Behaviorism vs. constructivism: Comparing two leading approaches to learning

Let’s take a look on two most influential theories that have affected today’s learning and teaching styles.

  • Behaviorism (theory related to ‘passive mind’)

-Teacher teaches while the students remain relatively passive
(interaction is limited)
Teacher tells ‘facts’ which are then linked with students’ earlier knowledge (memorazing facts is also promoted)
-Learning happens individually in the classroom as a teacher-led process (80 % of the talk in class originates from teacher)
-Teacher knows everything
Making mistakes isn’t encouraged, in fact mistakes are quickly overlooked so that they wouldn’t leave a permanent memory trace

  • Constructivism (theory related to ‘active mind’)

-Teacher supports an active learning environment
(where students work together and discuss)
-Learning is based on understanding what has been learnt and processing that information
-Learning happens inside or outside the class
-Teacher as an expert, who encourages learning
-Teacher guides students to find solutions to problems
(main responsibility of learning lays with the student)
-Emphasis on learning strategies and creating new knowledge

Finally, many teachers combine these approaches. Based on the situation both of them prove useful in teaching – trick is to find the suitable balance 😉

Where’s the fun in schools these days?

uusvuosi_2018
New year celebrations — this year has begun hecticly, but insightfully.

During the autumn term I taught mostly in the upper secondary school, but I also participated in team teaching in elementary school (method that was pioneered by J. Lloyd Trump in 1952, more about this in future posts!). Long story short, based on my observations elementary school pupils (and teachers) seemed happier — something that might be totally obvious to you also from your personal experience. Elementary school lessons appear more fun and engaging whereas in upper school levels learning becomes more serious and uneventful. But why and should it be like that? 

Reasons behind why school becomes ‘more serious’ originate for instance in human psychology. First of all, let’s inspect the stages of psychosocial development one in general goes through during adolescence, according to Erik H. Erikson (1959). During early school ages 6-11 a child compares ones worth to others, for instance among pupils in a school class.
As such one questions: How do I fare compared to others?
Learning might feel then so fresh and exciting, yet the opinion and acceptance of others is regarded as highly important. Erikson stresses that a teacher should be aware of this phase and make sure that children wouldn’t feel inferior.

However, learning becomes more complicated the older one gets. During ages 12-18 a child might face identity and role confusion (even an identity crisis). Information is pouring in lightning-fast speeds and processing it all takes more and more time and effort. One might ponder then: Who am I? And when puberty hits one might come across depression and black and white thoughts might invade anyone’s mind. As teachers we should recognise these phases and wonder:
Are we demanding too much in school?
Are we sensitive enough for the needs of each individual?
Do we really know how the students are doing?

Moreover, especially in history topics like wars have traditionally taken a lot of class time. And those topics are tough to comprehend. It’s no wonder if students get depressed if they already go through an identity crisis and we keep pushing wars and conflicts upon them. We shouldn’t avoid difficult topics, but especially subject teachers should broaden their mindsets and surpass their respective teaching subjects.
A teacher I deemed wise explained to me that it’s sometimes not of utmost importance if students don’t learn everything from the specific subject(s) one teaches — rather it’s more important if they learn skills to cope in life. And that’s perhaps the greatest lesson of them all…

Today’s teaching models

As a teacher student it’s fascinating to speculate ‘what kind of teacher will I become?’. Based on Dr. Sue Askew, an university lecturer in health education in the University College of London, I’ll go through present day models of teaching. They comprise of roles for teacher, goals of teaching, what’s the view on learning and how feedback is seen.

  • Receptive transmission
    Role of teacher
    is to be an ‘expert’ and goals for teaching are to impart new knowledge, concepts and skills.
    (This is fairly basic and could be seen as the minimum base for teaching).
    View of learning includes that a cognitive dimension is stressed. Learning is individual and affected by ability which is fixed. Learning involves increased understanding of new ideas, memorasing new facts, practising new skills and making decisions based on new information.
    (Memorasing is currently losing ground in teaching, since understanding and making connections are more emphasized).
    Feedback discourse is considered as traditional discourse in which ‘expert’ gives information to others to help them improve. Main goal through feedback is to evaluate and it’s seen as a gift for the pupil.
    (Feedback is then sort of given one-way. Most teachers I have encountered have utilized feedback in this manner).
  • Constructive
    Role of teacher
    is to be an expert. Goals incorporate facilitating the discovery of new knowledge, concepts and skills. And helping to make connections, discover meanings as well as to gain new insights.
    View of learning is based on cognitive dimension, although social dimension is recognised to some extent. Learning is affected by abilities which can be developed and is affected by experiences. Learning involves making connections between old and new experiences, integrating new knowledge and extending established schema.
    (It’s important to see learning as an ability that can always be developed, as contrast it being somehow ‘fixed’ ability).
    Feedback discourse means an expanded discourse in which ‘experts’ enables others to gain understandings, make sense of experiences and make connections by the use of open questions and shared insight. Primary goal is to describe and discuss. Feedback is considered as two-way process.
  • Co-constructive
    Role of teacher
    is based more on an equal power dynamic. Teachers view themselves as learners. Goals include facilitating the discovery of new knowledge, concepts and skills. And to help make connections, discover meaning plus gain new insights. To practise self-reflection and facilitate a reflexive process in others about learning through a collaborative dialogue.
    (In general I see this style progressive and good, but it could also weaken teacher’s credibility. Yet, it has to be acknowledged that a teacher is never ready and there’s always room for improvement).
    View of learning includes that the cognitive, emotional and social dimensions of learning are seen as interconnected and equally important. The view of learning is extended to include reflection on the learning process itself and meta-learning, that is learning about learning.
    (This manner brings up sociological dimensions of teaching, which should be better understood in order to improve pedagogical thinking).
    Feedback discourse is based on expanded discourse involving a reciprocal process of talking about learning. Primary goal is to illuminate learning for all. Feedback is a dialogue, formed by loops connecting the participants.
    (Finally, this manner stresses that feedback should go both ways and that teachers should also receive feedback from pupils).

As always, comments and feedback are most appreciated 😉