As an educator who has taught for more than twenty-five years, I have often reflected on my own learning philosophy. My reflection is a typical part of my role as an educator, and comes as a result of my experience in a private school, where I created my own curriculum, rather than having one assigned to me. My subject matter is also not typical, as I have taught visual arts and technology throughout my career. Both of these subject areas are quite contrary to the traditional “one-size-fits- all” educational philosophy, and in almost every situation in which I’ve taught, I have been the master of the subject, without guidance or administration to advise me in how to address the concepts I was presenting. So as I planned my curriculum each year, it was necessary for me to reflect on what I needed my students to know, and how I could most effectively accomplish what I need to do.
While art history is something that may require study of books and notes, the process of creating art is a personal one. Sure, there were standards by which I taught my courses, but I was never sold on the idea that my students had to be able to answer standardized questions to demonstrate their understanding of what we were learning in class. Instead, they did so through their personal critique of their own and one another’s creations. Their ability to recognize elements and principles of art and design and analyze how they are used together was much more important to me than their memorization of the definitions of those terms and concepts. I enjoyed promoting their individuality and celebrating their differences. Everyone had strengths that set them apart, and the climate of my classroom was one in which those strengths were acknowledged by all of us. There was a lot of work required in my course, and yet my students enjoyed coming to class because they could be comfortable challenging themselves without fear of failure. I like to think I did something right, as a number of my students are working professionally in creative fields where they continue to apply those skills they practiced in my classroom.
My love of art often extended into my technology courses. My objective as a technology instructor was to teach students how to use the tools available on their laptops. In our 1:1 school, it was important to me that they were able to independently accomplish whatever they might need to in their other classrooms. So after demonstrating tools and processes in an application, I presented my students with real-life problems to solve. I honestly didn’t care what processes or tools they used to find solutions. I was more concerned with whether they could solve the problem at all. It meant that every student had a different result, and that was fine with me. I also made it my personal mission to challenge them by integrating subjects in ways that their teachers wouldn’t think to. Creating animations of a ball bouncing around a room required a plan that was built on a number of steps, requiring their understanding of physics and how direction would change as the ball bounced off the walls. And when March Madness rolled around and they were constantly looking up basketball scores on their laptops, the old saying “If you can’t beat them, join them” inspired me to assign a project in which they would plan a trip to the final four. They used online research to find flights, hotels, and plan for food and transportation. They put it all together by creating an expense report in Excel. We accomplished a lot of tasks in that one assignment, while at the same time preparing for something they will likely do again in the future.
I don’t like labels, and am not one to define myself or my learning philosophy. I believe that experience shapes who I am and that I’m constantly changing because of that. But having read through a number of articles and reports this past week, I’ve recognized some consistencies in the way I learn, which strongly affects the way I teach. And I’ve done a lot of thinking about whom and what has inspired me along my educational path.
Many consider John Dewey to be the most influential educational thinker of the twentieth century. His concept of education placed the central focus of learning on meaningful activity and was based on a philosophy of Pragmatism, which is that that real problems faced or experienced by the students themselves should be emphasized, rather than theoretical problems from textbooks. He saw learning by doing as crucial to children’s education. While I share Dewey’s philosophy, I can’t give him all the credit for influencing me to think that way. Much of my learning philosophy has been inspired by a 15th century learner by the name of Leonardo da Vinci. Not only was he a talented artist, but he was a scientist, engineer, and inventor as well. His creativity and thirst for knowledge pushed him to break the rules in the name of knowledge. His incredibly scientific illustrations of plants and flowers and the inner workings of machines came from his mind organically. But his medical illustrations came from a curiosity that could not be satisfied without stealing bodies from a morgue and dissecting them himself. He was a pragmatist. He believed that the world was a laboratory. His hands-on, experiential methods of learning were necessary for gaining knowledge. Granted, the printing press had just recently been invented, so books weren’t an easily accessible resource. But Leonardo didn’t rely on others to educate him. He found opportunities to discover knowledge on his own. He was the ultimate learner.
Leonardo’s sketchbooks contain many of his own thoughts about learning. One of them reads “Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in”. That, in essence, is the theory behind my educational philosophy. John Dewey is credited with this philosophy. He believed that real problems faced or experienced by the students themselves should be emphasized, rather than theoretical problems from textbooks. It was his argument that children must be interested in a topic in order for meaningful connections to be made and optimal learning to occur. Under pragmatic methods of learning, subjects that result in struggle or difficulty for a student should be re-designed to build motivation. (Zappia, 2016).
“Education is not preparation for life: Education is life itself”. John Dewey (1859-1952)
Dewey’s was also a contributor to Constructivism as a learning philosophy. The theory behind constructivism is that all knowledge is constructed from the learner’s previous knowledge, regardless of how one is taught. In his book Democracy and Education Dewey argues that “education is not an affair of “telling” and being told, but an active and constructive process” (Dewey, n.d.). He proposed that education should work with students’ current understanding, taking into account their prior ideas and interests. Under this philosophy, it is the role of the educator to take students’ prior ideas, experiences, and knowledge into account when providing opportunities for students to learn something new (D’Angelo, Touchman & Clark, 2009).
21st Century Skills also play a major role in how I teach and learn. As a technology educator, I am an enthusiast of all things technology and media related. They allow learning to take place everywhere, all the time, on any possible topic, supporting any possible learning style or preference (Palmer, 2015). The resources provided by technology and the Internet are without limits. They are constantly evolving in ways that make learning more effective, more global and more meaningful. And they allow students to individualize learning, which is perhaps the biggest benefit of all. Technology allows students to work with tools that best apply to them, individualizing their lessons. It allows them to be contributors to the learning process, rather than just consumers, by producing a variety of media that can be shared with classmates, or even the world. It teaches them global citizenship and prepares them for careers that may not even yet exist. And it offers them views of the real world and experiences through virtual reality, simulations or even interactive exploration.
In classifying my learning style, I would declare myself a Constructive 21st Century Pragmatist.
Here are some characteristics of my learning philosophy:
- Activities are interactive, including cloud-based technology that allows for online collaboration and communication.
- Activities are student-centered, allowing for individuality in process, response and self-expression.
- Activities are based on real-life, practical problems.
- The learning environment is a democratic one in which students help one another to understand concepts and processes, and the instructor is a facilitator rather than a distributor of information.
- Students are allowed to take risks without fear of failure.
- Student understanding is measured by the process and end result of creative, project-based lessons.
- Students can research to find information that helps them to complete a task.
- Projects integrate a variety of subject areas in a practical, real-life manner.
- Innovation is welcome.
- Student work is welcome in a variety of forms.
- No textbook is required.
- Students are challenged in fun and rewarding ways.
I enjoy watching my students learn, and appreciate the diversity with which they solve problems. I think that their learning experience is one that should be rewarded no matter what the results. The learning environment of my classroom reflects that and allows my students to feel comfortable with the learning process without fear of failure.
My learning philosophy is reflected in my innovation plan, which may be quite different from the philosophies of my colleagues. The fact that a blended learning environment promotes both 21st century skills and experiential (pragmatic) learning, means that my research here will provide any support I need to help encourage my colleagues to consider the shift. I am seeing some support from a number of educators already, due partly to my introduction of cloud based lessons in the lab that are being shared by students with their classroom instructors. Since I’ve provided the introduction (the hard part) more of them are willing to continue using the cloud. But I am worried that with our upcoming assessment window, more teachers will revert to their traditional methods as they prepare for STAR testing. I will just prepare for another push toward the blended learning environment with the start of our second semester.
Younkins, E. (2016).
Dewey’s Pragmatism and the Decline of Education
According to John Dewey, the contradiction between the students’ real interests and those of the traditional school alienated students from their schoolwork. He believed that students’ energy, talent, and potential could not be realized within the structure of an archaic school system.
Cohen, L. (1999).
Philosophical Perspectives in Education
John Dewey believed that learners must adapt to each other and to their environment and that schools should emphasize the subject matter of social experience. All learning is dependent on the context of place, time, and circumstance.
Keller, D. (2011).
Each of us generates our own “rules” and “mental models,” which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning, therefore, is simply the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences.
Brooks, J. and Brooks, M. (1999).
The Courage to be Constructivist
Requiring all students to take the same courses and pass the same tests contradicts what research tells us about learning. There are five central tenets of constructivism that motivate students to learn.
Brooks, J. and Brooks, M. (1993).
The Case for Constructivist Classrooms
Learning is a complex process that defies linear precepts of measurement and accountability. There is much evidence that classrooms that are designed to prepare students for tests do not foster deep learning.
On Purpose Associates (2011).
Each of us generates our own rules and mental models which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning is simply the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences.
Lynch, M. (2016).
Social Constructivism in Education
In order to apply social constructivism theories in the education arena, teachers and school leaders need to shift and reshape their perspectives. Both must move from being “people who teach” to being “facilitators of learning.”
Boss, S. (2012).
A Parent’s Guide to 21st Century Learning
Discover the tools and techniques today’s teachers and classrooms re using to prepare students for tomorrow. This guide tells parents how they can get involved.
Blair, N. (2012).
Integration for the New 21st Century Learner
Educators need to re-envision the role of technology in the classroom. Students need access to a constantly evolving array of technology tools and activities that demand problem-solving and decision-making.
Couros, G. (2012).
21st Century Schools or 21st Century Learning?
The mass purchase of devices for schools is happening way too quickly, without conversations about what learning should be happening in the classroom. Shouldn’t we try to decide what learning should look like before we purchase the devices?
D’Angelo, Cynthia M., Touchman, Stephanie, and Clark, Douglas B. (2009). Constructivism. Education.com. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/constructivism
Dewey, J. Democracy and education (1st ed.). Champaign, IL.: Project Gutenberg.
Palmer, Tsisana. 15 characteristics of a 21st-Century teacher. Edutopia.Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/15-characteristics-21st-century-teacher.
Zappia, Susie (2016). The relationship between pragmatism and progressivism in education. Seattle PI. Retrieved http://education.seattlepi.com/relationship-between-pragmatism-progressivism-education-2444.html