Theoretical Notions And Assumptions Of Teaching Education Essay

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A brief description of some of the basic theoretical notions and assumptions on which the present study is based are presented in this section. The study begins keeping the wider goals of education in view to facilitate and enable the learner to learn for personal meaning.

In this context, according to Carl Rogers (1969), a teacher's role should be less didactic and more of a facilitator. Rogers condemns didactic and expository methods of education. According to him, teaching and imparting of knowledge makes sense in an unchanging environment. As one lives in an environment, which is continually changing, the goal of education ought to be the facilitation of change and learning. Hence the only man who is educated is he who has learnt how to learn and how to adapt and change. He also hints that no knowledge is secure and learning is a lifelong process straddling several areas simultaneously- physical, physiological, psychological and emotional.

Furthermore, one has to be mindful of the plethora of different contexts of learning, difference across individuals in the way they learn items or differences within any one individual. While people exhibit inherently human traits of learning, every individual approaches a problem or learns a set of facts or organizes a combination of feelings from a unique perspective. It is apparent that cognitive and effective variables must be channelled into an understanding of the total learning process. Hence, individualized learning would be of great help.

In this context, H. Douglas (1987) mentions that no learner can be pigeon-holed into cognitive type. With many styles and strategies operating within a person, hundreds of cognitive profiles might be identified. Hence, there is a need to recognize and understand a multiplicity of cognitive variables active in the learning process and to make appropriate judgements about learners, meeting them where they are and providing them with best possible opportunities for learning. In such circumstances it seems sensible then to organize the curriculum in such a way that individual needs, interests and proffered learning needs can be catered to.

Cameron and Pierce (1994) are of the opinion that verbal praise and positive feedback enhance learners' interest in learning. They further consider that rewards can have a negative impact on intrinsic motivation when they are offered for tasks that have no consideration of any standard of performance. Hence, argue these researchers, rewards offered in educational and other settings should be delivered contingent on performance.

Theoretical methodological foundations for the study

Enlightening the intricate relationship among what teachers believe and what they do actually in the classroom, the social context of teaching, and the mediating agent of INSET and its effect require a method that enables one to assess the interaction level of these factors. Therefore this section will examine how different schools of thought have understood the study of human behaviour, with their underlying assumptions. The two fold purposes of such an examination are: first to examine which perspective can provide the methodological foundation to the present study, and second, such discussions would provide a rational basis for the methodological choice made and show that it is not a random one.

The perspectives of three different schools will be discussed in the following paragraphs. They are: the positivist perspectives, the cognitive perspectives and the humanistic perspectives.

The Positivist Perspectives


Early psychologists abandoned their focus on the human mind in their attempts to understand and predict human behaviour, because they believed that it was the responsibility of natural sciences and not the social sciences. The result is an adherence to an experimental methodology which is known as' logical positivism' (which encompasses 'school of behaviourism,') a part of philosophical form of inquiry.

J. B. Watson (1878-1958) and B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) are the two principal propagators of behaviourist approaches to learning. Watson believed that human behaviour gives importance to motivation which brings out certain responses.

Watson's fundamental idea was that the final outcome about human development must be based on an observation of overt behaviour rather than speculation about subconscious motives or about latent cognitive processes (Shaffer, 2000).

Behaviourism, a branch of positivism, is primarily concerned with visible and quantifiable features of human behaviour. In defining behaviour, behaviourist learning theories (for example, Law of use and dis-use, Law of exercise,) emphasize changes in behaviour that result from stimuli-response associations made by the learner. Behaviour is directed by the stimuli.

Behaviourists state that only behaviours valuable to learn are those that can be straight away observed; thus it is behaviour, rather than belief or feeling, which is the rightful objective of the study. This assumption does not explain unusual performance in terms of the brain or its internal mechanism. Rather, it posits that all actions are learned behaviour, and tries to explain how this behaviour is formed.

Methodological Views

According to this view, human behaviour is learned, behaviourists also hold that all behaviours can also be unlearned, and replaced by new behaviours; that is, when one's actions become not acceptable, they can be replaced by an acceptable one. A key component to this theory of learning is the compensated response. The required response must be remunerated in order for learning to take place (Parkay & Hass, 2000).

Using behaviourist theory in the classroom can be rewarding for both students and teachers. Behavioural change occurs for a reason; students work for things that bring them positive feeling, and for approval from people they admire. They change behaviours to satisfy the desires they have learned to value. They generally avoid behaviours they associate with unpleasantness and develop habitual behaviours from those that are repeated often (Parkay & Hass, 2000). The entire rationale of behaviour modification is that most behaviour is learned. If behaviours can be learned, then they can also be changed or studied again.

In the case of learning, the process seems to be positive with regard to the behaviourist hypothesis. The student uses low level of stimulus with skills to comprehend matter and this material is often isolated from real-world perception or situation. Responsibility has to be placed on the learners concerning their own learning.

Behaviourism and structuralism are approaches to psychology that has its roots in positivism, and has had a profound influence on language teaching. The theory of Stimulus-Response has given rise to s structural/audio-lingual approach to language teaching.

Typical classroom interaction consistent with the behaviourist theory includes: rote memorizations, and drill and practice of one structure at a time.

Teacher/learner Education

In spite of its shortcomings, the Structural Approach has dominated language teaching because of several reasons.

In many countries teachers are not provided with professional training. So, it can be quicker and easier to teach teachers to use steps involved in this approach. Teachers who are less confident tend to be less frightened in using this approach because allowing language to develop through meaningful interaction in the classroom can be a challenging experience to less confident teachers.

The major concern of this school is that, it is only concerned with observable behaviour, thereby; it denies the importance of a fundamental element in the learning process- the cognitive or mental processes.

The macro functionalist perspective with its deterministic view seems unable to grasp the dynamics of human agency in the production of action. It does not seem to provide and adequate treatment of the relationship between individual and society, and in turn, an adequate framework to study human behaviour and the changes therein.

The gap revealed in the functionalist conceptualization of human behaviour because of its failure to account for human reflectivity in the production of action , led to the rise of other perspectives attempting to address these gaps. Notable among them are the Cognitive and Humanistic views. The cognitive perspective will be examined in the section.

Cognitive School

Cognitive psychology is concerned with the ways in which the human mind thinks and learns. Therefore, the emphasis is on mental processes which include how people build up and draw upon their memories and experiences and get involved in learning processes.

In an attempt to arrive a theoretical framework or the present study, the several theories of teaching/learning English which fall under the cognitive school of philosophy, some of these theories are: L. Festinger's (1957) Cognitive Dissonance Theory which can be applied in all situations involving attitude formation and change, decision-making and problem-solving. Next, Cognitive Flexibility Theory was looked at, which builds upon constructivists theories of Bruner, Ausebel and Piaget. 'Experimental Learning Theory' proposed by Rogers is found to be effective as it advocates that 'self-initiated learning is the most lasting and pervasive.

'Vygotsky's 'Social Interaction Theory' plays an important role on the 'social interactions' in

accelerating learning which is similar to Bandura's (1986) 'Social Learning Theory' according to which, observing and modelling the behaviours of others is important in learning. The other theory that examined was the 'Transformation Learning Theory' proposed by Mezirow. This theory is described as being constructivist, an orientation which holds that the way learners interpret their experiences is central to meaning-making and hence learning (Mezirow, 1991).

From this fabric of theories of teaching/learning, the contributions made by Piaget, Bruner and Kelly were chosen for the present study which will give a clear picture of the cognitive school perspectives on human learning.


Piaget (1953) named his notional structure 'genetic epistemology' since he was mainly interested to know how this knowledge developed in human beings. The notion of cognitive structure is vital in his theory. These cognitive structures are models of physical or mental actions that bring about specific acts of intelligence and correspond to child's growth. He identified four cognitive structures - sensory-motor, pre-operations, concrete operations and formal operations.

Cognitive development is a process of maturation within which genetics and experience interact. The developing mind is constantly seeking a balance between what is known and what is currently being experienced. This is accomplished by the complementary processes of assimilation and accommodation. It involves the understanding of events in terms of actual cognitive structures. Accommodation refers to changing cognitive structures to make sense of the environment in which the event is taking place.

The application Piaget's cognitive developmental theory suggests that:

It is very important to take account of the learner as an individual.

The development of thinking and its relation to language and experience become a central focus of learning.

A task should match the cognitive level of the learner.

It is important to consider the notions of assimilation and accommodation to learning new information.

Assimilation refers to the active transformation of information so as to be integrated into the mental schemes already available (Piaget, 1953).

George Kelly

Since the focus of this study is on the learning of teachers and students, it is necessary to look at the psychological dimensions of the social constructivist theories.

Though a clinical psychologist, Kelly's personal construct theory (Kelly, 1955) has thoughtful implications for teacher trainers and educational psychologists. Kelly began with the premise of 'Man-as-Scientist', constantly seeking to make sense of his world. To Kelly, learning involves learners making their own sense of information or events. Each person's individual construction of the world will depend upon their previous experiences which will also influence how they anticipate what will happen in the future.

Implications for teaching:

Language is not learnt by memorization of discrete items. Rather, learners are involved in an active process of making sense.

Teachers and learners both are involved in learning about each other, trying to achieve some kind of shared understanding of what is happening in the classroom (Salmon, 1988).

Emotions must be considered as an integral part of learning.

Personal construct theory provides possible alternating ways of looking at situations which may lead to their reconstruction.

In learning, we cannot ever achieve final answers; rather we find new questions, we discover other possibilities which we might try out. Knowledge is ultimately governed by constructive alternativism; everything can always be reconstructed (Salmon, 1988. 22).

This is true with the present study. The present study will be premised in the theories postulated by constructivist perspectives.

Humanistic School

The focus of the humanistic viewpoint is on the self, which translates into a person and his/her own perception of experiences. This view argues that one is free to choose one's own behaviour, rather than reacting to environmental stimuli and re-inforcers. The problems dealing with self-respect self-fulfilment and needs are dominant. The main focus is to assist individual development.

Humanistic approaches emphasize the importance of the inner world of the learner, and place the individual's thoughts, feelings, and emotions at the forefront of all human development. These are important aspects, if one has to understand human learning in its totality. In this direction, some of the scholars in the field of humanistic thought will be discussed.

Carl Rogers

Counselling psychologist Carl Rogers (1969) identified a number of key elements of humanistic approach to education. According to Rogers, human beings have a natural potential for learning. Significant learning can take place:

If the subject matter is perceived to be of personal relevance to learners.

If it involves feelings and cognition.

If it provides learners freedom and allows creativity.

If it involves active participation of learners.

If it keeps external criticism to a minimum and encourages self-evaluation.

The only man educated is the man who has learned how to adapt and change; the man who has realized that no knowledge is secure; that only the process of seeking knowledge gives a basis for security.

(Rogers, 1969. 104)

Carl Rogers thinks that every one operates from an exclusive frame of situation in terms of building 'self regard or their self concept. 'Self Concept' is one's own observation of self. These beliefs stem, in part, from the notion of 'Unconditional Positive Regard' and 'Conditional Positive Regard.' Unconditional positive regard occurs when people, especially parents, express unconditional love. Conditional positive view is when that love seems to only come when certain conditions are met. Rogers (1983) theory states that emotionally strong people enjoy life to the fullest; hence, they are seen as an effective people.

Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson's 'Childhood and Society' (1963) discusses the fundamental epigenetic principle. In this principle, he suggests that each individual proceeds through eight stages from birth to old age, each of which poses a challenge. If these challenges are handled carefully with the help of significant people in their lives, then individuals can move smoothly on to the next stage. However, if the challenges are not dealt with adequately, they continue to appear again. Erikson's theory is important to educators for a number of reasons.

First, it provides a lifespan view of learning and development. It enables people to see that real life learning involves challenges which require help from others, in order to meet these challenges successfully. It also presents learning as a cumulative process; success in one task has influence upon how one can deal with subsequent tasks. Also, education is viewed as involving the whole person, the emotions and feelings, just not transmitting pieces of knowledge.

Abraham Maslow

Extending Erikson's theory, Abraham Maslow (1968, 1970) argued for two distinct needs of individuals. They are 'deficiency needs and 'being needs'. These are directly related to person's psychological balance. Maslow argued that if deficiency needs are not met, then it would be difficult for them to fulfil being needs.

Deficiency needs require a safe, secure environment which is aimed at creating a state of equilibrium. Being needs, on the other hand, can drive the individual into a danger zone where tension and stress can be most productive.

Maslow's ideas about human need fulfilment have significant implications for teaching and learning. Some of them are:

It is important to establish a secure environment where learners can feel that they belong. Learners should be encouraged to think, and should not be penalized for being creative. Therefore, classroom tasks should be challenging arousing curiosity in order to help learners realize their full potential, to enable learners to develop as individuals and thereby achieve self-actualization.

Through these humanistic approaches, it is understood that, the further education of teachers and the learners should be relevant, at the same time providing opportunities for their involvement in the learning processes, meeting the deficiency needs and being needs. Only then, the existing beliefs of these learners and teachers come out, giving way for new information to get accommodated and eventually internalized.

Similar concepts are also found in social interactionist philosophy which will be looked into, in some detail.

Social Interactionism

Social interactionist theories are concerned with how social interactions between people can create meaningful social experiences and, the ways in which, these experiences can, in turn, manifest the social action.

Social interactionism provides a framework which encompasses the insights provided by cognitive and humanistic perspectives. For social interactionist, children are born into a social world, learning occurs through interactions with other people. The main ideas and implications of social interactionism will be further discussed by examining the theories of some of the scholars in this school of thought.