Last week I started my career in Initial Teacher Education (ITE). My current classes include the Diploma in Education and Training and Foundation Degree in Teaching and Learning. Now it’s been a number of years since I did my ITE and despite my interest in theories of learning, the key ideologies and associated theorists had slipped into the abyss of my mind. I therefore embarked on researching the key theories and their application to the classroom and though there were an array of great resources that others had used previously, I wanted to add my own spin and support learners in grasping the theories at a basic level first, before building on it. Here is a summary of my first session with initial reflections:
My session began with a circle time initial assessment of what the group already knew. I provided a range of statements which were either true or false about a number of theories. Learners stepped in if they felt it was true and stayed out if they thought it was false. I then probed them with questions to check understanding. This initial assessment revealed that in most cases there was limited prior knowledge – which I was glad about, due to the fact that I had planned on going back to basics.
Following the initial assessment I asked learners to define ‘learning’ individually. This was used to pull common key words out and compare to several definitions that I had provided. Key words included: change, behaviour, skills, knowledge, memory, experience and retention. Having discussed the concept of learning, this led to me explaining that though we may view it similarly, there are a range of lenses (paradigms) from which to view it – dependent upon ideologies. I wanted to introduce each key learning theory in a really simplistic way, so I thought it best to approach a few of the theories with a simple Lego activity. I then followed each activity with a brief presentation which included a summary of the key features and theorists of the theory, before identifying some of the teaching strategies that align with the theory. This was also supplemented by a really accessible (possibly corny) video for each theory. During the presentation, I tried to draw upon learners current experiences and prior knowledge to make links more coherent. Having done this, I asked learners to critique the theory in pairs. This was an essential part of the session and I provided some of my own critiques to support their points.
Behaviourism – This was introduced with one learner sat at a table with the components of Lego model and another learner sat opposite with two buzzers and the instructions. One of the buzzers was a nice sounding ‘Bing’ and the other an aggressive sound. When the person building the model was doing things right they were given the positive noise and the aggressive noise when they built it incorrectly. This was supposed to be a very simple approach to demonstrate Skinner’s operant conditioning (a key proponent of Behaviourism). I asked the learners to identify the potential theory before progressing to key features, classroom application and critiques.
Cognitivism – I didn’t use the Lego to introduce this. Instead I used a similar method to an example in Willingham’s (2009) book, whereby there are a series of letters to remember in a short period, they start without meaning (column 1), but then a second attempt with the same letters (column 2) had more meaning due to linking with prior knowledge. I used:
This was demonstrating the linkage of new information with the learners existing schema. I discussed the concept of working memory (sure, this is only one model of memory, but it was useful to introduce the concept of cognitivism as an information processor). As before, I then asked the learners to identify the potential theory before progressing to key features, classroom application and critiques.
Social Learning Theory – I went back to the lego and asked who was impressed by the person that built the object in the initial (behaviourism) task. A person stepped up. I asked them to do exactly what they thought was the right way to build the object. This task was an introduction to SLT. As it happens, the individual completed the task in the same way as the first person. A simple way to show how modelling works. Again I asked the learners to identify the potential theory before progressing to key features, classroom application and critiques.
Constructivism – The final task involved me placing several of the Lego items around the room. Learners with the Lego were asked to complete the model. This involved them identifying the pieces that they had and then coming together to build the object. Again, very simplistic, but a brief introduction to social constructivism. Once again, I then presented the key features, classroom application and critiques with regular learner input.
Having been introduced to the abovementioned theories, learners were asked to produce a concept map of what they had learnt, making links between the different theories where possible. I thought this was really important as a consolidation activity and the research by Hattie (2008) suggests that concept mapping is a reasonably effective strategy at 0.57 ES. My intention is to continue to revisit this throughout the module and ask learners to add to it.
For homework, learners have each been given another theory to explore, which requires them to produce a short fact sheet for peers inclusive of: the key features, classroom application and critiques. I also produced a blended learning activity which involved reading the excellent article by Darling-Hammond et al (2001) and then completing a multiple choice quiz (automatically marked using Google forms and flubaroo). This should help them to further consolidate their learning of the theories.
Next we shall be exploring the classroom application in greater depth, examining evidence based practice and literature for structuring learning – particularly planning over time.
My reflection on the session:
I felt that the session was a nice introduction to learning theory, though much of the emphasis was on classroom application. Therefore, I think it would be beneficial to explore the theory in greater depth in future. Perhaps the Lego activities lacked purpose and I should have invested that time more productively. I think I just wanted to try something different to the resources I have seen elsewhere. Some learners commented that they found it quite a good way to grasp a topic via the simple activities however, so I may well keep it. I emphasised the importance of keeping an open mind and challenged learners to question their current beliefs. This proved fruitful in some of the discussions, where I tried to play devils advocate to ensure that learners were critical of all approaches. Overall, it was an enjoyable first week in the role and as a complete beginner to ITE, I feel as though I’ve learnt loads already – long may it continue.