I find myself preaching the same messages over and over in life, and one of those messages is often the importance of variety. Variety isn’t always the best option (I would take a straight up box of Dad’s goodie rings over the variety pack any day!), but I find that more often than not it’s a solid approach.
In class this week we discussed deep questions such as ‘how do we learn’ and ‘what is knowledge’. I don’t think I’m quite as fond of philosophy as Luke is as he discusses in his blog ‘A Journey Into the Mind’, but these are questions that I have put some thought into considering I am a teacher and there should be at least a little bit of self-reflection regarding ones beliefs about how humans do, in fact, learn.
First of all, I’m a science person. Science is latin for knowledge. So when I first think of the question ‘What is knowledge?’, I think of evidence that we have come to gain from the scientific enterprise. Empiricism is the theory that I tend to align with the most. Empiricism posits that the Universe is knowable, and through our senses and our rational thoughts, we can come to understand the Universe and that is knowledge. The beauty of science and empiricism in my mind is the sense of openness it creates. As humans, the things we believe in and hold as truth, well…we don’t want to be wrong about them. We will deny other possibilities quite fiercely. Empiricism though embraces the idea of trying to prove things wrong and come up with better understandings that are closer and closer to truth. I love that. I’m with Aristotle and John Locke on this one.
I started off talking about variety being important though. Last week I discussed in my blog how I favour viewing issues on continuums versus binary choices. I don’t view learning theories as ‘it’s this one versus the rest’. They all have merit, otherwise it would be easy to discredit some. Certain types of knowledge can possibly be best attained through one particular philosophical approach, but then another approach could possibly work better in a different situation. Ashley discusses this as well in her blog. In the article Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective by Peggy A. Ertmer and Timothy J. Newby, they state that, “We believe that the critical question instructional designers must ask is not ‘Which is the best theory?’ but ‘Which theory is the most effective in fostering mastery of specific tasks by specific learners?’”. This aligns with what both Ashley and I are proposing. It seems best to not look at learning theories and say that, “I prescribe to this theory, therefore that is how all learning experiences will be guided in my classroom” but rather to go task by task and decide on how best to approach that particular learning objective. This is the exact same thinking I’ve taken regarding using technology in my classroom. I don’t look at the technology and decide on what to do with it, I look at the learning objective and decide on which technology can help me the best with that particular objective.
I am in my 7th year of teaching now, and my views on teaching and learning have indeed changed over that span. I find it difficult to articulate some of the transition, but I think that over the past couple years I have shifted some focus to constructivism in that I have gone to a notebook format that includes a daily component regarding their thought process and their thinking regarding our class topics. I would also say that social constructivism exists in my classes as well as students have time to work in groups where their primary focus is on discussing learning processes with each other and how they have come to understand topics and issues.
While I’m sure my philosophical views will continually change over the duration of my life, I definitely have pretty strong views regarding how I feel knowledge is obtained. I often quote one of my favourite scientists, Neil Degrasse Tyson as he says,
“Follow the evidence”
Live long and prosper