I am a teacher. I am a proud to be a teacher. You can see this in all of my online profiles, and when you meet me, this will be one of the first things I will use to describe myself.
What you won’t hear, and what you won’t see, are the learning theories that permeate my teaching. I never use these to describe what I do and who I am, although, really, they are at the core of any teacher and they are the backbone of the environment fostered in the classroom.
Learning theories date back to ancient times, with Plato and Aristotle developing opinions on what makes for the best learning environment. Is is through the development of rational thought or through the use of experiences? Later, in the 17th century, these similar debates continued to persist with other thinkers such as Descartes and Locke; although they adapted some of the notions, at the core, they too were looking to define how people learn. It has been a research topic for centuries, and with the evolution of technology, new theories have emerged and have begun to permeate our classroom environments.
Like some of my colleagues, I believe my teaching philosophy has evolved greatly since I began teaching in 2012. As a new teacher, unfamiliar with the classroom environment and curriculum I was to teach, I relied very heavily on behaviourism and cognitivism. My daily structure of a bell ringer, a lesson, an activity, and an assessment of said activity with a rinse-repeat cycle for the next day was less than inspiring. Not that I think these theories don’t have a place in the classroom; how people respond to stimuli, and the acquisition of knowledge, have been a staple in education for years. However, in my classroom, the predominant use of this theory was not yielding the results that I, nor my students, were desiring.
It was as I became more comfortable with my environment, with my own personal knowledge, and with my curriculum, I began to adapt and change my classroom environment. In my last year at Wilfrid Walker, where I had been teaching middle years for four years, I was really able to use social constructivism successfully. This theory works incredibly well in Social Studies, where students can construct knowledge based upon the experiences and discussions we generate in the classroom. I felt as though the students were more engaged when I shifted over predominantly to this theory. However, it was not the sole theory that I used in my classroom. Connectivism, too, has become a powerful tool in my classroom. I understand the ever-changing nature of our world
– and the fact that my students often will know more than I do about certain topics. The formulation of opinions is a valuable and essential part of my teaching philosophy, and the best way to achieve this is through the connection between different sources and elements of information. Just like Jayme Lee noted in her blog, learning in our digital age happens truly through the use of networks and the knowledge that exists around us.
The amplification of learning, knowledge, and understanding through the extension of a personal network is the epitome of connectivism – George Siemens
So which theory really underpins my own teaching philosophy? Well, I have to echo my colleagues Amy and Benita in saying that I don’t really think one theory does the trick. There is no one singular learning theory that trumps the rest; each theory has a place, and each theory has its advantages and disadvantages. Just like Roxanne said in her blog this week; not every student learns in the same way, and not every class will be taught in the same way. A combined use of learning theories and the use of a connectivist lens through which we look at all of these theories – connecting the information between all of them – to reach our goals for each and every student is the idea that truly underpins my educational philosophy.
That being said, I feel as though I have shifted yet again with the change in teaching assignment. I felt comfortable last year in my previous teaching assignment, when I could take more risks and challenge my students differently because I knew my environment, I knew my community, and they knew me. This is not to say I don’t love my new community – I absolutely love my new teaching assignment and I couldn’t be happier to have moved
into a new adventure and new challenge. It is, however, a challenge, with three new curricula to learn and to adapt to my teaching philosophy. My students are different, my community is different, and my expectations are different. This does not mean my educational philosophy needs to change nor the learning theories that underpin it. It does, however, mean they need to evolve and grow with my new surroundings. Therefore, although I strongly believe in the use of the previously explained learning theories in my classroom, it is still a work in progress, and something that will continually change and evolve as both I and my students evolve as well.
What learning theory do you find best for your environment? Or are you a combination as well? Let me know in your comments below!