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Theories of Learning & Me

In university, we spent time discussing the theories of learning, but I had little idea how they actually connected to teaching in a classroom. Of course we would discuss examples and ways that teachers would use them in a class, but often times, unless I could make a personal connection (hello again pocket square chart), I was unable to imagine how this actually fit into the classroom and how I personally would use/not use these theories as a teacher.

Constructivism
This theory “equates learning with creating meaning from experience.” It differs from cognitivism as it is believed that “that the mind filters input from the world to produce its own unique reality.” Our own interpretations and experiences play an important role. It is both the learner and the environmental factors that creates knowledge. Examples in the classroom include: project based learning, experimentation, group work, and field trips.

These Theories & Me

Now, after all this time learning about these theories, how did they come into play in my classroom?

I remember my first few years of teaching. We all know how rough they can be. You are trying to keep your head above water, learn the curriculum, learn proper classroom management, and still have time to live your life outside of work. I’ll admit that for those first 2-3 years, I rarely thought about these theories of learning. Sure, I was definitely using all of them in different ways, but I wasn’t necessarily doing so intentionally. A lot of what I was doing at that time was similar to those around me, or based off my previous school experiences.

Now that I have a few years under my belt, I find that I am more intentional in my planning and classroom relationship building. I am always trying to find ways to make sure that my lessons and activities are varied. Here are just some ways I use these theories in my classroom:

  • Behaviourism: I use a class reward system (whole group) in order to provide my students positive reinforcements for being respectful and following expectations. At the beginning of the year, the class together decides on the rewards they are wanting to earn. As it is a class system, the entire class is not punished for the behaviour of a few students, nor are those students called out in front of the class.
  • Behaviourism: I also use a wireless doorbell in my classroom. My student know that when they hear the doorbell they need to stop, look, and listen. I use this in conjunction with my timer.
  • Cognitivism: I frequently use KWL charts as well as many whole class and small group discussions to help my students make connections to their prior knowledge. We also work on self regulation skills.
  • Constructivism: We do lots of experiments and group work in my classroom. I like to vary the types of work we are doing and have students work in different groups to be able to learn from each other (various sized groups, sometimes with their friends, sometimes not).

All in all, it is difficult to explain exactly how everything we do in a classroom all day fits nicely into one of these categories. As teachers, I think that it is important that we are not asking what is the BEST theory to use, and instead asking ourselves are we doing our BEST to help our students and meet their needs? Perhaps it is not the theory we use, but the mix of approaches that is the best answer for all.

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4 thoughts on “Theories of Learning & Me

  1. Hi Britt,

    I really like how you provided examples of each theory in the classroom. That really speaks to my learning style/language and I thought that was really well done!

    I can relate to how you felt early in the teaching profession. I laughed out loud when I read “live your life outside of work”. Work-life balance? What’s that? It is true that now I am more settled and established in my career, I can stop and think about these theories and how they influence and impact my practice. I agree that there isn’t necessarily a “one theory fits all”, but more of using the best of every theory when it works.

    Also, I think I am going to have to look into this wireless doorbell. I teach high school students and I’m not exactly sure how that would go over with them, but I refuse to sing, dance, chant or clap, but a fun doorbell I could get behind!

    Thanks!

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  2. Awesome insights, Brittney! I am super impressed you were even subconsciously aware of teaching styles when you were a student. Learning styles never registered for me until university. I also appreciate your honesty about how hard those first few years of teaching can be, and how easy it can be to fall back on behaviourism techniques. I really hate “clapping” at students to get their attention (it’s just a personal response…I might need to unpack later), but I really love your doorbell idea. As you concluded, I also decided to focus on what is best/needed by the students at any given moment – a combination of styles.

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  3. Great connections are made between theories and your classroom experiences. An understanding of learning theories helps teachers connect to all different kinds of students. Teachers can focus on different learning styles to reach different students, creating teaching that focuses directly on student needs and aptitudes.

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  4. Great post, Britt! I too find a variety of the three theories at play in my classroom. Id like to see myself use a constructivist approach in my classroom (with Grade 7/8s), but the issues I am find with this whenever I try to incorporate these types of activities, I am finding that students do not know how to create meaning for themselves, which ironically, sends me into a more behaviouristic mode where we learn how to think critically and work towards being a problem solver…. its a viscous cycle!

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