My philosophy on learning and instruction stems from the ways that I define the terms themselves. I believe that learning takes on a different meaning depending on the rough location of the learning outcome on Bloom’s taxonomy (Krathwol, 2002): outcomes that make up the base of Bloom’s taxonomy (i.e. remember, understand) connect with the Acquisition Metaphor, while outcomes that make up the pinnacle of the taxonomy (i.e. evaluate, create) connect with the Participation Metaphor (Sfard, 1998). Those that fall in the middle (apply, analyze) are able to connect with both metaphors under different circumstances, but also tend more toward the Participation Metaphor. .
In the Acquisition Metaphor learning occurs when the Lockean empty vessel of the learner gains a piece of information (Sfard, 1998, p. 5). Thinking of learning this way is useful when imparting basic knowledge like definitions, dates, and even procedures to students. Often this sort of learning can pave the way for participatory learning. In the Participation Metaphor learning occurs when the learner, a being, transforms into a different sort of self and is prepared to act as a member of a community. This is accomplished when students solve a problem or build an original product (Sfard, 1998, p. 6). The outcomes of the Participation Metaphor are more inspiring, but are often best accomplished after groundwork laid during learning under the acquisition metaphor. While these metaphors appear to be at odds with one another I think that they can be used together for maximum learning.
I define teaching as imparting knowledge, which here encompasses traditional knowledge as well as the ability to do and a state of being in the right circumstances, in a way that is organized to facilitate learning as described above. This can be done in multiple ways depending on the learning outcomes. Foundational knowledge can be effectively presented through frameworks like Gagne’s Nine Events (1985). Gagne suggests that the teacher should create instruction so that it will first gain the attention of the students, inform them of the goal and then remind them of previous knowledge. After the learners are primed the instructor should then introduce the content and provide guidance and opportunities to practice. Finally the instructor should provide feedback, allow another performance followed by assessment and then when the information or skill has been learned focus on promoting retention and transfer. This strategy takes advantage of the Information Processing model which suggests that the human brain operates similarly to a computer. Learning involves assimilating new experiences with what is already known (recall of prior learning) and then storing that information in long term memory (retention and transfer).
The Process of Learning and Instruction
Both foundational and active learning can benefit from the 4CID model (Van Merriënboer, J. J. G., Kirschner, P. A., & Kester, L., 2003).. This model breaks a learning task down into manageable pieces and then provides information when it is most needed whether before beginning or just before embarking on a certain piece of the task. It also gives learners ample opportunity to practice, and to act, which are integral parts both of Gagne’s 9 events, and embodied curriculum (p. 11).
When more complex and active learning is required an embodied approach (Barab & Dodge, 2008), which maintains the natural complexity of real tasks and encourages students to produce original work, is more effective. Harkening back to the age old method of teaching, apprenticeship, cognitive apprenticeship (Collins, Brown, Holum, 1991) in an embodied approach that seeks to make thinking visible. This is especially useful for many topics covered in modern instruction. An instructor who is creating a cognitive apprenticeship for a student will articulate what he does to be successful in his field and model good behavior for the student. After some preparation the instructor will allow the student her own, scaffolded, experience which will become more self directed as she becomes more experienced. All along he will coach the student and provide a variety of activities to promote transfer. At the end of this sort of experience a student will have learned many new skills and entered the periphery of the community on her way to becoming a full participant.
I have benefited greatly from my experiences with cognitive apprenticeship in my graduate studies. When I was becoming familiar with the program my professor introduced me to a product that he had begun and a plan for it’s continued execution. He meet with our team weekly to review our progress and model our next steps (this is also an example of just-in-time information used in the 4CID model). After I had experience with that project I was given the opportunity to select my own project which he continues to scaffold and coach with insights and instructs, but less than the original project when i was still learning. During this entire process I have been invited to participate in the projects that others on the team are working on to practice the skills I am learning in different contexts. While I started out on the periphery of the team and program, I am slowly moving inward toward being a full participant with the help of cognitive apprenticeship.
The term full participant comes from a study of Legitimate Peripheral Participation (LPP) (Lave & Wenger, 1991). LPP is accomplished when a learner enters into the periphery of a group and is allowed to meaningfully participate there. Through this meaningful participation a newcomer learns to be a part of the community through doing what community members do and being what community members are. While the skills are part of the process the real meaning is configured through this process of becoming. This can happening in either a formal or informal manner depending on the group. The only way to accomplish this, though not all will, is by becoming a legitimate peripheral participant and slowly moving inward. Cognitive apprenticeship is one embodied approach that helps learners become part of a community.
Project-based learning (Savery & Duffy, 1996) is related type of embodied approach wherein an instructor allows students to work through a complex problem. Often an instructor provides similar cases to help students extract the abstract principles and support transfer. This sort of work, like cognitive apprenticeship, encourages students to practice the work that they will do as professionals and prepares them to enter the community. I have experienced this as a student and found it extremely productive in training me for meaningful contributions to the field. This is in my opinion a strong strategy that can motivate students to engage and prepare them for future work.
The Roles and Responsibilities of Teachers and Students
In addition to creating and executing appropriate instruction as discussed above I believe that teachers are also responsible to maximize learning opportunities for their students. Each student has different needs and whenever possible teachers should work with those needs. One way to do this is to create situations where learners can work within their zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978) and realize what they are capable of with the help of another. Learners are of course responsible to respond, engage and take part in the learning opportunities provided for them. Regardless of how well prepared a teacher is, if a learner refuses to participate there will be no growth.
Core Theoretical Ideas
My approach values and emphasizes agency and in turn responsibility. I reject the idea found in behaviorism and determinism,that human behavior is governed by natural laws and thus there is no such thing as free will, as described by Slavin (2009) and rebutted by McDonald, Yanchar and Osuthorope (2005). People should be treated like people, decidedly differently from the way that a dog or a pigeon would be treated. When people are treated as agents they are more able to reach their potential. Acknowledging the learners have choice allows teachers to more effectively harness and respond to that choice. It also reminds teachers to emphasize student responsibility which can increase motivation and therefore learning outcomes.
The Purpose of Learning and Instruction
The ideal outcomes of learning include transfer to a real world situation like social interaction or employment and a transformation of the learner into a more thoughtful human being and a participating member of a new community. Transfer privileges use value over exchange value, suggesting, for instance, that students are not learning to essentially “exchange” their diploma for a career, but instead to use what they have learned to work in their chosen field. Transfer is the active process of moving knowledge from one sphere to another. As previously discussed, many legitimate peripheral participants eventually move to the center of a community and become full participants who will carry on the community as a result of successful social reproduction. This goal is also connected the purpose of learning within the participation metaphor, which is to transform the learner into a new and more meaningful being.
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