21 June 2013

Educational and Technology Integration Philosophies

When it comes to directed and constructivist approaches to teaching and learning (Roblyer and Doering, 2013, pp.34-52), I fall more on the side of constructivist. As a kinaesthetic learner, I recognise that I learn when I 'do' and therefore, I believe my teaching style imitaties my learning style. However, I do believe that it is important to implement a blend of approaches to meet all the needs of the learners. I believe that: some learning requires instruction; learning is exploring; reflection cements learning.

Within English, aspects such as grammar for example are learned somewhat through osmosis and a healthy reading habit. But, as I am well aware, reading is not something that every learner does automatically or easily or regularly enough for it to have the desired effect. Encouragement of reading for enjoyment is crucial but skills such as grammar, sometimes need to be actively taught - followed by plenty of opportunities for exploration and constructivist activities to experiment with this learning. As with religion, my belief is that until you have questioned it, played with it and really found it for yourself, it is not really yours.

To this end then, the phrases:
  • sage on the stage
  • mentor in the center
  • guide on the side
are ones that are in constant flux; interchangeable not only for the educator but also between learners and teacher. Different skills require different approaches. Sometimes we need to directly teach, sometimes we need to let the learners explore. We are teachers because we are experts in our field and it is our responsibility to help them bridge the gap of proximal learning - sometimes we explicitly teach, regularly we model and scaffold, often we let them explore and discover for themselves.

Returning to my beliefs : some learning requires instruction; learning is exploring; collaboration is key. Addressing first the belief that some learning requires instruction requires an objectivist approach particularly for aspects such as grammar that requires learning as encoding into memory as explicated by Atkinson and Shiffrin's (1968) Information-Processing Theory (p.37). Grammar has to be learned, even first language learners struggle with the nuances of the English language and there is no way to second guess the rules of the comma - they must be explained, they must be taught. Atkinson and Shiffrin's model suggests that we need to "provide the right kinds of application, and provide sufficient practice to ensure encoding retention" meaning technology can be an excellent tool to engage and provide repetitive drill-and-practice techniques needed to 'learn' grammar (p.38). Grammar must be delivered in small chunks - it is too much and too boring otherwise - I find little ten minute starter activities with termly themes (sentences, punctuation, nouns, etc.) that are decided upon either by the learners or identified through work to become assessment for learning tasks. I try to also start where they are and build a mastery of skills - allowing the learning to be transferred in the long-term memory.

My next belief is that learning is exploring; using the example of the comma again - I deliver short starters with drill and practice techniques each week or lesson in a mastery style. Then, often through free-writing (creative writing that is not linked to the unit we are studying or to any particular curriculum, it is not assessed formally but IS a chance for learners to experiment with writing, language, words, form, structure, shape and sound) I ask learners to be creative yet implement some of the 'rules' learned. This non-formal, non-assessed free-form writing allows learners the freedom to play and explore and not be afraid to make mistakes. They are encouraged to share, review and rewrite until it is ready to publish on their blogs - they know then they have a 'real audience', beyond the classroom, beyond me. It makes a big difference. Their belief that they are not being assessed really allows them to open up and try and fail and try again (when I say belief, I do not reveal that I of course assess them through reading their drafts and use it as assessment for learning). Within this 'free-writing' I also use plenty of scaffolding through examples not only from the directed activities but also from examples and from using each other's blogs.

My final belief is that collaboration is key. Reflection cements learning and this is multi-layered. Reflection comes as often as is possible and not just after a formal or even formative assessment. Reflection informs the units I teach and the thinking out of these units and the final outcomes are done so collaboratively; very often, I will change my termly plan based on observations of need - for example, this year, I designed and taught a unit that asked learners 'Do you Dare to be Yourself?' through the study of the novel 'Stargirl' as I saw a lot of intolerance of difference and lack of appreciation of differences and individuality. The learners really enjoyed this because it aligned with Dewey's belief that the curriculum should arise from students' interests and it was pertinent to their needs at the time; social consciousness is the ultimate aim of education, learning is only useful in the context of social experience (p.41). This unit was showcased in an online presentation for Global Project Design and recognised as outstanding in it's field - I developed it to become a global project website that links up two or more classrooms from around the world to implement even more understanding of its core principals of tolerance, prejudice, individuality and conformity.

Principals of technology integration that are most important are 'to foster creative problem solving and metacognition' (p.50) (recognised as based on constructivist models) as these are transferable skills that make life-long learners and 'to support efficient, self-paced learning' (p.49) (a more directed teaching model). Having my lesson plans as websites means learner are able to review as and when needed; absent learners can stay connected to the learning and I can update them in real time as required - which I very often do to model how I think, reflect and revise what I am doing and match it to their needs.
Doering, A.H. & Roblyer, M.D. (2013) Integrating education technology into teaching. USA: Pearson

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