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…

Pedagogical freedom — secret to Finland’s success?

Perhaps one of the most differentiating factor that makes Finnish school system unique, is the way of allowing teachers autonomy and pedagogical freedom (also called as didactical freedom).

It means that teachers in Finland possess a wide liberty to design and carry out school lessons. While the curriculum gives instructions on what and how to teach various topics, it doesn’t mandate time limits that for instance a civics teacher should give 2-hour lessons about European Union for high school students. Instead it’s taught as much as seen necessary by the teacher, in the appropriate course naturally.

A teacher may also choose what kind of textbook/ebook one uses and which teaching methods are applied with a certain class. That’s mainly because what works with some, might not work with others. Since each pupil is an individual and their development phases delicate as well as diverse, it’s best to tailor the teaching to suit different needs.

Pedagogical freedom also tells us that in Finland teacher’s expertize is quite trusted. After all, every qualified teacher from elementary school onwards holds a Master’s degree. No need for extra surveillance and strict mandates on how teaching is to be carried out (that’s left for the parents ;)).

Teaching is seen as a complex set of interactions. Improvization, lightning fast reflexes and adaptation to new circumstances are absolutely needed in teacher’s profession. That’s why pedagogical freedom gives room to manouver in ever-changing times…

About evaluation principles

Newman and Brown (1996) have presented a helpful principle for evaluation: Evaluate as you’d like to be evaluated yourself. Let’s check out more of their principles for evaluation.

  1. Autonomy. Normally autonomy is seen as a negative right, right? 😉
    But autonomy can also be seen as positive, right for something. In a way, autonomy of pupils is greatly damaged in school evaluation: They usually don’t have say are they evaluated or not. Yet, by developing self-assesment, we can offer a path for pupils to have an impact on how they are evaluated
    (more about this in future posts).
  2. Avoiding harm. Teacher, especially in a school environment, has a lot of pedagogical power. Thus, teachers should avoid unneccessary side-effects of evaluation by weighing which evaluation methods maximize positive impacts.
    And one should keep in mind that pupils’ mental harm, stress wouldn’t rise too high as a result of evaluation(s).
  3. Doing good. Evaluation might feel cruel and repressive use of power. Especially since pupils are only just developing their self-esteem. Some pupils have the notion that a well-performing student equals a ‘good’ person. And through evaluation teachers might label someone as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. That’s a responsibility not to be taken lightly.
  4. Fairness. Equal, non-favoring and multiple angles incorporating evaluation is the key.
  5. Loyalty. Teacher should be trustworthy and accountable, that’s a given. But one might question loyalty when considering expectations of a pupil, parents, community, country etc. Where should teacher’s loyalty first and foremost lay?

Teachers and the Comenius’ Oath – what’s the deal?

Since early 2017 we have had a teacher’s oath called ‘Comenius’ Oath’ in Finland. Among the first to take the oath was actually Hanan al Hroub, who was awarded with Global Teacher Prize in 2016. Comenius’ Oath is named after Education Philosopher Johan Comenius who lived in the 17th century in Europe. Similarly than medical doctors’ Hippocratic Oath, this oath in question gives ethical guidelines on how to act in teacher’s profession. By no means is it mandatory to take nor is it a requirement in teacher’s work. Everyone is free to choose.
But let’s check out the oath:

‘As a teacher I am engaged in educating the next generation, which is one of the most important human tasks. My aim in this will be to renew and pass on the existing reserve of human knowledge, culture and skills.
I undertake to act with justice and fairness in all that I do and to promote the development of my pupils and students, so that each individual may grow up as a complete human being in accordance with his or her aptitudes and talents.
I will also strive to assist parents, guardians and others responsible for working with children and young people in their educational functions.
I will not reveal information that is communicated to me confidentially, and I will respect the privacy of children and young people. I will also protect their physical and psychological inviolability. I will endeavour to shield the children and young people in my care from political and economic exploitation and defend the rights of every individual to develop his or her own religious and political convictions.
I will make continuous efforts to maintain and develop my professional skills, committing myself to the common goals of my profession and to the support of my colleagues in their work. I will act in the best interests of the community at large and strive to strengthen the esteem in which the teaching profession is held.’

What do you think about the oath?

 

7 multidisciplinary learning aspects teachers in Finland must pay attention to

According to the newest Finnish basic education curriculum from 2016, every teacher needs to pay attention to certain important general skills and incorporate them into teaching, regardless of the subjects they teach. Let’s go through those skills.

1. Learning to care of yourself and everyday skills

This is something schools are often said overlooking. Teachers need to make sure pupils learn for life, not (just) for school. In my opinion, coping with life is one of greatest lessons schools can offer. And one can only wonder the vexed question: Where’s the balance between theoretical and practical knowledge?

2. Thinking and learning to learn

It’s always pivotal to learn to think for yourself, not just follow others and trends. If a society is to evolve, someone needs to be the pioneer with new ideas. Additionally, with teacher’s support one should discover the best way that advances learning.

3. Cultural skills, interaction and learning self-expression

Interaction, group skills and problem-solving are deeply advocated by the newest curriculum. In theory the more there’s interaction, the less there’s distrust, exclusion and xenophobia.

4. Multiliteracy

Information flow is growing rapidly and pupils are exposed to various interest groups. That’s why one should learn to filter it and distinguish ‘fact’ from ‘fiction’. I’ve been thinking about a course model that revolves around the idea on how to identify false/correct sources. Needless to say though, multiliteracy needs to evolve leaps and bounds from the current level.

5. Information and communication technology

Schools are in the midst of a technology revolution that seems never-ending. Some teachers are uncertain how to use new technology, when and how much. And how much new technology really helps learning? Are old teaching methods abandoned too easily?

6. Working life and entrepreneurship

Closely connected to ‘everyday skills’, working life shouldn’t stay too distant from pupils. Let’s not forget creativity: Could pupils start a fictional company? In any case, it’s a good lesson of how to think a little bit ahead.

7. Participation and bulding a sustainable future

Pupils should be introduced to various ways of how to influence near and far as well as be encouraged to find suitable ways for them. Not e.g. by creating a bad conscience of events happened in the past, but through real interest. In the end teachers have to ponder, how practical and close to everyday life teaching about participation can be.

Comments welcome 🙂

Finnish schools are dissolving traditional division to girls and boys

Based on the newest curriculum concerning basic education Finnish National Agency for Education (Opetushallitus) has released a guide how schools should take into account gender variations, which these days transcend girl and boy centric approaches. Gender-conscious teaching means that teachers are sensitive in recognising individuality and personality of each pupil, regardless of their background. In practice this means that teachers guide pupils to make individual choices instead of maintaining segregation in education and job market.

This line of thought also includes that teachers should acknowledge there are more genders than two and therefore pupils shouldn’t be only recognised as boys and girls. Recognising various sexual orientations and a multitude of identities is crucial in teaching as it helps to break stereotypes, prejudism and broadens one’s understanding.

The key is to realize that any person can become anything. A gender or being genderless shouldn’t dictate one’s life choices. That’s why teachers should encourage pupils pursue their abilities despite of deep cultural assumptions how one ‘should behave’. As with any possible topic teachers should be aware and be willing to discuss about new fields which might not be that known to them. Thus we achieve better level of inclusion among pupils.

Anything to comment?

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 😉

Thoughts about school curriculums

Technically speaking school curriculums are administrative documents, which include goals of teaching, desired information and skill levels, teaching methods, time needed for teaching/learning as well as actions needed from pupils and lastly evaluation of their learning. In theory, curriculums are based on values and norms of each society and they are built on a vision for future needs. Curriculums change as new information comes along, through transforms of political tendency and paradigm shifts. For instance Finnish basic education’s curriculum reform from 1994 was partly based on an analysis about quick change in economic environment. Finland was recovering from a deep recession caused by the collapse of Soviet Union. It was then that school system’s function concerning upbringing was recognised in a more profound way (to aid families in the midst of financial problems) and the need for lifelong learning was brought up, so that swift changes in the society wouldn’t cause too much disturbance.

Moreover, it’s possible to perceive from the school curriculums whether societies appreciate first and foremost that an individual is adapted to the society or are individual personalities taken more into account. Naturally it isn’t as black and white, due to the fact curriculums may involve many elements. In any case in Finland curriculums have transformed from emphasizing ‘collective good’ to ‘individuality’ and religious ‘lutherian morale’ to ‘rationality’ (whatever that in any given moment might be).

Another aspect to look at curriculums is to investigate how well they translate to real life scenarios. In Finland equality is an important factor in curriculums and in principle, they are neutral documents in which gender isn’t present, but girls and boys are rather treated as equal pupils. In that context equality is defined as equal rights and obligations for girls and boys covering family life, education, job market as well as broader society. Lahelma (1992) has been inspecting school curriculums and according to her pupils always represent a gender as well — despite of school’s agenda. And one can wonder, whether pursuiting creativity, spontaneity and responsibility means same things for girls and boys. Lahelma emphasizes how gender neutral curriculum always get ‘genderalized’ in a reality where teaching practices and educational content differentiate boys’ and girls’ lives according to a social hierarchy between the two genders. As it’s also been studied through several school textbook analyses that textbooks are connected first and foremost to masculine experience. It’s then a paradox to think that curriculums somewhat aim for equality and neutrality, yet real life school teaching scenarios could make pursuing them difficult. I’ll look school textbooks more into detail in later posts.

Comments and thoughts welcome.

Why teaching about marginal issues matters?

Many of us have been taught deeply about important historical events, about times when our country faced a moment of crisis. In the case of Finland, such instance is probably best known as the Winter War (1939—1940). While those struggles should not be forgotten or be left out from the curriculum, there are also other historical themes which could be taught to pupils more in depth.

It’s eventually a choice what we teach and how. A constant debate exists how much emphasis is to be put on certain topics and how the ever-present lack of time should be handled in teaching. Yet, I argue that marginal issues concerning for instance ethnical minorities could be addressed better through teaching. After all, we teach since we want to create awareness and improve critical thinking, not just reproduce lessons exactly the same way as was taught earlier.

Further, marginal issues should be more present during school lessons, because:

  • Today’s marginal issues could be tomorrow’s majority. During European history several natural scientific theories were put in margin due to the fact they didn’t fit into catholic church’s agenda.
  • It gives opportunities to explore new fields. Not everything has yet been researched and pupils should be encouraged to enter topics which aren’t mainstream.
  • They expand awareness. Teaching ultimately creates awareness and it’s our job to prepare pupils with better cognitive skills. Pupils learn to inspect a phenomenon through multiple angles.
  • They offer means to handle new knowledge. Pupils face new knowledge currently at the greatest speed ever. Handling and filtering incoming data is crucial. We don’t want anyone to feel powerless amidst information flow and that they can’t have an influence.
  • That’s a way to present pupils opportunities of discovery. The joy of making new findings and connecting them to earlier lessons is important for school motivation. It also underlines that anyone can make information discoveries.

All in all, this blog post leads us to question:
What topics are left out of the curriculum and why?
(I’ll come to that more in future posts).

Please share if you have ideas concerning the topic.