Critical Thinking

Learning education, moving away from the essentialist views

 

Learning
theories have a great impact on the way teaching is delivered on an everyday
basis. Over the years there have been a number of different theories that have appeared
and they continue to appear as more research is carried out. This essay will
focus on the ways constructivist and behaviourist learning theories impact
current educational practices in Wales using the backdrop of the Foundation phase
as well Higher Education educational practices in Wales. It will discuss what
appears to be a pedagogical shift in education, moving away from the essentialist
views to the more student led/ friendly philosophy of progressivism. This
change in the philosophy of education sees a shift in power and attention from
the teacher to the student.

 

The
Foundation Phase is the curriculum framework for children between the ages 3
and 7 in Wales. It was first piloted in 2004 and it was fully rolled out in
2011 for all primary schools and nurseries across across Wales (Lewis and Thomas, 2016). This new
framework signalled a shift in pedagogical priorities from a traditional
educational experience with the teacher at the centre to an educational
pedagogy where the child learns through active and experiential learning. The
curriculum framework stated out 7 different areas of learning which include:
knowledge and understanding of the world and creative development. There is a
strong focus on the child learning first hand and outdoors in an active manner.

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The Welsh Assembly Government intended for the Foundation Phase to focus on the
holistic development of the child. The role of the teacher is to be a
facilitator and provide support to the child (Waters,2016). This change in practice from a teacher led learning experience
to a student/child led learning experience shows a shift in educational
philosophy. A classroom under the Foundation Phase would have all the signs of
what a constructivist classroom would look like.

 

Constructivism
is a ‘psychological and philosophical perspective contending that individuals
form or construct much of what they learn and understand’ (Bruning et al., 2004 cited in Schunk,2011 P.231). Constructivism
views knowledge as being actively constructed by the the learner rather than it
being something that learners acquire. Therefore, students learn better when
they have constructed their own understanding (Pritchard,2017). Key theorists in this perspective include John
Dewey, Vygotsky and Bruner. Although these researchers differ in their emphasis
on factors that affect learning and learners’ cognitive processes, the theoretical
perspectives they espouse may be loosely grouped and referred to as
constructivism. In their research, they all tend to provide human factors as
explanations for learning and how it occurs rather than environmental explanations.  John Dewey is seen as being one of the most
influential theorists in experiential learning he is also seen as being th
founder of this approach . Lee Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist whose work
became influential and popular relatively recently. Bruner was an American
psychologist that built upon the work of Vygotsky.  This essay will mainly focus on the work of
Vygotsky and social constructivism.

 

Social
Constructivist theory places a great role on the interactions between the
students themselves as well as with the teacher (Pritchard,2017). According to Vygotsky, student’s interactions
with their environment whether it be through support from a teacher or
collaboration with their fellow students encourages and stimulates their
developmental processes as well as cognitive growth (Schunk,2011). This view is highlighted in the Foundation Phase by
the focus on active and collaborative play. In the Foundation Phase, the power
in the classroom ideally lies equally between the teacher and the student. The importance
of meaningful collaborations between the students and the teachers are further
shown in the Foundation Phase by the improved ratio of teachers to students
down to 1:8 (Lewis and Thomas, 2016). This
proves how Vygotsky’s Social Constructivist theories have influenced
contemporary educational practice.

 

One
of the major underpinning of the Foundation Phase was a worry about formal
approaches of learning being introduced too soon to children and a result,
there was a fear of them having a negative impact on the development of the
child. The Foundation Phase expresses ‘desire to introduce more developmentally
appropriate practices into classrooms and settings’ (Taylor et. al 2016 p.3).

This idea of rejection of formal and traditional educational settings for
children happens to be constructivist in nature. Children should be in a setting
in which they can learn actively through social interactions with their peers and
their teacher. They can also learn through the hands on manipulation of
objects. Within the Foundation Phase, outdoor play is encouraged as a method of
active learning. It is through active learning that children construct their
own meanings and understandings,

 

A
key concept of constructivism is the zone of proximal development or ZPD. The
ZPD is defined as “the distance between the actual developmental level as
determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential
development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in
collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86 cited in Schunk,
2013, p.245). It denotes the amount of learning achievable by an individual
child when they given the correct instructions. In the ZPD, the teacher and the
student or the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) and the learner work together on
a task that the learner could not complete independently due to the complexity
of it. Learners do not attain cultural knowledge passively from these interactions,
they instead come with their own perceptions to the social interaction. They
then construct meanings by incorporating those perceptions and understandings
with their experiences in the context (Schunk, 2013). Scaffolding is a model that
was developed by Bruner to build onto Vygotsky’s ZPD and help further explain
it. ‘Scaffolding is the process of providing support to learners at the
appropriate time and at the appropriate level of sophistication to meet the
needs of the individual’ (Pritchard, 2017 p.25). It can be shown in many methods
which include through discussions. Talking about the task with the More Knowledge
Other will help the learner construct their own understanding of the task. The
processes of scaffolding and the zone of proximal development can be seen in
the Foundation Phase through the promotion and encouragement of collaborative learning
between the students. Collaborative learning allows for students to assist one
another if they do not understand a particular task with one of them taking up
the role of the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). The layout of a classroom under
the Foundation Phase has children sitting around tables in group. This promotes
cooperation and collaboration between students as well as allowing them to
construct their own insights into a variety of tasks and problems. 

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