I believe that we should not see students as empty buckets to be filled by our knowledge, but we should see them as individuals who are ready and willing to create their own connections and original ideas. We have been too long in the “memorize and regurgitate” form of education. I believe in putting the learning in the hands of the students. Children are perfectly capable of challenging themselves to succeed even beyond their own expectations.
There are many and sundry theories and philosophies on education and many good ones, but I don’t think that we can look at one particular theory and throw out the rest. Just as we take many tools as teachers and put them in our teacher tool kit, so go learning theories. We can take what we read, what we know, and what we experience to fit our own situations. There are no theories out there which fully explain how you can take a room full of developing young minds with myriad different backgrounds and experiences, and mold all of them into successful students. We are still pioneering many ideas and discovering many facts about how the human brain works, and we must be willing to adjust our thinking to meet the needs of our students, not the needs of our comfort.
In general, I lean more toward the Constructivist side of learning theories. I feel as though we have come through the age of Behaviorism, which leans more toward the Pavlovian style of learning, and Cognitivism, which leans more toward what I affectionately call the “memorize and regurgitate” type of learning, to something which requires more experiential and sustained learning. I am a firm believer that when you can make learning experiential and relevant, the learning will embed in long-term memory.
George Siemens takes Constructivism to the next level and calls learning in this digital age Connectivism. I like the Connectivism theory because it fits more closely with what our students experience today in their lives. We no longer live in an age where students need us to feed information to them. People have instant access to information. What we have to teach our students is how to analyze, assimilate and create based on the information they have. Siemens also talks a great deal about networking, which is something that we have neglected to teach for many years in the school system but which I think is of paramount importance in this world. The world is only getting smaller and we must teach our students to relate to other ideas which may be vastly different from their own.
While these two theories differ on some details, they share some tenets of educational philosophy which I hold dear: (1) Successful teaching is not disseminating information. (2) Learning should allow students experiences which are relevant and meaningful. (3) Collaboration is crucial to successful learning and the generation of good ideas.
I also believe that people have what Howard Gardner posited as multiple intelligences. To Gardner intelligence meant the following three things:
- the ability to create an effective product or offer a service that is valued in a culture;
- a set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problems in life;
- the potential for finding or creating solutions for problems, which involves gathering new knowledge.
Intelligence in the past, and sometimes in the present, been attributed to the person who has the most facts memorized. As educators, I believe that knowing things is certainly important, but what we do with that knowledge is more important. Even Einstein said that “Imagination is everything.”
As an educator, I have learned to foster growth in my students. Instead of imparting information, I have moved from the front of the classroom to the middle. I believe in facilitating the learning, but allowing students to own their educational goals. My students can create a product from the learning goals I give them and have a re-world experience to take to the next level. When we study the elements of composition, I don’t give them a pencil and paper, I give them a computer with compositional software that allows them to explore the way musicians today can. When we learn music, it always has a relevance and connection to their lives.
In my newest position as an instructional coach it is my job to make sure that our teachers have the tools and the knowledge to bring this practice into their classrooms. We have to have the expertise in education to make learning engaging and relevant or we will slowly lose our children to a world which knows how to engage our children in less altruistic pursuits. If we want to raise the next generation of adults who are innovative enough to make our world a better place, we have a responsibility to do all that we can to achieve this end.
As educators, we have a big job. We must take these little lumps of clay and bring them out of the kiln fully formed vessels ready to be useful. What we have to is look into our crystal ball and figure out what in the world the world will look like in anywhere between one to eighteen years. I don’t know about anyone else, but my crystal ball must be on backorder. We don’t know what the world will look like when our students get to college or get out in the workforce. What we can do is our very best to use the tools we have in the present to help our students find their spark, the thing that gets them excited about learning. Ken Robinson calls it The Element. There is a spark in every child, something that they love that we can ignite and I am wholly convinced that we won’t do it with worksheets.
Siemens, G. (2005) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved January 30, 2012 from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm
Duffy, T. and Cunningham, D. (2001) Constructivism: Implications for the Design and Delivery of Instruction. The Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology. August 3, 2001. Retrieved from http://www.aect.org/intranet/publications/edtech/07/index.html
Robinson, K. (2009) The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. Penguin Publishing, New York, NY.