While I've enjoyed every one of the Ed Tech classes over the past three semesters, I think our class this week may have been one of favourites. While it may not have been as flashy or engaging as some of the previous classes, I enjoyed this particular class (as well as writing this post) because it led me down a path of self reflection. If I'm being honest, I haven't thought about theories of knowledge or learning since my undergrad when we first learned about them. Taking the time to go through each of these theories, was quite refreshing as it enabled me to critically evaluate the type of educator I am.
What Type of Educator Was I?
As Alec, took us on the tour of Knowledge Theories, I immediately connected with the Behaviourist theory of learning. While this may not be the theory that I would align myself with anymore, it definitely would fit with the teacher I was nine years ago in my first year of teaching. Looking back, I utilized this theory in everything I did as a first-year educator - especially classroom management. I was definitely of the mindset that my role as an educator was to fill my students with the knowledge, and as a result, I did "deliver" more lessons to my students, than actually "experience" the learning with them. This was probably most evident in my Math lessons as I was very concerned with how to produce the desired results (right answers) from my students, than anything else. As a result, the delivery of my lessons reflected this and I can't imagine they were the most engaging lessons for my students.
In addition to utilizing the behaviourist theory for curricular means, I also found myself gravitating to this model for classroom management as well. While I still believe that the behaviourist theory fits in this domain today, I think I approached it a little differently in the past than I do now. In the early stages of my career, I remember using tools like Class Dojo and other behaviour tools to help achieve the desired positive behaviour in my classroom. Essentially awarding points for positive behaviours, and withdrawing for negative ones. As I will talk about a little later - I learned that this particular method wasn't the best (especially the withdrawals for negatives) and moved away from Class Dojo and other similar models quite quickly, and shifted towards a more proactive practice instead of a reactive one.
Where Am I Now?
Jumping to the present, I believe that I have certainly changed in many ways since my first year of teaching. I understand that my beliefs and style have certainly shifted due to a combination of my experiences in the classroom, great mentors, and fellow colleagues. As I mentioned earlier, at the onset of my career I would definitely have classified myself as a Behaviouralist, but now I'm not sure if I would classify myself in only one of the theories. After examining a plethora of theories in Tuesday's class, it's become apparent that my current teaching practice has changed and now reflects a combination of theories as opposed to one singular belief.
1) Experiential Learning
This learning theory is definitely one that I see the most reflected in my classroom and a major part of my belief as an educator. As Lisa expertly mentioned in her post this week, experiential learning is very relationship-centered and these experiences with others can be "the most meaningful learning tool". I definitely agree with Lisa as I firmly believe that in order for learning to occur, students need to feel safe, comfortable, and connected to their teacher and classmates. As a result, much of my learning opportunities provide the students with the ability to communicate, collaborate form relationships with one another while they are learning.
I also believe that students need to feel engaged with the content of their learning, and a "hands-on" approach can be an incredible support to help students connect with the course content. A number of years ago, I remember having a discussion with Trevor, (and current classmate of ours) who was a colleague of mine, regarding my Science lesson from the day. I was disheartened and a little burned out because my students just weren't connecting with the content I was trying to teach them, and as a result, was dealing with disengaged students. Trevor, an energetic young teacher who was fresh out of university at the time, shared some great wisdom with me - it might be helpful if I used a more "hands-on", experiential approach with the content. While I never felt that I was a boring teacher, it was apparent that the method I was utilizing may have worked for a number of years prior, just wasn't cutting it anymore. Trevor gave me some great ideas for this lesson, which in turn, inspired me to reflect on my current practices, and ultimately led me to a more experiential teaching practice. To this day, I still credit Trevor for rejuvenating my teaching practices and helping me to become the educator I am today.
While I would certainly say that Experiential Learning is the largest theory that impacts my current teaching practice, it's evident that I've also got some sprinkles of cognitivism in there as well. As was explained in the article "Description of Cognitivism" by Mohammed Rhalmi, the learning process for this theory views students as "active participants in the learning process" and not just minds to be "filled with knowledge". Not only does this idea also connect with some of the fundamental beliefs of Experientialism, but it also outlines the idea that students are not tied to one strategy for learning, but may use various ones to "construct their personal understanding".
Even though I've shifted away from this particular theory, it's still clear to me that Behaviorism does have a place within my teaching practice - it's just far less prevalent than it was ten years ago. In the present, it's clear that while not utilized for curricular purposes, behaviourism still plays a major role in my classroom, more specifically, for classroom management and procedures. As I mentioned earlier, in the past I used this approach in my classroom through the addition and subtraction of points to help achieve the desired behaviours in my classroom. However, this approach was far more reactive than proactive, which is the best way to describe how my utilization of behaviourism has shifted. Instead of using this reactive method, my focus is now on highlighting and using behaviour specific praise for the positive behaviours within my classroom.
For this, I utilize our school-wide SWPBIS (School-Wide Positive Behaviour Interventions and Supports) framework to highlight the specific positive behaviour that the student demonstrated. ex. "Thank you for showing respect holding the door open for your classmates". Staff all have tickets that can then be handed out to the student when they notice one of these positive behaviours, which in turn, are entered for a school-wide draw at the start of each week. While it could be argued that we are just bribing the students, I far prefer this method as you don't need to hand out tickets every time, as the goal of this strategy to use behaviour specific praise when we see these positive behaviours. This has also helped me as a teacher, in changing the way that I view behaviour in our school. Rather than only addressing the negative behaviours I see, I am now routinely looking and identifying the positive ones far more often.
Overall, I found it quite interesting to reflect and see how my teaching practices have changed over the last ten years. It also makes me wonder, if I changed this much in the first third of my career, what will my teaching practices look like in another ten or twenty years? Will the change or stay the same? I guess only time will tell. Check back in the year 2040 for my next update!