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 😉

Lessons from halfway of the teacher studies

Having reached halfway of subject teacher studies in Finland it’s time to compile my experiences of the autumn semester. Spoiler: It’s been magnificent!

In the beginning

I was expecting a hectic season, but never realized how much the studies actually entail. I have had to divide my resources quite a bit. Stress levels have been high from time to time.

I was nervous whether I’d remember students’ names (in Finland we call students by their first names), but that process went like a breeze in the end.

I’ve been most surprised with

How much time it takes to craft a proper lesson. But as time goes by, it’ll get quicker.

Troubles tablets cause. I seriously doubt their practicality in profound learning.

The fact that however ‘modern’ Finnish school system might be, there’s quite a lot structural conservatism.

I have developed most in

Becoming increasingly aware and sensitive. And in fact, I find theory related to teaching fascinating. Perhaps one day I’ll teach teacher students as well?

Expanding my selection of teaching methods.

Fostering creativity and reforms.

I enjoy

How well and quickly students learn. Sometimes I feel my instruction for an assignment could have been better, but students surprise me with their skills and adaptability.

Immeadiate reactions one gets from the students. And I actually prefer direct feedback.

The constant need for improvization. Lesson plans always change somehow.

How well theory gets connected to actual teaching. And teacher studies include lots of interning!

Freedom on how to teach.

We should have more

Instructions on how to deal with challenging students and about teacher’s duty of secrecy.

I look forward to

Teaching in English as well as about the history of international relations. I need more challenge 😉

Phenomenon-based teaching – is Finland scrapping subject teaching in schools?

Phenomenon-based teaching or teaching by topic means that instead of simply teaching various subjects separately in schools we teach broader themes and topics, which cross subject limits. For instance teaching about United Nations and inspecting it through history, religion, geography, math etc. simultaneously. Or teaching about money and how to spend it: first going through history how money has become a currency for transactions, then inspecting it with moral values and philosophy. And further pondering in math how to save money by calculating interest rates.

Independent raised a small storm some time ago by suggesting ‘Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with ‘topics’ as country reforms its education system‘. Finnish National Agency for Education was quick to respond: ‘Subject teaching in Finnish schools is not being abolished‘. Yet, in the statement it was acknowledged that while teachers in Finland have a wide liberty carrying out teaching, phenomen-based teaching is emphasized in the new curriculum that came into effect in 2016. Pupils should already participate each year in at least one multidisciplinary learning module that contains teaching by topic.

The benefits of phenomen-based teaching include that instead of memorizing facts and figures or accepting knowledge ‘as it is’, we’d focus more into understanding, analysing and interpreting phenomenas. Additionally, pupils should not just think based on the subject which lesson they are in, but rather connect things they learn through multiple subjects.

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.

 

Why was modern school system created?

These days we take education somewhat for granted in many parts of the world and perhaps rightly so. But I decided to go way back and inspect historical reasons for why the modern school system was created in the 18th and 19th century in Europe.

One explanation for modern school system is found through functional approach: schools were created in response for the representation dilemma. Before industrialisation and urbanisation seized Europe there wasn’t really a need for large-scale schools — parents taught their children all the necessary skills needed for instance in farming. But troubles appeared when factories started spreading, towns began changing and work places started moving farther away from the people. How could people learn without actually seeing how things were done in the industrialised society? School system was therefore needed to fill the knowledge gap.

Another explanation is to see schools as a product of modernisation, an evolution of societies, which was an evident result of the Age of Enlightenment (breakthrough in the 18th century). According to Zygmunt Bauman modern society could be described as a dream of humans to create order to world’s disorder and to be capable of ruling life through rationality and knowledge. Development of modern school system is a prime instance how that kind of order has been tried to achieve and maintain.

Thirdly, one could see schools being formed to gain social control. When legislation to restrict the use of child labor was put into effect in the most industrialized country in the world, England, in early 1800s a chain reaction leading to mass compulsory education began. It was common that everybody in worker families contributed by working in factories and it wasn’t until 1860 that use of child labor was effectively put to a halt. Parents had to work, often times for the whole day and children started roaming around cities, creating fears of social problems. That’s why schools were introduced — in a way to ‘store’ these children in a safe place of order.

Further, modern school system has been the central institution for separating people into different social and cultural layers. Main rule of thumb has been that the greater the degree, the greater the social and cultural status one has possessed. Schools are even as of today an important place where people find their calling, identify their own skills and compare them to others and eventually receive counsel to which area should they spesialize in.

Anything to comment? Please share your ideas!

What is hidden curriculum in teaching?

It’s common knowledge that teachers have the official, written curriculum to give us for instance guidelines about topics meant to teach. However, that’s not the only thing influencing teaching. So called hidden curriculum is a side-product of teaching and means all the things that are taught and learned (usually) unintentionally.
Hidden curriculums could even displace the official curriculum and pupils could learn totally different things than what was originally meant during teaching.
I’m not here to to argue whether the idea of hidden curriculum is real or not, good or bad, but rather to broaden the understanding concerning teaching.

Hidden curriculum doesn’t exist in any written form as each teacher and pupil have their own underlying motives which affect the whole learning experience. Additionally, rules and norms which are taken for granted in schools could be a result of hidden curriculum.

It’s said that by researching the concept of hidden curriculum we gain information about the reality of schools that transcends the most obvious forms of teaching. That’s because there’s a lot of aspects in schools which both teachers and pupils are unaware of, yet ones that should be taken into account. 

One of these aspects is the seemingly apparent individualism, personalism and freedom which school teaching is supposed to enforce, based on the curriculum. Effectively those ideals could mean all the things outside the official curriculum are shut out and each pupil’s social actions are evaluated without taking class, gender, ethnical identity or wealth background into consideration.

Another idea behind hidden curriculum is to remove the misconcept that schools somehow are failing to achieve official goals and that the failure would be due to school system or practiced pedagogy. It could be considered that the mission of school institution isn’t to produce critically-minded and creative human beings or to equally develop each pupil, but rather to guide and force pupils in to the power structures and division of labor which are found in the society. This is called social reproduction in which new generations are socialised in to the society. In any case the success of school system could easily be compared to this agenda.

Closely connected to the idea of hidden curriculum is meta learning. Meta learning refers to the concept that in schools pupils learn to characterize themselves and their skills compared to others and the demands of the school system. Therefore, pupils learn to predict their future identity, place in the society and at the same time learn the limits of their capabilities already in school.

The theory related to hidden curriculum goes not without criticism. Some have argued the theoretical base of hidden curriculums is too rational. It’s also seen as common practice and natural that to protect integrity each school has their own agendas which are derived from multiple sources.

Comments and thoughts welcome!

Teacher’s survival strategies

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Lately I’ve been reading this book concerning sosiology of education, since it’s the first mandatory book of teacher studies. It has many fascinating topics, including a chapter about teacher’s survival strategies.

First introduced by Peter Woods in 1979, teacher’s survival strategies involve ways for a teacher to make teaching more pleasant — in other words to cope with the reality of schools. These strategies incorporate a dual nature, meaning that they form through teacher’s professional role as an advocator of state’s interests but also by personal ideals, which are based on teacher’s own history and experience as a pupil. The aforementioned clash of profiles results in teacher’s survival strategies.

Let’s check out some of them.

Socialisation means that a teacher tries to evoke certain ideals for ‘good pupils’. In practice a teacher shapes pupils to meet her/his ideals, which consist of e.g. proper behaviour and language.

Then there’s domination, meaning that a teacher may use varied degrees of power over the classroom. Domination is described as an easy survival method, due to the fact that pupils are subjected to teacher’s control both being underaged (and therefore under guardianship with limited rights) and due to their institutional position as pupils.

Teacher may also utilize trading, i.e. a teacher might get pupils to promise to remain quiet for certain period of time by promising they can see a movie in the classroom.

Fraternization means that a teacher could seek to come in good terms with pupils through e.g. similar humor. And young teachers might try crossing generations by utilising cultural identification, e.g. using references from popular culture.

Exiting means that a teacher could completely exit situations which involve conflicts or difficult problems. Teachers could for instance ignore identifying learning disabilities.

Routines and rituals are used for instance to ensure peaceful classes. A school could be traditionally seen as peaceful and that’s then used as an argument for demanding peacefulness from pupils.

Professional therapy means that a teacher could see teaching first and foremost as a therapeutic activity. It’s then enough seeing pupils working on something appearing busy and enthusiastic and to think that the therapeutic, pupil-centric teaching is that way being realised.

Morale boosting occurs when a teacher justifies the importance of teaching, for instance after a bad day. This could happen along with discussions and professional humor shared in the senior common room with other teachers as well as by seeking their approval for methods used in teaching.

Comments and thoughts welcome!