Sunday, 27 July 2014

New knowledge of learning theory in the classroom

Throughout the course, I have been reminded of the learning theorists like Piaget and Vygotsky I studied during my certificate in education, although, to be honest, they were covered so quickly I didn't remember their theories!
Over the years I have done my own research on the use of games, simulations, projects, blogs, gamification, etc. in an effort to better apply the technologies and concepts to my lessons; it has been good to consider the theories that have generated the practices.  Unlike the U.S. Education system that requires teachers to recertify every few years, UK teachers do not suffer this pressure so reflecting on one's teaching and improving, is generally an intrinsic behaviour. When I think more on it, when I read about the theories now, I actually understand them and can apply them properly to my classroom!

Vygotsky's ZPD comes closest to the theory of learning that I implement in my lessons, although I tend to have a blend of many of the theories going all at once. I don't think about doing this, it just happens as the activities I use are enjoyed by the students and produce good learning results. I use a lot of assessment for learning techniques that involve students expressing what they know; they do this via mini whiteboards and by communicating with each other. My classroom would most likely be described as a social constructivist environment although I wouldn't have called it this before taking this module!

In my reading I have enjoyed looking at the scaffolding techniques associated with the ZPD. This led me to look at cognitive apprenticeship and how I might apply it to project based learning. I thought originally that allowing students to work in their friendship groups would lead to good group dynamics. The research indicated that managing a group is easier if the students feel comfortable telling each other to get their work done, which they may not do if they are close friends. Structuring the groups in such a way that there is a difference in the skills and knowledge of the students allows for cognitive apprenticeship to take place between the peers; less capable students can emulate and learn from the more experienced and the more experienced peer solidifies their understanding by using teaching/coaching.

Of greatest interest to me was the theory of Self Regulated Learning. This theory has implications for students in all areas of their learning and was brought to my attention as I looked at the meta-cognitive behavior of reflection in PBL. SRL considers three attributes of the learner: self-efficacy, motivation and meta-cognition. Believing in one's ability to do a task requires that a student feels safe to fail in their learning environment; developing an ethos of encouragement and support in a blended learning environment is essential and I will have my students generate the rules of how they behave and support each other at the start of each year.  Motivation can be intrinsic and extrinsic and depending on the students and situations, can be more of one than the other. I have completed a module on gamification via Coursera and was intrigued to see Mihali Csikszenmihalyi's name pop up in a reference to motivation in SRL. Demonstrating positive self-talk for students to emulate, along with the use of positive and negative self-rewards, will be new techniques to try this year.  Finally, self-reflection will require that students are coached and scaffolded in the behaviour. Reflective thinking expressed as writing in blogs or portfolios can meet the requirements of a self-regulated learner. Blogs also permit commenting by an authentic audience, thus increasing the motivation of the author while creating the situation where collaborative knowledge construction can take place.  I have tried to get my students to review and enhance their work after I give them feedback in line with assessment for learning strategies, but with a content heavy curriculum, this has been hard to follow up on. Blogs could be the answer!

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