Category Archives: Curriculum Development

Metaphysics & Education

Metaphysics is the study of reality and the nature or character of it. This branch  of philosophy deals primarily with what is real. This may seem like an obvious question with an obvious answer. However, different people answer this question in different ways based on what they believe about the nature of reality and how we come to know it.

There are at least four sub-branches of metaphysics  that attempt to address the question of the nature of reality. These four branches are…

  • Cosmology
  • Ontology
  • Anthropology
  • Theology

We will look at each of these and then try to examine how metaphysics manifest itself in education.

Cosmology

Cosmology deals with the origins of the universe. The main views of the origins of the universe can be seen as a continuum from the universe was created or design by God or the other extreme that everything about the universe has happened by accident as is commonly viewed by evolution.  A middle ground along this continuum would be theistic evolution, which states that a divine being used evolution to create the world.

The beliefs an  individual has about cosmology affects other aspects of their life, education, and how they interpret what they experience. For example, an atheist scientist see nature and is awed by the random movement of natural selection to create such beauty. However, a theist would see the same evidence in nature and be led to the conclusion that God has created a beautiful climate. When these two sides meet they cannot agree because they have different assumptions or beliefs about origins and interpret what they see based on these beliefs.

Ontology

Ontology is the study of existence. This is probably one of the harder positions to understand. However, ontology deals with such ideas as whether reality is physical or spiritual, or a combination of the two. In addition, Ontology addresses whether reality is orderly and stable.

People’s beliefs about being can impact how the approach life. If there is nothing there is no reason to care or do anything. However, if there is something beyond this life and life was created with purpose this will alter a person’s behavior as they consider how they may be held accountable for their actions.

Anthropology

Anthropology is the study of man. Some questions that anthropology focuses on in particular is the relationship between the mind and the body. Is it the mind or the body the primary agent of behavior. Other questions include examining whether people or good or evil or morally neutral. Lastly, anthropology addresses the question of the freedom people have. Do people have choice or is their behavior determined by their environment?

The nature vs nurture argument is an old argument about the condition of man. The ultimate question is who is responsible for the actions that people take. The answer to this question evolves around views of the will.

Theology

Theology is the study of the nature of God and plays a profound role at least indirectly in all philosophy. Atheist strongly believe there is no God. As such, the support primarily science as a way of understanding reality. Theists believe there is a God or gods and this natural affects how they view realty.

Even among theists there is disagreement over how many gods there are. Polytheists believe in many gods while monotheists believe in one God. Pantheists believe god(s) is in everything and that they are gods. The position a person has on God can change how they view the world. Monotheists often believe in having a relationship with  one God in order to prepare for the reality of death in this life and the promise of living forever. Polytheists tend to have a contractual quid pro quo relationship with many different gods in order to do better in this world now and smooth the transition to living another life via some form of reincarnation.

Metaphysics and Education

Metaphysics manifest itself in many ways in education. In terms of cosmology and theology, most schools support the idea that the world came about by chance and that life evolved from almost nothing billions of years ago. This is related to theology in that most schools doubt the existence of God being openly atheistic in nature or may at most be agnostic in nature.   In a non-Western context, gods or polytheism is acknowledged and accepted in everyday life but traditional science and atheistic origins of the universe are generally taught in school. This can lead to a dual world view at times.

In terms of ontology and anthropology, the views on ontology vary by culture in education. In the West, the spiritual aspect of man is not acknowledged in education due in part to the focus on science. However, this is beginning to change with the emphasis on mindfulness and meditation in public education. In the East, there is a more open view towards the spiritual nature of man.

In terms of education, students are generally taught that man is inherently good but  may be corrupted by his environment and culture. In the East, education teaches that man is good by nature but may make mistakes. Culture is rarely criticized in eastern education.

Conclusion

Metaphysics is a difficult concept to try to address and understand. The important thing to remember is that metaphysics deals with the question of what is reality and that different people answer this question i different ways. How people answer these questions depends in part on their beliefs about cosmology, ontology, anthropology, and theology.

Advertisements

Realistic Teacher

Realism is another philosophy that has had a tremendous impact on education and the world in general. The modern world seems to be almost exclusively realist in terms of its worldview thanks in part to the scientific position that most individuals take on matters.

In this post, we will look briefly at the characteristics of realism. In addition, we will also examine how a teacher who believes in realism may approach teaching and realism’s impact on the broader educational process.

Background

Just as Plato was reacting to the change that was surrounding him when he developed his views on idealism, his pupil Aristotle react to idealism by proposing realism. Realism states that objects we perceive with our senses are independent of our mind. In other words, what see exist independently of us and our mind.

However, realism is not a rejection of idealism but in many ways an extension of it. Aristotle thought that everything was made of a combination of form and matter. Form was similar to the ideals of Plato’s idealism and matter was the new contribution that Aristotle was making which is a focus on the material aspect of an object. Form or ideas can exist without matter, such as the ideal or form democracy. Yet matter cannot exist with a form, such as a physical chair with the idea or form of a chair.

Aristotle further proposed that studying the world or matter would lead to a better understanding of universal ideas. This concept has had a strong impact on research in the development of inductive methodology also known as the scientific method.

Philosophical Implications

Reality as seen through idealism is the physical world. The world is similar to a giant machine in which humans are both passively acted upon and actively influencing as well. There are also natural laws that govern the physical world that can be discovered through observation.

Knowledge is gained only through the senses. Something is true because  it was observed. The natural law is within the reality of the natural world and the realist is looking for this through specific examples. This inductive process helps the realist to understand the world around him. In many ways, the Natural Law of the realist is the Absolute Self of the idealist. The difference is in how each is discovered. The idealist thinks about the Absolute Self and knows through intuition that there is an external standard. The realist observes the Natural Law with is senses which confirms the Natural Law’s reality.

Natural Law also extends into the realm of ethics. It is through observing nature and the world that what is right and wrong, beautiful and ugly can be determined according realism. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson  alludes to realism when he speaks of “inalienable rights.” In other words, Jefferson was proposing that some of the rights of man are obvious if one examines the world in which they live.

Realism and Education

A realistic teacher stresses that students learn through their senses. This involves teaching methodologies that have students doing and experiencing things rather than just listening. This can include such activities as field trips, group work, projects etc.

On a darker side, a realist teacher may believe that students are a product of their environment. This has been interpreted as meaning that students do not truly have choice as they are simple responding to the stimuli in their environment. This has lead to a push in education for a focus on behaviorism and even classical conditioning. Furthermore, most learning objectives are behaviorist in nature because a teacher can “see” a behavior which is evidence that the student can do something.  Off course, this has clash with cognitivism (idealism in the 20th century) which focuses on the mind rather than the behavior.

The teacher’s role is to provide sound information about the reality of the physical world and the Natural Law. This is further supported by a focus on math and science, which today is viewed as a focus on STEM majors. One thing all STEM majors have in common is a focus on what can be seen and a disinterest in the realm of ideas and the highly theoretical. Critical thinking is focus almost exclusively on  problem solving and never for the development of an opinion. What really matters are facts and not so much what people think about them.

With the focus on the senses, one thing the teacher and the students will notice is that the world is in a constant state of change. This has led to a rejection of a permanent Natural Law due to the ephemeral quality of reality.

Conclusion

Realism is the primary worldview of education  today. Seeing is believing as the saying goes. Almost nothing is taken seriously unless there is clear observable evidence to support it. Of course, many people believe that feelings and personal experience counts as evidence. This is because feelings and personal experience have actual occurred in the individual person’s life.

Idealistic Teacher

Idealism is an ancient philosophy that had a strong influence on education through the 20th century. Recently, this position has been overshadowed by realism, however, the influence of idealism can still be felt in education to this day. In this post, we will describe idealism, explain the implications, and examined how an idealistic teacher views education.

Description

Idealism is focus on reality as consisting of ideas, the mind and self. In other words, the mind makes the material world rather than the other way around as found in realism. Plato is the primary author of this philosophy.

The context of Plato’s life was one of change. This was during the time of the Persian Wars in which Greece, Athens in particular, did remarkable well. War naturally brings new ideas to both countries which was leading to changes. In addition, there was a push for individualism from a group of philosophers known as the sophists which was straining the communal culture of Athens.

Some have stated that Plato’s idealism was a reaction against this threat of change. Truth for Plato was permanent and unchanging. Since the world was changing, there could be no truth in this world. Truth must be found somewhere else. The real truth was found in the world of ideas a place that was beyond the senses used in this world.

Plato has rather negative views towards the senses. In his “Allegory of the Cave”, Plato essentially asserts that people who go by their senses are chain and trapped inside a cave of ignorance where they are bound to watch shadows of reality. Those who break free from these chains are those who have gone beyond their senses and use their intellect to reach the world of ideas. Naturally, only an elite handful of chosen ones or philosopher kings are able to do this.

Philosophical Implications

For idealist, the source of knowledge comes from intuition (knowing without conscious thought), revelation (knowing through supernatural encounters), and rationalism (knowing through conscious thought). What is important here is what is missing, which is empiricism (knowledge through the senses). Idealist do not require empirical verification of what is true. In the world today, this is almost laughable but was a core component of education for centuries.

Ethically, idealism emphasis a belief in an external ethical standard to man. Man cannot be the one to decide what is right or wrong. Instead, morals are determined by the world of ideas through the intellect. There is something called the Absolute self that the individual self is trying to imitate. This Absolute Self is considered by many to be God as seen from a christian perspective. Again this is something that would not be considered seriously by many educators.

There is an eternal consistency to truth for idealist.  Something is true when it fits with the harmony of the universe. Even art must make sense and must be used in a way that is consistent the perfect form of the world of ideas. This explains the sonority of early forms of music that have been lost gradually over time.

Idealism and Education

An idealistic teacher is going to focus on the development of the students mind. There is a constant striving for perfection in study of various subjects. Speaking of subjects, the curriculum consist primarily of the humanities and math. History and literature help students to see what is ideal for humans and the study of math is powerful because of its universal nature along with it being a self-evidently true. Generally, any subject that brings students into contact with ideas rather than things should be considered for the curriculum

The teacher’s responsibility is to pass their knowledge of the ultimate reality to the student as the teacher has more experience in this and the Absolute Self. Therefore, the teacher is an example for the student. Knowledge is seen as something that is transferred from the teacher to the student either verbally or writing. This implies that lecturing and direct instruction are key methodologies.

One of the more shocking positions of the idealistic teacher is that the school is not an agent of change. The idealistic teacher and the idealistic school do not train and educate “change agents”. Rather, since absolute truth is unchanging the school should natural reflect an unchanging nature and support the status quo. Anyone familiar with education in universities today would find this difficult to accept.

Conclusion

With focus on an other worldly perfect standard,  idealism is strongly out of place in a world that is governed or perhaps controlled by what they see and experience. Whenever people try to appeal to some sort of unqualified standard it is looked upon almost with ridicule. The exception seems to be when people share an emotional objection to something. Feelings have replaced some form of ethereally standard because emotions are experienced and felt rather than thought about.

The overemphasis on ideals is perhaps the weakness of idealism. Plato thought that people who only rely on their senses were trapped in a cave and unaware of true reality. However, the same can be said of a person who is trapped in the world of ideas. The person who is truly free is the one who can move between the senses and the mind or who can move between the reality of t ideas and physical world. Moving between these positions provides a flexible that neither has by itself.

Motivating Students

It can be frustrating for a teacher to spend hours in preparation and planning activities only to have to students who have no desire to learn or enjoy the learning experience. There are ways to help students to be more motivated and engaged in their learning. This post will provide some basic ideas.

Types of Motivation

In simple terms, there are two types of motivation. These two types of motivation are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is an inner drive to do something or in other words to be self-motivated.

Extrinsic motivation is when the push to do something comes from outside of the person. Due to uncontrollable circumstances, the person is pushed to do something.

Each teacher needs to decide which form of motivation to focus on or whether to try and address both in their classroom. A teacher with more of a cognitivist view of teaching will probably lean towards developing intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, a teacher who has more of a behavioral view of teaching may focus more on influencing extrinsic motivation.

Ways to Motivate

Involvement

Nothing motivates like having to help those around you. Getting students involved in their learning and in the management of the class often affects motivation. When students are called to help they realize that they have a role and that others are depending on them. This brings a naturally social pressure to fulfill their role.

Make it Relevant

Teachers often fall into the trap of knowing what’s best for students and sticking to teaching this. However, the student does not always agrees with what is best for them and thus are not motivated to learn.

To alleviate this problem, a teacher must provide immediate applications of knowledge. If the student can see how they can use the information now rather than several years from now they will probably be more motivated to learn it.

One way to develop relevancy is discovery learning. Instead of teaching everything in advance let the students work until they can go no further. When they realize they need to learn something they will be ready to listen.

Acknowledge Excellence

When students are doing good work, it is important to let them know. This will help them to understand what is acceptable learning behavior. People like positive reinforcement and this needs to come from a person of authority like a teacher.

A slightly different way to acknowledge excellence is simply to expect it. When the standard is set high often students naturally want to reach for it because they often want the approval of the teacher.

Conclusion

We have all faced situation when we were not interested or motivated to learn and study. It is important to remember this when dealing with students. They have the same challenge with motivation as we all do.

Critical Thinking Strategies

Developing critical thinking is a primary goal in many classrooms. However, it is difficult to actually achieve this goal as critical thinking is an elusive concept to understand. This post will provide practical ways to help students develop critical thinking skills.

Critical Thinking Defined

Critical thinking is the ability to develop support for one’s position on a subject as well as the ability to question the reasons and opinions of another person on a given subject. The ability to support one’s one position is exceedingly difficult as many people are convinced that their feelings can be substituted as evidence for their position.

It is also difficult to question the reasons and opinions of others as it requires the ability to identify weaknesses in the person’s positions while having to think on one’s feet. Again this is why many people stick to their emotions as it requires no thinking and emotions can be felt much faster than thoughts can be processed. Thinking critically involves assessing the strength of another’s thought process through pushing them with challenging questions or counter-arguments.

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Debates-Debates provide an opportunity for people to both prepare arguments as well as defend in an extemporaneous manner. The experience of preparation as well as on the feet thinking help to develop critical thinking in many ways. In addition, the time limits of debates really force the participants to be highly engaged.

Reciprocal Teaching-Reciprocal teaching involves students taking turns to teach each other. As such, the must take a much closer look at the content when they are aware that they will have to teach it. In addition, Reciprocal teaching encourages discussion and the answering of questions which further supports critical thinking skills development.

Discussion-Discussion through the use of open-ended question is another classic way to develop critical thinking skills. The key is in the open-ended nature of the question. This means that there is no single answer to the question. Instead, the quality of answers are judged on the support the students provide and their reasoning skills.

Open-ended assignments-Often as teachers, we want to give specific detailed instructions on how to complete an assignment. This reduces confusion and gives each student a similar context in which learning takes place.

However, open-ended assignments provide a general end goal but allow the students to determine how they will complete it. This open-ended nature really forces the students to think about what they will do. In addition, this is similar to work in the real world where often the boss wants something done and doesn’t really care how the workers get it done. The lack of direction can cause less critical workers problems as they do not know what to do but those who are trained to deal with ambiguity will be prepared for this.

Conclusion

Critical thinking requires a context in which free thought is allowed but is supported. It is difficult to develop the skills of thinking with activities that stimulate this skill. The activities mentioned here are just some of the choices available to a teacher.

Teaching Reflective Thinking

Reflective thinking is the ability to look at the past and develop understanding and insights about what happened and using this information to develop a deeper understanding or to choose a course of action.  Many may believe that reflective thinking is a natural part of learning.

However, I have always been surprised at how little reflective thinking my students do. They seem to just do things without ever trying to understand how well they did outside of passing the assignment. Without reflective thinking, it is difficult to learn from past mistakes as no thought was made to avoid them.

This post will examine opportunities and aways of reflective thinking.

Opportunities for Reflective Thinking

Generally, reflective thinking can happen when

  1. When you learn something
  2. When you do something

These are similar but different concepts. Learning can happen without doing anything such as listening to a lecture or discussion. You hear a lot of great stuff but you never implement it.

Doing something means the application of knowledge in a particular setting. An example would be teaching or working at a company. With the application of knowledge comes consequences the indicate how well you did. For example, teaching kids and then seeing either look of understanding or confusion on their face

Strategies for Reflective THinking

For situations in which the student learns something without a lot of action a common model for encouraging reflective thinking is the  Connect, Extend, Challenge model. The model is explained below

  • Connect: Link what you have learned to something you already know
  • Extend: Determine how this new knowledge extends your learning
  • Challenge: Decide what you still do not understanding

Connecting is what makes learning relevant for many students and is also derived from constructivism. Extending is a way for a student to see the benefits of the new knowledge. It goes beyond learning because you were told to learn. Lastly, challenging helps the student to determine what they do not know which is another metacognitive strategy.

When a student does something the reflection process is slightly different below is an extremely common model.

  • what went well
  • what went wrong
  • how to fix what went wrong

In this model, the student identifies what they did right, which requires reflective thinking. The student also identifies the things they did wrong during the experience. Lastly, the student must problem solve and develop strategies to overcome the mistakes they made. Often the solutions in this final part are implemented during the next action sequence to see how well they worked out.

Conclusion

Thinking about the past is one of the strongest ways to prepare for the future. Therefore, teachers must provide their students with opportunities to think reflectively. The strategies included here provide a framework for guiding students in this critical process.

Wire Framing with Moodle

Before teaching a Moodle course it is critical that a teacher design what they want to do. For many teachers, they believe that they begin the design process by going to Moodle and adding activity and other resources to their class. For someone who is thoroughly familiar with Moodle and has developed courses before this might work. However, for the majority online teachers, they need to wireframe what they want their Moodle course to look like online.

Why Wireframe a Moodle Course

In the world of web developers, a wireframe is a prototype of what a potential website will look like. The actual wireframe can be made in many different platforms from Word, Powerpoint, and even just paper and pencil. Since Moodle is online a Moodle course in many ways is a website so wireframing applies to this context.

It doesn’t matter how you wireframes their Moodle course. What matters is that you actually do this. Designing what you want to see in your course helps you to make decisions much faster when you are actually adding activities and resources to your Moodle course. It also helps your Moodle support to help you if they have a picture of what you want rather than wild hand gestures and frustration.

Wire farming a course also reduces the cognitive load on the teacher. Instead of designing and building the course a the same time. Wireframing splits this task into two steps, which are designing, and then building. This prevents extreme frustration as it is common for a teacher just to stare at the computer screen when trying to design and develop a Moodle course simultaneously.

You never see an architect making his plans while building the building. This would seem careless and even dangerous because the architect doesn’t even know what he wants while he is throwing around concrete and steel. The same analogy applies with designing Moodle courses. A teacher must know what they want, write it down, and then implement it by creating the course.

Another benefit of planning in Word is that it is easier to change things in Word when compared to Moodle. Moodle is amazing but it is not easy to use for those who are not tech-savvy. However, it’s easiest for most of us to copy, paste, and edit in Word.

One Way to Wire Frame a Moodle Course

When supporting teachers to wireframe a Moodle course, I always encourage them to start by developing the course in Microsoft Word. The reason is that the teacher is already familiar with Word and they do not have to struggle to make decisions when using it. This helps them to focus on content and not on how to use Microsoft Word.

One of the easiest ways to wireframe a Moodle course is to take the default topics of a course such as General Information, Week 1, Week 2, etc. and copy these headings into Word, as shown below.

Screenshot from 2017-01-20 09-15-19.png

Now, all that is needed is to type in using bullets exactly what activities and resources you want in each section. It is also possible to add pictures and other content to the Word document that can be added to Moodle later.  Below is a preview of a generic Moodle sample course with the general info and week 1 of the course completed.

Screenshot from 2017-01-20 09-26-00.png

You can see for yourself how this class is developed. The General Info section has an image to serve as a welcome and includes the name of the course. Under this the course outline and rubrics for the course. The information in the parentheses indicates what type of module it is.

For Week 1, there are several activities. There is a forum for introducing yourself. A page that shares the objectives of that week. Following this are the readings for the week, then a discussion forum, and lastly an assignment. This process completes for however many weeks are topics you have in the course.

Depending on your need to plan, you can even plan other pages on the site beside the main page. For example, I can wireframe what I want my “Objectives” page to look like or even the discussion topics for my “Discussion” forum.

Of course, the ideas for all these activities comes from the course outline or syllabus that was developed first. In other words, before we even wireframe we have some sort of curriculum document with what the course needs to cover.

Conclusion

The example above is an extremely simple way of utilizing the power of wireframing. With this template, you can confidently go to Moodle and find the different modules to make your class come to life. Trying to conceptualize this in your head is possible but much more difficult. As such, thorough planning is a hallmark of learning.

Learning Styles and Strategies

All students have distinct traits in terms of how they learn and what they do to ensure that they learn. These two vague categories of how a student learns and what they do to learn are known as learning styles and learning strategies.

This post will explain what learning styles and learning strategies are.

Learning Styles

Learning styles are consistent traits that are long-lasting over time. For example, the various learning styles identified by Howard Gardner such as auditory, kinesthetic, or musical learner. An auditory learner prefers to learn through hearing things.

Learning styles are also associated with personality. For example, introverts prefer quiet time and fewer social interaction when compared to extroverts. This personality trait of introversion my affect an introverts ability to learn while working in small groups but not necessarily.

Learning Strategies

Strategies are specific methods a student uses to master and apply information. Examples include asking friends for help,  repeating information to one’s self, rephrasing, and or using context clues to determine the meaning of unknown words.

Strategies are much more unpredictable and flexible than styles are. Students can acquire styles through practice and exposure. In addition, it is common to use several strategies simultaneously to learn and use information.

Successful Students

Successful students understand what their style and strategies are. Furthermore, they can use these tendencies in learning and acquiring knowledge to achieve goals. For example, an introvert who knows they prefer to be alone and not work in groups will know when there are times when this natural tendency must be resisted.

The key to understanding one’s styles and strategies is self-awareness. A teacher can support a student in understanding what their style and strategies are through the use of the various informal checklist and psychological test.

A teacher can also support students in developing a balanced set of strategies through compensatory activities. These are activities that force students to use strategies they are weak. For example, having auditory learners learn through kinesthetic means. This helps students to acquire skills that may be highly beneficial in their learning in the future.

To help students to develop compensatory skills requires that the teacher know and understand the strengths and weaknesses of their students. This naturally takes time and implies that compensatory activities should not take place at the beginning of a semester or should they be pre-planned into a unit plan before meeting students.

Conclusion

Strategies can play a powerful role in information processing. As such, students need to be aware of how they learn and what they do to learn. The teacher can provide support in this by helping students to figure out who they are as a learner.

Academic Dishonesty and Cultural Difference

Academic dishonesty, which includes plagiarism and cheating, are problems that most teachers have dealt with in their career. Students sometimes succumb to the temptation of finding ways to excel or just survive a course by doing things that are highly questionable. This post will attempt to deal with some of the issues related to academic dishonesty. In particular, we will look at how perceptions of academic dishonesty vary across context.

Cultural Variation

This may be frustrating to many but there is little agreement in terms of what academic dishonesty is once one leaves their own cultural context. In the West, people often believe that a person can create and “own” an idea, that people should “know” their stuff, and that “credit” should be giving one using other people’s ideas. These foundational assumptions shape how teachers and students view using others ideas and using the answers of friends to complete assignments

However, in other cultures there is more of an “ends justifies the means” approach. This manifests itself in using ideas without giving credit because ideas belong to nobody and having friends “help” you to complete an assignment or quiz because they know the answer and you do not if the situation was different you would give them the answer. Therefore, in many contexts doesn’t matter how the assignment or quiz is completed as long as it is done.

This has a parallel in many situations. If you are working on a project for your boss and got stuck. Would it be deceptive to ask for help from a colleague to get the project done? Most of us have done this at one time or another. The problem is that this is almost always frowned upon during an assignment or assessment in the world of academics.

The purpose here is not to judge one side or the other but rather to allow people to identify the assumptions they have about academic dishonesty so that they avoid jumping to conclusions when confronted with this by people who are not from the same part of the world as them.

Our views on academic dishonesty are shaped in the context we grow up in

Clear Communication

One way to deal with the misunderstandings of academic dishonesty across cultures is for the teacher to clearly define what academic dishonesty is to them. This means providing examples an explaining how this violates the norms of academia. In the context of academia, academic dishonesty in the forms of cheating and plagiarism are completely unacceptable.

One strategy that I have used to explain academic dishonesty is to compare academic dishonesty that is totally culturally repulsive locally. For example, I have compared plagiarism to wearing your shoes in someone’s house in Asia ( a major no-no in most parts). Students never understand what plagiarism is when defined in isolation abstractly (or so they say). However, when plagiarism is compared to wearing your shoes in someone house, they begin to see how much academics hate this behavior. They also realize how they need to adjust their behavior for the context they are in.

By presenting a cultural argument against plagiarism and cheating rather than a moral one students are able to understand how in the context of school this is not acceptable. Outside of school, there are normally different norms of acceptable behavior.

Conclusion

The steps to take with people who share the same background are naturally different than with the suggestion provided here. The primary point to remember is that academic dishonesty is not seen the same way by everyone. This requires that the teacher communicate what they mean when referring to this and to provide a relevant example of academic dishonesty so the students can understand.

Understanding Techniques in Language Teaching

Technique is a core term in the jargon of language teaching. This leads to people using a term without really knowing what it means. In simple terms, a technique is any task/activity that is planned in a language course. Such a broad term makes it difficult to make sense of what exactly a technique is.

This post will try to provide various ways to categorize the endless sea of techniques available in language teaching.

Manipulation to Interaction

One way to assess techniques is along a continuum from manipulation to interaction. A manipulative technique is one in which the teacher has complete control and expects a specific response from the students. Examples of this include reading aloud, choral repetition, dictation

Interactive techniques are ones in which the student’s response is totally open. Examples of interactive techniques include role play, free writing, presentations, etc.

Automatic, Purposeful, Communicative Drills

Another continuum that can be used is seeing techniques as an automatic, purposeful, or communicative drill. An automatic drill technique has only one correct response. An example would be a repetition drill in which the students repeat what the teacher said.

A purposeful drill technique has several acceptable answers. For example, if the teacher asks the students “where is the dog”? The students can say “it’s outside” or “the dog is outside” etc.

Restricted to Free

The last continuum that can be used is restricted to free. This continuum looks at techniques from the position of who has the power. Generally, restricted techniques are ones that are teacher-centered, closed-ended, with high manipulation. Free techniques are often student-centered, open-ended, with unplanned responses.

Conclusion

All levels of language teaching should have a mixture of techniques from all over any of the continuums mentioned in this post. It is common for teachers to have manipulative and automatic techniques for beginners and interactive and free techniques for advanced students. This is often detrimental particularly to the beginning students.

The continuums here are simply for attempting to provide structure when a teacher is trying to choose techniques. It is not a black and white matter in classifying techniques. Different teachers while classifying the same techniques in different places in a continuum. As such, the continuums should guide one’s thinking and not control it.

Extrinsic & Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic and Intrinsic motivation are two extremes of a continuum of motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the desire to do something coming from outside of the person. Intrinsic motivation is the desire to do something coming from within a person. This post will explain some of the pros and cons of each type of motivation as they relate to education.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is an external force that compels someone to do something. For example, it is common for students to study in order to prepare for a test. The test provides an extrinsic motivation to study. If there was no test, the students probably would not study.

This leads to one of the first problems with extrinsic motivation which is its addictive nature. A student will get used to the extrinsic motivation and never become motivated themselves to complete a task.

Extrinsic motivation can also lead to either of the following. In some situations, extrinsic motivation can lead to a competitive classroom environment in which students try to outdo each other due to the pressure. In other situations, the students will band together to push back against the extrinsic motivation by the teacher. Either situation can lead to academically dishonesty practice such as cheating and plagiarism.

Generally, extrinsic motivation is negative. When people are doing something willing and then are told to do it they often lose motivation. This is because something that used to be done by choice is now forced upon them.

The only exception to this is positive feedback. When people are given compliments on how they are doing something it helps them to stick to the task.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the desire to complete something coming from within. For many, intrinsic motivation is one of the ultimate goals of learning. Teachers often want students to develop a desire to learn and grow on their own after they complete their studies.

To achieve this, a teacher must become a facilitator of learning. A facilitator of learning is one who provides students with a context in which the students can set their own learning goals. A primary component of this is allowing choice in the classroom. Choice can be given in types of assignment, how to complete assignments or other ways.

There are also effective measures that can be taken. Examples include developing positive relationships with students, having a relaxing classroom environment, and increasing self-confidence.

Content-based and cooperative learning activities both provide opportunities for students to develop intrinsic motivation. The goal is to develop independent learners who can set their own goals and achieve them.

Conclusion

Motivation is necessary. The question is where will the motivation come from. In education both forms of motivation are present. However, the goal should normally be to strive for intrinsic motivation when this is possible.

Learner-Centered Instruction

Learner-centered instruction is a term that has been used in education for several decades now. One of the challenges of extremely popular terms in a field such as learner-centered instruction is that the term loses its meaning as people throw it into a discussion without knowing exactly what the term means.

The purpose of this post is to try and explain some of the characteristics of learner-centered instruction without being exhaustive.  In addition, we will look at the challenges to this philosophy as well as ways to make it happen in the classroom.

Focus on the Students

Learner-centered instruction is focused on the students. What this means is that the teacher takes into account the learning goals and objectives of the students in establishing what to teach. This requires the teacher to conduct at least an informal needs assessment to figure out what the students want to learn.

Consultation with the students allows for the students to have some control over their learning which is empowering as viewed by those who ascribe to critical theory. Consultation also allows students to be creative and innovative. This sounds like a perfect learning situation but to be  this centered  on the learner can be difficult

Challenge of Learner-Centered Instruction

Since the learning experience is determined by the students, the teacher does not have any presupposed plan in place prior to consulting with the students. As such, not having a plan in place beforehand is extremely challenging for new teachers and difficult even for experienced ones. The teacher doesn’t know what to expect in terms of the needs of the students.

In theory, almost no class follows such a stringent approach to learner-centered instruction. Most schools have to meet government requirements, prepare students for the workplace, and or show improvements in testing. This limits the freedom of the teacher to be learner-centered in many ways. External factors cannot be ignored to adhere to the philosophy of learner-centered instruction.

Finding a Compromise

One way to be learner-centered while still having some sort of a plan prior to teaching is to rethink the level at which the students have a voice in the curriculum. For example, if it is not possible to change the objectives of a course, the teacher can have the students develop the assignments they want to do to achieve an objective.

The teacher could also allow the students to pick from several different assignments that all help to achieve the same objective(s). This gives the students some control over their learning while allowing the teacher to adhere to external requirements. It also allows the teacher to be prepared in some way prior to the teaching.

Conclusion

The average educator does not have the autonomy to give to students to allow for the full implementation of learner-centered instruction. However, there are several ways to adjust one’s approach to teaching that will allow students to have a sense of control over their learning.

Notional-Functional Syllabus of TESOL

The notional-functional syllabus was an innovation developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s in Europe. The pragmatic focus of this innovation has to this day had an influence on language teaching.

This post will define what a notional-functional syllabus is by looking at each word that makes up the phrase “notional-functional syllabus.”

Notional

In TESOL, “notions” is a synonym for the word “context” or “setting.” Notion has to do with what is called pragmatics in language acquisition but the setting can be intellectual rather than a physical setting. As such, a notional-functional syllabus is focused on the various situations in which language is used.

There are two levels at which notions take place. General notions are highly abstract philosophically concepts such as existence, space, and time. Normally, TESOL does not deal with such concepts except when teaching about temporal relational terms such as before, after, during, etc.

The second level of notions is specific notions. Specific notions deal with clearly defined fixed situations. Examples of specific notions include animals, politics, education, and sports.  Although these can still be considered abstract that are not nearly as abstract as general notions. As such it is better to look at general and specific notions as ideas along with a continuum rather as either/or concepts.

Functional

The functional aspect of the notional-functional syllabus relates to how language is used. Prior to this focus on function, language was taught with a focus on grammar and learning was organized around grammar use. In a functional focus, language is used to do any and all of the  following

  • explain
  • describe
  • discuss
  • argue
  • agree
  • apologize
  • compare
  • contrast

As you can see, there is almost an infinity amount of variety when combining the  notion with the function. This leads to our need to understand what a syllabus is.

Syllabus

Syllabus is the European term for what is called curriculum in America. A syllabus/curriculum has been defined on this site before. In short, a syllabus/curriculum is a systematic plan toward achieving educational goals. Often, the syllabus/curriculum has goals/objectives that are in reality a combination of a notion and an or function. Below are some examples. The brackets indicated what the preceding phrase is, whether it’s a function or a notion.

  • Introduce self [function] to other people [notion]
  • Ask for information [function] at a bank [notion]
  • Give directions [function]
  • Read the text [function] and answer [function] the questions [notion]

From the examples, it is clear that you can have function with a notion, a function alone, or several functions with a notion. Without getting too technical there is endless potential in designing a syllabus/curriculum with this framework in mind.

Final Thoughts

There is little difference of notional-functional syllabus from the development of regular objectives in a curriculum. If you are familiar with how objectives are made you know objectives have an action, proficiency, and condition.

The “action” of a regular objective is in many ways the same as the “function” of a functional-notional syllabus. In addition, the “condition” of a regular objective is similar to the “notion” of a notional-functional syllabus. Notional-Functional objectives do not address proficiency in their objectives. As such, it is common for different fields to discover similar concepts while still giving these new concepts different names.

The CCAF Model of Instructional Design

The CCAF Model is another model of instruction used by teachers in both online and traditional classrooms. Acronym stands for

C-ontext
C-hallenge
A-ctivities
F-eedback

This post will discuss each of these characteristics.

Context

Context is about establishing a setting in which the learning is relevant for the learners. This means developing real-world connections in the lesson so that students can see ways of application.

For example, if you are required to teaching a heavily theoretical course such as educational philosophy, establishing a context may mean showing how the various philosophy of education impact how teachers make decisions. You may also want to articulate how your own beliefs affect how you develop classes.

Challenge

Challenging students is the same as engaging them. Assignments need to be stimulating enough that students have to work somewhat to complete them. This step has a great deal to do with motivation and overlaps with the previous step of context.

The main difference here is that at the challenge stage the students should be actively engaged in doing something. With context, the teacher is laying the foundation for the learning.

Activities 

Activities are an extension of challenge. Activities need to be risk-free in order to allow students to learn from mistakes without fear of this lowering their grade. This step of the CCAF Model is similar to the practice step of other models.

The activities can also include interaction with peers through group experiences. This allows for you another form of communication in relation to progress in achieving learning goals.

Feedback

While the students are engaged in challenging activities, this provides you as the teacher with opportunities to provide feedback on performance. Constant feedback helps students to know where they are at and how they are doing.

The feedback can take many shapes. It could be verbal encouragement, non-verbal approval, written, etc. The goal is to keep students in the loop in terms of their performance.

Conclusion

The CCAF model is a model that is focused on execution and is highly student-centered in terms of the activity level. After the context is set, the students are constantly engaged with doing various tasks and receiving feedback. This emphasis on action is what allows the students to be able to retain what they learn and call upon this knowledge in an authentic situation when they enter the workplace.

Central Curriculum Design

There are several ways in which curriculum design can happen. For example, forward design aka the Tyler method involves the selection of content, followed by determining teaching approaches, and finally determining the quality of the teaching and content based on some form of assessment.

Backward design starts with content but then the focus moves to developing assessment that is consistent with the content, the last step for backward design is deciding how to teach the content in a way that allows students to develop the skills need to demonstrate understanding through successfully completing the assessment

Central design is yet another distinct approach. In this post, we will look at the characteristics of central design and how it differs from both forward and backward design.

Definition

Central design begins with deciding on the teaching approach first followed by the content and assessment. In this approach, it is the method of teaching that is most important. There is an assumption among teachers who use this approach that the method of teaching along with the supporting activities will lead to successful learning outcomes or demonstrations of mastery.

Central design is highly fixated on learning processes. For example, there is an emphasis on discussion, decision-making, critical thinking, etc. All of these examples are somewhat fuzzy in being able to assess them. We can tell when they happen but it’s not easy to place a score on them because these are subjective skills.

For many, this design is seen as learner-centered due to its emphasis on active learning. Discussion requires active learning as do critical thinking and the other examples in the previous paragraph. These experiences contribute to the individual development of the students.

Some Concerns

Despite the advantages of central design, there are some concerns. In order to place an emphasis on teaching methods, it implies that the teacher is a mastery of one or more methodologies. This makes central design difficult for beginning teachers to execute.

In addition, for even experienced teachers, lack of objectives can make it very easy to wonder of course when teaching. For example, whenever teachers select activities that look fun or entertaining they are practicing central design because of the emphasis on teaching activities. However, with a lack of clear objectives, students are having a good time with being able to articulate what they are learning.

The issue with objectives can also spill over into affecting the assessment. Without clear goals, it is difficult to determine what the students learned or if they achieved any of the goals and objectives of a lesson. With so much testing taking place these days it is difficult to justify such a design.

Using Central Design

Central design is highly useful in the social sciences and humanities. Such classes as critical thinking, public speaking, art appreciation are some examples of courses that can employ central design due to the subjective nature of completing course requirements. For the hard sciences, it might be better to stick to forward or backward design due to the need to absolute know specific forms of information.

In general, if the primary goal is developing subjective skills central design is an excellent choice. However, if what you are trying to teach can clearly be measured and evaluated forward or backward design is much more appropriate choice

Factors that May Affect Personality

Dealing with people or students involves dealing with personalities. Everyone has a unique personality that has varying degrees of similarities and difference from others. Those post will introduce some commonly proposed factors that shape and influence personality.

Genetics

There is evidence that our personality is affected by our genetics. Thomas Bouchard published a paper on twins separated at birth and found that despite never meeting each other, the twins had very similar personalities. Indicating that there is more to personality than common family experiences.

It is no longer a question of if genetics influences personality but rather how much genetics influences personality. This has led to the controversy called nativism-empiricism, which is a scholarly term for nature vs nurture. Nativists believe that personality is primarily genetically determined whereas empiricists believe that personality is primarily determined by experience. 

Traits

Traits can be defined loosely as consistently displayed or performed behaviors. For example, some people show the trait of a love of sweets while others do not. The person with the trait for loving sweets will consistently enjoy eating sweet foods.

Traits are developed one of two ways. One way is through learning. For example, a person who loves sweet food may have been exposed to sweet food since they were born. Thus, the acquired a taste for it.

The second way is by genetics. For example, some people display are more emotional than others regardless of their background. One explanation of this is that their emotional character traits are a result of their genetic makeup.

Culture

Culture influences personality through prescribing what behaviors are acceptable. For example, different cultures have different rules in regard to marriage, raising children, food, money, etc. These norms restrain and promote various behaviors.

Again the argument here is not whether or not culture plays a role but rather how much of a role. Some personality theories believe culture is significantly important such as Erickson, Alder, and Horney.

Strange Assertion

Some of the more unusual proposed determinants of personality include the existential-humanistic considerations and unconscious mechanisms. Existential-humanistic considerations believe personality is shaped by how people give meaning to the situations they find themselves in. In other words, the individual shapes their own destiny by how they answer the big questions in life such as why am I here?, what happens when I die?

Unconscious mechanisms assert that personality is shaped by unconscious forces in childhood. Uncovering these forces involves the use of such techniques as hypnosis and dream analysis.

Conclusion

This post provided some explanations for how personalities are shaped and formed. Naturally, there are many more reasons for why people behave the way they do. However, the information provided here provides an introductory insight into why people act the way they do.

Competency-Based Education

Competency-based education (CBE) involves focusing on the outcomes of learning in the form of standards/objectives rather than the input of learning as they are developed by the teacher. This is actually a radical shift in terms of approaching curriculum development.

This post would provide a brief explanation into CBE and its role in education

The Old vs the New

One of the original models for curriculum development was established by Ralph Tyler. His model, in summary, includes the following steps

  1. Decide what to teach
  2. Decide how to teach it
  3. Decide how to assess it

This model is a classic but it is lacking in including actions that the students should do. When employing the Tyler model, all the teacher has to do is get through content without concern for the progress of the student.

CBE, has a slightly different model for curriculum development

  1. Describe learning outcomes (what the student can do at the end of the course).
  2. Decide how to assess it
  3. Decide how to teach it

There are some significant differences between these two models. For example, the CBE model starts with learning outcomes and progress not to how to teach but how to assess. Developing the assessment first ensures that the teaching is consistent in preparing students for the assessment because the teachers know already what they are assessing.

When developing learning outcomes the need to be specific and practical. This is in contrast to goals which are broad and immeasurable. Learning outcomes should be mastered one at a time to allow the student to focus.

Focus of CBE

CBE also emphasizes the following

  • Authentic assessment-The assessment must be based on real-world scenarios. This allows students to develop skills for functioning in society.
  • Continuous assessment–Another term for this is formative assessment. There is no benefit to assessing students only summatively from the CBE perspective as this negates the incremental use of learning outcomes.
  • Demonstration of mastery-Before moving to the next step, students must show mastery of the current information.

The focus of CBE allows for learners to know where they are in terms of their progress.

Conclusion

From the perspective of some, the entire standards based approach to teaching is based on principles derived from CBE. Businesses also use this approach in developing training materials for their workers. The extent to which CBE has influenced education is deep and far reaching.

With its focus on breaking expected behaviors into small increments, CBE is very useful in assessing people and providing data. This is perhaps the strongest reason for the success of this approach.

Theories on Motivation

Motivation is the desire a person has to do something. There have been many different theories that have attempted to explain motivation. This post will look at some of the lesser know theories that have helped to shape views on motivation. In particular, we will look at the following theories.

  • Drive theory
  • Expectancy-Value theory
  • Self-Worth theory
  • Views on Control

Drive Theory

Drive theory is one of the simplest and earliest theories of motivation. In drive theory, there are three critical component.

  1. A need is noticed
  2. The need leads to a drive to do something
  3. The drive causes a behavior.

An example of this is someone who has a need for food. This leads to a desire to eat which culminates in the person finding food and actually eating.

The simplicity of the model was actually one of the criticisms of it. Many people there was more to motivation than just these three components.

Expectancy-Value Theory

Another influential theory in motivation is the expectancy-value theory. This theory states that the amount of motivation a person has depends on the expectation of what the person will get if the complete the activity. If the person highly values the expected reward the will be highly motivated and vice versa.

For example, if a parent promises a child a new bike if they learn how to ride on two wheels. If the child highly values the new bike they will be highly motivated to learn to ride a bike on two wheels because of the expectation of the reward of a new bicycle.

Self-Worth Theory

Self-worth theory tries to explain motivation through how a person sees their own ability.  If a person believes they have high ability they will put forth high effort. This often leads to excellent results.

This means that the opposite is true as well. If a person believes that have low ability they will not try hard and they will produce poor results. The difference lies in how each person sees their ability level.

Control

This last point involves a collection of related terms on motivation. Control has to do with a person’s perspective that they have authority over what they do and what happens to them. Two common terms related to control are locus of control and learned helplessness.

Locus of control has to do with a person’s perception of the control they have over their decisions and life. People with an internal locus of control believe they have the authority. People with an external locus of control believe that others control their destiny.

Highly motivated people have an internal locus of control and tend to be more assertive than people with an external locus of control.

Learned helplessness is a person becoming convinced that they cannot do something. This is often a result of an external locus of control. Individuals who accept a learned helplessness viewpoint are characterized by a lack of motivation and assertiveness.

Conclusion

Motivation is a critical part of teaching. This post provided insights into some basic concepts found in the realm of motivation.

Philosophical Foundations of Research: Epistemology

Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge. It deals with questions as is there truth and or absolute truth, is there one way or many ways to see something. In research, epistemology manifest itself in several views. The two extremes are positivism and interpretivism.

Positivism

Positivism asserts that all truth can be verified and proven scientifically and can be measured and or observed. This position discounts religious revelation as a source of knowledge as this cannot be verified scientifically. The position of positivist is also derived from realism in that there is an external world out there that needs to be studied.

For researchers, positivism is the foundation of quantitative research. Quantitative researchers try to be objective in their research, they try to avoid coming into contact with whatever they are studying as they do not want to disturb the environment. One of the primary goals is to make generalizations that are applicable in all instances.

For quantitative researchers, they normally have a desire to test a theory. In other words, the develop one example of what they believe is a truth about a phenomenon (a theory) and they test the accuracy of this theory with statistical data. The data determines the accuracy of the theory and the changes that need to be made.

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people were looking for alternative ways to approach research. One new approach was interpretivism.

Interpretivism

Interpretivism is the complete opposite of positivism in many ways. Interpretivism asserts that there is no absolute truth but relative truth based on context. There is no single reality but multiple realities that need to be explored and understood.

For interpretist, There is a fluidity in their methods of data collection and analysis. These two steps are often iterative in the same design. Furthermore, intrepretist see themselves not as outside the reality but a player within it. Thus, they often will share not only what the data says but their own view and stance about it.

Qualitative researchers are interpretists. They spend time in the field getting close to their participants through interviews and observations. They then interpret the meaning of these communications to explain a local context specific reality.

While quantitative researchers test theories, qualitative researchers build theories. For qualitative researchers, they gather data and interpret the data by developing a theory that explains the local reality of the context. Since the sampling is normally small in qualitative studies, the theories do not often apply to many.

Conclusion

There is little purpose in debating which view is superior. Both positivism and interpretivism have their place in research. What matters more is to understand your position and preference and to be able to articulate in a reasonable manner. It is often not what a person does and believes that is important as why they believe or do what they do.

Philosophical Foundations of Research: Ontology

Philosophy is a term that is commonly used but hard to define. To put it simply, philosophy explains an individuals or a groups worldview in general or in a specific context. Such questions as the nature of knowledge, reality, and existence are questions that philosophy tries to answer. There are different schools of thought on these questions and these are what we commonly call philosophies

In this post, we will try to look at ontology, which is the study of the nature of reality. In particular, we will define it as well as explain its influence on research.

Ontology

Ontology is the study of the nature of being. It tries to understand the reality of existence. In this body of philosophy, there are two major camps, ontological realism, and ontological idealism.

Ontological realism believes that reality is objective. In other words, there is one objective reality that is external to each individual person. We are in a reality and we do not create it.

Ontological idealism is the opposite extreme. This philosophy states that there are multiple realities an each depends on the person. My reality is different from your reality and each of us builds our own reality.

Ontological realism is one of the philosophical foundations for quantitative research. Quantitative research is a search for an objective reality that accurately explains whatever is being studied.

For qualitative researchers, ontological idealism is one of their philosophical foundations. Qualitative researchers often support the idea of multiple realities. For them, since there is no objective reality it is necessary to come contact with people to explain their reality.

Something that has been alluded to but not stated specifically is the role of independence and dependence of individuals. Regardless of whether someone ascribes to ontological realism or idealis, there is the factor of whether people or independent of reality or dependent to reality. The level of independence and dependence contributes to other philosophies such as objectivism constructivism and pragmatism.

Objectivism, Constructivism and Pragmatism

Objectivism is the belief that there is a single reality that is independent of the individuals within it. Again this is the common assumption of quantitative research. At the opposite end we have constructivism which states that there are multiple realities and the are dependent on the individuals who make each respective reality.

Pragmatism supports the idea of a single reality with the caveat that it is true if it is useful and works. The application of the idea depends upon the individuals, which pushes pragmatism into the realm of dependence.

Conclusion

From this complex explanation of ontology and research comes the following implications

  • Quantitative and qualitative researchers differ in how they see reality. Quantitative researchers are searching for and attempting to explain a single reality while qualitative researchers are searching for and trying to explain multiple realities.
  • Quantitative and qualitative researchers also differ on the independence of reality. Quantitative researchers see reality as independent of people while qualitative researchers see reality as dependent on people
  • These factors of reality and its dependence shape the methodologies employed by quantitative and qualitative researchers.

Tips for Lesson Planning: Part II

Before developing a plan of instruction there are many factors to consider. This post will consider the following points…

  • Needs assessment
  • Syllabus
  • Outlining purpose

Needs Assessment

Before committing to any particular plan of instruction, a teacher must determine what the needs of the students are. This is most frequently done through conducting a needs assessment.

There are many ways to find out what the students need to know. One way is through speaking with the students. This provides some idea as to what their interests are. Student interest can be solicited through conversation, interviews, questionnaire, etc. Another way is to consult the subject matter of the course through examining other curricula related to the subject.

As an educator, it is necessary to balance the needs of the students with the requirements of the course. Many things are modifiable in a course but some things are not. Therefore, keeping in mind the demands of students and the curriculum are important.

Developing the Syllabus

Once the instructor as an idea of the students needs it is time to develop the syllabus of the class. There are several different types of syllabus. A skill syllabus focuses on specific skills students need in the discipline. For example, an ESL syllabus may focus on grammar. Skill syllabus focus on passive skills not active

A functional syllabus is focused on several different actions. Going back to ESL. If a syllabus is focused on inviting, apologizing or doing something else it is a functional syllabus. These skills are active.

A situational syllabus is one in which learning takes place in various scenarios. In ESL, a student might learn English that they would use at the market, in the bank, at school, etc. The focus is on experiential/authentic learning.

The type of syllabus developed is based on the needs of the students. This is important to remember as many teachers predetermine this aspect of the learning experience.

Outlining Purpose

Developing aims and goals have been discussed in a previous post. In short, aims lead to goals, which lead to objectives, which is necessary can lead to indicators. The difference between each type is the amount of detail involved. Aims are the broadest and may apply across an entire school or department while indicators are the most detailed and apply maybe only to a specific assignment.

A unique concept for this post is the development of personal aims. Personal aims are opportunities for the teacher to try something new or improve an aspect of their teaching. For example, if a teacher has never used blogs in the classroom he/she might make a personal aim to use blogs in their classroom. Personal aims allow for reflection which is critical to teacher development.

Conclusion

Lesson planning begins with understanding what the students need. From there, it is necessary to decide what type of syllabus you will make. Lastly, the teacher needs to decide on the various information required such as goals and objectives. Keep in mind that many schools have a specific format for their syllabus. In so, a teacher can keep the concepts of this post in mind even if the structure of the syllabus is already determined.

Tips for Lesson Planning: Part I

Developing lesson plans is a core component of teaching. However, there is a multitude of ways to approach this process. This post will provide some basic ideas on approaching the development of lesson plans by sharing thoughts on the following…

  • The paradox of planning lessons
  • The continuum of planning
  • Using plans in class

The Lesson Plan Paradox

A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself. An example would be jumbo shrimp. We think of shrimp as something that is small so for something to be really big or jumbo and small at the same time usually does not make sense.

Within education, the lesson plan paradox is the idea that a teacher can plan all aspects of a lesson in advance without knowing what will happen in the moment while teaching in their classroom.  Many people believe that there is an interaction that happens while teaching that cannot be anticipated when developing lesson plans.

The Continuum of Planning

In general, the amount of planning needed depends on the skill level of the teacher. Experienced teachers need to plan much less as they have already taught the various concepts before and know where they are going. Inexperienced teachers need to plan much more as they are new to the teaching endeavor.

Experience means experience teaching a particular subject and not only the years of teaching. For example, an excellent algebra teacher would not need formal lesson plans for algebra but may need to plan more carefully if they are asked to teach statistics or some other math subject. Even though they know the subject, the lack of experience teaching it makes it necessary to plan more carefully.

Planning can go from no planning at all to planning every step. Jungle path lesson planning is the extreme of no planning. In this approach, an experienced teacher shows up to class with nothing and see where the journey takes them. Doing this occasionally may break the monotony of studying but continuous use will lead students to think that the teacher is unprepared.

At the opposite extreme are the formal lesson plans developed by student teachers. These lesson plans include everything objectives, materials, procedures, openers, closers, etc. Some even required teachers to indicate how much time every step will take.

Somewhere in the middle is where most teachers are. Uncomfortable with no planning yet too indifferent to planning to plan every minutia of the learning experience like a beginner.

Using Plans in Class

This leads to the question of knowing how thoroughly to apply lesson plans in class. There are several reasons to divert from a lesson plan. One, teaching moments are those opportunities where something happens in or out of class that allows for spontaneous learning. For example, a health teacher may divert from their lesson plan to talk about how cancer works because the students know of a teacher who has cancer.

A second reason to divert from a lesson plan is due to an unforeseen problem. For example, the computer crashes barring access to the internet. This would lead a teacher to find a different way to teach a lesson.

Lastly, a lesson plan can be ignored if the teacher notices that the students need reteaching of skill as they are struggling with it. For example, an English teacher is trying to teach students how to write paragraphs when he or she can tell the students still do not understand how to develop sentences.

Conclusion

Everyone has their own style of lesson planning. It is important to develop an approach while being open to incorporating new ways of planning. The ideas suggested here can help to broaden a teacher’s approach to planning lessons.

Evaluation Models Part III: Eisner’s Criticism Model

In the last few posts, we have looked at evaluation models that come from a scientific approach. In this post, we look at evaluation from a humanistic perspective.

Curriculum evaluation models that come from a humanistic approach see evaluation as more qualitative than scientific models. Humanistic evaluators believe that the process of assessing curriculum is too complex and messy to rely so heavily on quantitative methods. There should be fewer numbers and more written descriptions  The purpose is not to answer questions completely but to add to the conversation by exposing additional questions.

One example of an evaluation model that adheres to the principles of humanistic approaches is Eisner’s Criticism Model.

Eisner’s Criticism Model

Eisner’s Criticism Model is used for evaluating a new curriculum and not necessarily to examine a curriculum that is established. This model has four steps as follows

  1. Describe
  2. Interpret
  3. Evaluate
  4. Identify themes

The steps are mainly self-explanatory. First, evaluators describe the setting and curriculum of the study. Second,  the evaluators explain the reasons for the new curriculum by explaining the need. Third, The evaluators present their understanding of the value of the new curriculum. Fourth, various themes are identified within the curriculum that are meaningful.

This four-step process involves qualitative activities for data collection. Evaluators might participate in classes, observe classes or other activities, analyze student work,  use video, photos, interviews, of teacher and students in action. The goal is to notate what is happening but also what may not be happening in the data. This involves written narrative much more the numerical summaries.

In order to complete such an evaluation, an individual needs to have an expert knowledge in education. Eisner refers to such individuals as connoisseurs. These are people who know what to look for as well as how to value and appreciate what is happening.

Conclusion

Although not nearly as common as scientific models such as Stufflebeam or Stake humanistic models such as Eisner’s Criticism model has its place in education.  For smaller schools or smaller programs, this model is an excellent way to go beyond just numbers and to describe the effectiveness of a curriculum with words. However, for larger schools or programs it is challenging to use such an approach when there is so much happening that needs to be summarized succinctly.

Evaluation Models Part II: Stufflebeam’s Model

In the last post, we began a discussion on evaluation models of the scientific variety. In this post, we conclude are look at scientific evaluation models by examining Stufflebeam’s CIPP model. Daniel Stufflebeam is a famous educator and evaluator of curriculum.

Stufflebeam’s model is called the CIPP model which stands for

  • Context
  • Input
  • Process
  • Product

Context

Context is about studying the context in which the curriculum is used. The purpose is to assess what is happening and examine why needs of the stakeholders may not be met. Common activities at this stage include the following.

  • Physical environment
  • Philosophical foundations of the curriculum
  • Determine stakeholders
  • Background of the context

Of course, there are other activities that could take place but these just provide some examples

Input

Input is about determining whether there are adequate resources to conduct an evaluation. Evaluators look at the goals and strategies of the evaluation. If there are concerns, other approaches may be suggested in order to evaluate the curriculum.

In many ways, this is when the methodology of the evaluation is checked rigorously. Common questions assessed at this level include the following

  • Do goals and objectives align?
  • Are teaching strategies suitable?

Process

Whereas context and process take place before implementation,  process evaluation takes place during implementation. At this stage, evaluators examine if the plan is actually happening in the classroom. Evaluators look for defects in the implementation or use of the curriculum. Whatever problems are identified, strategies are developed to address them.

Normally, process happens at a pilot stage before a larger implementation. For example, the algebra teachers might experiment with a new teaching approach before using it in the entire math department at a school. In many ways, process evaluation is formative evaluation.

Product

The product stage involves collecting data to make a decision about the curriculum. Information is gathered to see how well the curriculum is meeting objectives. From this decision are made. The product stage is really a type of summative evaluation.

Conclusion

Stufflebeam’s model involves analyzing the context and the appropriateness of the curriculum to this context. From there, a formative and summative evaluation is used to assess the impact of the curriculum among the stakeholders. This practical model is useful for educators who are seeking ways to examine the various programs under their care.

Evaluation Models Part I: Stake’s Congruence-Contingency Model

Evaluation models are used in curriculum as a process for assessing the appropriateness of a curriculum for a context. As with approaches to curriculum evaluation, evaluation models can be divided into scientific and humanistic models. For the next few post, we will look at scientific models of curriculum evaluation. Our first example is Robert Stake’s Congruence-Contingency Model.

Congruence-Contingency Model

Stake’s model of curriculum evaluation is more than just an evaluation process. Stake’s model also looks at the development of the curriculum. When using this model, it is necessary to compare the developed curriculum with what actually happens in the classroom.

There are six key terms, broken down into two groups of three, that we need to know in order to understand Stake’s model and they are as follows.

Development Stage

  • Potential prerequisites
  • Potential Curriculum
  • Potential results

Evaluation Stage

  • Prerequisites applied in context
  • Evaluation of operational curriculum
  • Actual results

Prerequisites

The prerequisites is another way of saying “before” or the state of the context before the intervention of teaching. This includes student’s attitude, motivation, prior academic performance, teacher characteristics, and more. In the development stage, the teachers need to identify what are some potential prerequisites that may impact learning. In the evaluation stage, the evaluators determine what prerequisites actually impact the curriculum. In other words, there is a comparison of what was anticipated and what actually was the case in terms of the prerequisites.

Potential & Operational Curriculum

Potential curriculum is the “dream” curriculum that is developed. It includes everything that the teachers want to do. The Operational curriculum is what was actually used. There is normally a discrepancy between the two as it is difficult to cover all of the material and use all of the activities. The evaluation will examine the difference between these two aspects of curriculum as another criterion for assessing the quality of the curriculum.

Potential vs. Actual Results

Potential results are what the teachers hope to see as a result of the use of the curriculum. Actual results are the real performance of the students. The difference between the potential or desired results and actual results is another indicator of the quality of the curriculum in Stake’s model.

Conclusion

Stake’s Model provides evaluators with an opportunity to compare the desired outcome with the actual outcome. The benefit of this is that it is the curriculum developers that set the criteria of evaluation. All the evaluators do is determine if the curriculum performed in a manner that is consistent with the ideas of the developers.

Approaches to Curriculum Evaluation Part II: Intrinsic vs Payoff Approach

In the last post, we looked at scientific vs humanistic approach to curriculum evaluation. In this post, we continue the discussion by examining the intrinsic vs payoff approach to curriculum evaluation

Intrinsic Approach

The intrinsic approach is used to assess the overall quality of a curriculum. This involves looking at the various components of curriculum design such as the scope, sequence, articulation, balance and other aspects. Aspects of curriculum development are also assessed which means examining the teaching methods, content, and learning experiences. However, initially, at least, the criteria of evaluation is not determined but emerges after the process begins.

The intrinsic approach not only examines the value of the curriculum but also how well a given curriculum reaches its goals and objectives. This involves collecting some form of data whether quantitative or qualitative. As such, most evaluators normally approach evaluation with some of the characteristics of the intrinsic approach.

Payoff Approach

In the payoff approach, clear evaluation criteria are set from the outset. Normally, evaluators look at the impact of the curriculum on its stakeholders, which often includes, students, teachers, parents, and administrators. This approach to evaluation is among the most popular in education because of the clear criteria which makes data collection smooth and efficient.

Which Approach to Use?

The intrinsic approach may be most useful when it is unclear exactly what the stakeholders want to know. In other words, it is useful for exploratory purposes. Nobody is sure where they are going and the intrinsic approach helps to setup a map of strengths and weaknesses within a program. From there, other approaches can be used to refine the evaluation if necessary.

The payoff approach is best when the evaluation team knows exactly what it wants to know. Clear evaluation questions/criteria has been set and it is only a matter of answering the questions or assessing the level at which the curriculum meets the criteria by collecting data.

As such, the purpose is not to declare one approach superior to the other but to keep in mind the context when deciding which tool to use.

Approaches to Curriculum Evaluation Part I: Scientific vs Humanistic Approach

Curriculum evaluation is the process of collecting data in order to make decisions about the curriculum in question. Curriculum can mean a host of things. It could refer to a particular subject such as 7th grade reading, it could refer to a particular grade such as 8th grade in general, it can also refer to an entire school such as elementary or secondary school. As such, one aspect of curriculum evaluation to consider is the scope or what is being evaluated.

There are meaning different approaches or ways of seeing curriculum evaluation. For whatever reason, approaches to curriculum evaluation are always explained in extremes. In this post we will look at the following approach to curriculum.

  • Scientific vs Humanistic Approach to Curriculum Evaluation

Scientific Approach

The scientific approach is probably the oldest approach to curriculum evaluation as it dates from modernism and the emphasis on the scientific method of the 19th to 20th century. This approach to curriculum evaluation focuses on using quantitative data generate by the learners. This allows for statistical analysis. Furthermore, the results are compared in order to determine the level of success. This comparison is at the heart of decision-making when this approach is employed.

There are natural issues with such a heavy emphasis on numerical data. For one, the students narrative is missing. A lickert scale analysis is not as rich in content as an interview. Another issue is the assumption of similar circumstances. The diversity in student ability and even in teaching ability makes it difficult to assume that students are facing similar challenges and circumstances.

Humanistic Approach

In a more post-modern worldview the Humanistic approach looks at the individual rather than the numbers. Data is much more qualitative in nature. The rationale behind this is that life has multiple perspectives to it and quantitative data only provides one perspective.

Humanistic evaluators want to understand the complexities of the environment they are assessing. This involves capturing narratives through interviews and focus groups. Observation is used not to count frequencies but to take notes of what is happening in the classroom.

The major issues with this approach is the smaller sample size that is required. It is not feasible to interview 400 students but perhaps 20 is doable. In contrast, conducting a survey with 400 students should not be a challenge for a scientific evaluator. Furthermore, there are questions as to the objectivity of the results.

Since qualitative data is processed by the researcher their own perspective can filter what they report when they share the perspective of the respondents, In contrast, scientific approaches are more objective in that computer processes and reports the results.

Conclusion

Instead of having a bias towards scientific or humanistic approaches to curriculum evaluation. It is better to look at the context of what needs to be evaluated and determine the most appropriate approach. It should be the context and not the preference of the evaluators that should decide which direction to take. In many situations, a mixture of both approaches may be appropriate but this involves much more work and complexity.

Approach, Method, Procedure, and Techniques In Language Learning

In language teaching,  in the general area of teaching methodology, people talk about approaches, methods, procedures, and techniques. This post will help to clarify the meaning of these interrelated terms and provide examples of each.

Approaches

An approach is a theory about language learning or even a philosophy of how people learn in general. They can be psychologically focused such as behaviorism or cognitivism. They can also be based on older philosophies such as idealism or realism.

Approaches are fuzzy and hard to define because they are broad in nature. An example of an approach that leads to a method would be the philosophies of scholasticism, faculty of psychology, or even perennialism. Each of these philosophies encouraged the development of the mind in the way of a muscle. Train the brain and a person would be able to do many different things. These philosophies have impacted some methods of language teaching as we will see below.

Method

A method is an application of an approach in the context of language teaching. An example of a method is the grammar-translation method. This method employs the memorization of various grammar rules and the translation of second language material to the student’s native language. Students were able to develop the intellectual capacity to understand the new language through a deductive process of acquiring the rules of the language.The purpose is not to critique this method but to show how it was derived from the approach that the mind needs to be trained through intellectual exercises to be able to accomplish something.

Procedures

Procedures are the step-by-step measures to execute a method. These step-by-step measures are called techniques and will be discussed next. Common procedures for the grammar-translation method includes the following…

The ESL / ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide

  1. The class reads a text written in the second language.
  2. Student translates the passage from the second language to their mother tongue.
  3. Student translates new words from the second language to their mother tongue.
  4. Student is given a grammar rule and derived from the example they apply the rule by using the new words.
  5. Student memorizes the vocabulary of the second language.
  6. Student memorizes grammar rules.
  7. Errors made by the student are corrected by providing the right answers.

This is the process (with variation) that is used when employing the grammar-translation method.

Techniques

A technique is a single activity that comes from a procedure. Anyone of the steps of the procedure list above qualifies as a technique. Naturally, various methods employ various techniques.

Conclusion

Language teaching involves approaches that lead to methods, methods that are broken down into procedures, and procedures that are a collection of techniques. Understanding how these concepts interrelate can help a teacher know the reasons behind their choices in how they choose to teach.

Prepare Her! Equip Her! Because She Is The Future! Get Free Shipping On Stock Orders Over $99

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning was developed by BF Skinner who was inspired by the work of Pavlov. As a behavorist, Skinner was focused on the environment when looking for a change in peoples’ actions. He stated that learning is a response to a situation. There are many important words to define before explaining the details of operant conditioning. Such as,

  • conditioning
  • discriminative stimulus
  • operant behavior
  • reinforcement
  • punishment

Key terms 

Conditioning, is the strengthening of a behavior due to reinforcement. For example, a child studies hard and he receives free time. He is conditioned to work hard because of the reward.

Discriminative stimulus sets the occasion for a response. An example would be a teacher giving students time to study. This provides the environment for the response of the students.

Operant behavior is the response to a stimulus. For example, a teacher gives students time to study and their response is to work hard. It is the presence of the opportunity to study that leads to the students working hard. The student learns to work hard due to the setting they are in.

Reinforcement increases the likelihood of a particular response. For example, if the teacher provides study time and the students work hard. The teacher may decide to give free time. Since the students were given free time for working hard, it increases the likelihood that they will work hard the next time they are given time to study.

Punishment is used to lessen an undesired response. For example, the teacher provides study time and the students are playing and being silly. To discourage this the teacher may give additional work to the students. Since the students do not like extra work the likelihood they will misbehave in the future will go down.

Putting it all Together

Operant conditioning has three steps to it

  1. A discriminative response (Such as a teacher providing study time)
  2. A response (such as the students choosing to work hard
  3. And a reinforcing/punishing stimulus (such as free time or extra homework)

Example

A teacher provides students with study time. This is the discriminative stimulus that set the scene for the students. The students have the choice to work hard or misbehave. If the students work hard two things can happen

  1. The teacher gives them free time (positive reinforcement)
  2. The teacher takes away homework (negative reinforcement)

Positive reinforcement is giving the students something they want such as free time. Negative reinforcement is taking away something the students hate, such as homework. Reinforcement always encourages a behavior to be repeated in the future.

If the students choose to misbehave the teacher has two choices as well

  1. Give the students more work (positive punishment)
  2. Take away the students recess (negative punishment)

Positive punishment is giving the students something they do not like, such as more work. Negative punishment is taking away something the students love, such as recess.

Conclusion

Operant conditioning is somewhat complicated and difficult to understand. The principle is that the behavior comes before the stimulus. In the example, the students acted a certain way before they received a reinforcer or punishment. In addition, positive means to received something while negative means to lose something. These simple principles can help in understanding the complexities of operant conditioning.

Contiguous Conditioning

Contiguous conditioning is also a part of the behaviorist school. This approach, developed by Edwin Guthrie, states that a stimulus that causes a response will cause the same response if the stimulus is experienced again. In other words, a behavior (response) will be repeated if the same situation (stimulus) is experienced again.

For example, if a teacher provides a stimulus of “be quiet in the classroom” and the students’ response is silence every single time they are in the classroom this is considered contiguous conditioning. Every time they hear “be quiet in the classroom” the students develop an association between silence and the classroom.

Habits

One influential aspect of Guthrie’s work was in habits. Habits are learned behaviors in response to various cues. Continuing with the be quiet example, if the teacher tells the students to be quiet in the classroom, library, and hallway. Students develop the habit of being quiet in many different settings. The stimulus is now leading to responses in various context developing an overall habit.

Habit Breaking

Guthrie not only study habit formation but also habit breaking. He devised three methods of breaking habits

  • Threshold
  • Fatigue
  • Incompatible response

Threshold

In order to break a habit, a person introduces a weak stimulus and gradually increasing the strength right to the point of the person’s tolerance. For example, if students cannot sit still to study (bad habit). The teacher might gradually increase the amount of time students have to sit still and study (weak to strong stimulus) from five minutes to eventually 30 minutes. By moving incrementally, the students slowly break the bad habit of restlessness and replace it with the habit of diligent study.

Fatigue

This approach works by forcing an individual to repeat an unwanted response in the presence of a stimulus. Continuing with our restless student example, if students cannot sit still (bad habit), the teacher would make them run around nonstop until they are exhausted (stimulus until fatigue). Even though students love to play, the possibility of fatigue from over exposure changes their behavior.

Incompatible Response

This method involves the presence of a stimulus but having the person make a response that is incompatible with the unwanted response. Using the same example of restless students (bad habit/response), a teacher might have students write a story (incompatible response). Since it is difficult to write and talk at the same time, it helps to encourage the desired behavior of silence (desired response). The response of writing and talking are incompatible with each other. This friction leads to the silence that the teacher desires.

Conclusion

Guthrie’s work seems to have been forgotten in education. It is common to speak of classical and operant but rarely of contiguous conditioning. Guthrie work discourages punishment while encouraging the replacement of bad habits with good. This is advice that many teachers struggling with classroom management should consider.

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning came about at the same time as structuralism and functionalism. Ivan Pavlov was the developer of classical conditioning almost by accident. He noticed how the dogs in his laboratory would begin to salivate at the sight or sound of an attendant bringing them food.

Defining Terms

Before explaining how classical conditioning works it is important to define terms. Some terms you need to know to understand the basics of classical conditioning are

  • unconditioned
  • conditioned
  • stimulus
  • response

A stimulus provides input that leads to a response. A response is a reaction to a stimulus. For example, if a child sticks their hand in a fire, the stimulus is a burning sensation. This leads to a response of the child pulling their hand out of the fire. The fire was the stimulus that led to the response of pulling the hand.

The word unconditioned and conditioned are highly related in classical conditioning. To make this as simple as possible, you can think of conditioned as controlled and unconditioned as uncontrolled. Therefore a unconditioned stimulus is one that is not controlled. A unconditioned response is an uncontrolled response. A conditioned stimulus is one that is controlled and a controlled response is a response that is controlled.

Example Pavlov’s Experiment

We will now look at an example of all the terms in action. Pavlov conducted an experiment with dogs. First, Pavlov provided an unconditioned stimulus of food. This led to the dog displaying the unconditioned response of salivation. Neither the food nor the salivation of the dog was controlled at this moment.

In the second phase, every time Pavlov provided food he also played a metronome. Originally, the metronome was a neutral stimulus in that it did not cause a response. With time, the dog associated or connected the sound of the metronome to the idea of receiving food. It is this association that leads to conditioning.

After hearing the metronome and receiving food over and over again the connection was strengthened to where the dog only had to hear the metronome in order to begin salivation. In other words, the metronome had become a conditioned stimulus or a stimulus that was controlled. The salivation was now a controlled response. To put it simply, it was controlled or happened under the condition of hearing the metronome. The food was no longer necessary to bring about the behavior of salivation. Off course, the food had to be rewarded occasionally in order to maintain the connection between the metronome and salivation.

Conclusion

Classical conditioning is not used much in education. However, Pavlov’s work laid the foundation of aspects of behaviorism that are employed in education. Examples include contiguous and operant conditioning.

Behavioral vs Cognitive Perspectives on Learning Theories Part II

In the previous post, we looked at how the behavioral and cognitive schools of psychology address different issues or questions related to learning. In this post, we will look at the last four questions/issues that both behavioral and cognitive schools of psychology deal with when explaining learning. The questions are…

  • What is the role of motivation?
  • How does transfer occur?
  • What processes are involved in self-regulation?
  • What does this mean for teaching?

What is the Role of Motivation?

Behaviorists see motivation as an increase in the likelihood of a behavior. Therefore, if a behavior happens often it is because a person is motivated to do it. For behaviorist, there is no difference between learning and motivation. A person who is motivated to perform an action must already know how to do it according to this train of thought.

Cognitivists see motivation and learning as related but not the same. For them, people can be motivated without actually learning anything since the behavior is not automatically linked to motivation. Instead, motivation affects how information is processed.

How Does Transfer Occur?

Transfer is the application of knowledge or skills in new ways or in a different setting. In the behavioral school, transfer happens when the new and old environments are similar in nature. For example, if a person knows how to ride a bicycle they should be able to use these skills to drive a motorcycle.

The cognitive school states that transfer happens when people understand how to apply knowledge in different environments. The environments do not need to be similar. This is because cognitivists focus on how the information is remembered in the mind instead of the environment in which the knowledge is applied.

What Processes are Involved in Self-Regulation?

Self-regulation is the ability to focus on attaining goals. Behaviorists believe that self-regulation occurs when people setup their own reinforcement. For example, if someone decides that they will eat their favorite food after completing a project. They are reinforcing their behavior by providing the food contingent on completing the project.

Cognitive approaches to self-regulation include monitoring one’s comprehension, rehearsal of content, and or attention. For cognitivists, it is not about reinforcement but making sure one understands what one is trying to process. Rewards and punishments are not necessary.

What are the Implications

Behaviorists emphasize stimuli response in the theories on learning. The theories that are developed from this perspective on most useful in explaining simple forms of learning such as word meanings and other forms of lower-level thinking.

Cognitivists propose theories related to information processing and memory networks. Their theories are strongest in explaining complex learning or higher level thinking.

Conclusion

The purpose was not to state that one school of thought on learning is superior. The goal is to see how a combination of behavioral and cognitive theories can be used to understand learning.  Seeing learning from both perspectives rather than one provides a fuller understanding of learning.

Behavioral vs Cognitive Perspectives on Learning Theories

In the study of learning, there are two major perspectives that attempt to explain the components of learning. The two perspective are behavioral and cognitive approaches. Behavioral approaches view learning as a behavior. The behavior is observable and can be measured. Cognitive approaches explain learning as the acquisition of knowledge and the processing of information.

In many ways, these two schools of thought on learning reflect the Greek philosophies studied in an earlier post.   Recall that realism was about the senses just as behaviorism is about seeing a change in behavior. In addition, idealism was focused on what is happening inside the mind just as cognitivism is.

There are several big questions in the field of learning theory that both of these perspectives attempt to answer. The questions are

  • How does learning occur?
  • What is the role of memory?
  • What is the role of motivation?
  • How does transfer occur?
  • What processes are involved in self-regulation?
  • What does this mean for teaching?

In this post, we will examine the first 2 questions. The next post will look at the last four.

How Does Learning Occur?

Behavioral theories stress the importance of the environment in encouraging learning. Behaviorists speak a great deal about stimulus response. The stimulus comes from the environment and the individual responds. Behaviorists see learning as an experience in reinforcement. Individual difference is not a major concern as everyone should act in a similar manner when facing similar stimuli.

Cognitivist agree with the influence of the environment in learning but downplay its role. For them, learning is about how students’ encode, store, and or transfer learning within their mind. The learner’s thoughts play an important role in their learning. Reflection and asking questions all play a part in the learning of students.

What is the Role of Memory?

Behavorists have a simple notion of learning. If some one remembers something it is because they are reinforced connection due to stimulus response. Forgetting for behavorists is caused from a lack of response to stimuli over time. Connections fade due to lack of use. For this reason, a teacher should review material occasionally to maintain the connections the students have developed. This will help in remembering what they learned.

Cognitivist see memory as the encoding of information in the mind. It is similar to storing data on a hard drive. From this perspective, forgetting is the inability to retrieve a memory. This can be caused by interference, lack of adequate mental triggers, or a loss of memory. These are all problems we sometimes face when dealing with computers. For teachers, this means helping students to organize what they learn and connect it to what they already know. By doing this, it assures that they will remember.

Conclusion

The goal is not to lift up one approach over the other. In reality, teachers should use a combination of the two approaches when appropriate to help their students. It is left to the teacher to know what will work and when as they try to help students to learn.

Structuralism & Functionalism

In the last post, we spoke of the work of Wilhelm Wundt and his groundbreaking work in psychology. One of Wundt’s students was Edward Titchener (1867-1927). Titchener is remembered for bringing Wundt’s ideas to America and for his significant role in the development of the school of structuralism in psychology.

Structuralism

Structuralism is the study of the structure of the mind. Adherents to this school of thought believe that the mind is made up of associations of ideas and that understanding the mind means breaking down these relationships into ideas.

To break down these ideas, Titchener used a form of self-analysis called introspection. An example of this is showing participants a picture of a table. The participant would not say it is a table but would rather describe the table such as its color, shape, size, etc. These descriptions of the table were the ideas associated with it.

This approach to experimental research was groundbreaking during its time but had problems. It was difficult for people to ignore the literal meaning of the images they say. Structuralists also struggle with explaining the meaning behind the associations they found. As such, this approach fell out of use.

Functionalism

Around the same time as Titchener functionalism was developed. Functionalism is people’s mental processes and behavior helps them to adapt to their environment. This school of thought was most heavily supported by William James (1842-1910).

The functionalist view was influenced by Darwin’s ideas of evolution. They focused specifically on the mind’s adaptability for survival. As such, this school of thought was a product of its times.

Functionalism focused on seeing the mind as a whole rather than in the discrete parts that structuralist used. For them, the mind and body worked together. Therefore, introspection was not popular with functionalist as it divided up the processes of the human mind. While structuralist were inwardly focused functionalists were outwardly focused.

The decline of functionalism was due to its lack of focus. Since it was a holistic view, it was hard to see what they were focusing on in regards to the mind. Any school of thought the studies everything eventually leads to understanding nothing.

Conclusion

Structuralism and functionalism were two of the earliest schools of thought in psychology. In many ways, these two approaches were complete opposites of each other. These two extremes laid the groundwork for many major schools of psychology to come.

The Psychological Study of Learning: The Beginning

The study of learning is relatively recent. This post will look at the birth of psychology and how the pioneers of this field laid the foundation for the study of learning.

download-9

Wilhelm Wundt

The first laboratory to focus on the study of psychology was opened by Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) in Germany in 1879. Wundt’s goal was simple, to establish psychology as a legitimate science. At this time, psychology was seen by many as something akin to fortune telling and other black arts.

Wundt’s laboratory quickly became a meeting place for the top minds in this field. He started a journal to report psychological research and encouraged the shift from thinking about psychology ti performing experiments. This shift from rationalism to empiricism was a major change in psychology. Psychological studies were now investigated through controlled stimuli and responses.

Wundt, and his team of researchers investigated the perceptions, feelings, attention, and emotions of people. He was also a mentor to many psychologists who opened laboratories in the United States. Despite all if his pioneering work, Wundt’s laboratory never made any major discoveries in the field of psychology. A sad destiny of many great teachers.

download (10).jpg

Hermann Ebbinghaus

Another major player in the early days of psychology was another German named Hermann Ebbinhaus (1850-1909). Ebbinghaus played an important role in establishing the experimental method. Again this is surprising to us in this day and age but experimenting was not established until work in such fields as psychology.

Ebbinghaus research focused on memory. He believed that learning happens through repeated exposure to whatever a person was trying to learn. He provided data through conducting memory experiments on himself. Naturally, such experiments led to questions of the validity of his studies. Nevertheless, his work was the first to look at memorizing in this way. However, Ebbinghaus results were later justified by the use of experimental methods.

The Impact

Our understanding of learning today would be stunted if not for the work of these to mentwoTheir major contribution is in establishing experiments as a legitimate way of collecting data in psychology. Today, this is one of the primary vehicles of data collection.

To this day, psychologist study the memory, perceptions, and feeling of individuals in due to the work of these men. Learning would not be defined the way it is if it were not for the work of these German gentlemen from the 19th century.

Ancient Philosophies and Education

In research related to education and learning theories, there are two major philosophies that influence almost the entire field of education. The name of these two philosophies are rationalism and empiricism. In this post, we will take a closer look at each of these philosophies and their impact on education.

Rationalism

Rationalism is a form of epistemology that states that knowledge grows from the process of reasoning without reliance on the senses. In this philosophy, there is a strong distinction between knowledge acquired by the senses and by reason. According to Plato, a major proponent of this philosophy, things a.k.a matter are revealed by the senses. Ideas, on the other hand, are revealed by reasoning. This reasoning process is a systematic reflection upon the ideas of the world, which leads to further ideas being developed.

Rene Descartes was a French philosopher of the 17th century. He extended the work of Plato by stating that the primary difference between man and beast was the former’s ability to reason. For Descartes, the external world was mechanical. In many ways, this idea paved the way for naturalism and materialism of the 19th century.

In summary, rationalism is focused upon the development of the mind through thinking processes. This philosophy is at the heart of such learning theories that related specifically to information processing. Rationalism has also influence educational philosophies such as perennialism and to a lesser extent essentialism.

Empiricism

On the opposite end of the spectrum of epistemology is empiricism. Empiricism states that experience through the senses is the only source of knowledge. Aristotle was the developer of this position. He stated that ideas cannot exist independent of the external world. It is the information one gathers not from thinking but from one’s senses that leads to knowledge.

This idea was taken a step further by John Locke in the 17th century. Locke is famous for proposing what he called the tabla rasa. This was a phrase for stating that a person is born a blank slate. As the grow and take in information through the senses does the person acquire ideas about their environment and self.

Empiricism is one of the dominating philosophies of modern time. The scientific method, various learning theories on associational learning, and educational philosophies focused on experiential learning are based on empiricism.

Conclusion

More could be said about these two philosophies. The point that is being made is that they have had a strong influence on education. Most major debates in education share positions stated by one of these philosophies. When people speak of critical thinking and the development of the mind they are pulling concepts from rationalism. When people speak of job skills and hands on training they are deriving arguments from empiricism. In reality, a combination of both will lead to well-rounded individuals.

Defining Learning

The goal of most teachers is that their students learn in the classroom. However, a question to ask is what does it mean to learn? Another question to consider is how can we tell when a student has learned something?

It is not easy to answer these questions. Despite the challenge, there are several different criteria that can be considered to determine if a student has learned something. Three ways to see learning includes the following

  • Learning involves some form of change
  • Learning is something that endures over time
  • Learning occurs through experience

Learning and Change

The first criterion for defining learning is that it brings change. In other words, a student goes from acting or performing one way to another. For example, I child who cannot ride a bike eventually learns to ride the bike. The student moves from inability to ability and this is one example of learning. The actual process of acquiring the skill is not always clear but the outcome is clear. This criterion is for those who see learning as a behavioral process.

Learning Endures Over Time

When a student learns something the change should endure. How long is not always agreed upon and forgetting happens as well. Despite this, people who learn often remember what they learned for more than a few fleeting moments. Returning to our bicycle example, many people remember this skill for their entire lives. Even those who forget, they are able to quickly relearn the skill with some practice. In general, something that is learned is something that lasts.

Learning Happens through Experience

A common saying is that life is the best teacher. It is through experience and not theory that learning often occurs. For our bicycle example, the student did not listen to a lecture on riding bikes but went out there and rode a bike. It is through practice and observation that learning can also occur. The trials of life lead to reflection that modifies behavior in a way that is beneficial.

Conclusion 

Learning involves change, time, and experience. These criteria helps people to make sense of the world and acquire new abilities. There is more to learning than just these three components. Whatever else is necessary, these components will apply in many situations in which learning occurs.

The Purpose of Curriculum Evaluation

Curriculum evaluation is a critical aspect of the educational process. Most schools have to evaluate their curriculum at one point or another. This post will share insights into defining evaluation as well as the distinction between measurement and evaluation.

Defining Evaluation

Evaluation of a curriculum happens in order to decide whether to accept, change, or eliminate various aspects of a curriculum. The overall goal is to understand if the curriculum is producing the desired results. This implies that the evaluators know what to expect prior to the evaluation and are looking for these predetermined results.

Evaluation is about gathering data. This data can be collected in many different ways. The various data collection approaches are the same as any used in research. They include observation, interviews, surveys, and more. The data is often aggregated and used to determine if the goals of a program are being met.

Measurement and Evaluation

Evaluation is not only about measuring a phenomenon. Instead, evaluation assigns value and meaning to the results of a study. It assesses quality through quantitative or qualitative means. This is in contrast to measurement which describes a phenomenon but does not interpret the quality of it.

It is common for there to be confusion over measurement and evaluation. To remember the difference, measurement describes something numerical. Evaluation, on the other hand, judges something qualitatively.

Conclusion 

It is important to remember that evaluation can happen at many different levels. The teacher can assess their unit plans. A department can assess their reading program. A school can assist its entire curriculum. Regardless of the level. Curriculum evaluation is often focused on determining how the curriculum is doing in terms of achieving the goals set for it.

Implementation Model: Overcoming-Resistance-to-Change

There are many different models for implementing curriculum. One common model is the Overcoming-Resistance-to-Change Model (ORC model). This model focuses on gaining advocates and sharing power equally between administrators and teachers. The ORC model focuses on allowing for the personal needs of the teachers to be addressed through maintaining high flexibility in the implementation.

The ORC model focuses on change from the perspective of the teacher. In this model, there are four stages as listed below.

  1. Unrelated concerns
  2. Personal concerns
  3. Task-related concerns
  4. Impact-related concerns

Stage 1: Unrelated Concerns

The first stage is a stage of indifference. A teacher is aware change but do not see how it relates to their own life. As such the teacher is not worried about whatever innovation is coming. An example might be hearing about efforts to bring online learning to a school. The teacher knows this innovation is out there but it has not impacted them yet.

Stage 2: Personal Concerns

The teacher is now concerned with how the new innovation or curriculum will impact their life personally. For example, an English teacher wrestling with how using online learning will affect what they are trying to do in the classroom.

Stage 3: Task-Related Concerns

In stage 3, the teacher is thinking about how to use the new curriculum or innovation. Questions begin to go through their head in terms of application. For the online learning example, the teacher may wonder about such problems as how much time will it take to learn this? What are the best ways to use this new innovation? What kind of support will I get? These are just some of the many questions that are possible.

Stage 4: Impact-Related Concerns

Now the teacher has taken their focus of their performance and is now worried about how this will affect students. At this stage, teachers are focusing on their students, peers, and school. For the online learning example, teachers start to wonder how online learning will benefit the students. A teacher may start to wonder how other teachers are doing as they try to use this new innovation. The shift here is from self to others.

Conclusion

Change involves a reaction. For the ORC model, the reaction involves four clear steps. Every teacher may not go through these four stages. However, these stages help to explain what a leader can anticipate when trying to implement curriculum

Resistance to Curriculum Changes

It is common for people to dislike change. When curriculum implementation is taking place there may be resistance to the new ideas and innovations presented. Thomas Harvey has provided a list of common reasons people may resist change.

Lack of ownership. Change must be an internal movement to have success. If the ideas are coming from an outside push success is much less likely to happen. Few people enjoy taking orders from external powers.

Lack of benefit. If teachers do not see any advantages to the new program for themselves or their students, they may not accept it. The strong points of a new curriculum must be explained.

More work. Few teachers want more to do. Change often brings additional responsibilities, at least, initially. Wise implementation entails removing current responsibilities in order not to overburden teachers with too much work.

Lack of support. This is closely related to the previous point. If leadership does not support the change, the workers will not either. The example and support of administration is key to the success of any change happening in an organization.

Insecurity. The risk of failure is always present when new ideas are tried. This can make some people really hesitant to try new ideas. A supportive atmosphere where failure is okay is needed for dealing with this. If people look bad using a new curriculum they will not use it for long.

Incongruence with Norm. The philosophy and beliefs laid down in the innovation must be consisted with the beliefs of the people who will use it. If there is a conflict in beliefs there will be a potential rejection of the innovation. This is especially true over controversial topics like sexual orientation, abortion, or creation.

Chaos. Change often brings disorder. If the amount of chaos and disorder is perceived as too high people may resist. People want change that brings order and not disorder.

Complete/wholesale change. A change that calls for a complete revamp of a current system is too much for most people to handle. An incremental approach is much more acceptable when dealing with bringing curriculum change. Many schools will role out a new curriculum a grade at a time rather than all at once. This helps the students and gives the teachers time to prepare.

There are many other reasons besides these that may be the root cause of resistance to curriculum change in a school. These reasons serve to provide a basic introduction into causes for resistance.