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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 areas of learning that I will focus on are mathematics, Physcial education and science…… 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.