Competency Documentation


1b: An effective teacher/leader with skills in various learning-strategies, including group processes

Scholarly/Philosophical Foundations (from IDP)
A reflection paper covering the history and philosophical background of group process, backward design, 4MAT; additional information will be included as I read, take more classes, and interact with my RG and cohort. My philosophical foundation will answer the following questions: How have the educational theories influenced my curriculum writing? What additional sources or theories would blend well with this type of online curriculum planning? Who are the experts in online education and how do my practices and methods align with theirs?*

The act of "learning" has been the subject of much debate, research, and perhaps even speculation. It seems everyone has had a hand in telling educators how children learn, and therefore, what methods of teaching will work best. While ideas abound as to best practices in education, there seems to be two primary yet polar schools of thought: behaviorism and constructivism (and some variations in between). "As theories trying to explain the same thing, [behaviorism and constructivism] are bipolar based on their respective views of how knowledge is acquired and the intervention of tools of learning (teachers or instructors)," write Darren Forrester & Noel Jantzie.

Watson (with his evolutionary continuity, reductionism, determinism, and empiricism), Thorndike (with his connectionism), and Skinner (with his operant conditioning) proposed (to varying degrees) that people learn by a form of conditioning behavior, not unlike Pavlov's dog who eventually learned to salivate when a bell was rung because he had been "conditioned" to associate the bell with receiving food. While many educators verbalize their disconnection from the ideas of behaviorism, there is still widespread evidence that behaviorism is alive and well in the modern American classroom (as well as modern psychology). How many of us still give "rewards" for correct answers? Isn't that what grades are all about in most schools? Additionally, in a traditional behaviorists mind set, the teacher is the fount of all knowledge, and disseminates that knowledge to her students, testing the acquisition of this knowledge through traditional assessments, and rewarding the assessment of the knowledge through grades. The teacher as "expert" is still seen in many classrooms today. (This stands in stark contrast to the philosophy of Andrew's Leadership Program, and the stated philosophy of AE21.)

Reading about behaviorism brings to mind the worldview of the naturalist, who believes that man is primarily a machine. A behaviorists believes only in what can be seen and measured, and Watson believed that man was similar to lower animals. This is diametrically opposed to a theist worldview that says man is a created, thinking being. While there are tenets of behaviorism that seem to work (grades, rewards for children's good behavior, charts, stickers, etc.), I feel the basic foundation of behaviorism leads me to look elsewhere for better explanations for learning, leading to better practices.

As people (scientist, educators) began to realize the limitations of behaviorism (i.e. children did not always imitate behavior that had been modeled for them, or demonstrated behavior modeled but not reinforced), they began to depart from the behaviorist model and develop something that was eventually called "cognivism."

Piaget conducted research over a period of six decades that "profoundly affected our understanding of child development" (http://tip.psychology.org/piaget.html). He categorized the development of humans into several periods: sensory/motor period, preoperational period, period of concrete operations, period of formal operations. Piaget talked about learning as a process of assimilation and accommodation. "Assimilation occurs when new information is introduced to a person. The person begins to integrate the new information into existing files, or 'schema.' Accommodation occurs when the person reorganizes schema to accommodate themselves with the environment" (http://facultyweb.cortland.edu/~ANDERSMD/PIAGET/5.HTML). Interestingly, Piaget's work in developing the concepts of cognitive learning as early as the 1920's, was not widely accepted in North America until much later (Mergel).

Piaget's ideas fit much better with my philosophy of teaching as a theist than the behaviorists' ideas . There seems to be much more focus on the individual as a being who is capable of thinking and creating meaning out of life. I also like the analogy of the "files" when talking about schema. As I teach - particularly as I write assessments such as comprehension quizzes - I regularly ask my students to do what Piaget describes: take new information, hold it up to the "card files" - the schema - already in their heads, put things together perhaps from various "cards," and come up with an answer to the question I am asking. My students enjoy being pushed to think rather than just to parrot back something from a textbook. They are "constructing" knowledge, and hopefully accommodating their new schema for use in future situations.

The constructivist view of learning says that learning "is simply the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences" (http://www.funderstanding.com/constructivism.cfm).The philosophy of teaching espoused at AE21 is significantly constructivist. For instance, we are encouraged to use "authentic assessment," and have the assessment be part of the lesson, not just a test or quiz that facilitates regurgitation of meaningless facts. Constructivist, however, advocate doing away with the standard curriculum (or at least relying on it less!), and basing instruction on the students' prior knowledge. At AE21, we do have to be cognizant of curricula and standards in order to satisfy the various entities who oversee our operation, but we are encouraged NOT to teach solely from the book, or teach to a test of any kind. We do have grades, but I would personally be thrilled not to have to give any grades but rather assess the continual development of a portfolio. Our portfolio approach to learning could be strengthened to include the entire formal assessment piece, and we could use a narrative approach to assessment that would actually give a much clearer idea of the students' success. While it would take a huge overturn in the thinking of all of education to enable this concept to work, I believe those in education who desire to do "best practices" will move this direction. (Just think...on what basis would colleges grant scholarships if there were no "grades"? Perhaps everything would have to be re-thought!)

Another theory of learning that comes into play in my teaching is brain-based learning. The basic tenets of this theory are many, but one in particular that fits with my teaching is the idea that "we understand best when facts are embedded in natural, spatial memory" (http://www.funderstanding.com/brain_based_learning.cfm).This correlates with McCarthy's 4MAT and works well with one of my personal favorite theories, "Control Theory." In his book The Quality School, William Glasser, the originator of the Control Theory, advocates the idea that making learning relevant to the students - helping them see the application of the content to their everyday lives - increases participation, decreases discipline issues, and increases grades. This idea is furthered by Bernice McCarthy's methods described in the 4MAT model (4MAT level I and II), although her ideas are centered more around meeting the needs of various types of learners (as found through brain research). The first section in McCarthy's 4MAT "wheel" is a "connect" piece where you create some experience that will grab the attention of the learner in a way that is significant to him/her, and that is interesting and fun. You then continue around the wheel creating meaningful activities and assignments that meet the needs of every type of learner. Kolbs (Experiential Learning, 42) has a "wheel" similar to McCarthy's, and in fact, McCarthy has correlated her wheel with many other learning theories (see picture below).

In conclusion, I would have to say that my own theory of learning has been affected by Piaget and his idea of "cognitive learning," by the constructivists' theories, by Glasser's Control theory, and by brain-based learning. While some of my practices are behavioral in nature (grades as a reward, for instance), I do not ascribe to the foundational theories associated with the behaviorists in general.

As I plan everything I do in education, I keep uppermost in my mind the advice given by Ellen White some 100 years ago when she advised teachers to teach their students to be THINKERS, and not reflectors of other people's thoughts (Education, 19), and also to teach students to reason from cause to effect (Child Guidance, 326). These two important concepts are crucial to my success as a teacher, and their results can be seen in the comments of my students (see documentation page).

As I seek to implement the theories I believe in as an educator, I make learning FUN for my students. If learning is fun, more of it will take place!

(*For scholarly/philosophical reflections related to online learning, please see reflections for "LEAD690: Online Communication.")

Additional Sources:

Forrester, D. Jantze, N. "Learning Theories." http://www.ucalgary.ca/~gnjantzi/learning_theories.htm

Mergel, B. (1999). "Instructional Design and Learning Theory." http://www.usask.ca/education/coursework/802papers/mergel/brenda.htm.