There is no doubt that in order to teach well we need to firstly understand the process and theories of learning but also the children that we are going to teach.
I feel that, as a student teacher, it is important to not only familiarise yourself with the theories of learning, but also start considering how they “sit”against the realities of the classroom experience. I tried to find a video similar to the one we watched in the lecture, showing a child playing with the treasure basket.
We can observe how the child explored, experimented with and tried out different objects; he made eye contact with his mum, cooed and gurgled. Learning in the early years, as shown by the example of little George, is experimental, social and physical.
So how can those theories relate to the children of today? Contemporary childhood seems to be portrayed at the two extreme ends of the stereotypical spectrum – on one hand we have the failing, obese and technology obsessed generation whilst on the other we are faced with “brave little angels” who cannot cope in the world in which they are over-worked but at the same time seem to always be underachieving (Alexander, 2008). As David Didau, aka Learning Spy, suggests, because of that diversity of pupils’ life experiences, their learning will be just as diverse. It is not just about what they encounter in the classroom, but also what they bring to the classroom that will influence their learning process. In the face of the unstable image of a contemporary child, schools, primary schools in particular, have been cited by children themselves as places where sense of stability, security and optimism for the future is created by the means of promoting the achievement of, amongst others, economic well-being:
“We have schools because we need education and to prepare us for secondary school. Secondary school then helps us to get a good job”. Pupil, Year 6
Looking both at the theories of learning as well as the issues surrounding the contemporary childhood, it is clear that the environment in which the child is exploring and therefore learning is of great importance. Effective learning occurs when it is well facilitated. This doesn’t mean that we should water the curriculum down or lower our standards. Let’s take a minute to consider how George’s learning was facilitated in the video above – he was comfortable with his surroundings, he was reassured when he made eye contact with his mother, he had time to explore and try various things out, nobody was telling him what to do.
Our role as primary teachers is to make sure that learning is facilitated in a way that allows for that exploration to happen in an atmosphere in which learners feel comfortable to consider new ideas and are not threatened by external factors (Doyle, 1985; Laird, 1985). This notion of teacher as a facilitator was present in the video we watched right at the beginning of the lecture, of children constructing a bridge or a ramp together. The teacher was not visible in the video, however, we can assume that they set up the task and were there making observations. This student-centered learning (SCL) example shows how the teacher influenced the learning process by not focusing on “giving” the knowledge but by stepping back and letting the children get on with it. Some research suggests that SCL, if put into practise correctly, can increase the motivation for learning, understanding and positive attitudes to the subject taught.The role of the teacher therefore is not transmission of knowledge, but that of creating a learning environment.
However, as Moore (2000) has argued, there are some tensions between the theories of learning and teaching and “the realities and actualities of classroom experience”. This tension relates to how we as teachers ensure that we bridge the requirements of national curriculum and the standards of pupils’ achievement (or generally speaking policy) with the theory and practise. For me, this is about a teachers’ toolkit i.e. a range of resources and activities which create opportunities for progress, but also about continuing your own development as a professional, not being afraid of taking risks and keeping in mind that growing teachers equals growing learners.
References (where links not provided):
Doyle, W. (1985). Effective teaching and the concept of the master teacher. Elementary School Journal 86, 27-33.
Laird, D. (1985) Approaches to training and development. Addison-Wesley: Reading, Mass.
Moore, A. (2000) Teaching and Learning. Pedagogy, Curriculum and Culture. London: Routledge