly trying to make sense of, and to understand their experiences."
Although my learners are adults and not children, the concept of this quote is appropriate in that as we all learn, we need to understand what we have learnt and be able to reflect upon it.