Unit 4: Theories and principles for planning and enabling learning In modern day teaching, the onus is shifting further and further away from teacher dictated methods of educational delivery, to methods that ensure the learner is placed at the heart of teaching, and every individual within the classroom is considered and catered for. Advances in technology available to teachers has contributed to a broadening of teaching styles, but this has mainly come about through the need to differentiate teaching more effectively and break down the barriers that exist between teacher and learner.
Engaging every learner is a difficult task and requires the teacher to have a plethora of knowledge of teaching methods and theories. Learners may differ in terms of age, gender, ability level, communication skills, confidence, learning styles and many other factors. The job of the teacher is to ensure these factors do not hinder individual learning and that success and achievement within the group is widespread and at a high level. Planning and implementing learning is paramount to this process.
To effectively plan and deliver to diverse and varied groups of students, teachers can draw upon a number of teaching theories and principles put forward by educational academics. Theories of teaching and behaviour are themselves, in general, varied and diverse in the way they approach the dissemination of learning and the bringing about of desired responses. Similarly, different theories of communication have been put forward that document methods through which we as teachers can effectively converse with our students.
All of these theories can provide a vital insight or tool for teachers to improve their practice and ultimately promote inclusive learning for all students. Many examples of different teaching theories are evident across academic literature. Examples of these include Classical and Operant conditioning, Kolb’s learning cycle, Gagnes 9 events of instruction, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Knowles’ Pedagogical and Andragogical approaches. An example of a communication theory is Berne’s (1970) transactional analysis. It is concerned with ensuring that control and understanding occurs through ommunication between groups or individuals. Berne believes that transactional analysis represents “a theory of social intercourse and used it to help people understand and improve their behaviour towards others” (Huddleston & Unwin, 1997, p115). This theory also suggests that communicating effectively will directly impact on success, motivation work rate and behaviour through increased understanding of the nature and demands of a task or the content of the message itself that is being communicated. If we also also consider the effectiveness of communication in the classroom and relating theoretical concepts, i. e. ehaviourist and humanistic theories, these have some distinct differences which affect greatly the approaches and techniques adopted by teachers. Behaviourist theories suggest all behaviour is ‘learned’ or that these theories bring about a recognisable ‘change’ in behaviour (Armitage, 2003). Examples of Behavioural theorists include Pavlov (Classical conditioning), Thorndike (Operant conditioning), Skinner and in terms of early behaviourist studies, Watson. These theorists along with others have over the past 100 years put forward a number of different behaviourist theories that are concerned with changing or ‘conditioning’ behaviour.
Classical conditioning was pioneered by Pavlov who looked at learning by association. His famous study involved the use of dogs as a medium to facilitate associative learning. Pavlov rang a bell every time a dog was to receive food, the presence of food elicited a saliva response from the dog, which over time it associated with the sound of the bell. After a period of time, the stimulus of food was no longer produced, but the dog continued to salivate at the sound of a bell, as it now ‘associated’ this behaviour with the onset of a meal.
Classical conditioning essentially elicits a reflex and an association is formed (Artmitage, 2003; www. learning-theories. com). Operant conditioning is a theory put forward by Thorndike. This theory waits for a desired behaviour to occur and then rewards it. It builds somewhat on the work done by Watson regarding trial and error learning. Perhaps the most prominent or influential behaviourist work is that done by Skinner. Skinner adopted an operant approach to behaviourism and famously conducted experiment using rats in specially designed boxes.
Skinner’s ideas revolved around the presence of a reinforcer to cause a desired behaviour to be repeated. This could be in the form of a primary reinforcer (a basic need like food) or a secondary reinforcer (such as money or praise). In the case of his rats, Skinner effectively trained them to pull certain levers to release food. Initially, the release was accidental but after a while, the rats learned to associate the arrival of food with the pressing of a lever. Skinners work revolved heavily around the need for reinforcement, reward, punishment and feedback.
The scheduling and delivery of these things was also important to Skinner who suggested the timing of something like a reward was paramount to its success at brining about long term changes in behaviour. Similarly, he suggested giving punishment should occur immediately after the event in question and in a consistent manner. Also, it was skinner who introduced the concept of successive approximations – small steps towards a desired behaviour (Artmitage, 2003; www. learning-theories. com). Humanistic theories of learning are much more concerned with the individual themselves than the behaviour.
Maslow identified a Hierarchy of Needs which he believed outlined the basic requirements of all individuals Figure 1 – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (www. talkingtails. files. wordpress. com) Both humanistic and behaviourist theories have a huge application in the delivery of teaching and learning. In the curriculum area of Public Services, evidence of the use of both theories is apparent across different subject areas. Operant conditioning is embedded widely across public service lessons. This occurs on many occasions where praise is used within a fitness session to reinforce good performance.
Primary reinforcers are also often used, for example, excellence certificates sometimes act as a tangible reward for students who perform well in strenuous task such as fitness testing. When coaching exercise techniques in the gym, classical conditioning is used to develop the desired response of good form. For example, when learning to perform a squat, the learner must bend their knees to a 90 degree angle. This is taught by putting a bench under the learner so that when they feel their posterior touch the surface of the bench they know to begin the upward phase of the lift.
At the point of touch, they will be encouraged to reverse the process. Over time, the bench is removed from the lift but the learner still remembers the motion. Punishment is often used to discourage certain behaviour. For example, at South Devon College if a student is rude in a lesson they are given a set amount of press ups to do. Whilst punishment is deemed less effective than a positive reinforcement strategy, the section have a consistent and department wide policy towards distributing press ups which contributes to making this a more effective way to manipulate behaviour.
Humanistic approaches such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are also evident within the curriculum, looking at developing individuals through agendas such as Every Child Matters and through the departmental tutorial process. The teamwork and overall nature of the course is also a particularly effective medium for learners to progress through the top two stages (esteem and self actualisation) of the hierarchy. Inclusive practice is something that all teachers are ultimately striving for. Within the curriculum, inclusive practice is complicated by the both theoretical and practical element of the subject area.
A teacher must look to facilitate learning for those who are academically able, practically gifted and also attempt to integrate the study of theory and practical to enhance learning as a whole. Computer based learning, for example, is common place on all courses, and although often difficult to facilitate in all subjects, such as outdoor activities, the needs of the learner and future employer is paramount. The Uniformed Public Services today use computer systems, including email, online study, and specific service systems such as Wotan, on a regular basis and so it is vital that learners are prepared for this.
This also helps out those learners who may struggle with putting pen to paper. Much of what the Public Services do is very practical and so as much as possible I try to embed a practical way of delivering the course specification. For example, team building activities using equipment outdoors. This enables some learners to shine as they are more practically minded. However, an indoor table top scenario does the same job, but gives learners with different learning styles chance to shine. Linking theory to practice is related to another teaching theory put forward by Kolb (1984). Kolb’s Learning Theory
Kolb’s theory is ‘based on the assumption that people learn best by doing things then thinking about how they have done them, considering both the thoughts, feelings and perceptions which emerged during the experience’ (Harkin et al. 200, p42). This makes the process of learning more efficient, relevant and enjoyable. It also promotes inclusive practice with all three learning styles (Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic) being catered for effectively. The nature of our learners has a significant influence on the techniques and theories we implement in the preparation and delivery of lessons.
In my own teaching practice, I have exposure to both adult and child groups. This difference in age groups has a big impact in how I teach and communicate with these groups. This is linked to Knowles’ (1970) theory of Pedagogy and Andragogy. These two states relate to the differences associated with teaching these varying groups. Effective communication is required throughout all levels of teaching. Transactional analysis is strongly linked to communicating and giving feedback and reflects the way we use our voice (in terms of tone, pitch, volume and content) to relay information to our students.
The way this is done will affect whether a student understands a task and understands the nature and direction of the feedback. Within pastoral support mechanisms, teachers often undertake one on one tutorial discussions with students. Depending on the situation and the learner, the teacher may adopt one of the 3 ego states (Parent, Adult, and Child) in order to most effectively converse with the student. The ego state may also change over the course of the tutorial process as the teacher gets to know the learner more.
Within the classroom, communicating with learners in the form of feedback allow them to understand if they are being successful or not achieving and what they can do to improve. As teachers, it is essential we have the ability to adopt the correct ego status for the situation but also to consciously manipulate the interaction of ego states between teacher and learner. Doing this involves manipulating our own tone of voice and delivery of information and also encouraging certain behaviours and attitudes amongst our students to allow them to best understand what is being said to them.
In Public Services, when feeding back to a student on their performance in a practical session, a teacher may look to switch between the adult and parent ego states to best deliver positive and negative comments to a learner. Currently I teach a subject that is well within my comfort zone, particularly as a serving member of Her Majesty’s Forces, where I can relate much of my teaching to my current role. However, I am acutely aware of the need to teach and develop my own core skills in literacy, numeracy, language and ICT.
To progress in a career in the Public services, it is vital that these core skills are maximised. As mentioned previously, the ICT is developing in all aspects of our lives and as a teacher, I feel this is an aspect where I maximise my potential. My own literacy and language is adequate for the subject matter that I teach, but would be limited I believe if I were to teach another core subject. My use of voice and body language overcomes many of my shortfalls when addressing learners but may not be appropriate in other subjects.
Numeracy is my weakest area and as such my teaching reflects this. As a teaching group we play to our individual strengths and so the subjects that I teach have limited numeracy base. However, this is an area that I am conscious of and it does need to be addressed. As a teacher, I teach across a range of courses from Level 1 to Level 5 and with groups ranging from 15 years old to adult learners. This necessitates that I employ a range of teaching strategies and adopt a range of learning theories to best accommodate for all my students.
I feel one of my particular strengths is my adaptability to work effectively with these diverse groups and adopt different ego states through which to control these groups and facilitate their learning. Sub consciously, I feel for a long time I have been utilising many of the learning theories discussed in this assignment, however through recent further study I now feel much more confident and able to take what I perceive to be the most advantageous parts of these learning theories and implement them in my classroom.
I believe a further strength of mine is to bring about certain behaviours or encourage those that are most appropriate within the classroom. Using operant conditioning ideology, I am quick to recognise and praise desired behaviour but am careful how and how often I deliver this reinforcement. Although I understand the limitations of punishment, I believe it has a place in the classroom and feel I am fairly competent at being consistent and fair with punishments/press ups. Feedback from learners is clearly an essential medium to assess one own teaching.
With my adult learners I widely adopt a andragogical approach, allowing them a lot of freedom to learn in their own way. This is effective but often leads to a lack of feedback from learners in terms of how they are progressing and learning. I feel I could improve by embedding some more formative assessment methods into my andragogical style of teaching to allow for freedom within learning, but also actually more feedback for me from learners. This will ultimately help me see how they are doing, and also how I am doing in terms of teaching.
For future development, I believe it is essential for me to continue to develop my use of Kolb’s ideas integrating theory into practice. This is something I believe to be essential, especially given the more practical/kinaesthetic orientation of the learners who study upon the course on which I teach. I also feel that I could benefit from more in depth investigation into the Skinner’s schedule of reinforcement linked to operant conditioning. I feel I am good at giving constructive praise but could improve by really analysing how I give feedback, especially in terms of frequency.