Teaching Approaches in Literature and Movies

This week, for my Principles of Teaching course, we read about teacher professionalism. Like any other profession that requires a license, the teaching profession is governed by an organization that assures its members abide by a Code of Ethics. However, unlike other established professions like Nursing and Medicine which has full autonomy and characterized by a set of skills, competencies, and knowledge, the teaching profession, I came to understand, is also subject to government control and policing.

This Friday was also the deadline for our first assignment for the course – writing a reaction paper about an education-related article. I decided to write about classroom instruction which is usually divided into two paradigms: teacher-centered and student (or learner)-centered approach. This is what I thought of focusing about this week.

I admit that in the four years that I have been teaching, I have come across these two terms and have wondered what they actually mean or how I can adopt them in my classes. Reading through articles describing the two types of instruction invariably led me to two analogies.

If you are a fan of J. K. Rowling, you have probably heard about Professor Binns. Somehow, the term “teacher-centered” calls to mind an image of this History of Magic professor in the Harry Potter series. In the books, he is described as a ghost who conducted his classes with such lassitude. Professor Binns would go droning on and on about his subject, mindless of whether students are still listening or daydreaming. Once, when he was asked a question, he had seemed surprised at the intrusion, and was only too eager to go back to his lecture. This gives a picture of teacher-centered instruction at its most extreme where the instructor talks and students are expected to listen.

On the other end is student-centered instruction that encourages more active participation on the part of its students. It brings to mind lessons peppered with activities that stimulate student curiosity and learning by discovery. This approach makes me think about Kung Fu Panda and how Po discovered his abilities through the different tasks given to him by Master Shifu during his kung fu training.

It also brought to mind learning theories that I have learned about in my past courses (Constructivist, Behaviorist, and Social Learning theories, to name a few). The article I read for the assignment, Teacher-Centered, Learner-Centered or All of the Above (Weimer, 2013), suggested a combination of the two paradigms.

I believe that teaching has always been a combination of the two, though in varying degrees, depending on the topic to be discussed. I have come to realize that in my own lessons though, I am confined to a teacher-centered approach, despite my attempts to make my classroom encounters as student-centered as possible. One culprit I have come to identify for this imbalance in my teaching approach is the time. Often, the need to cover content for a given specific period ends up with me doing lectures most of the time.

However, reading through Weimer also assured me that teacher-centered activities are best-suited for mastery of basic skills (Weimer, 2013) which is important for my Grades 7 and 8 students. It is my approach in the higher grades that I need to reassess and revise if I am to help them develop critical and higher-order thinking skills.

Reference:

Weimer, Maryellen (2013). Faculty Focus Teaching Professor Blog: Teacher-Centered, Learner-Centered or All of the Above. Retrieved 22 September 2015, from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/teacher-centered-learner-centered-or-all-of-the-above/

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On Piaget and Vygotsky

As a student, I was more familiar with Jean Piaget than Lev Vygotsky. I had subjects in Psych 101 and in Psychiatric Nursing that referenced Piaget’s work. It was only when I took EDS 103 that I was introduced to Vygotsky.

The stages identified by Piaget made sense to me especially when I was studying Mother and Child Nursing because his stages showed how development progresses in a child as s/he ages. It helped reinforce concepts I had already known or previously learned and observed. This, in Piagetian principles, is me assimilating and accommodating information to achieve equilibrium.

Vygotsky, on the other hand, took note of how culture and language influences knowledge acquisition. I agree with the statement that our language limits us to make sense of our world. We cannot experience things that we have no words for; nor can we understand them.

Case in point, the Eskimos, whose environment is dominated my snow year-round, have seven words for snowflakes. They had a word for newly falling snow, day-old snow, and the likes. For someone who lives in a tropical country (whose reality does not include snow), all those seven words will only mean one thing: ice. The best way to understand it is to understand the context in which the words were created or, if possible, experience it firsthand.

In the classroom, it is often difficult to teach abstract concepts to students. I remember a discussion on the scientific process I had with a previous class. Students, when asked to define what each step meant, usually gave textbook-definitions. When asked to define them in their own words, the same students were usually at a loss. It was also a challenge for most students to think of everyday applications of the scientific process until I gave them simple scenarios like picking out a dress to wear for a party.

I gave other simple yet everyday scenarios and had the students identify which process they use in resolving each situation. Once they had the hang of it, I then asked them to pair up and think of ways they apply the scientific method in their daily life. When they were able to see that the scientific method is not only applicable to science per se, they were able to define each process individually.

There are many other theories that aim to explain how learning occurs. I admit, I get confused when I try to analyze which theory is at work during each classroom activity. I think, though, that understanding the basic tenets of each can help me design my activities based on what will work best for my students.